SPECIAL REPORT: In the Line of Fire – Sheriff reflects on being shot in the face

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – It can happen to any police officer - being shot in the line of duty.

In the first of our three-part series "In the Line of Fire" about the real dangers of that job, an East Alabama sheriff shared his firsthand perspective on being shot in the face, how it changed him, and what law enforcement officials face today.

Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor hasn't been back to the home where it happened, where was shot in the face, more than 13 years ago.

"An individual had taken his girlfriend hostage, he was an elderly gentleman, reportedly had some type of terminal illness," Sheriff Taylor said.

It was July 21, 2003. Dispatch called deputies out to a hostage situation on Carson Street off Highway 169 in Seale, AL.

Back then, Taylor was lieutenant over investigations for the Russell County Sheriff's Department. He said they tried to negotiate with the hostage-taker, but the armed 78-year-old suspect wouldn't surrender and was threatening his girlfriend.

"The word was given for the tactical team to enter the house in an effort to save the hostage that was in there and potentially him," he recounted.

Sheriff Taylor remembers running from the road to the house, losing his shoes in the mud, but that didn't stop the deputies from storming the house at around 3 a.m. that morning.

"When we made entry into the house, I didn't have shoes on, I was wearing just socks," Sheriff Taylor said. "I was first in the door, and as we turned to go down the hallway, he fired at the tactical light that was on my weapon at the time. It hit me in the face, and both arms and hands."

His first thoughts were his wife and child. Taylor survived that shotgun wound, while the Russell County SWAT team saved the hostage and returned fire on the suspect, shooting and killing him.

"I remember, as vivid as it was yesterday, saying 'I'm not going to die in this house,'" Sheriff Taylor said. "He had run out of buckshot, or I probably wouldn't be talking to you today."

Shot by what's called turkey load - larger pellets used to hunt small game - Sheriff Taylor had several surgeries on his eye and mouth, fully recovering. He says in his 30-year career, there's been hundreds of times he could've been shot but wasn't.

"I trained my whole career to do what I did, go in that house and get the bad guy," Sheriff Taylor said. "Sometimes you get shot, sometimes you don't, that's part of the job...but today we face a whole another animal."

Sheriff Taylor tells us nowadays, police officers face things you simply cannot train for.

"We're being targeted...when we step out of the car at a call," he said.

Corporal Roy Isasi, a chaplain for the Columbus Police Department, has prayed with and counseled countless officers who have either been shot or used deadly force as a last resort.

"I've dealt with officers, it bothered them for months, did they do the right thing, but when you're being shot at, we're taught to defend ourselves and protect society," Corporal Isasi said.

Sometimes police-involved shootings or dangerous situations give current or potential future officers second thoughts.

"Some officers, they'll talk to me, especially the really, really young officers, saying I'm not sure if this job is for me," Corporal Isasi said. "Some of them get really, really open...and we'll pray and say we're going to give this to you Lord."

Russell County's Sheriff says officers leave their families, facing unknown and daily dangers. Statistics show, many of those involved in a shooting make a career change, within three years.

In Columbus, Joshua McQuien returned to his patrol officer job shortly after being shot in the shoulder on a burglary call at a Hilton Avenue home last October. Now, he's no longer with the Columbus Police Department for "personal reasons."

Sheriff Taylor, who says being shot definitely "changes you," says he never wanted to leave the job, but knows the impact is long-lasting.

"It changes your mindset every day after that, it makes you more thankful for what you have and where you are. At the same time, it makes you train different. It makes you think about the job different," Sheriff Taylor candidly said.

Two other deputies were also hit with pellets during that 2003 hostage standoff.

If the same scenario happened today, Sheriff Taylor says he may have not been injured, because now, their SWAT teams use ballistic shields and helmets.

Continuing these special reports, watch this Thursday, February 9 on WTVM at 6/5c, to hear from the emotional mothers of both officers recently killed in Americus, in a News Leader 9 exclusive.

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