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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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  • Fallenherobadge-3-1_max160_max50


    over 4 years ago


    This sad story is a tribute to the man, rest in peace Brother john Kohn. I call you Brother even though you were not yet through training. You demonstrated that you had the courage and the character to never give up and I would have been proud to serve with you. I know that the job of policing is dangerous and demanding but I feel that there should have been more concern shown for this young man, long before he died trying.

  • Img_0933_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Rest in Peace Recruit Kohn. Bump The Sarge.

  • 21_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I also believe that you should re-evaluate the curriculum.

  • White_shirt_max50


    over 4 years ago


    R.I.P. This is very distrubing. I am certain the training tatics will be reviewed and possibly changed. I would certainly hold someone accountable.

  • Hpim1329_max50


    over 4 years ago


    People falling into walls, poor bag control, students running into eachother sounds l a little sloppy. Tme to take another look at the program. We need tough Officers and it is a fine balance testing the Officer and keeping them safe at the same time. Sorry the kid didn't make it and sorry of the instructors who will have to live with this the rest of their lives.

  • O_s_max50


    over 4 years ago


    regular trips to the Urgent care should not be a common thing. This program needs to be reviewed and changed asap. I understand LEO's are going to get into a fight and they have to defend themselves, but training them how to do that is not the same as just beating the crap out of them. Why was there not EMTs already on scene before it started? Concussions are a very serious issue, while you may think "oh i'll be ok" or "i'll try and sleep it off" don't! you get hit one more time, or go to sleep, you might never wake up again. RIP

  • Jack_bauer_max50


    over 4 years ago


    If you have a medical reason, in this case a possible concussion, you would and should be excused from drills untill medically cleared. It seems that a number of DT instructors and participants were on scene and never saw the signs of a concussion??

  • Fake_max50


    over 4 years ago


    RIP. Nobody wants to be labeled as a quitter especially after working so hard to get to the academy. I understand arguments on both side. Tough situation overall.

  • Me2_max50


    over 4 years ago


    RIP recruit. He was a fighter. Never give up. If you give up, you will die. He died and did not give up.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    While this is very unfortunate, it is not criminal. Recruits have to learn how to defend themselves in the real world. Safety should be emphasized, but if you read other articles it looks like they took great pains to make sure recruits were safe.... maybe they could have done a little better.

    Thousands of new cops hit the streets every year, and our training should require athleticism. It is sad, but not surprising that someone has gotten seriously hurt. Professional and college athletes suffer injuries, including concussions. This is no different.

    I'm very sad for his family, but he died preparing for battle. I doubt he would want lawsuits, criminal charges or ignorant criticism for his brothers (in blue).

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Reading this reminded me of my own week of "dynamic scenarios" in the academy. Our final exercise was virtually identical to this one - except it was two-on-one and after we escaped from the ground fight we had to then fight a second instructor who was waiting behind us.

    We lost several recruits during this training, including one who spent a week in the hospital when his kidneys failed because the fight lasted so long. (That recruit came back and is now an excellent officer.)

    Training, especially dynamic training, has to push recruits to the limits of mental and physical exhaustion, and has to simulate real world conditions. I get that. But I also believe that at some point in scenarios like this the training value is lost. Too much machismo bullshit on the part of instructors. I know they say if you do the techniques correctly they let you win. Yeah, right. A Brazilian jujitsu instructor? The only thing to do with a Brazilian jujitsu instructor, or anybody else who gets you on your back and is pawing at your gun, is to take the Glock 27 our of your boot or vest and remove his brain from his head.

    Look, I'll fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. I've been in many lesser fights and a few all-out to-the-death brawls; the kind that create academy scenarios and shattered batons. I know we all have to prove ourselves in the academy and its a rite of passge. I'm just saying you CAN take these academy scenarios too far. When you have recruits hospitalized and dying, it's time to re-evaluate.

  • 1979_max50


    over 4 years ago


    First and foremost I wish to express my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Officer John Kohn. I too hope that he was already sworn so this may be considered a LODD. He deserves that recognition.

    Now that said, I also do not want to place any blame as it appears to be a combination of errors. I am sure that the instructors and the recruits are devastated by this incident and beating themselves up over it wondering what they coulda, shoulda, woulda done.
    First is this training TOO severe with the physical contacts? We did boxing and tried to pair Officers of fairly equal size. We also occasionally had someone who got his 'bell rung' but it was immediately cared for but were did not allow anything like punching in the head. Now we also did not have protective gear during this type of training so that could have been the reasoning on that as well.
    Second are the training Officers trained to observe injuries and recognize when someone is really hurt.
    Third, as Sarge says, are these recruits informed that they MUST report all injuries, even if it is minor or simply getting their bell rung? There is not shame in admitting it was a hell of a fight or drill. The recruits should be 'ordered' that if they are injured at all and fail to immediately report it, they can be disciplined for that.


  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    This could have all been different if the instructors would have noticed and stopped him from going on. We all know that when you are in DT's you dont want to say anything that will will get you kicked out. When I went trough the academy one cadet went through DT's with a broken hand. This was becuase if they knew he would be sent home. The instructors need to talk to all of the cadets and make sure that health is number it is there class. This is sad I hope he gets an offficer service he had hart like one.

  • Download_max50


    over 4 years ago


    This is tragic and, maybe, downright unnecessary.

    1. Did the academy and instructor create a 'safe' enough environment where a recruit/cadet would feel totally 100% ok to report to the instructors that there was a problem? I have worked in environments where that doesn't necessarily exist. Cadets fight on and on and on and things happen. An instructor needs to have a small enough ego to respond to even p-e-r-c-e-i-v-e-d problems. Simply asking the recruits, "Anyone hurt or injured?" is not complete. The instructors should have their intennae up and should be looking for issues.

    2. When you do that kind of testing and training, you should always have an ambulance staged for that event. Always. You should not have to dial 911.

    3. Have we thought about the last instructor to engage with the recruit ? Ever thought about how he is feeling about now?

    4. As far as Recruit Kohn .... I feel like crap for the family, community and the academy, especially for the recruits who were tight with Kohn.

    Belated condolences to all who have been affected. I trust comfort and steady thinking will prevail.

    "I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom." - Abraham Lincoln

  • Me_callie08172010_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Kohn sounds like he had a heart of gold, his determination to keep on fighting would have made him a great LEO. Rest in Peace Recruit Kohn.

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