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Written by
Ed Frawley

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Rural Manhunts

Coming Home Alive is a Factor of Training, Mental Attitude, Becoming a Detail Man and Luck

Have you ever found yourself thinking that you have made just about every mistake possible and its about time that you sit back and pay attention? Not long ago after a manhunt for an escaped federal prisoner (Robert Pulvermacher, 48,) here in Wisconsin I found myself in that position.

My partner (Sgt. Todd Kurtzahls) and myself made some stupid mistakes which almost cost us our lives. Writing things down helps me organize my thoughts. It's always embarrassing to admit making stupid mistakes but maybe our mistakes will help other officers to not do what we did.

I will almost guarantee you that every officer that reads this article will shake his head and say they should have known better. The fact is we did know better, we were not rookies and we still screwed up.

I will begin by laying out what we thought we were facing. Our dispatch was notified at @ 5 PM that an escaped federal prisoner from Duluth, MN was found about 140 miles south of our county. The prisoner had overpowered a local constable and disarmed him. Shots had been fired by the suspect as he ran into nearby woods with the officer's gun. A manhunt was set up and a command post established. Local dogs had been called in but had lost the track and were now tired. Our K9 teams were requested to relieve the local dogs.

Paulvermacher had recently been sent to federal prison on three counts of robbery. He was also the main suspect in the murder of a catholic priest in Madison, WI the previous year. The priest had been found in his own church with his throat cut.

My partner had retired his patrol dog and 2 weeks before this incident I had just brought him a new KNPV Malinoise from Holland. It was decided to leave this dog home and only take my dog. Todd would come along to provide backup. We were also accompanied by a jailer in our department who had a bloodhound.

After driving the 140 miles we arrived just as it was getting dark. We then found out the suspect had actually fled at about 8 AM in the morning. A sighting had been made around 9 AM as the suspect ran into very thick woods about a mile from where he disarmed the constable. A one square mile perimeter had been set up with patrol cars about every 100 to 150 yards around this section of woods. We were told the local dogs had lost the track earlier in the day.

After reviewing the situation Todd and I came to the conclusion that there was no way, after 12 hours in 20 degree weather, that the suspect was still within a 1 mile perimeter. That was our first mistake. He was there. Several months before, in a similar manhunt, Todd had been forced to shoot and kill a suspect that had run into the woods. I believe this gave us an unjustified feeling of self confidence.

When we arrived it was getting dark. We asked the local sheriff to allow us to go into the perimeter with my dog. We had night vision (which had just been loaned to our department by the local military reserve unit). We were told the Milwaukee FBI Swat team and an FBI plane from Chicago would arrive shortly and we should wait for them. The plane had a Fleur system.

In the mean time we were asked to search a group of cabins about a mile outside the perimeter. The sheriff had received an anonymous call that the suspect might be hiding in one of the cabins. We were provided with a local guide who directed us to the cabins. After suiting up, Todd and I searched about 3/4 of a miles of woods and cabins. We left the guide and our bloodhound handler with our vehicles. My dog worked off leash and did an excellent job of searching. He was responding to whisper commands and really working the area. The cabins were unoccupied and there was no one in the area.

We returning to the command center just as the FBI teams arrived. It reminded me of the movie "The Fugitive." About 10 unmarked cars, all identical, filled with swat agents that had equipment every small county deputy only dreamed about. The supervisors of course had their traditional trench coats.

The teams had to wait about 45 minutes for the FBI plane from Chicago. When it came in, it immediately flew over the perimeter.

My partner and I were then asked to meet the FBI team on the south west side of the perimeter. The plane had spotted a hot spot about 40 yards from the edge of the woods. I explained to the FBI teams that it would be better to allow my partner and I to enter the woods and they could follow at about 50 yards. I made the mistake of explaining how serious my dog was in his search. I asked for one officer to come with us - none volunteered.

When we entered the woods we found out how thick it really was. This area had burned in a forest fire 8 or 9 years ago. Loggers had topped the trees and since then saplings had grown up in between the tree tops. To best describe the underbrush, it was like walking nonstop through lilac bushes.

Todd and I went about 50 to 60 yards into the woods and realized that we did not have radio contact with the command center or the plane. We also realized that the FBI team was not behind us (they took the warning about my dog a little too seriously). At one point during this search my dog got about 50 to 75 yards in front and I had to use the Tri Tronic's collar to reinforce his recall. Because of our lack of communication we returned to the road. When we got back to the road, we were told that the plane could no longer see the hot spot and a perimeter officer had seen a deer run across the road. The plane indicated that it did not see anymore heat sources in the perimeter.

Todd and I were given a radio that belonged to a local officer and we again entered the woods. We still did not have the ability to communicate with the pilot in the plane. After going back into the woods about 50 yards we decided that we were wasting our time. We felt the suspect was long gone and the woods were too thick to walk through. We then returned to the perimeter and called it a night. We cleared the scene at about 2 AM.

The perimeter was left in place all night long. The next day the Swat team went through the woods and we were told that they found a set of clothes that the suspect had been wearing.

