OGDEN -- It's a tale of two officers, good friends, and their involvement in six different shootings, and how the mind snaps back, hopefully.
John Valdez, 60, now works as a hearing officer in the Ogden Justice Court. He retired in 1997 after 24 years as an Ogden police officer.
The same movie runs through his head, he said, every time he recalls fatally shooting a rape suspect in September 1994.
"It always starts with me driving down Doxie Street, near 28th Street."
He rolls up in his patrol car, lights out, a stealth response to a call of a rape in progress. He saw the naked victim lying by a tree.
She came to his patrol car as he got out, saying the assailant was still in the area, had a knife and was going to kill her.
"She had that look in her eyes, of death, that she had accepted the fact she was going to die."
Daniel Hickman had dragged her to several locations, raping her repeatedly, Valdez recalled. Stirring in nearby bushes alerts Valdez and Hickman came out running. He gave chase, yelling for Hickman to stop.
Hickman only paused at a fence, which he began to climb. Then he dropped back down, into a crouching stance, and swiveled, an arm held out like he had a gun.
"The training kicks in," Valdez said. "If you have to stop and think about it, you could get killed."
Valdez fired six times.
Only the first shot hit, passing through Hickman's heart. But high on cocaine and alcohol, he climbed the fence and continued running before he collapsed and died.
It turned out Hickman did not have a gun. Valdez endured four different investigations, inluding federal officials involved over civil rights concerns because Hickman was black, before the shooting was ruled justified.
Ten months earlier, Valdez and two other officers were shot at by a 16-year-old car burglar. "It's 2 a.m., and you can see those blue fireballs coming at you. I thought I was dead."
All three officers fired back. Nobody was hit, and the 16-year-old, who had just starting bringing a gun along for his car prowls, was arrested and convicted of multiple charges.
Valdez talks openly about the shootings, to this day occasionally called on to give presentations on use of deadly force and its aftermath at the state police academy, Weber State University criminal justice classes and elsewhere. He's done that since 1996, at one point as part of a statewide Critical Incident Stress Debriefing unit.
"I have no doubts now, I had no doubts then that I did what I had to do," he said of killing Hickman.
"But it is something that you never forget. You recover, with proper support, but you never forget. It's always there with you.
"If you're secure in your faith, and your support systems, you can get on with your life. If you can't, you need to get out of the law enforcement profession."
If asked, he said, he always tells young police officers "I hope you're prepared mentally, emotionally, spiritually, to take a life, because you may have to."
There is some regret about Hickman, he said. "If anything, I'm mad at Daniel Hickman for making me do what I had to do."
Tom Hanselman, 48, left OPD in 2004. He spent 12 years with the police department, preceded by four years at the Weber County Sheriff's Office. He was personally involved in four shootings in a three-year period, and they left scars.
The first was in June 1996, when Hanselman was a detective in the gang unit. His gift for rapport with gang members had him chatting with a group outdoors after dark when two rival gang members drove by.
They eyed Hanselman, then shot the 2-year-old daughter of the gang member he was talking to and sped off.
"I have never been that angry," he said. "They purposefully shot a baby right in front of me knowing I was there. I wanted blood. I got none. I am thankful now that I did not kill them."
He and another officer did chase them down and got them convicted and sent to prison. The child survived.
"But I was never the same after that. I realized that I had to get off the streets then. Something snapped in me. I was changed forever after that."
Hanselman had spent several years as a gang detective after patrol duty in Ogden's high crime area, between 20th and 30th Streets and Washington and Harrison boulevards. He grew up in the area.
After the drive-by, a fellow officer in a hallway conversation told him he was "damn lucky" to be the hero of a drive-by like most officers dream of, asking "What was that like?" Hanselman cursed the officer and walked off. "It was not a gift to see a small child shot in front of you."
Four months later, he was among the first Ogden officers to arrive at the scene of a shooting of a 17-year-old gang member he knew at 27th Street and Washington. Tony Colwell had been shot nine times by two Utah Highway Patrol Troopers after he brandished a handgun during a traffic stop.
