MOORESVILLE – When a police department uses the phrase “routine traffic stop,” it’s typically a frame of reference for an event that ended up being anything but ordinary.
That was the case May 4, when Mooresville K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon pulled over a vehicle along one of the town’s busiest roads, West Plaza Drive. “Routine” would dictate that Sheldon, a six-year veteran of the Mooresville Police Department, exited his patrol car, walked up to the stopped vehicle and engaged the driver in conversation.
All of those things may very well have happened. But at some point, this traffic stop tragically broke from routine.
Sheldon was shot. The driver fled.
It would be the 32-year-old officer’s last call on his final shift. Sheldon was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the shooting.
Police tracked the suspect down at a nearby apartment, where they found Michael Yovany Aldana, 28, dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.
For a family, a police department and a community, routine was instantly turned on its head at 10 p.m. on an otherwise uneventful Saturday night. Their loved one, their colleague, their sworn protector was gone.
Just like that.
“We’re sad,” Mooresville Police Chief Damon Williams said the day after the shooting. “We’re hurt.”
Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins was overcome with grief as he tried to come up with the words to soothe a suddenly scarred community.
“Mooresville, of all places,” he said. “How can this happen?”
But the reality, as Sheldon’s death reminded us, is that for law enforcement officers, the only certainty is uncertainty.
Including when they approach a vehicle during a traffic stop.
“Simply put, the officer in almost all cases has no idea who is in the vehicle or what their situation and mindset is, which makes all stops non-routine by definition,” said acting Huntersville Police Department Chief Bence Hoyle, also a former Cornelius chief. “Regardless of the techniques, officers just like Officer Sheldon take these risks thousands of times a day, every single day – risks that most people who have not experienced it would have a very difficult time with because it is real, and you feel it as you are walking to that vehicle.”
Davidson Police Chief Penny Dunn agreed.
“Nothing about our jobs is routine,” she said. “That’s why we always train our officers not to be complacent. You can go into a situation that appears routine and end up fighting for your life.”
The hypervigilance required of law enforcement officers makes an already stressful job even more psychologically and even physically taxing, but just one lapse can be tragic, Dunn added.
“Sometimes just putting on the uniform is like putting a target on our back,” she said.
Another sobering reminder from Sheldon’s death is that there’s no “safe” place to be a cop. Dunn says she often hears people say that it must be “better” to be a police officer in places like Davidson or Mooresville because they are small towns.
“The reality is that we deal with the same things” that larger departments do, she insisted. “Maybe it’s less frequent here, but we also have less resources. (Violence against officers) can and does happen anywhere, and Officer Sheldon’s death is proof of that.”
A day after Sheldon’s death, a man walked up to Biloxi, Miss., Officer Robert McKeithen in a parking lot and shot him several times without provocation. The 24-year officer and Air Force veteran died later at a hospital.
The following day, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Matthew Gatti was killed when, while responding to a fire call, his patrol car collided with two tractor-trailers on Interstate 40.
Three days. Three ends of watch.
Huntersville’s Hoyle noted that police vigilance often is perceived as something different by those outside law enforcement.
“You will often hear public criticism of police because an officer approached a vehicle ‘like I was a criminal’ or ‘would not stand where I could see him’ or the often heard ‘there were three police cars stopping me,’” the chief said. “Having said that, police officers do what they do because they truly have a calling to serve others. The motivation of a person to sacrifice their own personal safety for the benefit of others for less-than-average pay is the most unselfish thing one can do, and the pride you feel in that sacrifice is rewarding. Officer Sheldon no doubt knew the risks but chose to continue to serve his community anyway. That is something only a very few special people are willing to do.”
People like Jordan Sheldon, who go to work not knowing what to expect.
Except that they will go home at the end of their shift.
Services are Friday
Services for slain Mooresville K9 Officer Jordan Sheldon will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Calvary Church in Charlotte.
A procession of public safety vehicles will accompany Sheldon from a funeral home in Concord to the church, which is at 5801 Pineville-Matthews Road. Following the service, a procession will travel to the Mooresville Police Department.