Monthly Archives: January 2010

Assault with a Deadly Dr. Pepper

(Read “Shots Fired, Officer Down!” parts one and two before proceeding)

It was the night after Officer Ross got shot and I was seated in the briefing room of the police department. At the beginning of the shift, the off-going Sergeant would come to the briefing room and fill in the on-coming shift on the day’s events….a swapping of information essential to patrolling the streets. Quite often, some of the evening shift officers would hang around and it would become a major bull-shit session too.

This night was no different, the evening shift had arrested a volatile thief..there had been a fight involving 3 officers in the booking room of the jail. We were told to keep a close eye on him, they had already removed his mattress from the cell …and made him remove his belt and shoe-laces. I actually had worked two suicides in the jail since I began at this department….even with video monitors, it sometimes happened. Where there was a will…there was a way.

The subject of the shooting was a hot topic…we had never had an officer shot at this suburban police department. Comments and barbs were made, in good nature, about the TV news story…and the fact that Ross got shot in the ass.

But there was one officer that zeroed in on my participation and actions regarding the previous night. I had always sensed that he had a problem with women officers. I think it infuriated him that this big event had happened on my watch….and I had handled it well.

The radio recording of the events had been passed around the department all that day…everyone had heard the drama unfold…from my checking out at the tire store until the bitter end. Civilian employees and officers alike had patted me on the back that day and congratulated me on a good job…..all but this officer…his name was O’Riley.

There he sat in the briefing room, leaning back in his chair, his combat boots resting on the table before him. O’Riley was a tall, thin red-head…he always kept his uniform perfectly creased and pressed. He looked like a Irish cop right out of central casting…..with an accompanying brusque behavior.

No compliment came from his lips….he began to mock me in front of two shifts of officers. I sat across the room and watched as his laughter grew louder and he gesticulated wildly with his arms. O’Riley was talking about the pitch of my voice…..how it went up a couple of octaves when I arrived at the scene of the shooting.

O’Riley was told to simmer down by the Sergeant, but he continued…he did a crude imitation of me, talking very high and repeating my commands to the ambulance and my back-up…the very commands that had saved Ross’ life just over 24 hours earlier. He didn’t care to notice, that no one in the room, save his best buddy, was sharing in his sardonic laugh and verbal attack.

After the shooting, I had gone home and slept for a few hours. After a big rush of adrenalin, comes the crash….and I did just that on my sofa.
Upon waking, I joined some other officers and we went to visit Ross at the hospital. Dinner followed..then another short rest…then I found myself back at the briefing room. Here I was…watching a red-headed, chauvinistic buffoon belittling me in front of my peers.

I hadn’t cried the night before…..I hadn’t screamed in an emotional release. I had pushed down anger, fear, and excitement…suppressing all in my attempt to be a good cop…to be professional. To do the job better than any man would have done it….to avoid the very thing I found myself witnessing. I could take not one more moment of this idiot’s rant!!

I rose slowly from my chair….walked over to O’Riley….picked up the only thing on the table besides his size 12s…..a full can of Dr. Pepper.
I popped the top…..and poured the entire contents over his red hair…sent it cascading down his starched uniform…all over his leather duty belt…until it puddled right at his crotch area!

O’Riley did not move an inch…he sat perfectly still as I drained the entire soft drink all over him! It did stop his mouth though….he uttered not another single syllable. He stood up….and walked back to the locker room alone. You could have heard a pin drop in that briefing room….good grief, two Sergeants had witnessed my assault on O’Riley.

When you are the only woman in the department and you do such a thing…well, let me tell you…..I have never shut up 14 men at one time again in my life! They all stared at me with funny shit-eating grins on their faces, as I collected my stuff and went out on patrol.

I had to give my Sergeant a written statement about what I did…and he wrote up a report, complete with witness accounts. The Chief called me to his office the next day…..I sat down directly across from him, ready for my punishment.

The Chief smiled and ever so slowly grabbed a Coke that was on his desk and placed it on the floor behind him…out of my reach. His opening statement was, “O’Riley is a prick and got what was coming to him!” “Walk out of here like I scolded you and go home to get some rest!” As I was about to shut the Chief’s door…he said one last thing to me…..something I have never forgotten. “You are the only woman at this department because when I hired you…I knew you would be a fantastic officer, regardless of gender, and the night before last, you proved me right.”

