‘Something you don’t want to deal with’
DES MOINES — It was the justification of the use of deadly force and the decision not to that is credited for Washington County Sheriff’s deputy Robyn Hoppman being honored with the Iowa Association of Women Police’s 2012 officer of the year award.
During a ceremony in Des Moines, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented the plaque naming Hoppman officer of the year. It now sits on the filing cabinet in Hoppman’s office. More importantly, she feels, a young man has another chance to turn his life around and make better decisions. She hopes he takes the opportunity for all it is worth.
“Obviously I want to be in the job to help people, but I don’t need to be recognized for it,” Hoppman said, of the honor. “I just did my job. I went to work that day thinking it was going to be a normal day, but it wasn’t.”
In Febuary 2011, dispatch reported that a 16-year-old subject had run away from home, Hoppman recalls. She said the report also said that the subject had taken a gun with him when he left the house. Out serving papers at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort in Riverside, Hoppman got the word that the subject had been sighted walking on Old 218. Dispatch warned that the parents had reported that the subject possibly had a .45-caliber handgun. Being the closest deputy, Hoppman was asked to respond.
Approaching the subject, Hoppman saw the yellow backpack that had been mentioned in the description of the subject. She had dealt with the family in the past and was familiar with the subject. She pulled up behind the juvenile, got out and said his first name to try to talk to him. He immediately turned away from Hoppman.
“At the time I was assuming … well, I was hoping he wasn’t armed, but he was,” Hoppman said. “He had a box and in that box he had the gun.”
As she tried to get the juvenile to stop and was reaching for the box, the subject moved into the ditch, reached into the box and pulled out the gun. Hoppman heard the distinctive clicking sound of a round being chambered. She saw the round that had already been in the chamber fly out and land in the dirt beside him. The subject turned and had the gun pointed underneath his chin at his own head.
Standing in the middle of the roadway, Hoppman drew her sidearm to cover the subject. She immediately contacted the communications center to advise them of the situation. Dispatcher Shelly Reed-Wulf immediately sent backup.
With his finger on the trigger, Hoppman said, the subject turned away and continued walking north on Old 218.
“The whole time I was thinking ‘how do I get this kid to stop doing this?’” Hoppman said. “The whole time he is verbalizing that he might want me to end his life.”
Deciding that what the subject needed was someone to talk to, Hoppman began trying to speak with the subject, asking him what the problem was. She said that one time he had pointed the gun at her. She said that she was about to “solve the threat” when the subject’s cell phone rang, defusing the situation.
Hoppman said that Sgt. Darren Dennler arrived about three minutes into the situation. The two talked to the subject, trying to get information on where he was going. Never taking her eyes off the handgun, Hoppman said that she got the subject to talk and they made a plan. She agreed to let him speak to another subject if he surrendered the gun. He agreed. The person was already on the way from Wayland.
The situation took about 30 minutes. Hoppman guided the subject to an abandoned warehouse parking lot. The officers eventually got the subject to put the gun down. He was taken into custody. True to her word, the subject was also allowed to talk to the person he requested.
“Most of this job is reading people, reading body language and listening to what they say,” Hoppman said. “In my opinion he just really wanted someone to listen to him and he needed to go to drastic measures to get it to happen.”
Of the gun in the subject’s hand — Hoppman said she didn’t recognize the model, but said it was “brown and black and big.” She said the subject has been placed through the juvenile justice system.
The application for officer of the year was submitted by Hoppman’s co-worker Bill Fiordelise and presented during the annual conference. The Iowa Association of Women Police board voted to approve Hoppman as the officer of the year. The award was presented during a two-day training conference, with Hoppman not knowing she was the recipient.
While Hoppman didn’t know she would get the award, the other deputies at the sheriff’s office did. After the ceremony ended, Hoppman’s cell phone was stormed with calls of congratulations from her fellow deputies.
“It was something that you don’t want to deal with,” Hoppman said. “It could have gone another way, but I am just glad that it went the way it did.”