Risks of police work take tolls on officers and their families

“Baby, they got me again,” Cpl. Richard McCloskey, told his wife in a late night phone call on April 16.

He and fellow Baton Rouge Police Department Special Response Team member Sgt. Chris Polito were shot, but not injured, that night while serving a high-risk search warrant at the home at 1336 N. 36th St.

It was not the first time McCloskey’s been shot while on duty — and not the first time Ashley McCloskey has received a call from her husband with the unsettling news.

“There’s a plethora of emotions — you’re glad he’s OK, you’re pissed off because it happened again, you’re angry, you’re sad,” she said. “I was angry at him for doing his job. I was angry at the person that did it. Then you’re relieved and you’re thanking God that he’s still here.”

Someone inside the home sprayed .40-caliber bullets through the doorway and wall, hitting Polito, who was first through the doorway, and Richard McCloskey, who would have been fourth or fifth through the door after an SRT member opened the door with a battering ram.

McCloskey was hit in the chest while a bullet caught Polito in a more sensitive area — the groin. The bullets were stopped by the bulletproof vests each wore, and in Polito’s case, the groin guard attachment that clips to the bottom of the vest.

“I just felt an impact, and I could hear the shots. I’d already felt the impact, and my mind registered that I had been shot,” McCloskey said. The impact left him with a 2-inch bruise on his chest for about two weeks.

Polito said he never felt the impact, something he attributes to the adrenaline pumping through his body, and he realized he had been shot only when all the members checked themselves for bullets.

Both men were right back on duty, continuing the search for the shooter.

SRT members cornered suspected shooter Patrick Lathan, 18, 13830 Brittany Court, Denham Springs, inside the home and arrested him on five counts of attempted murder of a police officer and illegal use of a weapon. He remains jailed in lieu of a $110,000 bond.

While the vests provided physical protection, the emotions of being shot took a toll.

McCloskey, a six-year veteran of the department, said he immediately became enraged, while Polito, a 19-year veteran, said it was not until the next day that his emotions simmered over.

“I was aggravated the next day that someone could have killed me and taken me away from my wife and kids,” Polito said of his 14-year-old twin sons.

SRT members train for a lot of contingencies, including what to do if one of them gets shot, but contrary to some TV shows and movies, they do not shoot one another to prepare for being shot, Polito said.

“You don’t build up a tolerance for taking .40-caliber rounds to the chest by continuing to do it,” Polito said.

After the incident, they both returned home at about 3 a.m. and were back on the job five hours later, serving another warrant.

The officers told their stories Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony honoring them and sponsored by Safariland, the company that makes the bulletproof vests that stopped the .40-caliber bullets that day.

McCloskey said he is beginning to get a playful reputation among his fellow SRT and narcotics officers as a “bullet magnet.” He said narcotics officers joke that when they serve a warrant, they should put him in front because if anyone is going to get shot, it will be him.

The first time he was shot was on March 1, 2012, by a bicyclist later identified as Michael A. Joseph, 43.

McCloskey tried to stop and question Joseph near Sycamore Street and Maple Drive when Joseph pulled a .38-caliber handgun and shot at the officer several times. One bullet narrowly missed his chest, striking his bulletproof vest and wireless lapel microphone.

McCloskey returned fire, but did not hit Joseph.

Joseph was later convicted of attempted second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in May 2013.

After that shooting, Ashley McCloskey said, she could not sleep for several days, even on the days when her husband was home.

“My God, I was scared to death,” she said.

But eventually she learned not to contemplate the what-ifs.

Although he was an officer when they married and she knew what she was getting into, that did not make it any easier on the two times he called her to tell her he’d been shot.

She said she trusts her husband and the other members of the SRT unit to keep each other safe every time they go out on a call.

“The bottom line is you’re glad they’re OK and when it comes down to it, that’s all that matters,” Ashley McCloskey said.