Recently I was in court in a county south of Fort Worth. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw O’Riley walking around the district attorney’s office! He was now an investigator for this particular county, assigned to the very court where I was standing. He and I exchanged awkward pleasantries…then I went to the back of the court to hang out with other defense attorneys. O’Riley had never spoken to me about the Dr. Pepper after that night….not a word. We continued to work together..but the subject was never addressed.

At the back of courtrooms you will find defense attorneys gathered about, shooting the bull….very similar to police briefing rooms. The other defense attorneys were talking about O’Riley…he was difficult to deal with and very surly. They relayed to me that he required a lot of information to just get a copy of your client’s DWI tape and often kicked back requests that had minor errors. I felt compelled to tell them the story of my assault and we all agreed O’Riley had a twenty year tenure as a prick.

What can I say, I am now beloved by all defense attorneys in that county. I meet someone new every time I go down there and they have all heard about the cascading soda…the prosecutors even treat me better now!

I think O’Riley knows that I shared the story with my fellow defense attorneys. Every time he rejects a request for a DWI videotape because of a typo or other minor errors…he finds a Dr. Pepper sitting on his desk the next day.

My Top Tens

And from the home office, the top 10 things you are NEVER supposed to say to an attorney….here we go!
10. Why don’t you have a TV commercial?
09. Did you go to a real law school?
08. Do you take credit cards that are in someone else’s name?
07. Do you take cash with red dye on it?
06. I told the arresting officer you were going to screw him in court!
05. Can I trade for your services with electronics?
04. I hit people when things don’t go my way.
03. Yes, I do have a job…I work in “waste management.”
02. I think all lawyers are crooks.

and the number one thing to NEVER say to an attorney is….

01. “Money is no object.”

Top Ten Things to NEVER tell a Cop

10. I didn’t mean to kill her, I just wanted to put her in the hospital.
09. You sped to catch me, I want to make a citizen’s arrest!!
08. Is is true that all female cops are dykes?
07. Yes, I have dope in the car but it is only pot.
06. My dad is on the city council, I will have your job!
05. I am sorry officer, I didn’t see the stop-light, I spilled my beer.
04. How many drinks have I had tonight? Two beers.
03. I couldn’t do this test sober!
02. My tax dollars pay your salary!!
01. My lawyer’s name is Julya and she is going to screw you in court!!

Top Ten Things to NEVER Tell a Client

10. I can get you off.
09. Justice always prevails in courts of law.
08. It is the end of the month, the bills are due, I would take your case for 20 percent less today.
07. I saw you drive up in a brand new Mercedes, my fee just went up 20 percent.
06. The Judge in that court hates me, we might not get a fair shake.
05. I have never taken a case like this to trial.
04. I finished pretty much right in the middle of my law school class.
03. I think you are a lying sack of shit.
02. I ate popcorn and laughed at your DWI videotape.
01. I think YOU are going to get screwed in court!

Fish Sticks and Art Fleming.

To say I was a unusual child is a vast understatement. I had weirdnesses that I cannot begin to cover, no matter how many blogs about my childhood I eventually write. My poor mother had me at 40, child number seven. She was about the age I am now when I was peaking in my peculiar ways. Nowadays they would call me “learning different,” back then….I was just one royal pain in the ass.

First grade for me was hard, very hard. Not in grades mind you….I was tested and got to skip kindergarten altogether. In first grade, everything came very easy too, maybe I was bored and that led to the problem. What could the problem be, you ask? I puked every day for the first two months. I was a puking machine. I puked in the cafeteria, I puked in the hall, and I puked in the nurse’s office. I even puked all over poor Mrs. Brown, my first grade teacher whom I adored.

My mother took me to our family physician, Dr. Bullock, and he could find nothing wrong with me. She was told it was a nervous stomach and they tried to pinpoint the problem. The doctor asked me a series of questions. It was determined that I had a problem eating in a large room with other kids.  I had a problem with the cafeteria women and the food that they slopped on my tray. I had issues with the food my mother packed in my lunch-box and its temperature. I had issues with food in general.

Looking at me now, an overweight baby-boomer, it is hard to believe isn’t it? I have had food issues my entire life. At the age of three I ate chicken noodle soup for an entire year…and nothing else. At the age of four I ate canned green beans and corn for an entire year….and nothing else. I was predictable…..if nothing else.

