'Worst pain I ever felt,' Tosa officer testifies in shooting trial

Published on: 6/9/2010

A fully recovered, confident Abby Pavlik took the witness stand Wednesday to tell jurors about the worst night of her career as a Wauwatosa police officer - the night she took a bullet.

As nearly two dozen of her colleagues watched from the gallery, Pavlik, 28, calmly testified to the harrowing events, smiling most of the time, even when she had to talk about pictures of a giant scar down her abdomen.

Michael Dengsavang, 28, is charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in Pavlik's shooting, as well as armed robbery and burglary, all as party to a crime, in a series of badly bungled offenses Dec. 13.

That night two men robbed the Happy Wok restaurant at 2332 N. 124th St., tied up the owners, and went to their apartment nearby where the owners' 8-year-old son was home alone. Pavlik said she was sent to the apartment complex, Normandy Village. She parked and walked toward the apartment when she saw two men in hoodies exit and walk the other way.

She returned to her squad car, planning to drive around the buildings and cut them off. But as she did, a silver sedan parked nearby started up and peeled out of the complex. Pavlik gave chase out to 124th St. but stopped when another message came over her radio.

Officer Chad Geiszler radioed that he saw a suspect headed north on foot, and that a shot had been fired. Pavlik said she turned back into the Normandy Village apartments.

"His safety is more important than getting that car," she explained.

But halfway back down the same entrance road, Pavlik saw one of the men in hoodies up ahead on her left, approaching her car. Before she could get out and initiate contact, she said, he started firing.

She ducked down in her patrol car. "I tried to get as small as I could," she said, but the shots kept pinging her car, shattering the window until she felt the last one sear into her side just below her protective vest, which had hiked up as she ducked.

"I felt the worst pain I ever felt in my life," she said. "It was unbearable."

She radioed that she'd been shot. She was "scared to death," and wondered if she would die there in her car.

But then she heard Geiszler yelling her name. She hit her emergency lights to show him her location. Soon he and officer Luke Vetter were at her side, helping her to a police SUV for a high-speed ride to Froedtert Hospital.

She spent a week there. The bullet had entered near her 10th rib, cracking it, gone through her stomach and lodged in her intestine. Doctors removed 8 inches of her lower intestine and used 33 staples to close up her abdomen after exploratory surgery.

The bullet and a fragment of another were recovered and introduced as evidence at the trial Wednesday. Pavlik said she is fine now and back to work.

Police following footprints in the snow from the apartment found Dengsavang under a pine tree in a nearby yard. The gun that fired the shots at Pavlik was recovered near the path of prints, police said.

Two other men were also originally charged in the case, but they pleaded guilty after prosecutors dropped the attempted homicide counts against them.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday.