MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Memphis officer aiming at an attacking dog accidentally hit and critically wounded a fellow policeman with a shotgun blast while they were searching a home, officials said Friday.
Officer Willie Bryant, 32, was in critical but stable condition at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis on Friday, police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said. Bryant was in intensive care after undergoing surgery on Thursday, Rudolph said.
Bryant, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, and other officers forced their way in to a north Memphis home while executing a high-risk warrant Thursday when the dog came at them. The officer, whose name wasn't released, tried to shoot the dog, but missed and shot Bryant in the back, Rudolph said.
Bryant is part of a multi-jurisdictional gang unit task force that was serving a drug-related warrant at the home. Two men inside the home were arrested and charged with possessing a handgun during attempted commission of a felony, and possessing crack cocaine and marijuana with intent to sell.
Officers found crack cocaine, three body armor vests, and five handguns, including one that could fire armor-piercing rounds, Armstrong said.
After the shooting, officers blocked off the street for the ambulance carrying Bryant to the hospital. Several officers waited outside the hospital as their colleague underwent surgery.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. on Friday visited Bryant, who was alert and gave the mayor the peace sign.
Wharton said homes that contain drugs and guns are too prevalent in Memphis neighborhoods and officers take their lives in their hands when they execute such high-risk searches.
"The key is officers are in jeopardy, they are in danger, whether it's friendly fire or whatever," Wharton said.
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said the decision to shoot the dog, described as a pit bull breed, was made in a split-second. He laid the blame for the shooting not at the officer, but at those inside the home.
"Dogs, armed parties, you never know what you are going to encounter when you kick a door in," Armstrong said. "We have to make life or death decisions, not only about our lives, but about other people's lives, in less than a second's notice."
Armstrong said the department does have policies and training procedures for dealing with attacking dogs. But both he and Wharton noted that the officers were in a stressful situation in which they were forcing their way into a home containing potentially armed men.
"The tables are not even because we have officers who have rules and laws they have to go by, but they are going against an enemy that has absolutely no rules, moral or otherwise," Wharton said.
Bryant has been with the department since 2003 and is a member of the Organized Crime Unit. He has a wife who is 7 months pregnant, Armstrong said.
The officer who shot Bryant was on leave pending an investigation. Armstrong described the men as good friends.
"His emotions are all over the place right now," Armstrong said of the officer who shot Bryant.
Bryant is the ninth Memphis Police Department officer to be shot since Armstrong took over as police director in April 2011.