2013-08-01 / Local & State

State Cops Used New Armored Device In Standoff

By Molly Born


LATROBE, Pa. (AP) – Robbery suspect Scott Murphy would not come out of his house on Lloyd Avenue in Latrobe, so a Pennsylvania State Police tactical team decided to go in.

Across nearly 17 hours, their knocking, negotiating, tear gas and pleas from a mother and girlfriend hadn't worked.

Their new method: a $246,000 machine called the Rook, which they were using for only the second time – and never before on a barricaded suspect.

Sgt. Barry Brinser, supervisor of the state police Special Emergency Response Team for Eastern Pennsylvania, said the armored critical incident vehicle deployed tactical gear and safely transported the team as it approached the home.

“It was definitely a valuable tool for the department to have in protection of the troopers,” he said.

During the standoff that began July 18 and in its conclusion the next day, tactical officers used the Rook's hydraulic breaching ram, with five cameras on the end, and its armored personnel platform that can be raised and lowered.

The latter was used to deploy tactical officers to the roof of the house, so they could enter through a window. The platform can be raised up to 11 feet, with or without officers, to heights that permit second-story entries, rescue operations or fortified positions.

State police used the machine one other time while serving a warrant.

It took troopers about four hours to move the vehicle from its home at the state police Bureau of Emergency and Special Operations in Hershey to Murphy's home after it was requested as a precaution, the sergeant said.

Even before the events in Latrobe, officials were in the process of buying another Rook for Western Pennsylvania's tactical team.

The vehicle protects officers as they move toward a potentially dangerous situation in ways an armored truck or crowding behind a hand-carried shield cannot, said Shaun Mitchell, sales manager with Ring Power Tactical Solutions, the Florida based company that manufactures and sells the Rook.

“ This eliminates the chances of them getting shot when they approach the structure,” he said, noting they are 100 percent protected up to a .50-caliber shot when using the Rook.

However powerful, the machine can't remove all the danger from tactical police work.

Trooper Brian King, a SERT member and veteran of the Belle Vernon barracks, was shot in a gunfire exchange with Murphy after troopers stormed the house. He had surgery for an eye injury and has been released from the hospital. Officials said the bulletproof shield he was wearing likely saved his life.

Murphy was shot several times and died at the scene, but it's unclear whether his bullet or a trooper's was the fatal one.

A barricaded standoff in Lebanon County last year in which a trooper was shot in the helmet, went unconscious and had to be extricated from the home was the impetus for state police officials' decision to purchase the Rook, Sgt. Brinser said.

A state police corporal learned of the product at the International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting in California, where Ring Power held a vehicle demonstration. Officials then traveled to Florida, sketched out what they had in mind and the company started building the machine in January.

The custom-made Rook usually takes 12 weeks to construct. It was delivered to state police in April, and every member of the SERT's Eastern team has been trained to operate it, the sergeant said.

Officers take the machine on every SWAT call and determine upon arrival whether they need to use it. In the five years since it was created and deployed elsewhere, its mere presence has lured some barricaded suspects out, Mr. Mitchell said.

The vehicle has two other attachments: a vehicle extraction tool, which can hoist and move vehicles without damaging them, and a grapple claw, with more than 4,000 pounds of lift capacity for debris removal and site preparation. The platform also has video monitoring, self-contained lighting and shooting ports.

A promotional video about the vehicle also lauds its ability to aid in natural disaster assessment or in a bomb squad deployment.

Mr. Mitchell learned about his machine's role in the standoff a day later, when his state police contact here sent him a link to a news video that captured the events as they played out.

“ I'm glad I saw them jumping into the machine,” he said. “... If it saves a life, it's worth every penny.”

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