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How Training Averted Tragedy in Sturgeon Bay Standoff

When officers knocked on the front door in response to a call to check on the welfare of a man at 337 N. Duluth Avenue in Sturgeon Bay the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 1, there was little indication that they were about to step into what Sturgeon Bay Police Captain Dan Brinkman called “uncharted territory.”

The knock on the door brought no response, so officers moved around the house to check an open garage door, thinking the man may have fled. That’s when 40-year-old Christopher McNulty raised a handgun and pointed it in their direction.

“Gun!” one officer yelled and ducked for cover. McNulty fired several shots as he retreated into his basement. The officers sought cover and did not return fire, remarkable restraint that Brinkman praised when reached Wednesday morning.

“Nothing says you have to return fire,” Brinkman said. Had they done so, what became a seven-hour standoff involving the Sturgeon Bay Police Department and emergency response teams from Kewaunee, Green Bay, the Door County Sheriff’s Department and the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department, would likely not have come to the peaceful conclusion that it finally did at 11:15 pm.

“We have to account for every round we fire,” Brinkman said, “the gunman doesn’t. We have to think about neighboring houses, cars, and families walking down the street, so you better be in great position to fire.”

Brinkman credited the officers’ decision to retreat and request backup for preventing the situation from escalating, enabling them to take McNulty, an Army veteran who saw combat in Iraq and also trained Military Police, into custody without any injury to officers, bystanders, or McNulty.

At about 4 pm Monday, McNulty’s girlfriend fled the home she rents and where McNulty lives and called 911. She reported that her boyfriend was carrying a gun and acting suicidal. She said he may have been drinking and had a flack jacket in the home.

After officers failed to make phone contact with McNulty they approached the home and the standoff began. Firefighters helped police cordon off the area and evacuate surrounding homes while a team of three negotiators from the Door County Sheriff’s Department made sporadic contact with McNulty by phone. Eventually he cut off contact with police entirely but continued to text family. At 8:19 pm police had their last visual contact with McNulty when he closed the garage door and turned off all the lights in the home.

At 11:15 pm tactical professionals on the scene made the call to breach the front door. When they did, McNulty did not resist, and he was taken into custody. He was taken to Ministry Door County Medical Center for evaluation then to Brown County Community Treatment Center in Green Bay for mental evaluation. McNulty is now incarcerated in the Door County Jail, where he awaits what is expected to be multiple felony charges.

“This was uncharted territory,” Brinkman said. “Never in my 24 years as a police officer have we had an officer fired upon.”

He credited extensive training lead by Lt. Clint Henry and Officer Carl Waterstreet Jr. for the peaceful outcome.

“It’s a tribute to the well-trained law enforcement professionals we have in this county,” he said. “This isn’t L.A. or New York, but bad guys are bad guys and guns are guns. They kill in Sturgeon Bay the same as they do anywhere else, and we do the same training every department in the nation does. Because of that training nobody was killed.”

Brinkman said he first received Incident Command Training in 2006 as part of a mock disaster drill on the ship Edward L. Ryerson in Sturgeon Bay and has received refresher training each year since. “Without that training this incident would have probably been hell for me,” he said.

Brinkman was made aware of McNulty’s military background as the standoff progressed, but he said he did not know if McNulty suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since his discharge a year ago.

“Is it something that crossed our minds? Yes, how can it not?” Brinkman said. “We hear about these sorts of incidents all the time.”

Brinkman offered special thanks to Sonny’s Pizzeria of Sturgeon Bay for bringing food to emergency personnel and to the Sturgeon Bay Q-Mart for providing water, Gatorade and ice. He also thanked Father Carl Schmitt for opening parts of St. John Bosco School for emergency respondents and McNulty’s family.