Friday, July 31, 1998

What happens in a few seconds
can bring a lifetime of pain

Photo by Dennis Oda; illustration by David Swann, Star-Bulletin
(1994 background photo courtesy of Stan Cook)

Officer Stan Cook with the AK-47 that John Sinapati used in
their 1994 gunfight. The scene in the background shows Sinpati
hanging out of his car and Cook, wounded, on the ground.

By Jaymes K. Song


Info BoxHours after a shootout on New Year's Day with 18-year-old Benedict Manupule, Honolulu police officer Tenari Maafala returned home and was greeted at the door by his wife and two young daughters.

"That's when I finally broke down," he said. "I realized that the shots fired at me could have eliminated me. And who was going to take care of my daughters?"

Manupule was firing a handgun into the air at Mayor Wright Housing when Maafala, who was off duty, identified himself as a police officer and ordered Manupule to drop the gun.

Manupule, who was intoxicated, refused to put down the weapon and fired at Maafala two times but missed. Maafala returned fire -- three rounds. One found its mark, and Manupule died several hours later.

Maafala is one of six officers who have shot a record four men on Oahu this year, killing three and injuring one.

Read Day One
of this two-part series

In the Line of Fire

Alternate No-Frames version

from Thursday, July 30, 1998

"But forevermore, it will be in my heart. What happened that night is something I cannot forget," Maafala said. "I'd be a liar if I said I will forget this and get over it. There's no way. If anybody says that, I tell you right now, they're just lying."

Officer Stan Cook and his family know what the Maafalas have gone through.

On Aug. 31, 1994, Cook survived a barrage of bullets from gunman John Sinapati during a routine traffic stop in Waipahu. Sinapati, 30, who was high on crystal methamphetamines and armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, was killed in the 40-bullet exchange.

"To this day, my wife has never looked at any of the pictures, never looked at any of the video, never seen anything on television, and she won't read this article," said Cook, who was shot eight times. "She doesn't want it. It's a bad memory."

Three of the shootings this year have been declared justified by the city prosecutor's office, including Maafala's case. One case is still under review.

But whatever is decided in the judicial system or administratively, the few seconds in which the shootings occurred will affect the officers forever.

"That's something you would have to live with for the rest of your life," said Sgt. Frank Fujii of the department's critical incident counseling team. "It's traumatic for the officer and the family. How would you like to go home and tell your wife you killed someone?"

What makes Cook teary-eyed is not the memory of bullets piercing his body, but the effect the shooting had on his family.

"It's been hard on my wife and kids," he said. "It's extremely hard. They aren't prepared for these kind of things.

"One of the hardest things that I think people don't realize, even other officers, is how guilty I felt," Cook said. "I felt guilty for what I put my family through. I felt really bad because they didn't ask for it. I'm in the hospital. I'm being taken care of. They're the ones going through everything -- and I did it."

Maafala said if the situation came up again, he would respond in the same manner because he is out there to protect people.

"Deep down in me, because I believe in God, I feel real bad that this had happened," Maafala said. "But I would have felt a whole lot worse had an innocent person got hurt. That would have been more devastating for me if I had not acted upon it."

To help officers recover and cope with the mixed emotions and feelings in the wake of a shooting, the department offers Fujii's peer counseling team, a psychologist and chaplain on staff.

"I try to educate them that they are having normal reactions to an abnormal event," Fujii said. "I have not worked with one officer who has been involved in a shooting who feels good about it. I would worry if they were involved in a shooting and felt good about it.

"We're hired to help people -- not hurt people -- and definitely not to kill people."

Fujii used to think that the ultimate sacrifice would be to give his life in the line of duty. Now he's convinced that the ultimate sacrifice is taking the life of another person.

Police Chief Lee Donohue said the trauma the officer goes through is often forgotten by the public. He said national statistics show that officers involved in shootings will generally leave police work within five years.

"It's a tragedy to both sides, and their families," Donohue said.

Dr. Gary Farkas, a local psychologist and the HPD's first staff psychologist, from 1981 to 1985, said officers involved in shootings can have a wide variety of reactions depending on the circumstances, their history and personality. He classifies the cases as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's a stress or anxiety reaction which comes frequently when someone is exposed to a trauma outside the realm of ordinary experience," Farkas said. "Shooting someone or being shot at qualifies for outside the realm of ordinary experience."

He said some possible reactions might be:

Bullet Recurring and distressing recollections of the event.
Bullet Dreams or nightmares.
Bullet Flashbacks.
Bullet Difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
Bullet Exaggerated startled responses.

"The classic reaction, in the case of a war trauma, is hearing a helicopter and getting startled because they think they're in the rice paddies," Farkas said. "In the case of a shooting, someone might hear a loud sound and (it) might make them jump because it reminds them of a gun discharging.

"The key in treating this is making people aware that this is normal," he said. "What happens when people don't realize that, they start thinking they're going crazy and there's something wrong with them. And then it gets worse and worse because they're worrying about these thoughts and feelings."

However, in some cases, officers may not feel traumatized at all. "Some people feel, 'Hey, I've done my job, this is what I'm trained to do. It's too bad it ended up this way, but this is what I'm here for,'" he said.

Farkas also advises officers involved in shootings to stay away from news reports and commentaries regarding the incidents.

"Because there's nothing good psychologically that comes from hearing the debate," he said. "There's no good that comes from it. There's just more confusion and turmoil. To second-guess yourself later . . . that could be psychologically destructive."

Cook has worked in the department's Community Relations Division since completing duty on motorcycle patrol in 1997. He gives tours of the department, talks to schools and works on the department's Web site.

Maafala has remained in the department's Criminal Intelligence Unit.

"To the family of Benedict, I'm very, very sorry," said Maafala, who knew Manupule and even gave him a New Year's hug prior to the shooting. "Had he not been drinking extensively and had he not had a gun in his possession this would have never happened.

"It's not like we're walking out there 24 hours a day with a gun in our hand, looking for someone to shoot," he said. "We get called to situations and we react the way we're trained."

On the first day Cook returned to patrol, he finished his shift, then drove to the bridge in Waipahu where he had been shot. He stood at the spot where he almost died, and meditated.

"I just went out there, not to pay my respects because I don't like the guy, because he tried to kill me," Cook said. "But someone did lose a father and that's a sad thing."

"I feel for him too," he said. "He lost his life and it shouldn't have to be that way. But there's nothing in particular that I could have done to change it because I was involved in saving my life."

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