The testimony of LAPD officer Bill Rhetts; and how the Lord used him in a gun battle at a church in Los Angeles

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by Bill Rhetts

This testimony is to share with you how the Lord saved me from death; both physically and spiritually. He has sustained me through many officer-involved shootings, and ambushes, as well as other near-death tragedies in my life. From the Hollenbeck Division riots to the Los Angeles riots, and a 2-year undercover tour. May the Lord Jesus receive all the praise and glory.

A shooting is a terrible event to experience; the police officer who is forced to shoot another suffers tremendously; emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.

It was November 14th, 1991. I was on duty (working a two-year undercover assignment) in the city of Los Angeles (LAPD.) My partner and I noticed a group of five gang members acting suspiciously on the corner. It was noontime and many people were outdoors. Within the next few seconds, I found myself in a gun battle for my life.

My past

 Before that aforementioned shooting, I was not a Christian. I was a self-righteous police officer. Pardon my ‘police jargon’, but after all… I wasn’t the ‘dirt Bag’ sitting in the back seat of my patrol car. The pride and self-righteousness that comes along with the badge and the gun failed me to forget; that I too had been arrested in 1978 and sat in the back seat of a patrol car, being booked into San Bernardino County jail.

But later I realized that I was also a dirtbag, a spiritual dirtbag. In God’s mind; I was a felon, a convict, a sinner who refused to repent, a ‘spiritual criminal’ in the eyes of the Lord. Why? Because my heart was depraved. I was not saved. I had not repented from my sins, nor confessed them to the Lord Jesus Christ (1st John 1:9.)

You see in the eyes of the Lord I was guilty! Though I did not understand it then, I had transgressed God’s Holy Law, all Ten Commandments. As I sat in the front seat of my patrol car, I had the same in common with the ‘bad guy’ in the back seat. I too needed a Savior. Because of my sins, I deserved death, judgment, and worse than jail… I deserved hell.

As a child, I was raised in a good home. Our family was raised in a religion, and at times we went to church. However, my belief in God was limited to the basic fact of His existence.

In September 1986, my wife separated, and she divorced me (for another man). This brought me to the realization, that I was not the man I should be. I was distraught and desperate over this unwanted divorce. I had listened to the devil, and he convinced me that it just wasn’t worth living anymore.

A friend takes me to a Christian church

 At about that same time, a friend invited me to attend his church. I accepted that invitation, after all, I was desperate. After his sermon, the Pastor (Greg Laurie) gave an ‘altar call’ asking if anyone wanted to become a Christian, to walk forward and repeat a prayer after him. That night I and many others walked forward. As directed by the pastor, I repeated the pastor’s prayer and asked Jesus to “come into my life.” I was then told by that pastor, that I was now saved. 

Although I continued to go to church, I then later continued doing a lot of things that I had done before “accepting” the Lord. I wanted to be able to say I was a Christian, but at the same time, I was unwilling to give up my sin. I still wanted to party, get drunk, fornicate (now a single man again), and do whatever seemed fun at the time.

Fact is later in November of 1991, the Lord made it very clear to me that I was not saved at that 1986 altar call. I was a false convert, aka a CINO (a Christian In Name Only).

I learned then that being a ‘believer,’ simply made me ‘not an atheist.’ The Bible foretells that many “believers” will perish in hell (Matthew 7:21-23, James 2:19.)

I’ve since learned that being told you we’re saved after repeating a ‘sinners prayer‘ or ‘raising your hand’ at an altar call is not Biblical.’ No one can tell me that I am saved; they can only tell me about salvation, and point me to the Savior. An alleged new convert must be thoroughly discipled. You can only know a person’s conversion to Christ by their fruits, and a changed life; but thru a test of time.

Having said that, had I died between that heretical 1986 Arminian altar call and the below November 14th, 1991 shooting, I would have gone to hell for an eternity. Think about that. More about my 1986 altar call / sinners’ prayer here.

After a violent confrontation with an armed carjacker – wielding a shotgun, I suffered serious injuries. I had several months off of work, and most of that time was spent drinking and partying from my wheelchair or crutches. And so I continued in my downward spiral. In other words, the word repentance wasn’t yet a part of my vocabulary.

I would later learn in 1991, that there is no salvation without repentance. Jesus warned in Luke 13:3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Repentance is not the cause of my salvation, repentance is because of salvation. 

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12: 1-2).

The old man remained the old dead man

 I did exactly what Jesus warned about in Mark chapter 4. In that passage (the parable of the sower), Jesus said that some people would receive the word of God, and begin to follow the Lord. But because they were not grounded on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, they would soon fall away.

