ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He remembers all of it: the bullets, the blood, the horrifying realization that he was being fired upon by someone he had worked with almost daily for nearly two years and more than 20 drug stings.
“I remember gunshot after gunshot after gunshot,” said Jacob Grant, an undercover narcotics detective for two of his 12 years with the Albuquerque Police Department who on Jan. 9, 2015, was shot repeatedly by his own boss, Lt. Greg Brachle, in a drug sting gone horribly awry. “I remember looking at my right hand and seeing that it was blown apart, how my left arm felt like it was hanging off, like it was obliterated.”
He knew he had been shot many times in his abdomen and under his armpit, and he knew most people didn’t survive wounds like that.
“I knew there was a very good chance that I was about to die,” said Grant, 37.
He remembers trying to reach for his cellphone to call his wife, Laura, to tell her one last time that he loved her. But his hands no longer worked.
Nine separate wounds from eight .45-caliber, copper-jacketed, hollow-point, lead-core bullets had been emptied into him at close range in 10 seconds, shearing off two slabs of liver and eviscerating his spleen, pancreas, lungs, much of his colon, nerves, artery, bone. Such ammo is used to inflict maximum damage, and it had.
“I could feel myself starting to fade, feeling exhaustion just trying to breathe, feeling so much pain,” he said. “I remember thinking how awful the pain was but how that was OK because I was going to be dead in just a minute.”
In his failing consciousness, he could still make out an image in the blur and the blood, a photo pulled from memory of his two children – his 4-year-old boy, his 7-year-old girl – and they were smiling.
“That’s when it occurred to me that the idea of dying, of giving up, was just ridiculous,” he said. “So I was going to do everything I could not to die.”
Much to the surprise of those who saw the damage to Grant’s ravaged body – from his fellow detectives at the scene to the paramedics who tried to stanch the bleeding from the galaxy of holes torn in his body to the team of surgeons who worked for hours patching together what remained of him – he lived.
He’s not sure that photo of his kids exists, but in those hazy moments it had.
Someday, he will tell his children the story about the photo, but when they are older, when they are ready – and how he lived because of their smiles.
He told me this story – a rarity because he has not spoken publicly since the shooting – on the night before major surgery to reconstruct his torso, which for now is covered with mesh and a thin, taut patch of flesh sliced from his thigh. Every major organ except his brain and heart must be repaired, muscle reinforced, blood vessels and nerves rewired, inches of intestine re-coiled. Although he has already undergone at least 12 surgeries and countless other procedures in the year since he was shot, the surgery Wednesday was one of the riskiest and most complicated.
So he tells the story just in case he doesn’t get to tell it someday in the future.
Mostly, he also wanted to say how thankful he is to those who offered support, words of encouragement and donations; to the “rock star” surgeons and the medical staff; to his family and friends.
“So many people have stepped up and done stuff, all the individuals who donated online, the businesses that held fundraisers, the Wells Fargo account people donated to. Our preschool made it possible to keep sending our son there,” he said. “It was all just honestly unexpected, the amount of support we got. You get the impression that there is only negative sentiment toward law enforcement, but it hasn’t felt that way.”
Grant is one of those happy, mellow souls who stay calm and gracious even while trudging through hell. That cool-headed composure, he said, has served him well in his law enforcement career and his 11 years as an Army infantryman, his last deployment being in 2005 to Iraq.
“I don’t have the energy to be angry all the time right now,” he said. “I’ve never really been a particularly angry person. It’s helpful not to let things get under your skin, to deal with your situation in a more successful and healthy fashion.”
Many of his friends, including those within the ranks of APD, are not as easygoing. They are outraged at what they say is the shameless lack of recognition for Grant’s sacrifice in the line of duty, outraged at the lack of compensation other than workers’ comp for his injuries, outraged that the police lieutenant who shot him remains on the force.
A federal lawsuit filed on Grant’s behalf against the city, APD and Brachle describes the horror, confusion and inexplicable missteps of that day.
According to the lawsuit, Brachle should not have been involved in the undercover drug buy – $60 for meth – because he missed the required briefing beforehand. Brachle, the lawsuit contends, failed to follow APD protocol and training by rushing the car and opening the door on the driver’s side where undercover detectives always sit rather than slowly approaching the passenger’s side. He failed to distinguish the two undercover detectives, both of whom are white, from the suspects, both of whom are black.
He failed to recognize Grant, sitting in the back seat behind the driver, despite knowing Grant would be sitting there, despite having worked with Grant for two years, despite Grant not wearing a facial disguise, despite Grant wearing the same recognizable clothing he always wore on operations, despite it being broad daylight and clear weather.
In a response by the city to Grant’s lawsuit, Brachle admits that he shot Grant but denied all allegations of wrongdoing, including missing the briefing.
Grant’s “injuries were caused by an independent, intervening cause or intervention for which the City cannot be held liable,” the city’s response says. His “injuries were caused by the sole or comparative fault of persons other than the City.”
Grant prefers not to say what he thinks of that or Brachle. He is concerned that the controversy surrounding his case will reflect poorly on his fellow police officers.
“My fellow officers at my level are good, hardworking people who are good at heart and have good intentions,” he said. “They are the guys and girls going out there to protect people and do their job.”
Grant said he is concerned he may never be able to do his job again, given the extent of his injuries. Besides the damage to his internal organs, his hand and arms have suffered such severe nerve and bone damage that he cannot pick up a cup of coffee, a child, a gun.
“I went to work with a smile on my face every morning,” he said. “I was doing what I loved. I was good at it. The potential never to be able to do police work again hurts me more than anything else.”
Despite even that, Grant calls himself lucky, his life in a holding pattern, his broken body still functioning, at least enough to keep him breathing and moving and being there for his children and his wife.
“I was a dead man, everybody said,” he said. “But I am still alive. I am lucky.”
Word came late Wednesday: Grant survived nine hours of surgery and is doing well.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.