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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

By Dec. 9, the fourth day of defensive tactics training, Kohn’s head was killing him. He carried on anyway.

The drill is designed to simulate an officer chasing a suspect, then fighting on the ground in a life- or-death situation in which the suspect tries to take the officer’s gun.

In pairs of two, recruits sprinted about 75 yards on a track to simulate the chase. Then they ran into the training center’s gym, where they ended up on a mat, lying on their backs. Instructors playing the role of an attacker got on top of the recruits, threw blows and tried to take their guns. Failure meant a recruit had to redo the drill. Everyone wore protective headgear; instructors wore a boxing glove on their strong hand.

When it was Kohn’s turn, he sparred with Officer Michael Reardon, who took Kohn’s gun from his gun belt. As he was trotting toward the doors to go back outside, Kohn collided face first with recruit Eric Johnson, 26, who was sprinting in.

Kohn appeared OK. Johnson said he was dizzy and asked to take a break.

“I just got the crap knocked out of me,” Johnson told another recruit. He left training to visit an urgent care clinic, where he was cleared to return.

On Kohn’s second attempt, he sprinted down the track. This time, he squared off against a patrol officer named Laura Tessier.

His second fight lasted just seconds.

Tessier held up her gloved right hand. Kohn was so focused on it he didn’t notice her left hand; she unsecured his gun and placed it on his chest.

Kohn cursed.

Back outside on the track, recruit David LeFleur, 31, noticed Kohn was breathing more heavily. He thought he was nervous.

“My brain is just not working,” Kohn told him. “I’m kind of freezing and not seeing what I need to do.”

Just breathe and grapple, LeFleur told him. Fellow recruits knew Kohn as someone who struggled with some drills but strived to improve.

Kohn sprinted in for his third try as his teacher, Sapp, waited on the mat. About 11 minutes had passed since the collision with Johnson.

Sapp has extensive training in martial arts, including a brown belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, on which Norfolk’s defensive training is based.

Sapp got on top of his student and the fight began. Midway, he rose to his feet and threw at least four blows toward Kohn’s head with his gloved right hand.

Recruits noticed that Kohn did not successfully block the blows.

On the final punch, Kohn’s head hit the mat and he did not move, noticed Johnson, the recruit who had earlier collided with him. Kohn’s arms stretched limp to each side as Sapp stood and walked away.

“He’s out,” an instructor said.

“He just went limp, quit fighting,” recruit Aaron Morris, 21, told investigators.

Officers observing the fight checked on Kohn.

“Hey, are you all right?” instructor James White asked.

No answer.

“Hey, take your mouthpiece out.”

No response.

White removed Kohn’s mouthpiece and sat him up.

Kohn rose and walked toward the doors, as if intoxicated. He did not follow commands or appear to know what he was doing, so he was helped to a wall, where he slumped down.

Recruits surrounded him. Someone removed his sweatshirt. Kohn’s breathing was labored, as if he were snoring or having an asthma attack. His eyes were open, yet blank.

Lt. Fred Pratt knew a head injury might be the reason for the breathing and ordered officers to call paramedics.

While one officer, a former EMT, monitored Kohn, recruits ran for ice and paper towels. When they came back, they were barred from the gym.

Paramedics arrived within 10 minutes after the 4:50 p.m. call. They loaded Kohn onto a stretcher and took him to Sentara Leigh Hospital.

He was flown to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Two detectives arrived at 6:34 p.m. to speak with his wife.

Detectives were ordered to record interviews with the recruits and instructors.

Head surgery was done by 11:42 p.m. Kohn was in critical condition.

Most of these details were known to police by the end of the day Dec. 9.

The next day, the Police Department’s public relations wing mentioned only the collision. In an e-mail, a spokeswoman said: "The physical training between the two police recruit’s occurred inside the training academy facility. Shortly after the collision between the two male police recruits, one of the recruits exhibited lethargic behavior, and was transported.

“We do not release detailed information regarding medical matters of department personnel.

“There is no further information at this time.”

Kohn was taken off life support and died Dec. 18.

Under scrutiny, the city now is creating a panel to include medical experts who will review the training. The state requires officers be trained in protecting their weapon in a ground fight. It does not specify how that training be conducted.

In Texas, the death of state police recruit Jimmy Ray Carty Jr. of head injuries in 2005 prompted the Texas Department of Public Safety to end a violent fighting drill that had been used at its academy for years and sometimes led to concussions.

An official from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which certifies training academies, will review defensive training in Norfolk.

An agency director said officials have watched the video of the fight between Sapp and Kohn but had no comment on the case.

“I cried my face off when I watched that. I watched my friend die,” Kohn’s former bandmate Devin DeGroat said.

“I saw him standing, conscious and aware, and then I watched him lay down – and that’s the last moment of John.”

  • 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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