So here I was at six and puking my guts out at Harrison Lane Elementary. My mother caved in….she was tired for Pete’s sake!! She was forty-six and had seven kids…including two sets of twins…eighteen months apart!!! I was lucky my mother didn’t live in a mental institution by the time I came along at 10 pounds, 14 ounces. My mother made an arrangement with the school officials to come pick me up for lunch every day and return me back in time for the afternoon session.

Lord knows Mrs. Brown didn’t object and the Principal, Mr. Arnold was tired of seeing me hunkered over every trash bin in the main hall when the lunch bell sounded. So every day at 11:15am my mother Jewel, would be sitting in the parking lot, reading the paper, and waiting for the pain in the ass, her lucky number seven.

My pattern was continuing…..if it was 1968, that meant fishsticks. Yeah, you got it right….I ate Mrs. Paul’s Fishsticks for an entire year. The sticks would hit the plate at my house on East Oak Drive at about 11:30am…the same time my mother’s favorite daytime TV show started. This is Jeopardy….with Art Fleming, your host, the announcer’s voice would bark over our television set. Mr. Fleming hosted the game show from 1964-1975…coinciding with my dietary wasteland years. Our TV set was basically the entire north wall of our living room. The console was as big as a 1965 Ford Fairlane, and long squiggly lines would run continuously across the black and white screen.

I would crunch on my fishsticks as my mother would yell her answers in the direction of Mr. Fleming. On occasion I would have to remind her to phrase her answer in the form of a question. This is probably where I developed my love of trivia and all other useless information that I have stored in my head to this day. Most days I cannot remember what I had for dinner the previous night, but I can tell you what picture won the Oscar in 1959…it was Ben Hur.

You are probably wondering…did I eat tartar sauce with the sticks? Hush puppies? French fries perchance? No….just fishsticks…every day, at 11:30am for twelve months.

About the time I lost my appetite for Mrs. Paul’s I was placed on a new medication that Dr. Bullock had found. It was a miracle drug….it stopped my puking at school completely!! I told my mother my nervous stomach was cured!! I could take the pill and eat anything she put in my lunch-box…within reason. I was so happy every day when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Short, would place the wonder drug on my pudgy little hand! Mrs. Short was tearfully happy too. She had lost the second grade teacher lotto regarding who would have to deal with the infamous pudgy puker.

My mother waited until I was in junior high before she told me it had a been a placebo, a simple sugar pill that had cured my tendency to hurl daily in the hallowed halls of good old Harrison Lane. By that time I had ended my proclivity for food binges and had actually started eating something different every day of the week….variety, imagine that?

Name the food products that are processed using a whitefish such as cod which have been battered, breaded, or deep-fried. They are commonly available in the frozen food section of supermarkets, and on children’s menus in family-oriented restaurants.

What are fishsticks Mr. Fleming? That, you little pain in the ass, ….is correct!

Carl Wants to Go Home

221? 221, go ahead. Be en route to the jail for a prisoner release. Wow, that is an exciting call, I thought. 221 en route. Sometimes in law enforcement what starts out mundane, turns into a war story that you are still telling your friends about 20 years later….this is one such story.

I arrived at the jail at about 11:30 p.m. and entered its fetor confines. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be in jail, you will quickly pick up on a unique combo of smells….think urine with a healthy dose of gym locker room.

We shall call this calamitous guy Carl…well, because it sounds good with calamitous. Carl had sat in our jail for four days rather than pay some old traffic tickets. He was on parole for aggravated robbery, having served several years in the Texas Department of Corrections, (TDC). The traffic tickets were nothing for him to worry about and would have no effect on his paroled status.

Carl was institutionalized, TDC tends to do that to someone. I used to like dealing with guys like Carl, you knew exactly what to expect…and so did they. Believe it or not, arresting a local dentist for DWI was a larger pain in the ass than dealing with Carl.

I did the discharge paperwork and Carl was sent walking. As I checked back into service, I watched his shadow disappear westbound up the access road to the highway. Carl’s mother lived about 2 miles from the police station, he was headed in the right direction.

