Training, 'muscle memory' credited with saving Ohio officer's life

HAMILTON, Ohio - Years of training probably saved the life of a veteran police officer Saturday morning when he confronted an armed man.

Hamilton Police Chief J. Scott Scrimizzi said Officer Chad Stafford took a dispatch call of a man shooting a rifle into the air at 11th Street and Sipple Avenue right before a shift change at 7 a.m.

When Stafford arrived on the scene, 18-year-old Brandon Keeler began opening fire on the officer's cruiser with an AK-47 assault rifle containing high-caliber rounds.

Stafford leapt from his vehicle to escape being pinned down, as he is trained to do, according to Scrimizzi.

In the process the 16-year veteran received a grazing bullet wound to his head.

“Within another inch, the officer could have been killed,” Scrimizzi said.

Stafford fired two rounds back at Keeler after he was injured. The exchange of gunfire ended with fatal consequences for Keeler. The young Hamilton man was eventually pronounced dead at the scene.

"I have a 17-year-old son,” Scrimizzi said. “It's a shame that it had to come to this.”

After being stopped a handgun was also found on Keeler.

Scrimizzi related how a witness said he was amazed by Stafford’s resolve during the exchange. Bleeding profusely from his head, the witness said Stafford never lost sight of Keeler.

Stafford is one of about a dozen firearm trainers with the department. He also worked as a K-9 handler and with the SWAT team in the past.

The 44-year-old officer called in his own injury to dispatch. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s Air Care helicopter was called to the scene to transport Stafford.

At the hospital, Stafford received staples for his wounds and was released in the afternoon to his family.

While in the hospital Scrimizzi said Stafford contributed solid training and “muscle memory” to his survival.

Scrimizzi said Keeler had a juvenile record, but due to Keeler’s age at the time, details of incidents could not be released. The chief confirmed Keeler lived in the neighborhood where the shooting took place.

The last officer-involved shooting occurred in Hamilton on April 25, 2010. Chief Scrimizzi could not remember the last time a Hamilton police officer was shot in the line of duty.

As far as motive was concerned, Scrimizzi could not begin to speculate what caused Keeler to act.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said.

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WCPO reporter Shannon Kettler contributed to this report.

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