Queensland police officer shot in face opens up about PTSD
“Greeny” is thoughtful, gently-spoken and irrepressibly cheerful. He is 45 years old but looks younger, with no perceptible scars after he was shot in the face. Daryl, his partner Sharnelle Cole, and their supervisor Chris Mulhall were gunned down by a man who called himself Jesse James – a homage to the outlaw infamous in the American Old West.
It happened 18 years ago. Fifteen years later, the police officer first uttered the phrase “PTSD” in public. Now, he explains why it took so long to talk about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He starts with that early morning call to police about a neighbourhood dispute in May 2000.
Green, his partner Constable Cole and their supervisor Sergeant Mulhall were dispatched to Hanbury Street in Chermside West. As Green sat in the back of the patrol car listening to information coming over the radio about the person at the residence, the trio was ambushed by a gunman.
Nigel Parodi stood about one metre from the car. He lifted his sawn-off .22 calibre rifle fitted with a silencer and pumped 12 rounds into the officers.
Green was shot twice. The first bullet smashed through his left upper jaw, shattering his maxilla bone and taking out five teeth before lodging itself at the base of his tongue. The second bullet lodged in his shoulder.
“The atmosphere was calm and normal at first, and then out of the blue, someone pulled out a gun and it went ‘bang’,” he says.
“The next thing I know, my hands went to my mouth and they were full of blood, bone and teeth.
“I didn’t feel pain at the time, I was running on adrenaline. The pain came later.”
Despite his life-threatening injuries, Green says his first thought was to pull out his service revolver to protect his partner. His second thought was to hunt Parodi down.
He never got the chance. Parodi would later turn the gun on himself.
“I was taken to hospital and it took surgeons three hours to extract the bullet lodged in my throat, and longer to extract the bullet from my shoulder,” he says.
Green spent several days in intensive care and asked doctors to perform a tracheotomy because breathing was too difficult. His parents Alan and Eileen Green who were at his bedside, saying later he was unrecognisable because his head was the size of a watermelon.
“My Dad’s not one for showing many photographs but he said ‘I only took them, son, because I couldn’t explain to the relatives what you were going through,” Green says.
Seven weeks after the shooting, dog squad officer Norm Watt was shot and killed during a domestic violence incident west of Rockhampton. Constable Watt suffered one shot to his groin and the bullet hit his femoral artery, causing him to bleed to death within minutes.
Watt’s death triggered the start of nightmares, depression and flashbacks that would result in a diagnosis of chronic PTSD for Green. He realised he had survivor’s guilt.
“At first I couldn’t understand it. Why was I alive? I had been shot twice and was still here. Norm was shot once and died,” he says.
He had suicidal thoughts while running one day.
“I thought I was going crazy,” he says.
“I knew I couldn’t do that to Mum and Dad. After the shooting, I stayed with them because I needed that high level of support. They were the ones who got me through it.”
Instead when he got home from that run, Green decided to seek help. He started seeing a psychiatrist who stabilised his condition with medication and used a form of natural cognitive behavioural therapy called desensitisation, which allowed him to return to work in 2002.
“I discovered PTSD is a very normal reaction to an abnormal experience,” he says.
“Being diagnosed with chronic PTSD has been a big sacrifice. I’ve had to do lots of things to get healthy and it’s been pretty taxing.”
During his 20 months off work, Green endured 17 gruelling operations including bone grafts, gum grafts, and extensive orthodontic work.
“When I went back to work, a lot of people thought: ‘Greeny’s having it easy’, or, ‘Oh Greeny? He’s just got some dental procedures’,” he says.
Not long after his return to work, Green had a quiet meal out with colleagues and shared memories of that horrific night. “I came home that night with my head buzzing so I took a tablet to help me sleep. The next morning, I wasn’t fit to drive let alone hold a firearm so I called in sick,” he says.
He was chastised by a senior officer who assumed he had too many drinks at dinner and was pulling a sickie. This conversation put a wall between Green and his colleagues.
“I felt isolated and alone. No one understood what I was dealing with,” he says. “I was very emotionally fragile. I couldn’t deal with confrontation, so I dealt with my work reintegration by joining a team investigating internet paedophilia and spent most of my time in the office and doing a few search warrants.”
He landed a promotion to sergeant in the police training academy. But before he could take up the new post in 2004, he was delivered a body-blow. His first mouth reconstruction had failed and he would need more surgery.
“The surgeon said: ‘Daryl, what you have in your mouth I cannot clean with my instruments. You’re at risk of septicaemia. I’m sorry, but your reconstruction has failed’,” Green says.
He endured a delicate, painful gum transplant procedure, which saw a 20 cent-sized piece of skin cut from his mouth and placed over a bone graft.
“The surgeon couldn’t quite seal my mouth up so he sent me home and gave me some gauze,” Green says.
“I was in lots of pain and needed to sleep, so I took some tablets. The gauze in my mouth filled up with blood, and the gauze got full but the blood continued to flow. My mum and dad woke to find me in bed covered in blood, and they helped get my T-shirt off and cleaned me up.
“I became depressed. For a month after the second reconstruction, I couldn’t eat solid food because of the plate holding my mouth together. I had searing pain and was sucking my food through a straw and mumbling to be understood.
“It was a second trauma for me, but people never saw any of that.
“What I went through with that surgery, turned my life back four years to excruciating pain, depression, anxiety, anger. I even looked worse second time around.”
The second reconstructive surgery and the two years that followed were his lowest point. The loneliness, the guilt about the burden on his parents, and pressures from study and work caused him to spiral.
The workplace was a source of emotional pain. But crucially, it would also trigger a turning point in Green’s recovery. It came in the form of a “big bear of a man”, his boss Inspector Dave Stevenson.
