SHAWNEE — Joe Leeds' three children remind him daily how important it is to wear his
"Every day when I leave the house, one of them says 'I love you, Dad — don't get dead,'" Leeds said. "They're the reason why I do this job and why I make it home every day."
The Pottawatomie County sheriff's deputy was shot four times in the chest Wednesday night during what should have been a routine traffic stop in Bethel Acres west of Shawnee. His bullet-stopping vest not only helped save his life, but prevented him from being seriously injured.
He was treated and released that night from a hospital.
Law enforcement officials Thursday continued to search for a red 1990s model, Chevrolet extended-cab pickup and the three men inside it.
A white man in the back seat rolled down his window and opened fire on Leeds with a small-caliber weapon, he said.
"It felt like getting hit at close range with a paintball gun," Leeds said.
Leeds, 36, said he instinctively reverted to tactical training he received through the Oklahoma County sheriff's office. He moved quickly out of the shooter's point blank range, returned fire and says he likely struck the pickup.
The truck drove off, and Leeds got back in his patrol car and followed it until the pain in his chest was too harsh to overcome. He joined the search for the three men after being released from the hospital, a spokesman for the sheriff's department said.
Leeds has been an Oklahoma certified police officer for eight years. He has worked for Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth for about 18 months and is the department's K-9 handler. Before that, he was employed at the Seminole County Sheriff's Department.
One of his former partners was Seminole County sheriff's Deputy Marvin Williams, who was shot and killed in July 2009 while serving an arrest warrant. Deputy Chase Whitebird also was shot and killed that day.
Neither was wearing a bulletproof vest.
"They were good officers," Leeds said. "I've always been diligent about wearing my vest, but after what happened to them, I don't think twice about it."
Leeds said he's tempted to hang his vest, T-shirt and the dented metal plates once inside his vest next to his front door.
It would be a reminder of his brush with death and the importance of being physically and mentally ready for the job, he said.
How to help
Anyone with information about the shooting can call the Pottawatomie County Sheriff's Department at 273-1727.