Brownstown police chief, assistant receive Lifesaving Awards


On the morning of April 3, Brownstown Police Chief Tom Hanner and Assistant Chief Joe Kelly were on patrol at the high school when their day completely changed.

They were dispatched to the police department along South Poplar Street because of a domestic situation outside.

After a woman dropped her daughter off at school, Barry Rucker, 53, of Brownstown suddenly appeared from the back seat, presented a gun and told her to drive out of town. Instead, she drove to the police department, got out of the truck and ran toward the police station.

Rucker followed her, pulled her out of the building and told her he was going to shoot and kill her. A citizen driving by saw Rucker had a handgun and called 911.

When Hanner and Kelly arrived, they told Rucker to drop the weapon. He refused, and the officers used their stun guns on him, but those guns did not completely incapacitate him.

After he fell to the ground, Rucker pointed the gun at Hanner. Officers repeatedly told Rucker to drop the weapon, but he didn’t, and Hanner and Kelly shot him.

The officers and others who responded gave first aid to Rucker, and he was taken to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.

Hanner’s body camera captured much of the incident.

The autopsy showed Rucker had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his blood. Police said he and the woman had been in a relationship until late 2018 when he threatened her with a machete, and he appeared for a pretrial conference in the case April 2. He also was on probation for a separate domestic battery charge and had a revocation hearing set for April 4.

The woman credited Hanner and Kelly with saving her life, and Jackson County Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant agreed after reviewing the Indiana State Police investigation into the incident and clearing Hanner and Kelly from any wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, the town surprised Hanner and Kelly with Lifesaving Awards during a town employee luncheon.

“It was humbling and lets us know that the town cares about their employees on the police department, and it was highly appreciated,” Kelly said Thursday morning.

“Joe and I have talked about it, we were meant to be there, and that was our job, and we did it. I’m very appreciative of those comments that (the woman) made that I’ve seen. I just feel like that’s my job,” Hanner said.

“It was an unfortunate event with unfortunate outcomes but a positive outcome because she is OK,” Kelly said. “The whole situation was bad, but she needed help, and we were there to help her.”

The honor follows Hanner and Kelly receiving First Responder of the Year awards from the Brownstown Exchange Club in June.

After the police-action shooting, Detective Jac Sanders was named interim chief while Hanner and Kelly were on paid administrative leave. They returned to work in mid-June.

“On the day of April 3, your character was defined, tested and displayed as you placed your lives in harm’s way to serve and save the life of one of our citizens,” Sanders said during the luncheon. “Please accept these tokens of our appreciation on behalf of your selfless act of heroism.”

A couple of days before the incident, Hanner said he and two other officers had administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation on someone who had fully coded. The person wound up dying.

Just two days later, he was faced with something the Brownstown Police Department had never experienced before.

“The job itself is an emotional roller coaster,” Hanner said.

Kelly said it’s not uncommon for the department to receive calls about domestic situations, but the one April 3 will never fade from their minds.

“We get them weekly, if not daily, ‘Hey, someone’s having a domestic argument or something.’ You just go,” he said. “Then we got here, and things just transpired the way they went down. Something that I don’t think either one of us ever want to do again, but if we have to be put in that situation, we’ll make sure that everyone comes out to the best of our abilities.”

So how does an officer cope and move on from something like that? Hanner said in today’s society, mental health is huge.

He said it can be hard for officers to forget about an incident because they may have to do a crash report and upload photos after a fatal wreck or testify in court, for example. Sometimes, the court appearances can be several weeks, months or years later.

“You have to relive it over and over and over,” Hanner said.

“It will never leave you,” Kelly added. “There are always things you will remember about it.”

That’s where having fellow officers and family members to talk to and lean on is key.

“People get victimized. People have crashes. You have to deal with that no matter what agency you work at,” Hanner said. “You’re going to see things that people shouldn’t have to see. You’re going to see people go through things you wish you could take it away, that they don’t have to experience that, but how you cope with that, we talk to each other and have other officers and families at home.”

Kelly said he and Hanner have discussed setting up some mental health resources for the department.

“The national trend now is there has never been mental help for officers. It has always been part of the job: You deal with it, don’t talk about it, you just compartmentalize it and then you move on,” Kelly said. “Well now, it’s starting to come back around where that’s bad. If you’re not talking and expressing yourself and saying your feelings to, say a counselor, that will eat you up inside, and we don’t want that here.”

If an officer is involved in a critical incident, such as a death or something large scale, or anything else that is affecting his or her life, Kelly said it’s important to guide them to the resources they need.

“We’re going to get you some help because you need to talk about it because we care about the officers that are here,” he said. “We want to make sure they have good mental health, they have a good support system and let’s help you out.”

Since the April 3 incident was something the department hadn’t ever experienced, no protocols were in place. That’s going to change.

“It’s all new ground, and we’re trying to figure out how we move (officers) forward,” Kelly said. “We’ll take the rocky road to make sure it’s paved for everyone else.”

While officers go through hundreds of hours of training annually, Hanner said they never know when they are going to face a situation like he and Kelly did.

“You could go through a 30-year career and never be faced with this type of situation,” he said.

“In a small community like Brownstown, a lot of times, people in the public, if they’ve never been victimized or had to call a police officer and they’ve been fortunate to work a Monday through Friday job and go to bed at night, never get woke up, they often feel nothing happens here,” he said. “But in reality, there’s stuff evolving and happening all of the time.”

An incident like the one April 3 may not be a common occurrence here, but officers know it can happen at any moment.

Still, Hanner, who has worked full time in law enforcement for 15 years, said he couldn’t see himself doing anything else in life.

“It’s probably one of the most honorable positions in my life,” he said.