Driving around for eights hours, alone in the dark, is a unique way to make a living. I drove alley ways, checked businesses, checked backyards for scared old ladies….I did whatever came across the radio.
The dog shift was a mix of calls for service relayed to you by dispatch and self-generated activity. I excelled in self-generated activity…for the stats, but mostly to just stay awake.

After leaving the station, I mozied on down to the 7-11 to get a coke. Diane, the manager, appreciated that I took short breaks there, it made her feel safer and she enjoyed the company. I walked into the store and Diane cut her eyes quickly to a guy standing by the ATM.

She said one thing, “10-56.” That let me know the guy was drunk. We had prearranged radio signals and other buzz words for almost any situation that I might walk into on my frequent visits.

I approached the white male and began checking him for signs of intoxication. He showed me a driver’s license, and told me he had been to a local honky-tonk….honesty…I liked that.

221? 221 go ahead. The burglar alarm is going off at the junior high on Church Street. 221 en route. In small departments, improvisation is also needed on a nightly basis. The dude was intoxicated and not getting back in his truck. I asked him for his keys, told him to call a ride and he could pick up his keys the next day at the front desk of the police department.

I pulled onto the 200 block of Church street and killed my headlights, taking the last three blocks blacked out. There would be no back-up coming, all units were handling other calls. I hit the foot release and pulled the shot-gun out of its floor rack. I got out of the unit and started to check the perimeter windows and doors. It was about 12:20 a.m. on a Thursday morning.

Alarms went off every night, the trick was to never get lazy. Sure, ninety-nine percent were false….caused by the weather, a stray cat, or the owner of the property…but you had to treat each call like the real deal.

At the back southwest corner of the school I found a window broken. The glass was blasted in and I could see a couple drops of fresh blood on the sill. I knocked out the remaining jagged pieces, stepped back into the shadows, and assessed my predicament.

There was no vehicle that I could see in the area, telling me that this “burglar” was on foot and not too bright. Not too bright because of the blood and the window that he chose to break….it was the only window at the back of the school with a giant spotlight right above it.

I softly told the dispatcher my location and notified her of the open window. Another officer was wrapping up a traffic accident and would be on his way in about 9 minutes. Just at that moment I saw the outline of a six-foot tall man walking in the school.

I would like to tell you that I did the right thing…waited the 9 minutes before entering the school. I always did the right thing when talking about officer safety….except this night.

I put the shotgun inside the window first, then I jumped up and went in head first. My hands came down on the classroom floor, right on the broken glass. As I pulled myself through the opening, my brass buttons popped off the front of my uniform shirt…..one at a time. This was not my finest moment of grace….and I wasn’t too quiet either.

I quickly jumped to my feet, grabbed my shotgun and walked towards the door. As I took my first step into the hall, I could see a man walking towards me…he had something in his hands. I racked a round into the shotgun…an unmistakeable sound…what we called a “scum-bag alert.”

I leveled the shotgun at the man and told him to drop what was in his hands. He released two boxes and about 200 pencils hit the floor and scattered. I got the guy proned out on the floor…and we held our positions. I could hear my back-up checking out at the school.

As the other officer walked up behind me and illuminated my bad guy for the first time…..I recognized him….it was Carl. “What on earth are you doing here and why are you stealing pencils, I asked?? Carl replied with five words, “I want to go home.”

We stood him up, walked him back to the same open window and pushed Carl through it, head first, and handcuffed. Back at the station I booked Carl in jail for burglary of a building….a felony…one that would ensure that he went back to TDC, his home.

I knew Carl was institutionalized when I set him walking to his mother’s earlier in the night….I just didn’t know to what level. He had a made a decision that he could not function in the real world. Breaking into a building without the effective consent of the owner, to commit a theft or other felony, while on parole in Texas, gets you a ticket to TDC….even if you are stealing 2 boxes of pencils.

Carl walked into the holding cell, sat down on the iron cot and took a very deep breath. The air that repelled most and the 4 by 8 cell others avoided, was the one place on earth where Carl felt normal.

I drove back to the 7-11, the ice in my coke had surely melted….maybe I would pick one up for Carl.

Like Baking a Cake

The Hispanic couple were justifiably nervous when they first sat down in my office. They had never received a parking ticket before, let alone been arrested.

Public intoxication was their listed offense, but their real crime was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They had made the egregious decision to be in downtown Fort Worth after midnight.

