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Final Moments of VA Police Recruit's Life Unfold

Final Moments of VA Police Recruit's Life Unfold

Virginia Pilot via YellowBrix

February 04, 2011

NORFOLK – The week of Dec. 6 was set aside to teach recruits self-defense at the Norfolk police training academy. If they wanted to become officers, they would need to know how to handcuff a suspect, block punches and kicks, and protect themselves – and their gun – in a fight to the death.

In Norfolk, that means learning to take a hit.

Bruises, headaches and sore muscles in such training are not unusual. Neither are trips for some recruits to an urgent care clinic.

Leldon Sapp, a defensive tactics instructor, and others asked the recruits at least three times each day whether they were injured. Over four days, no one spoke up.

But a recruit ended up unconscious and eventually died.

Police records released under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act don’t reveal the cause of John Kohn’s death, and the medical examiner’s investigation is continuing. However, the records, including internal memos and training video, show a detailed series of events that could have caused head trauma.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, Kohn, a lanky sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, was doing blocking drills with Officer Stephen Bailey. Instructors throw punches; recruits wearing protective headgear block them. Bailey landed a right to Kohn’s head – a punch Bailey later described as soft.

The blow was hard enough, however, to rattle Kohn, who either fell or stumbled into a wall before he shot back up. Recruits watching gave out a collective “Ooh!”

“Are you OK?” Bailey asked Kohn after urging him to take off his headgear so he could peer into his eyes.

“Sir, I’m OK.”

Another instructor observing the drill for safety also asked Kohn if he was OK.

It wasn’t the only head blow Kohn suffered that day. During knee-strike practices with another recruit, he held a pad that hit him in the face, according to police.

Kohn, 40, complained to a fellow recruit.

“I feel nauseous,” he told Montrell Martin, 24. “I have a headache. Can you check my pupils?”

Kohn walked with recruit Alonzo Burroughs, 35, as Burroughs returned a medical bag. Burroughs asked Kohn what had happened.

“Don’t worry about it,” Kohn said.

When Burroughs pressed for a response, Kohn told him he had a headache but wasn’t sure if he wanted to tell instructors.

“I don’t want to talk to them,” he said. “I’ll wait until tomorrow, and if it doesn’t get better by tomorrow, I’ll talk to them.”

That night, he told his wife, Patricia, that he’d gotten his bell rung and saw stars. She didn’t like hearing such details.

She later told police she believed the incident happened during her husband’s training with another recruit in which they used the pads.

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  • Tigerstripe_002_max50


    over 3 years ago


    I'd rather just get jumped and have them try to keep their hands in my face while reaching for my firearm. Maybe some earplugs and something light rubbed in an eye to blurr my vission. Than have them actually knock me around. Thats what boxings for, thats what teaches you how to take a punch. Also, realistic trainning would have you defending yourself by fighting back and taking control. Not just laying back like a punching bag. Did the instructor really just want to get his jollys out of beating the piss out of some guys? Is that what this text i am reading is saying?

  • Glock_max50


    over 3 years ago


    The brain is the most vital organ in the body, so why the heck would you induce trauma to the head and say its good for you??? A good a** beating, or more specifically head beating, wont teach you anything, and forcing recruits to subject their brain to bouncing around their skull among many other complications with beating on a persons head seems idiotic. Although recruits do get pepper sprayed and tased which are less than lethal, a beating/ head trauma is lethal just like a gun. If you dont force recruits to get shot, why force them to be in a situation where a person is beating on their head??

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    over 3 years ago


    My prayers to the family. RIP. I pray for the staff that they do not take it hard. We sometimes do not speak out when we should. I understand the young man not speaking out, Today I would say I was dumb too, but it happens.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago

    Sad indeed. I investigated a fraud case many years ago involving a staged ATV accident and there was an issue with the guy's helmet. I interviewed a PhD from UCLA that told me that sometimes depending upon the type of head gear;He mentioned fight head gear specifically, when hit, the head gear increases the circumference of your head and actually causes more damage to the brain bouncing within the skull and the results are often not good. Add puffy, soft gloves and the actual power, even for an amateur fighter increases the force by displacement of the head gear's mass.

    The only thing that the head gear is good for is if you are knocked down it 'may' prevent you from striking your head on the ground.

