Nearing 11 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1983, former Bettendorf Police Lt. Greg Adamson fired his gun for the first and last time as an officer in the field.
Adamson’s single shot, fired from his .357 Magnum service revolver, struck 25-year-old Richard Gapinski in the abdomen and killed him.
Seconds before, Gapinski, gripping a kitchen knife, launched a chair at Adamson, breaking the current Bettendorf alderman’s forearm.
“I finally was in the living room and didn’t have anywhere to retreat to. He lunged at me, and I fired one time and he collapsed,” recalled Adamson, who retired from the department in 2003 as a captain. “It was very quick and very violent.”
Adamson and his partner at the time, Lt. John Fogarty, were called to retrieve Gapinski from his residence at 3605 Parkdale Drive and return him to Pine Knoll, a Davenport mental health care center.
After 31 years, Adamson said he still replays the incident in his head, just not every day.
“When you take the job, you know there’s the possibility you may have to get into a dangerous situation, and if you can’t deal with that, then don’t get into that line of work,” Adamson said.
While an investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation concluded the shooting was justified, Gapinski’s family was not satisfied.
The family filed a $700,000 lawsuit against the city, police Lts. Adamson and Fogarty, former officer Dave Schafer, the Vera French Community Mental Health Center and Scott County. The family and the city reached an undisclosed settlement in June 1986.
Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington, who served on the department’s detective bureau in 1983, said the department also dealt with two officer-involved shootings in the late 1970s. Bettendorf officers have not been involved in a shooting since the Gapinski incident.
If a Bettendorf officer is involved with a shooting today, the department would conduct a critical incident debriefing, and the officer would take administrative leave during an investigation, Redington said.
The department also requires officers to undergo a mental health evaluation to “make sure they’re fit for duty,” Redington said.
“It’s a tragic situation for everybody involved,” Redington said. “We want to make sure that they’re being treated for any issues they might have from it.”
Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn, who also served on Bettendorf’s detective bureau in 1983, said shootings always present difficult circumstances.
“Most officers I know don’t ever want to fire a weapon,” Ploehn said. “They don’t relish when it happens, and there’s a lot of emotion for everybody when that occurs.”
Bettendorf officers are trained to handle their weapon whenever they’re involved in a close-combat situation with someone who has a knife.
“If someone is coming at you with a knife, they can stab you within 21 feet by the time you can pull and fire your weapon,” Redington said. “You’ve got a brief amount of time to pull your weapon and shoot before that happens.”
In 1983, Adamson said he “talked out” the incident with his family, friends and his priest.
“It’s something that I don’t think anybody is proud of,” Adamson said. “It happened. It was justified, and you go on.”