Mrs. Garcia (not her real name) had been invited to a bachelorette party by a life-long friend. She had consumed two margaritas and was walking around the downtown area with the other invitees. Mrs. Garcia had pre-arranged for Mr. Garcia to pick her up, as a safety measure, she didn’t like driving late at night.

One of the women in the group noticed a disturbance of some type by the entrance to 8.0, a downtown restaurant. The group of ten middle-aged women walked across the street, closer to the fracas. The Fort Worth Police arrived on scene to arrest the two participants in the drunken fist to cuff, rightfully so, for disorderly conduct.

These women were guilty of being what cops call “rubberneckers,” i.e. nosey people who slow down when driving past auto-accidents or those that walk towards a disturbance, and not away. Last time I looked though, rubbernecking was not listed in the Texas Penal Code as a crime. One of the officers simply looked in the direction of the women… walked over and indiscriminately pointed at Mrs. Garcia and two others.

Mrs. Garcia was singled out and arrested for public intoxication. No sobriety test is required under the law, but would it hurt? How about asking her a few questions, smelling her breath, or looking into her eyes to test sobriety? Mr. Garcia came walking up about the time the cuffs were slammed on his wife of thirty years. He approached the arresting officer, incredulous about what was happening. Mr. Garcia’s crime was asking the officer why his wife was under arrest? He too was arrested for public intoxication and hauled to jail. Mr. Garcia has not consumed an alcoholic beverage in 10 years.

The Garcias’ are but two of a host of other clients I presently have with one common denominator. They have been arrested as a result of shoddy and lazy law enforcement. It seems it is too much to talk to the person, conduct a sobriety test, and/or see if they have a sober escort.

Now before you think I am speaking out of turn, or perhaps just being a good defense attorney arguing my case…remember I am an ex-cop.
One aspect of my job has always been the same, no matter what hat I am wearing. Protecting the rights of people and guaranteeing due process was at the forefront of my mind as a cop and that duty remains today.

The Texas Penal Code defines PUBLIC INTOXICATION as follows:
A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another.

The elements of the offense have to each be proven BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT in a court of law. Not in a public place? Not a good arrest. Not intoxicated? Not a good arrest. Not a danger to himself or others? Not a good arrest.

It is like baking a cake, the elements are the ingredients. If you leave one out, you got one bad taste in your mouth!

My plain English example is: You can be shit-faced and publically intoxicated, but if a good sober friend is standing next to you and will make sure that you don’t endanger yourself or others…then you are not violating the law in Texas.

Mrs. Garcia was not intoxicated on two margaritas and even if she were, there were other members of her party abstaining that night..and a pre-planned sober spouse as a ride home.

Had the Fort Worth Police cared enough about my client’s rights and perhaps studied the statute, they would have merely waived the group of nosey women on their merry way. Instead they made four unlawful arrests, with missing elements. This cake, my friends, is rotten!!

All this brings me to June 28, 2009 and the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth. We all know what happened there was an injustice. I put the word out that I would represent Rainbow Lounge arrestees free. I signed to represent two of the people charged with public intoxication. I have already secured one dismissal and am presently working on the second client’s case.

I look at the Rainbow Lounge raid from a unique perspective. I do not think the Fort Worth Police Department knew it was the anniversary of Stonewall that night. I don’t think what happened was the result of anyone pin-pointing the gay community in my hometown. I do think that what happened on that Sunday night at the Rainbow was most fortuitous for many people, including my other clients. The aftermath has brought much media attention to what I believe is a systemic problem….not police homophobia.

Yes, you heard me right. This queer attorney doesn’t think anything that happened at the Rainbow Lounge had anything to do with the police discriminating against gay people. Well, the crotch grabbing accusation might be the “small” exception….no slight to the officer intended!

You can bet the police department that herded up people and made arrests, without probable cause, at the Rainbow had done the very same thing at a Latino bar hours before and at a redneck bar on the North-side the previous night.

As an ex-cop I am pro-police, don’t get me wrong here. I demanded adherence to the law on my shift when I was a patrol sergeant and I want the same thing from my brothers in Cowtown.

It would make my job a lot more challenging…and quite frankly, that is a cake that I would like baked.

