Sgt. Steven McNeill graduated from LEMIT's Leadership Command College just five months after being shot in the head during a police standoff.
Ector County Sheriff Sgt. Steven McNeill, a participant in the signature leadership training class at LEMIT, gave his colleagues a lesson that they will not soon forget: what it is like to get shot on the job and survive.
"It’s a success story," said McNeill. "It’s all about having a combat mindset. I have a mindset that helped me overcome a traumatic incident. If my story can help another officer, it is worth sharing. The alternative was just to give up and die."
McNeill shared his story at the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas as part of the Leadership Command College, a signature training session for future law enforcement leaders in the state. The three week module at Sam Houston State University focused on community policing, mental health issues, servant leadership, professional integrity, ethical challenges in policing, political survival and officer involved shootings. McNeill volunteered to tell his story.
Just five months ago, the 13-year veteran officer was shot in the head during a standoff with a domestic terrorist in West Odessa. As a trained sniper with the local SWAT team, McNeill and his partner were approaching the suspect and were concealed behind mesquite bushes 638 yards away. A bullet from the suspect’s rifle ricocheted off the ground, hitting the officer in the head.
It would be 15 minutes laying in a prone position before an armored car could get McNeill and his partner to an awaiting ambulance. He willed himself to live, staying conscious the entire time and even walking to the ambulance waving to fellow police officers to put them at ease.
“I told myself I am not going to die,” McNeill said. “We tell our SWAT guys that you’re not dead unless we tell you you’re dead. Attitude has a lot to do with survival.”
At the hospital, he was given only a 30 percent chance of survival. But McNeill beat the odds and was back at work in two months and participating in this training session just five months later.
On Sept. 17, 2010, two employees of an oil company were confronted by Victor Wayne White on a remote compound in West Odessa. When Deputy Richard Tijerina arrived, he and one of the oil workers were allegedly shot by White and took refuge behind a shack across the street. When supervisors arrived to assist, they too were pinned down by shots from a rifle. The suspect took over the deputy’s patrol vehicle and began broadcasting on the police radio.
McNeill and his partner were approaching the target through an open field, with only mesquite bushes as concealment, when they were spotted. White shouted a warning through the police radio and fired at the two officers. McNeill was hit by the first bullet and, once he realized his injury, his training kicked in. He applied pressure to his wound, controlled his breathing and kept talking to his partner until help arrived.
After he was rescued by an armored car, his thoughts turned to his fellow officers still fighting in the standoff, which would last 23 hours and take 150 officers from 25 different agencies before the suspect surrendered.
"I was worried about them going into shock," McNeill said.
At the hospital, despite being in serious condition, the officer joked and laughed with his doctors. He was taken to surgery, where his skull was cracked and a titanium plate installed. Despite his serious injuries, McNeill was released from the hospital in three days and went back to work on light duty in two months. He was back to full duty – and back on the SWAT Team – two months after working light duty.
McNeill praised his department for how they handled the event, from posting an officer outside his door, to contacting a school colleague to inform his wife. He said the community also has been amazingly supportive, including shutting down the emergency room on the day of the incident to treat the injured officers, to getting calls, letter, e-mails and help from fellow officers and the broader community.
Following the incident, the department has added more equipment to improve officer safety. Each of the patrol supervisors are now equipped with rifles with scopes to be able to respond to long-range weapons. Each patrol officer was given a cell phone, and the department is looking into buying an armored vehicle.
McNeill began his career with the Midland Police Department in 1996 and was hired by the Ector County Sheriff’s Office in 2004. He has served as a Patrol Sergeant as well as a Sergeant over the Criminal Investigations Unit. He has served on the SWAT Team for six years and as a sniper for two years. He is also a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education instructor.
McNeill completed a three week session of the Leadership Command College at the time of the shooting and was working on his master’s degree at the University of Texas at the Permian Basin when the shooting occurred. Three days after the shooting, he called the College to ask for an extension on a research paper. McNeill was given as much time as he needed to complete the task.
McNeill said the Leadership Command College is the best training he has ever received because of the quality of the instructors and the type of training offered, including items like budgets and administration.
"It is not just about being a better cop, it about being prepared to become a leader and manager," said McNeill. "It is the best training I have ever had and I have 3,000 hours of TCLEOSE training.”