Three days later a local officer in Friendship, WI, (15 miles from the perimeter), picked up Pulvermacher as he was hitch hiking on the local highway. Pulvermacher gave the officer a false name which was run and did not come back as being wanted. The officer allowed the escapee to get into the front seat of his squad. At that point the suspect pulled his gun and tried to take the officer hostage. The officer grabbed the gun and a fight ensued. Shots were fired through the roof of the squad before the officer got the gun and took the suspect into custody.

Pulvermacher is currently facing federal charges of escape. In addition he is facing charges in 2 WI Counties of a felon in possession of a firearm, false imprisonment, reckless endangerment and disarming a law enforcement officer.

When the FBI later debriefed the escapee he stated that on the first night of the manhunt, he stayed inside the perimeter and 2 officers and a dog (meaning Todd and I) had walked under a tree he was in. The officers had actually stopped 8 feet under him and talked for a minute. He said that "had one of them looked up he would have shot them both in the head." That's kind of a sobering statement when you are one of the guys under the tree.

Now, I have no idea if Paulvermacher was lying or if this actually happened. We don't know how many people this guy talked to before he was questioned by the FBI. Maybe someone told him about the dog searches. But the fact remains that Todd and I made some serious mistakes that night. Here is what we discussed in our briefing after this incident:
Getting a bloodhound and a patrol dog to work together requires the handlers to train their dogs together. If this has not been done the dogs will become a distraction to one another.

Bloodhounds also provide NO handler protection if the need arises. The hounds that I have seen (which is not very many) have not impressed me as being able to perform any type of area searches. So if there is not a track to be found they are not going to be able to be used to perform off leash area searches.

So in conclusion, not getting hurt (short for "coming home safely to our families") in a search for an armed suspect is a factor of training, mental attitude, paying attention to details and a little bit of luck. All the training in the world is not going to help if we don't have the proper mind set when we do area searches and tracks for bad guys. One has to become a fanatic on details to become a good hunter especially if you are hunting a human. If everything is done properly and one pays attention to details the odds are in your favor during a search.

The worst part about this incident was how embarrassing it was to me. We are expected to act with a higher level of professionalism. The incident taught me a lot and I can honestly say that I will never make the same mistakes again. Not only that, I told Todd that it's his job to check the trees.

With a little bit of luck, Mr. Paulvermacher will be spending the rest of his natural life in prison where he belongs.



Email:
Ed,

I had wanted to speak with you at the seminar you had here in Michigan, unfortunately I could not get the time off to go. I had wanted to mention to you about the article that you had written in regard to the Rural man hunt that you had participated in. Some of the things you had written were things I had remembered when I was faced with a dangerous search in December.

On Dec. 16th I responded to what is known for us as a 10-78 call. At approx. 01:20 AM one of our officers got into a vehicle pursuit with a (later learned) 19 year old in a rented car. What was going to be a routine traffic stop ( I have since eliminated that vocabulary from my thinking) for no headlights turned into a 6 block pursuit. The pursuit ended when the suspect's vehicle struck a utility pole and became disabled. As the officer approached the vehicle the suspect was trying to climb out of the vehicle. As the officers approached he was shot at virtually point blank range 3 times in the stomach with a 45 cal. These rounds entered his abdomen (under his body armor) and basically tore him apart. After what virtually was a miracle and a skilled trauma surgeon he survived, but is still going through therapy and is awaiting further surgeries.

This is where I come into the picture. At the time I was on the east side of our city approx. 4 miles from where this occurred. I at the time was on a perimeter for our other dog who had just found a suspect involved in a sexual assault. As the pursuit started I left and started heading that way. As I got about 1/2 way there I heard the words that every officer dreads. 10-78 I have been shot. Needless to say I stepped it up and was the 3rd unit to get to him. The 1st units there advised the suspect had run into a housing project and most likely was still armed.

It was at that point I advised I wanted an officer w/a rifle. At the time a County Police officer who is the commander of their SWAT team arrived. He incidentally happens to be a good friend who I had worked with in the County Wide homicide unit. He immediately said he would go and he had an MP5. Another of our SWAT team members arrived as well as a K9 handler from the County. With in 60 seconds a 4 man search team was put together with 2 officers SWAT trained and armed w/rifles.

Immediately the dog picked up the track and we went across the project to another street. The dog then turned back (on leash) and we headed toward a series of dumpsters and he indicated on that. We cleared these dumpsters for a suspect (the gun was later found in on of the 3 dumpsters in this area) Finding no one I casted the dog again and he hit the track again. We then went past a section of apartments where a party in the window advised that less than 2 minutes before that a party matching our suspect had wanted him to let him in.

It was at this point I let the dog off leash and he immediately hit the track and was able to locate the suspect hiding under a car. It worked out very well and at no time was any of the team exposed. This suspect has recently been convicted of attempted murder and will be spending the better part of his life in prison.

I think it was great of you to write that article, because of it the first thing that popped into my mind was getting adequate back up with the proper firepower. Thanks for putting those type's of articles up.

As a side note we work our dogs w/electric collars, because of this training I was able to down him and not run blindly around corners. I also have to give credit to the officers of our department as well as our County and State Police. They set up a perimeter that this suspect could not get out of.

Steve Noonan



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