- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Joseph Maher will never forget Dec. 23, 2013, even though he cannot remember most of the day.

On that Monday afternoon, Maher and fellow Tupelo Police Officer Gale Stauffer were involved in a gunfight with a bank robber. Stauffer was killed. Maher was shot in the head.

The wound short-circuited his short-term memory, leaving him little recollection of what he calls “the incident.” The bullet entered the back of his head and exited through the right cheek. It missed the brain but did cause nerve and muscle damage leading to a series of operations and ongoing physical therapy.

He is quick to say he could have easily died on the street beside Stauffer.

“The good Lord had other plans for me,” said Maher. “I am looking forward to what He has in store for me. I have spoken at several churches recently. I don’t give too many details about the incident but I point out that there is a God and that nothing is impossible through Him.”

Maher’s road to recovery is a long one and he still has to wait until May to learn if the doctors will clear him to return to the job he has always wanted.

“My father was in law enforcement, so I guess it’s in my blood,” said Maher. “In high school, maybe the 10th grade, I had the aspiration to become a U.S. Marshal, so I started looking at how to reach that goal.”

After graduating from South Pontotoc High School in 2004, he entered the University of Mississippi, majoring in criminal justice. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Maher’s job search led him to Tupelo. He entered the police academy in September 2008 and graduated in December 2008. He was hired as a Tupelo patrolman soon thereafter.

By December 2013, Maher had built up five years of on-the-job experience.

“For a policeman, our days, our jobs, the things we encounter are not what most people consider normal,” said Maher. “But on that day, everything was going about normal. There were a lot of people out and they were enjoying Christmas.”

Maher broke from his usual routine on Dec. 23, 2013. He normally went to the gym during his lunch hour to work out. That Monday was different.

“Instead of going to the gym, I went to lunch with my mother and grandmother,” said Maher. “I was at Central (the police station on Front Street) when the call came in.”

The call around 3 p.m. was for a bank robbery at the BancorpSouth.

“I vaguely remember getting things ready,” said Maher, “asking questions while enroute - asking for a description of the suspect and what kind of vehicle they were driving.”

While waiting for a train to pass through Crosstown, Maher was informed the suspect was a Hispanic male driving a white Tahoe with big wheels. He also learned that Stauffer was a few cars behind him.

“As soon as the train cleared and we turned south on Gloster,” said Maher, “we saw the suspect vehicle. I had the rifle with me. A gentleman started to get out of his vehicle. As I was walking to him, I commanded him to get down on the ground.”

His memory from that point on is more than a little fuzzy. The next thing he remembers is waking up days later in a hospital bed being heavily sedated.

“I’m glad I don’t remember it,” said Maher.

The bank robber was not in the white Tahoe, but was actually in the car behind the SUV. As the officers approached, the suspect got out and ambushed them. Multiple shots were fired and both officers went down. Stauffer, 38, and the father of two, died at the scene.

Randy Gregory, a Pontotoc man with law enforcement experience, went to one of the patrol cars and sent out an “officer down” call on the radio. Gregory said the gun battle lasted only about 10 seconds, but the two officers made sure the other motorists stayed in their vehicles to avoid any civilian injuries.

The suspect, Mario Edward Garrett, 40, of Oklahoma City, was shot and killed by a Phoenix policeman five days later during an attempted bank robbery in that Arizona city.

Since the bullet passed by the brain, doctors warned the family that Maher would have problems with his short-term memory.

“I can remember seeing my wife and one of the first things she asked was did I know who she was and did I know I had a daughter,” said Maher. “I just looked at her and said, ‘Yes.’”

Days after the incident, Maher was up and walking with assistance. Walking without assistance took a little longer. Therapists had to work with him on his basic motor skills because his “balance was off a little.”

Doctors limited his physical activity, including forbidding him from lifting anything more than 10 pounds. That included his 13-month-old daughter, Ella.

“It was at least six months before he let me lift over 25 pounds,” said Maher. “I told him I’ve got to at least be able to pick up my daughter.”

He had nerve graft surgery in July to try to restore feeling and use of the muscles on the right side of his face. It will be another six months before doctors will know if the surgery was a success of if he will have to go under the knife again.

“I was keeping up with the number of surgeries at first, but I had to quit counting,” said Maher. “They have taken good care of me.”

While not being able to work has frustrated the normally active Maher, he has thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend quality time with his daughter, who just turned 2 in September.

“My wife Lindsey is at work during the day so it is just the two of us,” said Maher. “We go to town and run errands sometimes. I am getting to spend a lot of time with her that I couldn’t if I was working.”

He has March 14 circled on his calendar. That’s the first day of the spring turkey season in Mississippi. He also has May 1 circled. That’s the day the doctors will tell him if he can start wearing his police uniform again.

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com


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