FLORENCE – It was September 2001 when Toby Bethel’s police career with the Florence Police Department was violently cut short. He was shot and paralyzed on duty during a manhunt.
After years of avoiding any kind of public attention, Bethel has decided he needs to share his story with others working in law enforcement. “I want to go into every police academy in the country,” said Bethel.
Bethel and his partner were looking for twin brothers Joel and Michael Stovall. They were on the run after shooting and killing a Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputy. The officers were driving up to a trailer rented by the brothers when the Stovalls jumped out from behind a truck and started shooting.
“I just remember hearing, pop, pop, pop, pop,” said Bethel, “I looked at my partner and I was like they got us didn’t they.” Bethel was hit four times. Two of the bullets made it through his protective vest. His spinal chord was damaged, causing paralysis in his lower body.
The Stoval Brothers were eventually caught after an extended manhunt. They are serving life sentences.
Bethel faced a long rehabilitation. “I’ve been through some pretty extreme pain.” The psychological impact, however, was most difficult. “It was definitely the hard part was dealing with my head. How am I going to live in a wheelchair, How am I going to raise my kids.”
The dark days prompted him to withdraw and keep to himself. It included avoiding outreach from his colleagues at Florence Police Department. “Because it was what I loved to do and all of a sudden it was taken from me.” Now, his perspective has changed. “It’s in my blood.” He volunteers several days a week at the department.
Through his association at the police department and because he feels he has been prompted by a higher power, he decided others need to know what happened to him. “Hopefully I can tell my story and maybe it’ll save somebody.” His message is about the importance of on-going training and vigilance.
“Complacency has no place in any job, but in law enforcement, if you become complacent you become dead.” He wants to speak across the country to police academy cadets, rookies, even long timers in law enforcement.
There is an assumption that after being shot an officer is set financially. His colleague at Florence Police Department learned Bethel is getting around in a 20-year-old van outfitted with a lift. It broke down on a recent trip to a speaking engagement and keeps breaking down. They have started a Go Fund Me page to help get him something more reliable.