Birmingham, AL – A veteran Birmingham police officer was shot in the line of duty while responding to a robbery call on Wednesday night.
The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m., when 36-year-old Birmingham Police Officer Cullen Stafford and approximately nine of his fellow officers responded to a report of a robbery in progress at a convenience store in the 500-block of 23rd Street North, Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
When the officers arrived at the scene, the unnamed suspect “ambushed” them as he was fleeing the store, Chief Smith said.
Officer Stafford, an eight-year veteran-of-the-force, was shot between five and seven times during the gun battle that ensued.
Another officer was injured when he fell while chasing the suspect.
The suspect fired at officers from multiple locations over a span of at least five city blocks, the Associated Press reported.
He was fatally shot by police during the shootout, and died in the bushes near a parking garage, The Birmingham News reported.
The Birmingham officers loaded Officer Stafford into a patrol car and rushed him to the University of Alabama Birmingham Trauma Center, where he was taken into surgery.
“To give you just a little more detail of how severe his injuries are…Officer Stafford was shot between five and seven times,” Chief Smith told reporters. “He was shot once in the face, twice in the upper torso, and multiple times in one leg.”
Chief Smith said that doctors have been unable to determine exactly how many times the veteran officer was shot, “because some rounds passed through his body multiple times.”
Officer Stafford was wearing his ballistic vest at the time of the attack, and it likely helped to save his life, the chief noted.
The veteran officer came out of surgery at 10 p.m., and underwent a second surgery on Tuesday morning.
He will need “multiple surgeries" in the future, Chief Smith said.
“He has a very long road to recovery, and he’s gonna need our support, and we’re going to be there for him,” the chief continued. “This department is very proud of him, his actions, and the actions of the responding officers.”
The suspect has been identified, but his name has not yet been released pending notification of next-of-kin, Chief Smith said.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is handling the ongoing investigation into the officer-involved shooting.
“Our officers put their lives on the line every single day in this city to protect and serve the people of Birmingham, and I think it is important [for] all of us…to uplift them,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said during the press conference. “Make no mistake about it – if a person is shot between five and seven times, someone is trying to take their life.”
Woodfin noted that multiple officers ran in to help save Officer Stafford, even though they could have been fatally shot in the process.
He thanked the officers for their courage and heroic actions, and said he is in “full support of this department.”
The mayor also said it was an “honor” to be able to wish Officer Stafford a happy birthday – he turned 36 on Thursday.
Officer Stafford was assigned to the City-Wide Violent Crimes Task Force at the time of the attack, Chief Smith said.
He described Officer Stafford is a “decorated veteran” of the department, who is deeply committed to combating violence in the community.
He even turned down promotion to detective in order to remain on the streets with the task force.
“He wanted to be out and involved,” the chief said.
In 2017, he was named as the West Precinct’s first Officer of the Year, The Birmingham News reported.
“Officer Stafford has been a training officer for several years and he has been training two officers from every academy class and training transfers from other agencies assigned to the West Precinct,'' then-Captain Paul Irwin said at the time. “All of the officers he has trained speak very highly of him, and this is the leadership that we need within all levels of law enforcement to be effective.”
In June of the same year, Officer Stafford and his partner, Officer Winston Hunt, were both seriously injured when a homicide suspect slammed into the side of their patrol car while fleeing from other officers.
“We often talk about how our officers put their lives on the line every day for our safety,” Woodfin tweeted on Wednesday. “Tonight is proof of the courage, valor and strength it takes to wear that badge. Officer Stafford, your city stands with you.”