A lesson from Jimmy Cirillo and the Stakeout Squad

I don’t want to burst any bubbles among the broad public but I have a different take on a very unfortunate incident than the family and the news reporter do.

A little background is in order. The NYPD Stakeout Unit, unofficially called the Stakeout Squad, was formed in 1968 and existed until 1973. Its formation was due to the large number of retail robberies occurring in New York City at the time, many of which resulted in the brutalization or murder of shopkeepers. The Squad was disbanded in 1973, allegedly for ‘efficiency’ reasons but the members generally conceded that it was because the Squad shot so many robbers, whom they caught red-handed and who decided to shoot it out rather than surrender. Jimmy Cirillo was one of the founding members and a good friend of mine. Jimmy died in a motor vehicle accident in 2007. His wit and wisdom will always be remembered by those of us who knew him.

Here is an incident synopsis from the full article:

Hero mom dies protecting her baby daughter

She was young, beautiful and tragically killed by her daughter’s father early Sunday morning. Now, Jessica Arrendale, 33, is being hailed by her family as a hero for saving her six-month old daughter’s life, even as she died from a bullet to the head.

It began Saturday night when Jessica and Cobie’s father, 30-year old Antoine Davis, went out for the evening. At some point, Ionniello said, Davis, a former Marine who served in Iraq, became belligerently drunk and abusive. It had happened many times, Ionniello said, but her daughter did not seem able to turn Davis away no matter how often he abused her.

Davis chased Arrendale up the stairs of her three-story townhome in the Oakdale Bluffs subdivision sometime around midnight, she said….

Arrendale locked herself in a bathroom. Davis got his gun, an assault rifle outfitted with a suppressor. He burst into the bathroom and, while Arrendale was still holding Cobie in her arms, shot the young mother in the head, Ionniello said…..

“He shot her and they (police) don’t know how she was able to twist her body and fall literally in the opposite direction,” Ionniello said. Instead of falling onto the floor, Ionniello said her daughter fell over the toilet, dropping little Cobie into the water-filled bowl….

The baby remained in the toilet, covered by her mother’s body, for 13-hours before officers finally stormed the townhouse and rescued her. She was cradled in the arms of an officer who rushed her outside to a waiting ambulance.

No one ‘makes decisions’ when they’ve been shot in the head, probably brain, with a 5.56mm bullet at point blank range. That’s an instant shutoff. In a macabre way, I would like to see the coroner’s report as to the extent of the damage to her brain. However, this immediately brought to mind something Jimmy Cirillo told me about his experiences in the Stakeout Squad shootings.

He observed that every time a perpetrator was instantly killed by Stakeout Squad gunfire, they fell where they stood and their legs were crossed as they fell. Usually, they were facing the opposite direction from the way they had been standing. Jimmy’s hypothesis was that one side of the brain shut off before the other causing one side of the body to collapse before the other, resulting in the turning of the body and the crossing of the legs.

He didn’t indicate he had any medical basis for his opinion. Therefore, I regard it as a hypothesis based on his observations of the numerous men he and the other members of the Stakeout Squad had killed.

My opinion is that the same thing happened to this poor young woman; her brain shut off sequentially, which caused her body to twist as it fell. It was random chance that protected her infant son from the crazed father. While I would like to accord her ‘hero’ status, I don’t see it that way. No offense to her is intended, I am sure she would have protected her child any way she could, had she been capable.

The lesson is this: be cautious about approaching predators after they’ve been shot; they might not be completely disabled. With handguns, the mechanism causing the opponent to stop is largely exsanguination, meaning blood loss. When someone falls after being shot and bleeding profusely, they may regain consciousness when the brain comes level with the heart. Central Nervous System (CNS) stops, such as this unfortunate young lady experienced, are the only really sure anchors.

For those interested in reading more about the Stakeout Squad, I recommend Paul Kirchner’s excellent book, Jim Cirillo’s Tales of the Stakeout Squad.

4 responses

  1. This reminds me of a story that was circulating a few years back about a father and son whom I believe were heading towards their vehicle and they encountered a rattlesnake. Long story short, the father chopped the snake’s head off, a bit back from the actual head. I’m not sure if he then sent his son back inside as I can’t recall, but the father went to pick up the snake’s head and was then bitten by the severed head.

    Ever since reading that, I’ve always tried to make it a point to be very cautious about approaching any downed beings. The above story you quoted and your observations reinforce that idea for me.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Not sure it requires anything more than the mechanics of a body as an explanation.

    We stand because we are constantly adjusting our balance. Without those (subconscious) adjustments, the body becomes unbalanced, and the legs would give way. It’s not unreasonable to assume that unless precisely balanced, the body would twist as the knees buckled under an uneven load.

    This too is an hypothesis, but one that could be tested with less of a mess than the above.

  3. “An ordinary New York City policeman is obliged to practice his shooting twice a year. Members of the Stakeout Unit practice once a month, and their score must be expert with both hands. In their training, combat shooting is stressed. Their targets are much smaller than normal, and they are advised to practice dry firing at home every day.

    “There are only five members of the Police Department rated as ‘Distinguished Shooters,’ a national title. Four of them are in the Stakeout Unit. One of these was second in a recent national championship. Three are in the Olympic tryouts. One patrolman in a recent Washington, D.C., tournament shot the only perfect 1,200 score ever fired.”

    The Deadly Score of the Stakeout Squad
    by Robert Daley
    New York Magazine
    April 24, 1972
    p. 34


    1. Thanks so much for this link. Jim was a good friend of mine.

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