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.