Police give man 2 chances before using tear gas to end standoff
by Carla Noah Stutsman
One man’s hubbub messed up a lot of people’s May 10.
Azle’s annual Relay for Life, along with a jazz dinner/dance, both slated for that date, were called off by authorities.
Plus three Azle schools were put on lockdown and dozens of residents evacuated – all due to a drunken man who beat up his neighbor and retreated into a travel trailer where he lives on Sandy Beach Road just outside the Azle city limits.
In the end, Frank John McKinney, 50, of Azle, was brought out by a Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office tactical or “SWAT” team that fired two tear gas canisters into the travel trailer.
He was arrested, but McKinney posted $25,000 bond at 9:50 p.m. Monday, May 13 and has been released from the Tarrant County jail.
The incident started about 6:30 a.m. when McKinney attempted to buy beer at J.T.’s Lucky Lady convenience store at 1100 Sandy Beach Road.
A clerk there, believing McKinney to be drunk, refused to sell to him.
Angered, McKinney had words with an elderly neighbor as he walked toward his travel trailer, located in a park adjacent to the Lucky Lady. McKinney then grabbed a broom the man was holding and struck the neighbor over the head with the metal broomstick.
McKinney then retreated into his travel trailer.
Azle police officers and Azle Fire Department paramedics arrived in short order, and officers heard from several witnesses and residents of the park that McKinney was known to have several firearms and an unknown amount of ammunition inside the travel trailer.
Azle officers assisted the elderly victim to an ambulance that was staged some distance away.
The area is located in a strip of unincorporated Tarrant County that lies between the Azle city limits, which runs down the center of Richard Lane to the west, and the city of Pelican Bay to the east.
As Tarrant County Sheriff’s deputies and command staff arrived, they and Azle officers gathered information about McKinney.
McKinney came out of his travel trailer at least three times – wearing only what appeared to be boxer shorts – waving his arms, making gestures, and shouting almost incoherently.
But he never displayed a gun.
Because, at the time, McKinney was only suspected of committing assault with bodily injury – a misdemeanor charge, and his only conviction had been for criminal trespass back in 2002 another misdemeanor – law enforcement officials agreed they could best “de-escalate” the situation by retreating and obtaining a warrant for McKinney’s arrest at a later time.
They were briefly called back to the location in the early afternoon when McKinney allegedly made threats to neighbors, but again McKinney was left to sober up.
Around 3 p.m., though, 911 callers told dispatchers McKinney had come out of the travel trailer again, and this time he fired several rounds indiscriminately around the area.
When TCSO deputies arrived back on the scene moments later, they came with a mobile command center, high-level command personnel, and the tactical squad.
They also came armed with a warrant for McKinney’s arrest for assault on an elderly person – a felony charge.
All residents inside the trailer park were evacuated to a small church near the corner of Richard Lane and Sandy Beach Road, about 150 yards from McKinney’s travel trailer.
The owner of J.T.’s Lucky Lady agreed to close his store for business in the best interest of keeping the public safe.
Briar VFD closed down the roadway on Sandy Beach Road between Richard Lane and Liberty School Road.
Liberty Elementary, Hoover Elementary and Forte Junior High Schools were placed on lockdown, and two charitable events – Relay For Life and the Azle Jazz Band’s Dinner and Dance, both scheduled for that evening at Forte Junior High – were canceled or postponed.
Nearby residents provided gallon jugs full of drinking water, and the Lucky Lady owner had a stack of pizzas delivered to feed residents who were displaced for hours.
For almost four hours, amid occasional heckling from residents who urged Sheriff’s officials to take action, law enforcement officers as well as friends of McKinney negotiated with McKinney by cell phone, urging him to give up peacefully and come out.
He declined each of their offers.
Finally, at about 7:10 p.m., the tactical squad fired two tear gas canisters into the travel trailer. A police scanner crackled with their communications as the event unfolded:
“Fire! We’ve got fire in the southeast corner! Get him out, get him out!”
Evacuated residents, store personnel, and others waited for an anxious few moments before word came that the man was, indeed, in custody.
Briar firetrucks pulled into the trailer park to put out the small fire started by the tear gas canisters.
An Azle ambulance that had been staged nearby for most of the day pulled in and McKinney was decontaminated from his exposure to the tear gas.
According to Terry Grisham, spokesperson for TCSO, McKinney suffered a small cut to his hand but was otherwise uninjured.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said McKinney would be transported directly to the Tarrant County jail where medical staff there would evaluate any needs.
An AR-15-style semi-automatic assault rifle and ammunition were recovered from the travel trailer.
“There really is no cost recovery system for the assets we utilized,” Grisham said when asked about the possibility of additional charges against McKinney. “It’s our position that no assets were wasted in this situation. There was a huge number of citizens, school children, and officers that all went home safely after this incident. That’s the perfect result. That’s the whole reason we were out there, it’s what we train for, and it’s the reason it took as long as it did.”
Grisham credited a team of five negotiators as well as at least two area residents – friends of McKinney – through whom phone contact was established, aiding in determining McKinney’s mental state and the ability to present him with his options.
“Ultimately, all the decisions were his (McKinney’s),” Grisham said. “The fact that he made a conscious decision not to end his life that day was critical and it’s what allowed so many others to go home safely.”