Did An Ill-Advised Stand-Down Order Cost Lives In Orlando?

news
A police officer stands guard at a road block near the scene of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub early Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.
AP Photo by David Goldman

Officer Brandon Cornwell of the Belle Isle, Florida, police department was conducting a traffic stop in a suburb of Orlando on June 12 at 2 a.m. when a call came out on his radio reporting shots fired at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The club was a straight shot from Cornwell’s location — after hitting every green light along the way, he was able to make it to the scene within 38 seconds, he revealed in an interview with the Washington Post.


Cornwell, a 25-year-old Iraq veteran and former National Guardsman, was one of the first responders to arrive on scene, and reveals the initial courageous response of officers reacting to the terror attack that left 49 dead, 53 wounded, and a nation stunned. He spoke with The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen at Belle Isle’s City Hall in the presence of  his police chief who occasionally interrupted to stop Cornwell from offering too much detail.

Cornwell described arriving on scene and arming himself with his police-issued assault rifle.

“There was tons of people running out of the club,” he told the Post. “I grabbed my assault rifle and ran toward the club. At this point the shooter is still actively shooting inside.”

Cornwell and five other officers broke a window and crawled into the dark club. He said they were inside Pulse within two minutes of arriving on scene.  He described the chaotic scene, “trying to locate exactly where the shooter was — we kept hearing people scream and shots fired.”

Related: This Marine Veteran Saved Dozens In Orlando Nightclub Shooting »

Cornwell and the group of officers followed the sounds of screaming and gunfire to the bathroom area, where they believed the shooter to be holed up. The team, tactically positioned behind a bar, aimed their rifles at the bathroom, and received orders to wait there.

“We just basically stayed there, waited for movement, and we just held our position until SWAT got there,” said Cornwell. “Once SWAT got there they told us to retreat, that they’d take over because we were not really in tactical gear — we were just in our police uniforms.” Cornwell estimates that it took 15 to 20 minutes, “maybe longer”  for the SWAT team to arrive.

In the aftermath of the shooting, experts have questioned whether that order to stand down was the best response to the crisis.

Chris Grollneck, a former police officer and expert on active-shooter response and domestic terrorist attacks, told Politico that in an active-shooter scenario, once two or more officers are on scene, they should go after the shooter. It’s called the Active Shooter response protocol, and it was developed after the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.

“Being a policeman is a dangerous job. That’s why they give policemen guns. Everybody inside that club did not have a gun. When the police were ordered out, no one had a gun except the gunman.”

Orlando police have claimed that once the shooter, later identified as Omar Mateen, was inside the bathroom, they shifted from an active-shooter protocol to dealing with a barricaded person. Grollneck told Politico that justification doesn’t hold water. The shooter had already demonstrated his intent to kill, and SWAT would wind up having to go in and take him out, but it wouldn’t be until three hours after officers were poised to do that within minutes.

Mateen would later tell authorities via phone that he was armed with explosive devices, but Grollneck said even if police had that information when they ordered the stand-down, it shouldn’t have mattered.

“Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. There’s reports the guy has a suicide vest or possible bombs. Now we know it’s a terrorist attack …” Grollneck said. “ ... do you not go in to give him time to activate the bomb that could kill 100,000 people outside? Or do you go in and take the chance immediately at the risk of 300 people?

“The leadership of the Orlando Police Department failed the people inside the club,” Grollneck said bluntly. “... this was risk-adversity by supervisors.”

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Two military bases in Florida and one in Arizona will see heat indexes over 100 degrees four months out of every year if steps aren't taken to reduce carbon emissions, a new study warns.

Read More Show Less

This Veterans Day, two post-9/11 veterans-turned congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation to have a memorial commemorating the Global War on Terrorism built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Read More Show Less

Between 500 and 600 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Syria when all is said and done, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley said on Sunday.

Milley's comments on ABC News' "This Week" indicate the U.S. military's footprint in Syria will end up being roughly half the size it was before Turkey invaded Kurdish-held northeast Syria last month.

Read More Show Less
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a fund-raising fish fry for U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Associated Press/Charlie Neibergall)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On Veterans Day, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is proposing a "veteran-centric" Department of Veterans Affairs that will honor the service of the men and women of the military who represent "the best of who we are and what we can be."

Buttigieg, who served as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said service members are united by a "shared commitment to support and defend the United States" and in doing so they set an example "for us and the world, about the potential of the American experiment."

Read More Show Less
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a Climate Crisis Summit with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (not pictured) at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. November 9, 2019. (Reuters/Scott Morgan)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders promised on Monday to boost healthcare services for military veterans if he is elected, putting a priority on upgrading facilities and hiring more doctors and nurses for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To mark Monday's Veterans Day holiday honoring those who served in the military, Sanders vowed to fill nearly 50,000 slots for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at facilities run by Veterans Affairs during his first year in office.

Sanders also called for at least $62 billion in new funding to repair, modernize and rebuild hospitals and clinics to meet what he called the "moral obligation" of providing quality care for those who served in the military.

Read More Show Less