How a Hero Cop Fell

by longformphilly

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Steve Volk | Philadelphia Magazine | May 2015

Richard DeCoatsworth anticipated another great day. The 21-year-old rookie cop was six months into a new job he loved, and the sun shone bright that morning in 2007, through a cloudless September sky. He left his partner off at the courthouse and drove his patrol car west on Market Street toward the wilds of his district, where street vendors and drug dealers work in the open air.

Around 51st Street, he passed a battered blue Buick going the opposite direction. Everyone inside seemed to stiffen. DeCoatsworth had seen experienced police make arrests — for drugs, illegal guns, stolen cars — by acting on such subtle cues. He pulled a U-turn. The driver accelerated and turned out of sight. DeCoatsworth hunted for maybe a minute till he saw the car, parked on Farson Street.

Ideally, he’d call for backup before anything happened. But when he pulled alongside the Buick, blocking it in, three school-age kids emerged and started walking away. DeCoatsworth hopped out of his car and ordered them back, while glancing at the driver. As the kids returned, he felt secure enough to turn toward the police radio mounted on his right shoulder. A sudden blast struck him like a sledgehammer to the face.

Reeling, he scrambled sideways and over the hood of a parked car. He drew his gun and peeked back across the street. The Buick’s driver, shotgun waving wildly in his right hand, ran north. By now, the left side of DeCoatsworth’s face felt like it was on fire. Blood pumped from his wounds and down his throat, forcing him to drink. He touched his jaw, assessing the damage. He found craters in his skin, but there was enough structure that he felt whole. He realized he could run.

Writer bio: Steve Volk is a writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine. Volk, a University of Florida graduate, wrote for alt-weeklies in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for 20 years. He is one of the city’s foremost narrative journalists.

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