After that, he didn’t call in sick, go on stress leave, or consider quitting when he suffered gibes at work.
“I told him everything and he shared a story in his life where he hit a low point,” he says.
“I turned up to work and that was because of Dave. He was able to peek over the wall I had erected and look over at my post-traumatic stress world.
“He said: ‘Parodi [the gunman] has taken a lot from you, don’t let him take your job’.’’
Tragically, the boss who became his mentor and friend died suddenly at the age of 47. At his funeral, Green gave a moving valediction to the man who helped turn his life around.
“Dave would gauge how each person was travelling in life, both inside and outside the police, and this would guide him towards spending a little bit more time with them if he felt that a chat or advice would help,” he says.
“It was uncanny how often he had discussions with people when they really needed it.”
While support for PTSD sufferers has improved in the police service today, Green says there are still individuals with out-of-date views.
“When I first got asked to talk to new police recruits in 2006 about my experience, I’d tell them what was going on with me – the depression, the anxiety, the anger, the flashbacks and the effects on my relationships,” he says.
“But then just the other day someone said to me: ‘Do you go to see Doctor How-Long? How long do you want off work?’ It was just such a disparaging remark to make.
“There’s still some people even now who think it’s no big deal what we went through. One officer said we shouldn’t have been sat where we were. I think it’s because they look at me, and I look perfectly fine.
“Police have always had to deal with tragedy and trauma and in the past, it was a case of ‘have a beer and suck it up’, which is really unhealthy.”
PTSD is one of the more common mental health problems that can arise after exposure to psychological trauma and Green’s experience is not surprising, according to Dr Esben Strodl from QUT’s School of Psychology and Counselling.
“The prevalence rate of PTSD in Australia is between 4 and 6 per cent,” he said.
“First responders experience a higher rate of potentially traumatic events than the general population, which puts them at significant risk of developing PTSD. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but about a quarter will.”
Rates are higher for specific traumas. Interpersonal trauma such as rape, torture or serious violence can lead to lifetime prevalence rates as high as 50 per cent.
Strodl explains it is possible for some people to recover from PTSD, either spontaneously or through psychological or psychiatric treatment.
“The psychological intervention for PTSD which I use is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) ,” he says. “It involves giving people coping strategies for their distress, helping them change unhelpful beliefs to more helpful ones and supporting them while they expose themselves to triggers for their trauma reaction so they can be processed.
“There are other treatments, such as EDMR [eye movement desensitisation reprocessing] which Daryl used – and involves moving the fingers back and forth in the patient’s field of vision while they are talking about it. The idea is to stimulate both sides of the person’s brain whilst talking about the trauma to help them deal with the triggers.
“Some people recover from PTSD spontaneously by themselves but for most, they will require some kind of assistance.”
Green praises the Queensland Police Service’s senior ranks for trying to shift cultural attitudes towards officers who experience mental injuries as a result of their work.
“We have come on in leaps and bounds from when I was going through all that turmoil,” he says.
We’re definitely getting better at supporting people, but I think it’s in the lower ranks where there’s more work to be done. If I could clone the likes of Dave Stevenson, just because of how he cared for his staff, I would.”
After a long legal wrangle to be classified as a victim of serious crime and receive compensation, Green was awarded $58,000 in 2010 to help pay for surgical, dental and psychotherapy treatment.
Nowadays, Green is a regular on the motivational speaking circuit, is an Ambassador for Lifeline Australia and launched a film dedicated to suicide prevention.
He hopes to get married and have a family but he worries whether his future wife will cope with his situation and whether he will adapt to sharing his life.
“I suffer a lot of dreams, I have to wear a plate in my mouth,” he says. “And it takes time for me to be comfortable and get used to anyone sleeping beside me.”
Green feels anxious about unpredictable disruptions to his day-to-day routine critical to maintaining a strong, healthy mindset.
“I have a routine each day,” he says. “I call in to see my dad in the afternoon and I support him and try and share some good news from my day. Then, I’ll go home and deal with my emails. Then I try and go for a run – which is the start of my relaxation for the day.
“Sleep is so difficult for me. I try to go to bed at the same time so I can get nine or 10 hours’ rest. All these little things have kept me going, but have come at the cost of time.
“When times get stressful, I communicate a lot less and that’s when I’ll get more into my routine: do more running, eat more healthily.”
You get the sense that Green is fighting hard to stay healthy, just so he can turn up – but there is a complete absence of self-pity.
“In some ways, I’m a little bit blessed because I don’t sweat the small things and I appreciate the small things in life – things like watching a sunset after my run. I will actually look up at the sky and think, how blessed am I?’’ he says.
Green has also risen to the rank of senior sergeant working in a non-operational role and remains close to the two officers shot in the same car almost 20 years ago. Cole works in crime prevention and Mulhall who remains a frontline officer.
“I love them both dearly,” he says quietly. “We will be connected to each other until the end of time.”
PTSD: The signs
- PTSD is a disorder of vivid memory caused by exposure to a potentially traumatic event
- Sufferers will have a cluster of symptoms that last longer than a month. Less than one month is acute stress disorder
- PTSD sufferers do not simply remember the trauma, they re-experience it in the form of flashbacks, extreme terror, nightmares or intrusive thoughts and feelings. This can produce the illusion it is happening once again
- The person will avoid thinking or talking about it, or avoid people, places and activities that remind them of the trauma
- They will have negative thoughts or feelings that worsen after the trauma – sadness, isolation, losing interest in things they previously enjoyed, self-blame and low self-worth
Source: Psychologist Dr Esben Strodl, QUT
PTSD: The myths
- Everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event
- Time heals all wounds
- Only soldiers develop PTSD
- People with PTSD are weak and need to get over it
Source: Sane Australia
For more information about Daryl Green, visit his website Twice Shot.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.