Chris Grollnek, an active-shooter expert based in McKinney, Texas, says he’s on a mission to hold Orlando police accountable for their response to the Pulse Nightclub incident.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire inside the LGBT nightclub, killing 49 and wounding more than 50, including an Orlando police officer. After a three-hour siege, Orlando police breached an exterior wall and killed the 29-year-old gunman. The FBI continues to investigate the incident.
Grollnek, 47, is a nationally recognized expert in the field of active-shooter prevention tactics. He’s received numerous commendations and appears frequently in the media. He contends that many casualties at Pulse could have been avoided if Orlando police adhered to active-shooter protocols.
Last week, body-camera footage was released that raises more questions about the police response to Pulse.
The footage depicts officers keeping their weapons trained on a Pulse bathroom occupied by Mateen, while shooting victims scream for help in the background.
In the midst of carnage, one officer says: “Lord Jesus watch over me.”
Eventually, SWAT members arrived and a three-hour standoff ensued. Orlando police tried to negotiate by phone with Mateen, who pledged his allegiance to terror group ISIS.
Grollnek said the footage reinforces his belief that casualties could have been avoided at Pulse if police had acted expediently to control the situation.
“I’m aware situations are dynamic,” Grollnek said. “But if you don’t seize control when you have the opportunity — the first few minutes on the scene — you end up with a disaster like Pulse.”
Grollnek said he’s keeping an open mind, but everything he’s reviewed leads him to believe the Orlando police response to Pulse was “grotesquely inadequate.”
Multiple victims bled to death inside the club or were killed by Mateen during the three-hour standoff, according to Grollnek.
“My concern is that innocent lives could have been spared if industry standards were followed. Police are supposed to pursue an active shooter until the person is neutralized. You don’t withdraw, then take a wait-and-see approach.”
In a televised interview, Orlando Police Chief John W. Mina defended the actions of Orlando police officers.
Engaging Mateen in a gun battle before SWAT arrived would have been a “suicide mission” for responding officers and risked the lives of hostages, Mina said.
Mina also noted that the injured Orlando police officer came within “an inch” of death during the final assault, when Mateen was killed.
But Grollnek disputes Mina’s assessment. “Action [by police] is always better than inaction in that type of situation,” Grollnek said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Well, we rescued many Pulse victims while Mateen held hostages in the bathroom.’ It never should have gotten to the point of a hostage situation. Mateen should have been promptly neutralized.”
In one scene depicted in the body-cam footage, a bleeding Pulse victim at a nearby hospital is handcuffed by police — who mistakenly believe he’s the Pulse shooter.
“It would have been a Keystone Cops comedy, if the outcome wasn’t so tragic and appalling,” Grollnek said.
Grollnek hopes to serve on a Pulse blue-ribbon review panel, if one is created by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. At press time, a spokesperson for Scott had no comment on whether such a panel would be created.
“I’m very concerned that if we don’t acknowledge the mistakes made at Pulse, important lessons will go unlearned,” Grollnek concluded. “If that happens, what hope do we have for the future? More innocent lives will be needlessly at risk.”