‘Nightmares…anger, and irritability’: Officers endure emotional and psychological trauma following shooting incidents

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A fatal officer-involved shooting in Ogden on Feb. 5 is another example of a no-win situation where the suspect is dead and the officer, while physically unharmed, now has to deal with the emotional and psychological effects of taking a life in the line of duty.

Body camera video clearly shows the immediate outcome for suspects in officer-involved shootings but we don’t get to see what happens in the officer’s head where a split-second decision to pull the trigger can create lifelong psychological trauma.

Dr. Andrew Smith, founder of the Occupational Trauma Clinic at Huntsman Mental Health Institute, often treats officers dealing with the lingering effects.

“It can cause all meter of problems from specifically post-traumatic stress disorder responses which include re-experiencing, like nightmares,” Dr. Smith told ABC4 Wednesday. “Cynicism, mood disruption, anger, and irritability.”

Dr. Smith says even if a shooting is justified and necessary, officers relive the experience, questioning how it unfolded and how it could have been different. 

Moments after the Feb. 5 Ogden shooting, the officer can be heard speaking to fatally wounded suspect Dino Raul Morales.

“Show me your hands dude,” he was recorded saying on his body-worn camera. “All you had to do was drop the gun.”

“What needs to happen is to really deconstruct the details of the events and relive them over and over again in what we would call an exposure therapy framework,” Dr. Smith said. “Connecting people to their roles and their families…Reconnecting to the values that led to a person becoming a law enforcement officer to begin with.”

Dr. Smith says there is help available for officers in these situations but they sometimes face years of treatment and therapy to achieve a positive outcome.

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