    I have been a martial arts teacher for 39 years and have had more injuries with the head gear than has to protect their trainees and take charge of the recruit that is injured. I see more liability with the urgent care center that released him to return to training b/c it gave the instructors a false sense of security-he was cleared by the docs.- he is OK to train. Lot of mistakes all around, and a very sad outcome. May St. Michael, the Archangel watch over him now.

  • Img_1155_max50


    over 3 years ago


    This is very sad...

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Doesn't sound like there was a problem with the training itself. People just need to learn limits. You get your bell rung, you let it heal.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    I agree with most of the posts here. Training needs to be as realistic as possible, but at the same time, emphasis needs to be on recognizing signs of mental degradation and the slowing of reflexes. This should have and could have been prevented. It is going to take a paradigm shift in attitude of the department and instructors. There should be equal shame or punishment for someone failing to inform instructors that a recruit is having problems concentrating as there is for someone "gold-bricking." A buddy system needs to be established, and simple mental tests to assure alertness conduct each morning, after contact training and at the end of each day. Something akin to a sobriety test would suffice. It would only take a few minutes each day and once initially trained, the buddies would test each other out. Although he didn’t quite make it through the academy, he had the heart of a champion with a never quit attitude. RIP John Kohn

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Having graduated from three seperate agency academies during my 37 years in government, many can't understand how some instructors have a tendancy to focus and publicly comment on officers who complain about pain during training. I can understand why this recruit felt he couldn't complain in front of others in the academy class.
    RIP Brother!

  • New_unit_max50


    over 3 years ago


    This is a very tragic and sad incident, but things like this do happen in the real world. Some here think there is no need for this type of training anymore. I beg to differ, vehemently. Today, more that ever we need to train personnel in physical altercations. The comment posted about not shooting each other is so absurd it’s laughable. We do, Taser, Asp, PPCT, spray and use a variety of other less-than-lethal weapons on each other all of the time and with great success and results. In this day and time we are getting more and more people that desire to be a law enforcement officer that have NEVER, under any circumstances, been involved in a physical altercation of any kind. On the street is not the place to find out that you can get hit, punched and or kicked and still continue to function. And, you MUST continue to use your mind and function in the midst of an altercation because you MUST NOT LOSE. I have worked with officers over the years that claimed they had never been in a fight prior to their training. I, for one, do not want to be in some s-storm late at night and have someone show up that does not know that they will not die because they got punched in the nose, and while they worry about a little blood loss the fight goes on and I get seriously injured, unnecessarily. No, this is tragic, but many signs went unnoticed that should have recognized and dealt with. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family, department and the training staff that now may lose some confidence by second guessing themselves. Evaluate, make changes and move on, but please do not drop this type of training in a day where we get caught up in more and more technology that separates us physically from each other. We will never get to the point where LEO’s will not have to put their hands on the bad guys.

  • 100_0214_max600_max50


    over 3 years ago


    RIP. This is a sad incident. If things went down the way they are described, it seems someone should have noticed and checked on Kohn's gradual slip from normal responses.

  • Sparkle_girl_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Bump to Sigmachimarine! Very sad. Prayers to his family.

  • Ocp-me_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Sounds like some of Norfolk's PD Instructors have a case (or should I say HAD) of "Suck It Up!" Hopefully, this young man's destiny was not in vain. The day and age of teaching by beating is long gone. We don't shoot each other to find out what it's like (in case we get shot by our own weapon during a real world struggle), so we don't need to know what an a** whopping is like during training. Plain and simple, teach the techniques, practice the techniques constantly, use common sense and caution when doing it. If it's your turn to die on the streets, don't blame the training, it's just your time. RIP John Kohn, hopefully some things will change in the Norfolk Academy. DISCLAIMER: I'm not putting down Norfolk PD or their academy. However, there is an age old motto that may apply here, "Adapt and overcome". This applies to training, working, testing...etc. I think it might be that time for their DT sessions to consider adapting and overcoming the way it "is" at NPD.

  • 000000000000000aaaaaaaaaa_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Bump To Gloack Aromour220 still the heart of some to become Police Officers should be honored

  • 002_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Bump to GlockArmorer220, exactly what he said. But one recruit that was prior emt and no one noticed it? training methods need to reevaluate for signs of head trauma. RIP John , prayers are with your family.

  • Justice-400_max50


    over 3 years ago



    I understand the desire to appear like you're tough and strong during any training, but don't hesitate to just be checked out if something is wrong. I was an EMT for four years and can tell you getting hit and then having nausea and a headache is not good. When something isn't working right or you have a bad feeling about how you're feeling, speak up.

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