Note: I have no training or expertise in police procedure, and this subject is off topic for this blog. However, after raising questions in a post the other day, I decided to follow up with the additional information I’ve been able to gather. I should also note that we still don’t have all of the information. While what we have looks bad (to me at least), it is possible that the Orlando PD is just doing a very poor job of getting the information out about what transpired.
Following my original post on the topic more detail has come out about how the terror attack was handled. However, there are still significant gaps in the explanation. According to the LA Times, the off duty officer working security at the bar engaged with the terrorist right away:
The shooting was reported at 2:02 a.m. Sunday when an off-duty Orlando police officer at the club initially confronted Mateen near an entrance and the two engaged in a gun battle, Mina said.
This is vague and it isn’t clear whether the original officer broke off the engagement or chose not to pursue the terrorist as he went (back?) into the club. It also isn’t clear when the terrorist shot over 100 people. Did he shoot them before the off duty officer engaged him, or after the officer engaged him but before additional officers arrived? The story is that after additional officers arrived they went into the club and engaged with the killer, and the killer retreated into one of the bathrooms of the club. At that point, Police Chief Mina says that “dozens and dozens of people” were rescued:
At that time we were able to save and rescue dozens and dozens of people and get them out of the club,
Again, this is vague, but reading in between the lines it sounds like it was a hasty effort to get as many people out of the building as possible before hurrying out. They must not have been able to do much of a check for wounded who were unable to either call out for help or walk out on their own power. It also seems that they didn’t sweep beyond a main area, because while the terrorist was holed up in one bathroom with a number of victims, the police left the bar without freeing 15-20 victims trapped in another bathroom.
Mateen holed up with four to five hostages in a bathroom, while 15 to 20 more people were trapped in another bathroom nearby, Mina said. That’s when police backed off.
“Based on statements made by the suspect about explosives and an explosive vest, we did retreat,” Mina said.
After the police left the building, this article states that the wounded inside would have to wait until some time after the building was breached (around 5 AM):
As people lay dying in the club, the shooting developed “into a hostage situation,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said that initially, officers mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to some of his victims after a bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body. That held paramedics up from entering the club until it was determined the part had fallen out of an exit sign or smoke detector, the mayor said.
The robot was sent in after SWAT team members used explosive charges and an armored vehicle to knock down a wall down in an effort to access the club.
While the original claim was that the police waited out of fear of causing harm to the hostages, the fear of harming the hostages (in the bathroom) doesn’t explain why the police left the bar entirely and didn’t immediately start assisting and (once possible) moving the most seriously wounded people out of the building. In fact, the reason specifically given for not remaining and helping the seriously wounded is fear of explosives. Based on the reported statements by the police department and the mayor, the reason for the roughly three hour delay in rendering aid to the victims they left in the club was not fear of causing harm to the victims, but fear of harm coming to the police and paramedics. Obviously this was a judgment call, and the safety of the first responders matters. But there is an evasiveness in the way the story has been told.
After roughly three hours of victims laying bleeding on the floor with the police and paramedics outside, it was finally deemed safe enough to go and render aid. CNN describes the scene:
When it was all over and the first of the responders made their way through the cavernous nightclub, feet gingerly stepping over the bloody bodies sprawled all around, they called out, “If you’re alive, raise your hand.”
Lastly, there is this bizarre statement from the commander of the SWAT team commending the bravery of his officers for only leaving the building (and not running farther away) after Mateen locked himself and some hostages in the bathroom:
My guess is that most if not all of the SWAT team members wanted very much to go in and take control of the building (except perhaps for the bathroom the terrorist was holed up in) so the paramedics could start caring for the seriously wounded inside. While the framing is bizarre, by making the subject the bravery of his individual officers he is able to deflect attention away from the leadership’s decision to play it safe and wait.