BETRAYED BY BLUE
By: Captain Donna Roman Hernandez (Ret.)
On a hot and sunny July 16th in 2007 Totowa Patrol Officer John Sole awoke at 4 pm to the sounds of a television kept on to help him fall asleep during the daytime. He began his 6 pm to 6 am pre shift routine.
The movie “Superman Returns” was playing on the TV and Sole watched a part in the movie where Superman confronts people on a building top, one man armed with a Gatling gun that he turned on Superman. The rounds bounced off Superman’s chest. Sole recalls thinking then wouldn’t it be great if we had bulletproof vests that could stop bullets without the body feeling the concussion of the bullets. After his shower Sole watched the news about the funeral of NYPD Detective Russell Timoshenko who was shot and killed in the line of duty on July 9th. As Sole tied his duty boots, put on his body armor and listened to Timoshenko’s story, he had thoughts that his own shift might be an unusual one. A premonition perhaps?
When this seasoned 14-year Totowa Patrol Officer’s shift started there was no indication of what was to come. Sole’s shift began as typical as any other evening performing radar enforcement and responding to calls. His dinner break was spent at his Totowa residence with his wife and five children and his visiting sister-in-law and her children. Thirty minutes after his dinner break a deadly chain of events began to unfold at 8 pm.
Totowa Borough Municipal Court was held that night and former Totowa Police Officer Pete Riva, fired from employment decades prior, was angry about the Court’s decision to dismiss a matter involving his ex-girlfriend. Fearing Riva’s fury over that outcome, his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend would not leave the court complex without a police escort. Riva left the courtroom but returned wearing a windbreaker, an odd piece of apparel for a hot summer evening. Sole’s shift partner Officer James Eisele escorted them to their vehicle. Riva was waiting outside for them in the court complex parking lot in his personal vehicle, a black Jeep Liberty, and ran over his ex-girlfriend, clipped her boyfriend, just missed hitting Officer Eisele and fled the scene.
“Officer Eisele was screaming on the police radio ‘headquarters parking lot’ but I couldn’t understand what else he was saying” Sole said. “I turned up Crews Street and as I’m getting in front of Headquarters, Eisele calls out a black Jeep Liberty going up Peterson Road that comes out to Totowa Road, one block above Headquarters. So I headed to Peterson and Totowa Road to stop the vehicle still unsure what Eisele said on the police radio.
I spotted the suspect Jeep a block away from Police Headquarters on Union Boulevard and Crews Street. The Liberty turned towards me as I pulled up head to head to stop him. I recognized the driver as Pete Riva, a former Totowa Police Officer employed during the 1970s. He cut around a car and drove onto a homeowner’s lawn to get away. I radioed Headquarters it was Riva and that I was in vehicular pursuit. We traveled about a quarter mile down Totowa Road and he pulled over next to a huge tree. I pulled across to pinch him up against the tree. As I started to step out of my police vehicle, the siren was still on so I quickly leaned back in to shut it off.”
After Sole pulled him over, Riva emerged from the rear of his vehicle charging and firing at him.
“When I got out of my police car, the first thing I saw was the barrel of a smoking .357 magnum gun firing rounds at me. The sounds of gunfire were deadened by the siren until I shut it off.
Riva continued firing at me head on as I’m out of the car standing in the crook of the car’s door.
I reached for my .40 cal Sig Sauer but my holster’s arched safety guard caught the hammer of my gun probably caused by my pushing down so hard on the holster. Riva charged me and told me to give him my gun. He tried reaching for it but I pushed it back down. I barely had time to react as Riva jumped on me and we started scuffling in the street. Physically I felt something wasn’t right but my adrenaline was through the roof.
I was bleeding but didn’t know it at the time that one round went through my left shoulder and out my left bicep. A second round grazed the inside of my left bicep and almost cut it in half.”
With his left uniform sleeve soaked in blood, Sole was wrestling with Riva for control of the gun.
“Riva had me in a headlock with his left arm and told me to get down on my knees. Until that moment, there was no pause. I was thinking of the next step, finding a window of opportunity to get him off guard, to get to my gun, to stick it in his rib cage and unload. Riva placed his gun to my right temple and told me to take out my gun and give it to him. My opportunity to distract him came. I told him I had kids and not to kill me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man running towards us. I yelled ‘tackle him’. When Riva turned to look at the other guy he was tackled. I pushed Riva and his gun away from me.
Unbeknownst to both, the man coming to Sole’s aid was retired Paterson Police Captain Philip Bevacqua who ran out of his house when he heard the recognizable sounds of gunfire outside his front door and saw the confrontation.
“Riva and the Captain were scuffling in the middle of the road behind me and trading punches. I regrouped myself, took out my gun, and told the Captain to get back. Riva was about 30 feet from me and waving his gun from side to side. I knew I had to end it quickly. With the Captain out of harms way, I fired from a kneeling position until Riva dropped. My adrenalin came down. My portable’s mic was covered in blood dangling on my left side where I was shot.”
