Milwaukee Officers Return To Force After Being Shot
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Milwaukee police Officer Bryan Norberg remembers everything from the day a teen shot him and his partner, Officer Graham Kunisch, in their faces at point-blank range.
He remembers the muzzle flash, the man's angry cringe, the salty taste of ranch-flavored sunflower seeds he had just popped into his mouth. After hitting the ground, he tried to radio for help as his teeth crumbled.
In his mind, or maybe out loud, he told his family that he loved them. He told a responding officer to take Kunisch first.
A little more than a year later, they are back on the job -- full duty.
"I appreciate everything now," Norberg said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "The little petty arguments with your family or friends, just little stuff, doesn't mean as much any more. I mean you just enjoy yourself."
Norberg and Kunisch weren't what you would call hardened cops on June 9, 2009, when they ran across Julius Burton -- a then-18-year-old who was off his anti-psychotic medication.
Norberg, then 21, had been on the job for six months. Kunisch, then 26, had moved from Michigan and had 15 months on the force. They met officially that day, about an hour and a half before being shot.
They started at 2 p.m. -- two hours early -- to help monitor students leaving school.
At about 3:30 p.m. Kunisch saw Burton, who was riding a bike on the sidewalk, violating a city ordinance. They yelled at him to stop and chased him.
The rest happened within about a minute.
Norberg grabbed Burton's arm and the officers pushed him against a wall.
Burton pulled out a .40-caliber Taurus pistol, shooting Norberg under his left nostril, taking out his upper jaw bone, breaking many of his top teeth and exiting below his lower jaw bone. The gun was so close it left powder on Norberg's face.
Burton then shot Kunisch under his jaw. The bullet went through his nasal cavity, left eye and brain, damaging his frontal lobe.
Burton continued shooting while they were on the ground.
Kunisch was hospitalized for 10 days. Norberg was released a few days later.
Norberg had just bought a house, but stayed with his parents while recovering. Kunisch didn't want to talk about whether he was married, but referred to family being around during his recovery.
Kunisch lost his left eye and doctors used titanium mesh to reconstruct the shattered bones in his face. Doctors inserted a metal link to connect his index finger to his hand. He later had to have surgery to remove bullet fragments from his cheek.
He has a thin scar on his head. He gets headaches and still has pain in his hand during "barometric pressure changes."
The lid of one eye remains closed.
"I have to look around a lot further," he said. "It took a while to figure that out. Everybody said that I improved relatively quickly. I thought it took forever because I'm an impatient person."
Norberg is missing many of his top teeth and now speaks with a slight lisp. He's had about five oral surgeries and extensive physical therapy to build his shoulder muscle. He has braces on his bottom teeth to close the spot of a missing one. He, too, gets headaches. He has hearing loss and a scar below his jaw.
Norberg experienced post traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and anxiety. He started going to a therapist about a year ago. He said he originally hated her because she forced him out of his comfort zone, but they are now close.
"I sleep like a rock," he said. "I couldn't sleep at all before."
Right after the shooting, Kunisch was hypersensitive to sound.
"I would lay down in bed and people would go in the basement of the house and whisper and it was like they were standing right next to me," he said.
Kunisch, who described himself as a "closed person," elaborates little.
The events of that day are hazy. When asked if he's angry, he said he doesn't think about it. He's more concerned about his family.
He didn't like physical therapy. He said his family urged him to see a therapist, but he was leary of the doctor always writing.
Although difficult, the men wanted to share their experience to gain attention to a Saturday event called "Thank you Milwaukee Police Department" or "TYMPD," which raises money for wounded officers and their families.
Burton was sentenced in February to 80 years in prison. During the hearing, he apologized and said he had a gun because someone was trying to kill him.
"His mental status had nothing to do with him pointing a gun at police and shooting, or shooting someone else if we wouldn't have stopped them," Norberg said. "He obviously knew what he did was wrong or he wouldn't have pleaded guilty."
Kunisch said he eventually will have to sit down with his family and decide collectively to let it go. He hopes to forgive Burton one day.
Norberg and Kunisch returned to work four hours a day in April. Full duty came in July.
They are now partners in the community prosecution unit, where they deal with nuisance properties. They had to take some training again, including shooting accuracy.
Kunisch said he was told his mood improved when he returned, but he's often grumpy -- perhaps, he said, because he has a hard time sleeping.
Kunisch said he has been in the hospital often over the years, with biking or skiing injuries so he just looks at this as another injury. He said what he's learned isn't "soft and fluffy."
"It just reinforces that you don't really trust anybody," he said, "Anything can happen. That person you are out there talking to, just because they are smiling at you one second doesn't mean they are your friend."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)