AZDPS officer recovers after being shot in the face during routine traffic stop

“999…998…Officer down! Officer down!”

A backup police officer can be heard calling for help from the dispatcher.

“10–4, shots fired,” she responds.

Officer James Casey has just been shot during a routine traffic stop.

On Oct. 8, 2014, the Arizona Department of Public Safety state trooper worked the graveyard shift, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. At approximately 3 a.m. Casey stopped a vehicle for an equipment violation. The vehicle pulled into the parking lot of the Knight’s Inn Hotel in Phoenix, and Casey was shot in the face with a .357-caliber handgun.

“I didn’t feel anything,” Casey said. “I did regain consciousness at the scene prior to the ambulance arriving.”

Once he had regained consciousness, Casey said he remembered seeing very bright lights and tried to keep himself from touching his wounded face, noting,

“I was afraid if I touched it and it was severe, which it was, I would go into shock and make myself worse than I already was,” he said.

The 45-year-old was taken to the trauma bay at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital and had two surgeries totaling over nine hours on the night of the incident.

Following the incident, Casey has undergone approximately 17 surgeries and medical procedures including five surgeries to the left side of his nose, which was completely destroyed by the bullet. Casey said the bullet also destroyed his left cheekbone, which doctors replaced with a titanium plate and he had a quarter-sized hole in his mouth palate, which took a skin graft and 155 stitches to repair. Additionally, Casey lost all of his upper teeth and will have to wear a dental prosthetic for the rest of his life and cannot chew food on the left side of his mouth.

“Because of all the damage to my mouth and face, I couldn’t eat for two months afterward,” he said. “When I drank, the liquid would run right out of my right nostril.”

Casey, who has worked for AZDPS for just over eight years, said he had bullet fragments removed from his eyes and surgeries to remove bone, teeth, and bullet fragments from his face. Besides the surgeries, he also suffered a severe concussion and hearing loss, requiring him to wear a hearing aid. Though he suffered severe damage to his face, Casey said he felt lucky not to have suffered vision loss, paralysis or brain damage.

Casey’s wife, Nancy, said it was very difficult to watch Casey go through the long, painful process of multiple surgeries and procedures and as a nurse, Nancy said she felt immense pressure to make sure he was well cared for.

“I actually thought he would recover faster, a little naive I know, maybe it was just wishful thinking,” Nancy said. “In the end it has taken him 1 1/2 years to make a complete recovery, and he will always need further care.”

Nancy stated that the shooting reminded the couple not to “sweat the small stuff,” noting, “Life is so fleeting that we try now to enjoy every moment we have with our family and friends. I think it brought both sides of our families closer together.”

Casey, who has had over 16 total years experience as a police officer, was unable to work from October, 2014, until March 3, 2016. However, he said he was determined to return to his duty following the tragic shooting, adding,

“If I was medically able to return to work, I had every intention from my first memories in the hospital that I was going to return to work.”

Once he finally returned to work for the department, Casey said that though it sounds cliché, the men and women of AZDPS made him feel a part of the team again, and treated him like he “hadn’t missed a beat.” Casey also credits his competitive spirit for his superior ability to bounce back from such traumatic circumstances.

Though Casey is healing from his surgeries and has returned from work, the legal aspects of the shooting have yet to be fully resolved. The next step for Casey is the criminal trial for the suspect who shot him, set to commence on June 6, 2016 at Maricopa County Superior Court.

“The competitive side of me said that I wasn’t going to let the shooter win,” Casey said. “I was determined to get back to work and let the shooter know that he tried to kill me, and failed.”