Sole got back on his feet and grabbed the mic cord until it got into his left hand, then grabbed the mic with his right hand. He radioed HQ that ‘108’ was shot and gave his location.
“After the shooting was over an off-duty Police Officer who lived nearby kicked the gun away from Riva’s hand. I remember hearing sirens off in the distance. I knew I was shot but didn’t know by how many rounds. A warm pulse of blood hit inside my left arm. I thought I was hit in the armpit or a round got underneath my vest. I had numbness, no reflexes but extreme pain. I was covered in blood, some light red in color and a darker red like arterial bleeding. I thought I was going to die in the street right there.
I went into survival mode. I thought about driving myself to the hospital thinking how pissed my kids would be that I am leaving this world early. A neighborhood friend of mine, Frank Andriani, came up to me face to face and then I collapsed to my knees. I never laid down out of fear that I would bleed out and die.
The first back up arrived and Totowa Officer Dan DiBlasio asked me who shot me. I pointed to the driveway where Riva was and told my Lieutenant David DeFeo ‘he friggin shot me’ and they both grabbed me and rushed me to the ambulance. As I got in the side door of the ambulance, my father arrived and went to the ambulance. He was heading home and came upon the incident. One of the EMTs recognized him and told him that I was shot but was going to be okay. The first thing I asked when I was inside the ambulance was where was I hit. I was told it was my arm and only my arm. It took a serious edge off.”
Officer Sole was transported to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson.
“On the way to the hospital I was sweating. I started undressing, pulling the velcro open and my vest off. I felt like I was under a water spicket. At St. Joe’s almost the entire emergency room staff was there working on me like a colony of ants. I was stripped down and one of the doctors gave me a quick assessment. The pain was excruciating. I kept asking about the gunman but received no response. As I was wheeled for an MRI I saw Paterson Police Officer Ricky Latrecchia who I grew up with. He told me Riva was dead.
That was the news I wanted to hear. I felt no emotion. He got what he deserved. I was okay with that.
I was brought into a private room and for about 3 ½ hours my arm was stitched up. The Prosecutor’s Office came in for my gear, gun belt, clothes and everything else I was wearing. I pleaded with the Trauma Surgeon to be able to go home. I wanted to get home because my kids knew what happened and if I wasn’t home when they woke up in the morning it would be tough on them. I was released and home at 4:15 am on Tuesday.
While hospitalized I received support from the hospital staff, my wife and family and the brotherhood of blue. My brother Totowa Police Officers on-duty, off-duty and those retired along with Totowa Mayor John Coiro came to the hospital to see how I was doing. Totowa Police Chief Robert Coyle stayed with me during my hospitalization and escorted me and my family to our home. The entire Paterson Police shift stopped in to see me. Officer Latrecchia went to my house and brought me a change of clothing.
In the days following the shooting, all my brother Totowa Officers, the Mayor and Council would frequently visit me at home to check on my progress. The outpouring of well wishes from Totowa residents, many whom I knew and those I didn’t, was overwhelming and Police Officers from Little Falls, Wayne, West Paterson, Woodland Park, Passaic County Sheriff and the State Police visited me during my recuperation. Their support aided with my healing and recovery from this traumatic incident. I was out of work for ten months and returned to the job on May 15, 2008.”
Officer John Sole was the first Police Officer in the Borough of Totowa to be shot in the line of duty. For his heroism Sole received many honors including a Valor Award from the Passaic County 200 Club; a Gold Valor Award from the New Jersey State PBA; a Medal of Honor, Legion of Honor, Combat Cross and Wounded in Combat Medal from PBA Local 80; a proclamation and plaque from the Borough of Totowa and was sworn in as a member of the New Jersey Honor Legion. The Borough of Totowa awarded Captain Bevacqua with a key to the Borough.
On September 1, 2009 Officer John Sole retired with an in the line of duty disability pension. Post retirement Sole works as a School Security/Resource Officer in the Totowa School District and enjoys coaching several Totowa PAL programs. He is an active member with the Cop 2 Cop New Jersey Wounded Officers Association and attends their monthly support meetings.
Totowa Police Officer John Sole used deadly force to save his own life and the lives of others. Sole cautions Officers “Shootings don’t happen like they do in the movies. You don’t get right back up after you’re shot. They leave out the emotional stress put upon the family and extensive physical rehabilitation the Officer endures. During the shooting my instincts were reactionary from my police training and what I learned as a young man. It’s critical to defuse your assailant, wait for him to drop his guard, psychologically turn the critical incident over into your hands and think of what your next step will be to save yourself.”
No law enforcement Officer is immune from a spontaneous armed encounter and Officers must be physically fit, tactically trained and mentally prepared to handle anything – even a gun battle with a crazed assailant who used to be a cop.
Contact Donna Roman Hernandez @ firstname.lastname@example.org, www.blueforcefilms.com, www.thejerseybeat.blogspot.com