Brian McKenna is a former police officer who served 30 years in the St. Louis metro area. He wrote a book on police safety, and now trains officers. Newhall, McKenna said, “was the stimulus to say, ‘Are we really training officers to do what they need to on the street?’”
That day in 1970 began with a road-rage incident. A red two-door Pontiac cut off a couple in a Volkswagen on their way home. The man driving the Volkswagen followed the Pontiac until it eased to the shoulder. As it did, the Volkswagen’s driver, Jack Tidwell, yelled at the man in the Pontiac, Bobby Davis.
Davis, a career criminal, had about 10 guns in the car. He was on his way to pick up Jack Twining, his friend and business partner, who was scouring a construction site for explosives with which to blow up an armored car. When Tidwell threatened to beat him up, Davis waved a .38 special out the window and yelled, “Okay,just try it!”
Newhall was a small suburb where it wasn’t uncommon for people to carry guns on the road, or even draw them, McKenna said. Tidwell did call the police, though. When two officers eventually pulled the Pontiac over into a truck stop, Davis’ partner, Twining, sat in the passenger seat. California Highway Patrol officers Roger Gore and Walter Frago were both 23. They’d been on the force a couple years. As McKenna wrote, the officers asked the men to step out of the car:
… but neither of the men in the Pontiac budged. Gore repeated the command two more times before the driver’s door swung open and Bobby Davis stepped out. Now following Gore’s orders, he moved to the rear of the Pontiac and assumed the classic frisk position—feet spread wide, body leaning forward and hands on the trunk lid. Twining was still in the front seat, making no effort to move.
Both officers moved forward, Gore on the left and Frago on the right. Gore stopped behind Davis and began to frisk him as Frago moved up to the right side of the car and stopped just behind the passenger door. A load of 00 buckshot rested in the chamber of Frago’s shotgun, but he held it in only one hand—his right—with its butt against his hip and muzzle pointed skyward. Twining was still sitting behind the closed passenger door. Frago reached for the door handle with his left hand.
Davis and Twining shot the officers dead. They also killed the two officers who arrived as backup. Reformers studied decisions of all four officers, starting with the lack of caution with which the first two officers seemed to approach the Pontiac, and applied the lessons they learned.
“One thing Newhall is credited with is the officer-survival movement––training officers to be more cautious,” McKenna told me.
Most officers at the time carried revolvers, which hold six bullets. Faced with Davis and Twining’s small arsenal on the back seat, six shots were not enough. So one development after the shooting was the adoption of more powerful, higher-capacity weapons by police, and the provision of better training in the use of those weapons. Officers had always learned to shoot by aiming at stationary targets, normally pieces of paper hung at shooting ranges. After Newhall, officers trained with moving targets. They drew from their holsters to respond to a surprise threat on the ranges.