Philly cop recounts surviving shower of bullets in 2016 attack

Jan. 7, 2016, image from surveillance video shows gunman running toward a police car driven by Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Hartnett in West Philadelphia.

At times, Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Hartnett had to stop and collect his thoughts. More than once, he sighed and wiped away tears while recalling how he had managed to stay alive during an unprovoked attack two years ago this month. The gunman had fired 13 bullets into his patrol car on Jan. 7, 2016, striking him three times.

Still in recovery mode 11 surgeries later, Hartnett appeared fit and walked to the stand on his own power as the first witness to testify Monday to start the second week of the trial of his accused shooter, Edward Archer, 32.

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON / Staff photographer
Philadelphia police officers salute as Officer Jesse Hartnett is discharged from Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

He testified about feeling his left arm go limp and fall like dead weight between the car seat and door after three bullets tore into the limb. He explained that after he managed to open the door with his right hand and get out of the car, he heard a loud splashing sound that turned out to be his blood hitting the street. He said the sound of the bullets hitting his car was “ingrained” in his memory.

Archer sometimes smiled during Hartnett’s testimony. He is charged with attempted murder, assault on a law enforcement officer, and related counts. He has not cooperated with his two court-appointed lawyers and is not expected to testify.

After his arrest near the scene of the shooting, Archer allegedly told a detective he was motivated by devotion to Allah and the Islamic State — a claim that drew national attention, although authorities found no proof of a connection to any terror group. In emotional testimony Friday, another Philadelphia officer, Ronald Green, described the harrowing scene when he arrived as the first responder to the shooting.

Hartnett told the jury of nine women and three men that while working alone just after 11:40 p.m., from the corner of his eye he saw a man holding a black handgun and dressed in a flowing white Muslim garment. Hartnett said he initially thought the man was going to rob somebody or had already done so.

As the gunman approached his patrol car at 60th and Spruce Streets, Hartnett said, “I had a split-second to react. … As I see him running at me, everything told me to take cover,” Hartnett said, trying to demonstrate by raising his hobbled left arm to his face.

Camera icon Philadelphia Police Department
Edward Archer

“I hear gunshots … I think to myself, ‘When is it going to stop?'” said Hartnett, who was working alone that night. He said that he did his best to get down but that there was little room to take cover due to his size, his gun belt, and a computer mounted on the dashboard.

Hartnett — who gave part of his testimony seated in a partially reconstructed police car mounted on a platform mere feet from the defense table where Archer and his lawyers sat — said that after realizing he had been shot more than once in the arm, he looked up to see the gunman running away.

As his broken left arm dangled, he said, he partially opened the door with his right hand and kicked it open with his left foot, got out of the car, drew his gun with his right hand, and started firing at the fleeing man. He said he realized he had hit the man when he fell to the sidewalk on Delancey Street.

Hartnett said his attention returned to his injured left arm as he made his way back to his car. The limb, he said, felt so disconnected from the rest of his body that he had a chilling thought: “I felt I’d be picking my arm up.”

With his uninjured arm, he used his portable radio to call for backup. “I see the [police lights] and I’m thinking, ‘Hurry up, hurry up,’ because I know how bad off I was.”

Hartnett said he struggled to stay conscious to relay as much information about the gunman as possible to the responding officers. “I wanted him caught,” he testified. “I didn’t have closure.”

When Assistant District Attorney Jan McDermott asked Hartnett to show the jury his left arm, he stood, took off his dark blue suit coat, blue necktie, and white dress shirt, exposing a white undershirt. He extended his left arm, rubbing the scars and grooves where the bullets had entered.

A vein in his right leg was used to repair some damage, said Hartnett, who sees a physical therapist once a week for two-hour sessions.

He said he has trouble lifting things with his left arm, like grocery bags. When McDermott asked how his injury has impacted caring for his 14-month-old daughter, Hartnett fought back tears.

“It just made it really hard to do daily tasks,” he said, “like changing her diaper.”

The trial is expected to resume Tuesday.