Off-duty officer shrugs off 'heroic' label

He pursued gunman, helped end rampage

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 6:51 a.m. MDT

Sarita Hammond, left, called 911 while her husband, officer Ken Hammond, went after the gunman. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News) Sarita Hammond, left, called 911 while her husband, officer Ken Hammond, went after the gunman. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News)
OGDEN — Everything that happened to Ken Hammond at Trolley Square happened for a reason.
He said he and his wife ate dessert at a restaurant there for a reason. His wife took a break after dinner for a reason. He believes he was at the mall for a reason that night.
"We were there for a reason. I had my gun on me for a reason," the Ogden police officer said Tuesday.
Salt Lake City police are praising Hammond for helping to end 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic's shooting rampage on Monday night.
"Undoubtedly, he saved a lot of lives," assistant Salt Lake City Police Chief Terry Fritz said.
Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey said Tuesday that Hammond "meets the definition of hero in every sense."
Everybody is calling Hammond a hero, but the Ogden police officer doesn't really feel like one.
Ogden police officer Ken Hammond, with wife Sarita, explains his role in chasing the gunman Monday. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News) Ogden police officer Ken Hammond, with wife Sarita, explains his role in chasing the gunman Monday. (Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News)
"I was there and I did what I needed to do," he said simply.
Dressed in his crisply pressed Ogden police uniform, Hammond recounted to a room full of reporters Tuesday night how his involvement in the encounter played out.
Hammond had offered to pick up an extra duty shift today to fill a shortage of officers, and decided to take his wife to the Rodizio Grill for an early Valentine's Day dinner.
"We finished eating dinner, we decided to walk out and she had to make a stop," he said. "I just was sitting on a bench and began to hear some sort of popping noise."
The officer said he first thought it was construction, never guessing that it could be gunfire. As he and his wife walked toward the mall's main corridor to buy a Valentine's Day gift for their son, he saw the bodies.
"I could tell there was some people that had been seriously injured," he said. "I noticed there was a man with a shotgun walking out of the business where the people were."
He turned to Sarita, who is a police dispatcher, and told her to go back to the restaurant.
"I turned to my wife and I told her, I said, 'You need to leave! Go! Go back to the restaurant, call 911 and lock it down!"'
He drew his .45-caliber handgun and went farther into the mall.
"I went out of romantic date mode into 'I need to protect mode,"' he said.
Meanwhile, Sarita Hammond rushed back into the Rodizio Grill but ran into problems.
"For some reason my cell phone wouldn't get through, so I took a cell phone from a waiter," she said.
Once she got through to 911, she said she struggled to explain to the emergency dispatchers that her husband is a cop in plainclothes and not another gunman.
"I just said 'You just need to listen,"' she said. "That was my main concern to get that clothing description out."
Ken Hammond said he began shouting "Ogden City Police! OPD! Get down! Get down! Get back! Get back!" to people in the mall. He was not in uniform, but dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Hammond said he tried to pull his badge out of his wallet, but it was stuck and he didn't want to holster his gun.
Antique-shop owner Barrett Dodds encountered Hammond in the hallway.
"He says 'Ogden City Police Department' so I kind of help him, direct him to where he (the shooter) was," Dodds said.
By that time, the shootout had already begun.
"He took a shot at me. It was quite a distance. I was still up on the second tier and decided I needed to get to a safer place," Hammond said. "I went around the west side and fired another round and that's when I just lay flat on the ground."
Hammond said he lost sight of Talovic for a brief time. It was then the officer became worried about the escalators behind him and whether the gunman would get the drop on him.
"That's when I noticed a uniformed Salt Lake City police officer standing on the lower level about equal with me," he said. "It was kind of tense for a few seconds because I was standing up there with a gun in my hand."
Shouting down that he was an off-duty Ogden police officer, he convinced the officer that he wasn't a threat. Hammond ran down the escalators and met the officer — and the gunman, who was in a store.
"At that point I kind of fanned off to the left a little bit where I did take shots at the suspect," he said. "There was a brief moment after I fired my last two shots. There was probably five or 10 seconds of silence. I did hear what sounded like rapid fire from a machine-gun type weapon. I looked around the corner and I could see glass falling and I could tell the suspect was down."
When Hammond and the other officer rushed up to Talovic's body they saw SWAT officers placing him in handcuffs. Hammond said he did not know if he or any other officer killed Talovic. Ogden police declined to say how many times Hammond fired on Talovic. The shooting itself is under a policy review investigation by the Ogden Police Department.
Hammond said he had eight rounds in his gun when he engaged Tolovic. By the time he reached the first floor, witnesses said, Hammond was running out of bullets.
"The Ogden city guy says 'Hey man, I've only got six shots,"' Dodds recalled. "I was upstairs. There was nothing I could do. Just then the cops (came) in."
Hammond said in the six years he's been a cop for Ogden police, he's had to chase suspects who pointed guns at him — but he's never been shot at before. Hammond said that he kept the gunman busy, giving Salt Lake City police time to get where they needed to be and stop Talovic.
"I think he's a brave officer," Greiner said.
Hammond said his first concern was for his pregnant wife.
"I'm on a Valentine's Day date with my wife," Hammond said. "I'm not ready for that. ... I'm not expecting that. My first concern was her, getting her away. She's pregnant and I didn't want her anywhere near that. The second thing that I was worried about was more possible victims."
When they reunited after the shooting, Sarita said she embraced her husband.
"I think it's very heroic," she said.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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