MCCORDSVILLE, Ind. — The past 11 months have been the ultimate test of physical and mental strength for McCordsville Police officer Jessica Barnes, who had been out of work since suffering serious injuries while responding to a call.
She returned to work on May 10, days shy of the 11-month mark, and an impressive feat, given that months ago, she was re-learning how to walk.
“It’s been a long 11 months for sure,” said Barnes. “Basically lots, and lots and lots of rehab.”
It happened on June 18, 2020, when officers received reports of a woman who was threatening to harm herself in the 5000 block of Woodhaven Drive.
The McCordsville Police Department said, when they arrived, officers learned that the woman had taken an unknown drug and drove away. Police, along with the woman’s relatives, searched for her until they found her car at the Oaklandon Youth Organization on East 62nd Street.
Officers and family members attempted to convince the woman to exit the car, but during that conversation, police said the woman abruptly backed up and turned her car without warning, striking the woman’s husband, and running over Officer Barnes.
“I got ran over from my left knee down to my right ankle,” said Barnes.
The suspect’s husband was treated at the scene and released, and Barnes was taken to IU Health Methodist Hospital, a place that would become a familiarity for her over the next several months.
Paul Casey, Chief of Police for MPD, said he remembers that day and hearing only the second call for an “officer down” that he’s experienced in his career.
“I’ve been here a very long time and I’ve only heard one or two of those in my entire time here. Of course, you always assume the worst,” he said.
“I heard the officer down call go out so I immediately responded to the scene and see Jessica there that day,” said Casey. “It was a serious injury, but I did know at the time that minus the other complications, it wasn’t life-threatening.”
Casey said, however, “I immediately knew that it was gonna be a very long road back.”
Barnes suffered injuries to both legs, requiring three surgeries over the course of several months.
Describing her injuries, Barnes said, “My left knee, it tore my meniscus from the root, which is at the very back of your knee. I had a fracture in the outside of my lower leg bone where it connects to the knee.”
“I also had a quad tear by my knee as well,” she said. Keep in mind, that was just her left leg alone.
“On my right leg, both the lower leg bones were broke just above the ankle and my ankle was severely dislocated. We’re talking like, 3 o’clock,” she said.
What helped Barnes through her recovery, which is ongoing, is knowing that there was always an inherent risk something could happen.
“When you sign up for this job you know there’s that risk that you can get hurt. You hope that it never does happen,” she said. “I wish it never happened, but it did.”
She said having that in the back of her mind as she begins each shift helped her stay calm and not find herself in complete and utter shock when she was injured in the line of duty.
“There’s that always unknown possibility that something could happen on every call.”
Barnes said, “You have to treat every call like that in the back of your mind, kind of have a game plan. If something goes wrong and what am I going to do?”
Casey said he kept in touch with Barnes throughout her recovery, and was impressed with her ability to remain in high spirits and keep moving forward, even when the moving was slow.
“My lower leg bones got broken, so it was basically baby steps confined to a wheelchair for about four months,” said Barnes. “After that it was like, I could stand up on a walker with braces on both legs and things like that, and it was learning to step again on the walker.”
From the walker, it was to the crutches, and learning how to balance when both legs have suffered major trauma. Barnes said the assistance slowly dwindled down to one crutch and then walking, unassisted.
“I didn’t foresee me not coming back. That wasn’t a question in my mind,” she said. “I’m not sit gonna sit here and lie that there were never doubts in my mind – especially when my ankle was not moving how just getting the mobility and the bend of that was difficult.”
Barnes’ third surgery was to help her gain mobility back by removing some of the pins placed in her ankle the first time around.
She also credits previous injuries to her ACL and meniscus as having helped prepare her for what she needed to know.
Now back to work for several weeks, Barnes said she’s not letting the actions of a person define who she is, and she also said, she still loves her job just as much as she always has.
“What other choice did I have, I’m not the type to just sit and pout and why me, and why that,” she said. For her it was about putting in the work, getting stronger, and getting back to it.
“She was wanting to get back to work, as soon as she could get back to work. She worked very hard,” shared Casey.
For now, Barnes will slowly ease back into her roles as a field training officer, leading taser training, and acting as a defensive tactics instructor.
Casey said the department is a younger group, and having a veteran like Barnes, who has been with the department for more than 10 years, back, is invaluable.
“We made adjustments but it’s always nice to have that experienced officer on the street to help the younger officers and kind of guide them along the way when they have questions,” said Casey.
“On a personal level I was just very happy to see her demeaner and her attitude. She was excited to get back,” he said.
Barnes said she is grateful to her fellow McCordsville officers, town administration, Dr. Jan Szatkowski and Dr. Siparsky at IU, the surgeons who operated on her ankle knee, as well as the physical therapy team at Pro Team Tactical Performance.
In early May, Casey presented Barnes with a Purple Heart from the American Police Hall of Fame.
“I’m not one to be the center of attention,” said Barnes. “It’s always been in the back of your mind that you can get hurt on this job, I can get hurt on this job.”
“It happened so let’s deal with it, do what I have to do and move on from it. I appreciate the recognition Chief Casey provided, but I’m more of a humble person, it’s not really a big deal to me. It’s like, ‘I got injured, do the surgery, do the rehab, and get back,’ that’s how I look at it,” she said.