Colwell somehow survived. "I had been asked by Tony's parents to come to their house a week prior to talk to him. He was a bomb waiting to go off, he was so angry."
Hanselman was the only officer on the scene to talk to Colwell as he lay wounded, handcuffed and waiting for medical help, according to testimony at Colwell's trial for attempted murder of a police officer, which sent him to prison. Hanselman's brief chat may have saved Colwell's life, according to medical testimony, as it kept Colwell from passing out, which likely would have been fatal at that time.
Incident with knife
Hanselman's next shooting scene came at 21st and Harrison, Jan. 17, 1999. He was among a group of four officers trying to control a suicidal Joshua Eric West, 23. He lashed at officers with a giant hunting knife after calling 911, daring police to come and get him. His girlfriend then called 911 to say West wanted to provoke police into shooting him.
Pepper spray had no effect and West ignored any commands or attempts to talk to him. Officers with guns out were hard-pressed to get a line of fire on West that didn't threaten other officers circling him.
Hanselman had holstered his sidearm for that reason as West bore down on him with the knife, Hanselman ready to wrestle. "Then, out of nowhere, (OPD officer) Bobby Clements drives his car between me and West, hits West and saves my life.
"West attacked the car, viciously striking the window over and over again with the knife. He went crazy trying to get at Clements. Sparks are flying from the metal frame of the window where West struck the door with the knife trying to get to Clements."
Eventually West turned to lunge at two other officers with the hunting knife, giving Clements the shot that finally stopped West.
"I always had a hard time around Bobby after that," Hanselman said. "He saved my life and I could never repay him. He was treated poorly by the department and the media, who crucified him because some ex-con said West had no knife and we planted it. He suffered a lot. He cried over killing that guy."
Later that same year, March 27, 1999, Hanselman shot a suspect, Joey Conrad, 18.
Three officers cornered Conrad at 28th Street and Pingree Avenue after Conrad stepped out of his car during a traffic stop to brandish a gun.
"The shooting was really quiet for me," he said. "I only heard my gun go off. The patrol cars had their sirens on and I never heard that. I never heard the other guys shoot at Conrad. All I saw was Joey aiming at me."
He knew Conrad from his days as a gang detective and knew of his dysfunctional family life, leading him to believe Conrad was seeking an "officer-assisted suicide.' "
Conrad survived and went to prison.
"One guy, a SWAT guy, asked me after I shot Joey Conrad 'What did it feel like?' He always wanted to shoot someone, his words not mine, and wanted to know if it was as cool as he thought it would be.
"We almost went to blows. I was furious ... I (had) talked to Joey two weeks before and we joked and laughed. Then I had to shoot him. I hated that cop that asked me that."
Hanselman left OPD in 2004 as his life turned turbulent during a heated custody battle with an ex-wife that brought friction at work, where things had been tense already since his stressful 1999.
He had run-ins with supervisors over what he saw as the failure of the department to support Clements during his shooting aftermath, almost getting fired for insubordination in pressing for the police Medal of Honor Clements eventually did receive.
Hanselman now works for a police agency he will only describe as military police in a Colorado town he won't name.
He's been through several jobs, and is on his third marriage since the shootings, and has been diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder.
"People see you different after a shoot, they treat you different, like you're some kind of hero," he said. "You're not."
In his mind, it's a failure that a situation couldn't be resolved without violence.
He continues treatment for PTSD, finding medications so far no help so far.
Hanselman's improved since the days of what his doctor called the worst case of hypervigilance he'd ever seen.
"I would wake up to my cat walking up the stairs, carpeted stairs."
He's been through seizures and migraine headaches, still gets depressed, and is too anxious to sit through an average-length movie.
Hanselman has a hard time concentrating to read, feels his memory is failing him and never sleeps well.
"I am edgy at loud noises, or anything that is unexpected, noise, touch, anything that startles me.
"The guys I work with now think I am too serious and too angry, too intense, too moody, get the picture? And they are war vets."
But he finds his latest wife an amazing woman and believes "I have finally found peace in Colorado, living in a remote area on a mountain."