For years after he cheated death, Sgt. Myron Daniels recalled the shooting every time he buttoned up his Baton Rouge Police Department uniform.
On that day nine years ago, Daniels chased a career criminal who ran a red light and then holed up in an apartment off Hanks Drive. He radioed for help and, after rounding a corner inside the residence, spotted the fugitive kneeling on the floor of a back room, aiming a gun at the doorway.
The bullets struck Daniels in short succession, grazing his leg and piercing his abdomen below his bulletproof vest. He lay in a coma for several days and spent nearly two weeks in the hospital undergoing surgeries.
"He and his family have suffered tremendously," State District Judge Anthony Marabella said of Daniels in 2011 during the sentencing of the shooter, laying out in detail how the wounded officer described his state of mind after he got out of the hospital. The judge sentenced the fugitive, Christopher Johnson, to 115 years in state prison.
Those who have worked alongside Daniels weren't surprised by the courage the U.S. Marine Corps veteran showed in pursuing Johnson. He's risked his life repeatedly since joining BRPD in 1998, serving stints as "shield man" when the department's Special Response Team carries out no-knock drug raids.
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"One could only hope that he reflects the future of the Baton Rouge Police Department because of his professionalism," a supervisor wrote of Daniels in 2000 letter of commendation.
Sources say the BRPD veteran indeed does have greater ambitions within the agency. With a change in leadership on the horizon, Daniels has made no secret of his interest in becoming Baton Rouge's next police chief, according to several friends and colleagues. Daniels' name also has been floated in law enforcement circles as a selection that would be more palatable to the main local police union than hiring a chief from outside the department.
Whether he gets the job will be up to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, who intends to conduct a national search to replace Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. Daniels applied for the job in 2013 following the firing of then-Police Chief Dewayne White, scoring a point higher than Dabadie on the civil-service exam used to screen applicants.
"He lives, breathes and talks law enforcement," said Mike McClanahan, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
If chosen for the job, Daniels would be the city's first black police chief since Jeff LeDuff, who retired in 2010. But Daniels' strongest appeal, McClanahan said, stems from his experience on the front lines of law enforcement. He's racked up a host of commendations while keeping a relatively low profile, including officer of the year honors in 2002.
"I see a benefit of having someone who's been in the trenches, who wants to do the right thing," McClanahan said. "He knows the community and the community knows him. He doesn't see black and white — he sees right and wrong."
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Daniels, who is assigned the department's Special Response Team, has remained active in community outreach throughout his career, teaching self-defense courses and organizing fundraisers and toy drives. He has served for years as president of the capital area branch of the Magnolia State Peace Officers Association, a statewide organization for black police officers, and as an instructor in the department's training academy. Last summer, as floodwaters inundated his home in the Monticello area, he joined his colleagues in working long shifts away from his family.
"Even if you talk to the chief, he'll tell you how well respected Myron is," said state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. "I'm sure he doesn't want him to take his job, but when we've had conversations about seniority and being able to promote based on merit, the chief would probably tell you he'd be one of the folks that's very high-ranking."
Despite his popularity, Daniels faces a number of challenges in his bid to become the next chief, not the least of which is Broome's vow to look outside the department for Dabadie's successor. During her campaign for mayor, Broome promised a top-down reform of the department following the shooting death last year of Alton Sterling.
"When the position becomes vacant, as I have consistently stated, my goal is to do a national search for the BRPD police chief," Broome said in a statement to The Advocate last week. "BRPD officers interested in the position will certainly be welcomed to apply."
Daniels, who did not respond to requests for comment, has been among the most frequently mentioned contenders for police chief. But his support is far from universal.
Gary Chambers, a black activist and vocal critic of the BRPD, said he's concerned about deeply pro-union views Daniels has expressed over the past several months. Chambers, who served on an advisory council on policing for Broome, said he'd be opposed to naming Daniels to the job for anything more than an interim basis.
"He's not progressive-minded, not willing to move the department where it needs to go," Chambers said. "I think he's a good guy but, with his current stances, I would not want to see him as chief of police."
Chambers said public comments from Broome during her campaign last fall gave him the impression that she would look beyond Baton Rouge "to find fresh eyes." He disputed the perception that black community advocates are dead-set on the hiring of an African American chief.
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"Everyone thinks the black community is hell-bent on having a black chief," Chambers said. "Do we want qualified black candidates to be given a fair chance? Yes, of course. But we want somebody who embodies the values of good policing, black or white. We don't want somebody just because they're black, we want somebody who can do the job."
The question of who will succeed Dabadie may be somewhat premature given the stalemate that has developed between the mayor and police chief. Broome cannot simply remove Dabadie from office under local civil service rules, which require the police chief be fired for cause and give him the opportunity to appeal the disciplinary action. James sponsored a bill this past legislative session that would have removed the Baton Rouge police chief from the protection of civil service, but the legislation never made it out of committee.
When former Mayor-President Kip Holden terminated White in 2013, he cited a host of departmental policy violations and insubordination as grounds for the firing, calling the police chief a "master of deception." White appealed his termination, but later abandoned his attempt to get his job back ahead of a scheduled civil service hearing.
Broome pledged to replace Dabadie during the campaign, and before she took office declared she was moving forward with a national search. But there hasn't been much evidence of a search since then, and both the mayor and police chief this spring emphasized their solid working relationship on implementing changes at the department.
More recently, however, the relationship has appeared more contentious.
Last month, Broome wrote a letter to Dabadie imploring him to fire Blane Salamoni, the officer who fatally shot Sterling last summer. Dabadie responded a day later, telling the mayor it would be premature to fire Salamoni before the state Attorney General's Office decides whether to pursue criminal charges in Sterling's death.
"I urge you to reconsider your position and let the criminal process conclude," Dabadie wrote.
Sgt. C. Bryan Taylor, the head of the local police union, said last week that Dabadie "hasn't done anything to be removed from his position." Should the position become vacant, Taylor added, "obviously we'd like to see someone from within" become the next chief. "They understand how this department works, and they're emotionally attached to the people of this community," he said, noting the union will work with whomever is selected. "It's not just a job."
Asked about Daniels specifically, Taylor called him "an excellent police officer, an excellent supervisor and you couldn't ask more of a police officer. Is he qualified? Absolutely.
"We've been in (situations) where I know I was very glad he had my back," Taylor said, noting Daniels has literally bled for the department.
The shooting that briefly sidelined Daniels followed a routine traffic stop in June 2008. Johnson, who had failed to appear in court on an earlier weapons charge, sped away from Daniels after the officer asked him for his driver's license. Court records show he told Daniels "you're going to have to catch me."
Daniels gave chase to an apartment complex. He and another officer, Brandon Ogden, entered a unit. They found a woman inside the residence and asked where Johnson was. Daniels took the lead in the search and took fire from Johnson as soon as he spotted him in the back room.
The officers returned fire, and Ogden also was struck by a bullet in the arm. Ogden and another officer dragged Daniels to safety, engaging in a gun battle in which Johnson was shot several times before being taken into custody.
Daniels was rushed to the hospital, where he was greeted by a former senior police official who asked that his name not be printed. "I remember when they took him out of the ambulance and his eyes were closed," the official said. "I said, 'Myron, open your eyes. Let me see your eyes.' He looked at me, and I remember him saying, 'I'm not dead.'"
Advocate staff writer Andrea Gallo contributed to this report.