May 3, 2015 was a very intense day at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. The Garland police and fire departments had a very strong contingency at the event, including uniformed policemen, SWAT team and tactical medics. They were prepared, knowing the potential of a very serious situation unfolding.
The event was hosted by the organization “American Freedom Defense Initiative,” in response to things that were happening around the world, and especially to counter an event that took place in February of 2015. The Muslim-based organization, Sound Vision, had held an event that featured speakers who were known to be from the world of terrorism. One in particular was one of the unindicted co-conspirators from the World Trade Center bombings.
The May event was billed as the “Draw the Prophet Mohammed” art contest, a $10,000 cartoon contest. The featured speaker was Geert Wilders, the outspoken Dutch politician, despised by the Muslim community. You can certainly begin to understand the tension of that day. The Garland Independent School District was not interested in allowing the venue, but under political pressure, the event was scheduled.
There had been protests during the Sound Vision event which included, “The Muslim contingent on this side and the Christians and others on the other side,” Garland Police Officer Gregory Stevens replied. “And like every good event, you have to have the 2 or 3 guys in pickups with the Rebel flag flowing, to see if they can excite. It’s like the guy flicking a lighter in a dynamite factory.”
Each entrance of the convention facility was covered by police and SWAT officers, all armed with rifles. There was one exception. Officer Gregory Stevens was covering the west entrance, armed only with a Glock model 21 handgun. Officer Stevens was a member of the SWAT team and his position was the team leader of the SWAT negotiators. He remembers, “The Lieutenant told me that he gave me an easy spot.”
His job was simple. Secure the west parking lot. No one was to go in or out except the guest speaker and his security team, the host and her security team and one caterer. Officer Stevens was to make sure they all got in and out safely. He and an unarmed security guard were the only ones at this entrance.
The event went like clockwork. There were no incidents at all and, as it was coming to a conclusion, all the first responders began to feel relief. A radio transmission announced, “Looks like we’ve just ended.”
Officer Stevens thought, “Looks like we have dodged a bullet.” There was not a single protester at this event, but in the back of his mind it seemed “a little creepy” that it had gone so smoothly.
“Standing in my ‘easy spot,’ there was not a lot of traffic,” Stevens says. “There was nothing going on in my parking lot.” The west entrance was about a 40 feet wide driveway, blocked off with cones to allow only one car at a time to pass.
Officer Stevens was standing in the opening of the driveway when a small black car with out-of-state tags pulled up, moved past him and stopped parallel to the road and partially in the driveway. He said, “It was one of those times through your law enforcement training when the hair stands up on the back of your neck for no reason.”
Believing that they understood his post to be the softest in the complex, Stevens said, “They probably drove around and said, ‘O, look. There’s only two guys here, and only one with a gun. And he’s a hundred years old.’” Little did these bad guys know that they had ‘bitten off more than they could chew,’ as the saying goes.
The two doors of the vehicle swung open. The passenger side was visible to Officer Stevens, but the driver’s door was not. As the man on the passenger side exited, he raised his AK47 rifle directly at Stevens.
He remembers, “The one conscious though I had was, ‘If I don’t become the aggressor in this battle, I have no chance of survival.” Officer Stevens knows that his excellent training saved his life. “The reality is, my training kicked in. I did what I was trained to do.”
There was no cover, no place to hide, no place to retreat to. He was in an open parking lot with two gunmen wearing tactical clothing and body armor, bearing AK47’s and opening fire on him. They would eventually fire approximately 35 rounds at him, with none touching Officer Stevens.
“As the rifle barrel came up, I unholstered and engaged. To this day, I can’t tell you who fired the first shot.” Stevens took on the passenger with a several rounds, center mass, as he was trained to do. He went down and immediately attention had to be shifted in the direction of the driver, who was coming around the back of the car, his rifle up and firing.
“I engaged him with several rounds and he went down. I immediately redirected my attention to the passenger, who was still wiggling and needed more of my attention,” Officer Stevens says. The passenger’s hand was moving around his vest and Stevens was concerned that he was reaching for a detonator or some other type of device. Officer Stevens re-engaged the passenger. After firing a few more rounds, he was moving much less at that time.
Officer Stevens redirected his attention to the driver who was not moving very much. Stevens re-engaged the driver briefly before having to reload.
By that time help had arrived. The officers behind him were yelling and trying to get his attention to move to a secure location. He says, “I was in a little different zone at that moment…It was like when I’m watching the Cowboys and my wife is speaking to me in the background. I know something’s going on back there, but…”
It was found that these guys had six weapons, 10-12 magazines in their load-bearing vests and a total of 1500 rounds of ammunition. “Their intent was not to just kill one Garland policeman there,” Stevens said.
Officer Stevens believes, “The good Lord above put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I’m going to take care of you, but you have to take care of these guys.’”
“I’m just a guy,” Stevens emphasizes. “I’m just an ordinary policeman, nothing extraordinary. Policemen all over the world do extraordinary things every day. Sometimes they are recognized for it and sometimes not…It all boils down to this: had I not trained, prepared and sought out training, had I not practiced what I had been trained to do, this could have been a very different situation.”
For all of us, it is an honor to know Officer Gregory Stevens. He was awarded the Law Enforcement Congressional Medal of Valor. It was presented to him by then President Obama. He says, no matter what your politics, it was a great honor to receive this award from the President of the United States.
But the medal that Officer Stevens treasures the most is the Police Medal of Honor from the Garland Police Department. He is only the third recipient of this very distinguished medal.
“I didn’t choose that moment: that moment chose me. Fortunately, I was prepared to react and respond to it. So, when a moment chooses you, you want to be prepared. No matter what your endeavor in life, be the best you can be at it. Train and practice.”
Officer Stevens is proud of the fact that in 37 years of law enforcement, he has never had to discharge his weapon in the line of duty, except in training or on the range. “I had 37 years of preparation for that moment and by the grace of God, here I stand.”