SWAT talk: Number of standoffs is ‘out of the norm’

Charlottesville police parked a BearCat in front of the yellow house on Sixth Street SE where suspect Cole Frank Nordick was barricaded. Staff photo Charlottesville police parked a BearCat in front of the yellow house on Sixth Street SE where suspect Cole Frank Nordick was barricaded. Staff photo

The overall goal of any SWAT team is to save lives, says Lieutenant Steve Upman with the Charlottesville Police Department. The January 5 standoff between city, county and university police and a suspected bank robber marked the second standoff of the year.

“The two callouts over the last few days are out of the norm for Charlottesville,” Upman says, adding that the city and county have their own SWAT teams, but they have a mutual aid agreement to help each other out when needed. Both teams were at each incident this year.

According to Upman, SWAT members are specialists trained as a team to handle incidents that require additional tactics and weapons beyond the realm of a regular police officer, such as barricaded people, hostage situations, dignitary protection, sniper situations, high-risk search warrants and high-risk arrest warrants. He says the use of these specially trained teams has been proven to reduce the risk of injury or death to suspects, citizens and police officers.

John Whithead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author most recently of Battlefield America: The War on American People, has spent a lot of time examining the use of SWAT teams in America.

“In 1985, there were 3,000 SWAT team raids in America,” he says. “Now there are over 80,000.”

A large portion of SWAT team activations are for “marijuana and victimless crimes,” and Whitehead says “people are getting shot and getting hurt.” He references the 2010 killing of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones after a Detroit SWAT team launched a grenade into her family’s apartment, broke down the door and started shooting. Members shot her while she was asleep on the couch and later learned they were in the wrong apartment.

But “in certain situations, they’re very appropriate,” he says, like in hostage situations or when a suspect, like a bank robber, could be armed.

The CPD’s SWAT team, which works part-time, was activated five times in 2015, Upman says.

The Downtown Mall’s Union Bank & Trust was robbed January 4, and city spokesperson Miriam Dickler says police obtained a search warrant January 5 for a house located at 504 Sixth St. SE, where the robber was allegedly staying. While police were on their way to the house, a 911 call came through for a report of domestic violence at the same address, she says.

When police arrived at the scene four out of five people were able to exit the house, but one refused and remained inside—the suspected bank robber later identified as Cole Franklin Nordick.

A number of city, county and university police blocked off the street and surrounded the entire area around 1:30pm. Police and city and county SWAT teams made telephone contact with Nordick, and he threatened harm to anyone who tried to enter the home, police say. About two hours into the standoff, police began shooting tear gas into the Sixth Street home. One bystander reported counting at least 12 shots, with more fired afterward.

Homeowner Marcus Shifflett was not pleased with having dozens of tear gas rounds lobbed into his property during the standoff.

“Everything in that house will be ruined,” he said during the incident. “Furniture, clothes, everything.”

Bystanders gathered on a nearby sidewalk, and cars slowed when they passed the commotion. Many had cell phones out, filming the action.

Around 4:25pm, Nordick emerged from the front door of the home, hands in the air and holding a cell phone and a cigarette, and wearing a white T-shirt and sunglasses. He was arrested for armed bank robbery and taken to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail where he is being held without bond.

Nordick has arrest records dating back to 1996, with at least two charges for petit larceny, multiple probation violations and drug charges.

On his Facebook page, Nordick says he studied locksmithing at a trade school.

The city delayed school buses for nearby Clark Elementary School, as well as some buses from Walker Upper Elementary, Buford Middle School and Charlottesville High.

During the standoff, Shifflett said he suspected Nordick was blockaded in the windowless bathroom where the gas wouldn’t reach him.

“I don’t know what [the tenants] are going to do tonight,” Shifflett said on the day of the incident. “They’re going to have to find a home. They don’t have no place to go.”

Just two days earlier, Charlottesville resident and Internet celebrity Bryan Silva blockaded himself inside his home on Jefferson Park Avenue for several hours while SWAT members attempted to coax him outside. He eventually exited the house without incident and was arrested for abduction and possession of a firearm by a felon.