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Face-to-Face Gunpoint Standoff with Avondale Suspect

From the St.Catharines Standard:

It was four minutes that felt like two hours.

Det. Const. Martin Cook doesn’t remember actually thinking anything when the masked bandit pointed the black handgun at him.

He doesn’t recall thinking he could get shot. Or that, after only six years as a Niagara Regional Police officer, he could be killed. Or that he might kill the man who had just threatened to shoot him. There wasn’t time to think. Only time to act. There was only reflex. Instinct. And training.

“It comes automatically. It absolutely does,” Cook said.

He faced the barrel of the man’s gun. Without any forethought or hesitation, the detective drew his own weapon. He barked an order, demanding the man stand down. Just as he was trained to do.

And there it was. Two weapons drawn in the eye blink of a moment that decided life or death.

Does he shoot or not?

Being an Avondale clerk hasn’t been the safest of jobs during the last 30 days.

Every few nights, clerks have been faced by a masked man armed with a kitchen knife. Then, after a few weeks, with a gun.

The bandit was prolific, sometimes robbing two Avondales a night.

The pattern became a familiar one. His face covered by a balaclava or a scarf, he walked into the store, drew his weapon and demanded money. Once the clerk turned over the goods, he fled, sometimes making his getaway in a stolen car.

No one was ever physically hurt during the robberies. Nevertheless, some store managers took steps to try to protect themselves. An Avondale store on Carlton Street had a sign on the door asking customers to use debit cards instead of cash because of robberies.

“I choose not to comment,” Avondale spokesman Scott Thomson said when contacted by The Standard Monday at his office in Jordan Station. He directed inquiries to an Avondale vice-president who did not return messages Monday.

Starting in early April, 12 convenience stores have been robbed in St. Catharines and Thorold by a masked bandit. Almost all of them were Avondale stores.

The volume of robberies, and the reported switch in the suspect’s choice of weapon, caused the NRP street crime unit to put extra officers on the streets to keep an eye on Avondale stores, NRP spokeswoman Const. Jacquie Forgeron said.

They wouldn’t have to wait long for a break. At 10:12 p.m. Sunday, the bandit struck a again, pulling a gun on a clerk at the Frank’s Milk store on Hartzel Road.

About 30 minutes later, Cook was patrolling St. Paul Street West in an unmarked car when he saw a man matching the general description of the bandit. He was walking toward a nearby Avondale store.

Cook said he radioed in his find and alerted his partner, Det. Const. Mike Spera, who was nearby.

Cook turned around and pulled into the parking lot of the store. The man was coming out of the store with a white plastic bag in his hand.

And he was wearing a mask.

Cook said he had no idea what the bandit was thinking. The officer hadn’t even stepped out of his car or said anything when the masked man pulled out a black handgun.

“I hadn’t really done any kind of mental preparation about what the confrontation might be like,” he said. “But he had already turned a gun on innocent civilians during the robberies, so I figured a confrontation was likely.”

As if the gun wasn’t a clear enough message, the bandit screamed at Cook. He was going to pull the trigger.

Cook went into auto-pilot. He pounced from his car. His hand went to his 9 mm Glock and drew it. At the same time, he shouted what cops call “an officer’s challenge” – a warning to the criminal and to anyone nearby that an officer has drawn his weapon.

Two guns drawn. And an eye blink to make a decision.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, or at what point he made the determination that he was facing an armed officer, but he threw his gun away,” Cook said. “It wasn’t really a standoff. It happened very quickly.”

Cook, who was joined by Spera, moved to arrest him. The bandit fought back and ran. The officers took to their feet.

“A short distance away, he hid around a corner and then jumped out to try to tackle Det. Spera,” Cook said. “We were able to arrest him at that point without any further resistance from the suspect.”

John Crane, 29, of Fort Erie, faces a total of 31 criminal charges, including 12 counts of armed robbery, 12 counts of wearing a disguise with intent to commit a crime, five counts of theft of a motor vehicle under $5,000, one count of assaulting police and one count of uttering a death threat.

He remains in custody pending a bail hearing.

Cook said the entire incident, from the moment he arrived at the store to the suspect’s arrest, lasted, at most, four minutes.

“It felt like it lasted two hours. Afterward, Det. Spera and I had the big adrenaline dump,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in anything like that before. Was I scared? Absolutely. But my training really did kick in.”

The bandit’s gun turned out to be a fake made from black resin. But Cook had no way of knowing that at the time, and police officers have to treat every gun as a real and loaded threat.

“You cannot assume the weapon isn’t real. That is putting my safety and maybe others at risk,” he said. “I can’t do that. I don’t want anyone to get hurt and I want to come home at the end of the day.”

An officer has only a split second to make a choice, he said. The wrong one can cost a cop, or a suspect, their life.

Still, Cook cannot help but replay the incident in his mind. What if he’d pulled the trigger? What if the suspect’s gun had been real?

What if.

“I guess I will be doing that forever. Not just for me, but for him, too. The last thing I want to do is shoot anyone,” he said. “But I am pleased with how I handled the situation.”

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2 Responses
  1. Joey Buch says:

    Gotta hand it to him, not every would have the courage, especially when your able to think on the spot with a gun to your head.

    A Hero.

  2. Well done officer, well done. Glad to see he was carrying a Glock!

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