Jesus warned about receiving the word incorrectly. He said, “And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (Mark 4:7). In verses 18 and 19 Jesus said, “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

I dated several women, hoping to find a helpmate-someone who would be a suitable companion for me. My relationships were very shallow and temporary. When things began to go wrong, I would flee from the relationship. If I didn’t flee, then they would flee.

I couldn’t blame the devil for my sins, because I chose to sin. The devil tempted me, and my friends influenced me, but I still made those sinful choices myself.

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 6:23). I knew the payment (wages) for my sin was soon to be death.

Due to my compromising and hypocritical lifestyle, I soon fell right back from where I had come -the world. Although I later learned that I never left the world, so I was never saved.

New LAPD assignment

 In time, I changed assignments at the Los Angeles Police Department and became an undercover officer.

I had been issued a new identity by the police department and the department of motor vehicles. I worked every kind of undercover work you could imagine. While working vice, I was being paid to drink on duty. I was also paid by the police department to commit other sins on duty.

I remember one day, as April 15th was approaching, I was preparing my taxes (back when the interest was tax deductible.) As I viewed my VISA credit card accounts, I was struck with the realization that there was nothing to write off. It was all alcohol-related! What a waste of time, life, and money!

The text of Romans 6:23a kept playing in my mind like a scrolling movie script. For the wages of sin is death…

Thank God His Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins! Sometimes, after committing sins, I would cry from the guilt. It wasn’t even fun anymore. The Lord showed me what I looked like inside, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The 1991 Church shootout

 My partner was driving eastbound on Avenue 53, we intended to turn right onto Figueroa. I did not understand it then, and sure there was gang members present, but it’s clear to me now that the Lord was granting me more repentance. He changed my mind, and at the last minute I told my partner to “turn left.” We argued over why, but I did not know why. 

Not knowing then, this building on the corner was a church, I asked him to pull into the parking lot. We were immediately met with a hail of gunfire. This officer-involved shooting was spiritually significant. The following will better explain why (including but not limited to.)

• It wasn’t the kind of shooting that lasts two or three seconds and then it’s over. This shooting lasted a long time. Long enough for me to see the big picture. Romans 6:23a was haunting me during the shooting, for the wages of sin is death.

• This gun battle included laying down suppression fire in a defensive manner; offensive shooting on the move; walking and running and skip shooting underneath cars.

• This shooting was in a church parking lot. Tell me God doesn’t have a divine way of bringing His elect to Himself and church.

• There were multiple suspects. All five suspects looked alike, and it was difficult to discern my primary assailant from the others involved.

• The F.B.I. statistics say that officer-involved shootings last anywhere from one-half of a second (0.5) to one and a half seconds (1.5.) This one was a major running gun battle/shootout.

• Regarding weapons, the worst two sounds you would hear are ‘A bang when you’re expecting a click’ (accidental discharge,) or a ‘click when you’re expecting a bang.’ I experienced the click. All the while the suspects’ rounds were being fired at me, I was out of rounds, and I had to reload another magazine into my pistol. It was like a monster in a movie that wouldn’t go away.

• Because a church service was still in progress, there were many vehicles in this church parking lot. This multi-story brick church was shot up, and there were bullet holes in many cars. One vehicle was entirely shot up, through and through.

• There was a time when the suspect was as close as 6 feet from me, while he was still shooting at me. Only because of the mercies of God, was I not struck with any bullets.

• The glass fragments in my eyes (from the vehicles) were distorting my view.

• The last I saw my partner, was when he went down on the right front of our vehicle. I thought he was dead. Later after this shooting, I found him kneeling in a fetal position. He had a gun in one hand, and a radio in the other. He had used neither the gun nor the radio… no not once. At first, I was angry with my partner. But now I see that the Lord decreed him to freeze under fire, so that I would be forced to TRUST IN THE LORD, and not my partner (Proverbs 3:5-6.)

• Later during this shootout, I finally utilized the front sights of my handgun. As I aimed the front sight (which is vertical) on the enemy, while aligning it with the rear site (which is horizontal,) I saw the figure/ form of a cross.

Perhaps this was the Lord reminding me of my sins, as I was fighting for my life. He died for my sins, and I was about to die as well. During this time my front sights were trained on my enemy, but my mind began to focus on the Lord Jesus. Romans 6:23a was still haunting me. For the wages of my sin is death…

I then called out to the Lord-asking Him to help me. Something likened to “Lord save my life physically, save me spiritually, Oh Lord save me!”

After firing several more shots (hitting the suspect,) the Lord then gave me the ability to acquire that headshot. I fatally wounded the primary assailant.

I had thought it was the police officers ‘acquired skill’ known as the “sixth sense,” which took us into this church parking lot. Below explains what that sixth sense was.

As the deceased lay on the ground, I noticed a pool of blood. Within a few minutes, his blood had surrounded him. What immediately came to my mind was the precious blood of Jesus. I began to mourn over the sins I had committed and was still committing. I was in willful disobedience against Him.

I realized that every time I sinned, I was stabbing Jesus in the back, shooting Him on that cross, or stabbing that spear into His side. It’s one thing to sin, but after having claimed to have a relationship with Him, it was terrible. What are you going to do with Jesus that’s called the Christ?

An LAPD supervisor told me he would begin the paper process to award me with their prestigious ‘Metal of Valor’ award. However, I refused to attribute my survival to myself or LAPD training. I can’t pat myself on the back for my tactics or training. It wasn’t me who did well. It was the grace and mercy of God that saved me. He saved me both physically and spiritually. I should have been dead, but the Lord was shielding me with His armor.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Primary Suspects Past 

 Later I learned that these gang bangers were planning on killing members of a rival gang who had recently professed Christ, and were inside the church attending a “new believers discipleship class.”

It’s awesome to see how the Lord protects His children. Only God knows what innocent blood might have been shed in the church if it weren’t for that so-called ‘sixth sense’ that we police officers have. I now know that this ‘sixth sense’ is God’s Holy Spirit prompting and directing our steps and actions.

The officer-involved shooting team also told me they discovered that the suspect was wanted for a murder that took place Halloween night (two weeks prior). He killed a little boy for his bag of trick-or-treat candy.

He had also robbed an off-duty LAPD Sergeant one-year prior. He stabbed the Sergeant in the back while the Sergeant was withdrawing money from an ATM in L.A. The Sergeant, critically wounded, then drew his concealed off-duty weapon and shot the suspect in the chest. The suspect was soon to be freed by the judicial system.

The average handgun round travels at a speed of fifteen hundred feet per second. My name was not written on any of those bullets that night. As I look back at that event in my life, I realize that the Lord had a plan for me that day – to live! It was Divine intervention. This was God’s salvific wake-up call for me.

Shortly after this incident, I realized that the Lord had truly saved me. A sinner’s prayer didn’t save me. It was the monergistic work of the Triunity of the Godhead that saved me. When I asked the Lord to save my life and my soul, He didn’t save me because I asked Him to (synergism). I asked Him because He was granting me repentance and faith (monergism). My response to His Salvation was repentance, believing in His glorious Gospel, faith, and trusting in the finished work of what Christ accomplished on His cross. 

I can now say with assurance that my name is written in the Lambs Book of Life.

I still sin, and I still fall short of the glory of God. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The difference now is that I’m a blood-washed sinner. A truly converted Christian will still sin, but they will not lead a sinful life.

The very next verse in that passage says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I have come to know a God of love and forgiveness through the person of Jesus Christ.

I didn’t have the strength to repent, but the Lord by His grace, granted me repentance, and gave me the strength I needed. I’m ever so mindful of the words of Christ when He said, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul echoed those words in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In the trial of that shootout, He certainly did.

Once a man or woman becomes a born-again Christian, the Lord takes residence in their heart and then begins to change them.

The first thing the Lord changed in me was my X-rated mouth. He then cleaned up my R-rated mouth. He then changed me from an alcoholic to a man living a sober life. And by His grace, I grew to hate fornication; and sin period.

The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As born-again Christians we receive a new birth, a newness of ourselves.

In 1991 the Lord gave me a new life in Christ, and in 1995 He gave me a new wife, whom I met in church. 

He gave me new desires in my heart. To abide in the Lord Jesus, to obey His Word, to stay in fellowship with other believers, and share His glorious Gospel. 

My testimony that you just read is not salvific, but the Gospel is the power of God onto salvation (Romans 1:16). 

You may have put your shoes on this morning, but a mortician may remove them at night. Are you ready to meet your Maker? Do you know where you’re going when you die, please read my Gospel tract here.

Though I do not agree with the Arminian soteriology in the below video. My church shooting / salvation was reenacted and later played on cable TV, and my testimony was featured in various Christian publications.

Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria, Semper Reformanda!

[1] LAPD Officer involved shooting reference numbers; LAPD DR 91-11-38265, LAPD OIS #130-91, LA Dep Coroner examiner James Dibdin MD. LAPD DR 96-04-25148, LAPD OIS #106-96. LAPD DR 97-04-08705, LAPD OIS #21-97. And re the RPD shooting / U.S. Court Federal jury trial, the verdict was appealed. However the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s verdict, #No. 04-57097 .


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