The 4th Hole at Cloudcroft

Jewel, can you see the green? My mother was about 15 yards from the tee box, serving as my look-out. The course was in Cloudcroft, New Mexico (elevation 8660 ft) and it was 1978. We had a time-share at a lodge there in the small village set in the Lincoln National Forest. Cloudcroft had a population then of about 400 and was the kind of place where the local bowling alley had 3 lanes and kids working as “pin-setters.”

We played golf in the summer and in the winter my family went to snow mobile the same snow-covered course. We didn’t have anyone in the immediate family coördinated enough to ski. This blog will serve as an example of the skill set that we did possess…and tended to display every time we ventured from the lodge. It was a comedy of errors, but it was a true American family vacation.

“Yes, I can see the green,” my mother replied. This was the most hilly course I had ever seen in my brief golfing career. I had picked up the sport when my father worked at the country club and after five years was still miserably inept. A “birdie” was something that flew in the sky for me, not having a score that was one under the allotted shots for the hole. My shots usually went right or left, rarely hitting the green until I was almost at double digits. I had taken lessons and given it many hours, but golf was not for me.

At this point I was playing just to do something with my mother…and to watch her relish in beating my ass every single time we played. Jewel was “highly” competitive in any sport or game she played. It was not in her nature to throw a game to a lesser player. It was not in her nature to win without a parting shot to me about her superiority! I had a mother that talked trash!!

She was “spotting” my shot because we were at the 4th hole, a par 3. You hit your tee shot and it would literally disappear down the hillside. My shot was surprisingly not bad and benefited with an extremely long roll. My mother hit second and she sliced it right into a tree line that was parallel to the cart path, about the same 120 yards down the slope. There was no one playing close behind us that day and I will be forever grateful for that fact.

We got into our golf cart and proceeded to creep very slowing down the steep decline of the beautiful and dramatic par 3. I stopped the cart, initiating the emergency brake by double tapping the brake pedal. My mother chose her club and walked into the rough to try to see if she had a shot to the green. I stepped out of the cart to get my next club choice from my bag…..and that is when the golf cart started to roll!

I ran around and jumped back into the cart, frantically pumping the brake as the cart increased speed and went flying down the hill! I turned quickly to see my mother running down the path in hot pursuit, waiving her nine-iron at me and screaming, “pump it, pump it!!”

Ahead of me I had a street that was dividing hole 4 from hole 5…with crossing motor vehicle traffic. A very sturdy wooden fence served as the barrier for the course and the public roadway. My first inclination was very rapidly becoming my ONLY option….the sand-trap!!

My speed was increasing as I made my decision and jerked the cart off the path, on a direct line to the sand-trap! It elevated as I went off of the path and I was now airborne! The cart crashed down into the sand-trap with an awful thud, golf bags and golf clubs flying everywhere!

Of course with no seat belt, I became a human missile flying out the front of the cart. I hit the green head first, tucked, and rolled….missing the cup by 2 feet! I was laying on my back as my mother came huffing and puffing to stand directly over me, with this commentary, “Is that how I taught you to drive!?”

The golf course manager was not real happy when they had to send men to hole 4 to pull the “dug-in” cart out of the sand-trap. My mother and I both correctly interpreted the looks we were receiving from all the other inhabitants of the course that day….all who happened to be men.
Until, that is, they checked the brakes on the cart and noticed the cable had snapped and I was deemed innocent of the hillside stunt.

Later, as my mother and I sat in the lodge restaurant and enjoyed an iced tea, I looked at her…was she actually going to say something to soothe my bruised ego??

That familiar, competitive smirk came across her face, and my mother said, “Julie, you may never be the golfer I am, but today…..for the first time…you reached the green in two!”

The Monster on Sugarberry Lane (part two)

PART TWO

I was two minutes out when the dispatcher toned out the ambulance and fire department, telling me the neighbors were reporting a full structure fire at the house on Sugarberry Lane. I turned on the street passing the point where just over two hours earlier I had the encounter with Penny. I could see the house, smoke was filtering out the front windows.

I pulled up and exited the patrol car, running across the yard. A neighbor standing in the street asked if he could help. I yelled for him to stay away, as I heard screams from the rear of the house. The driveway was in the rear of the house and fed into the back alleyway. I continued to hear a woman screaming as I ran along the side of the house. At the back alley I located the woman, another neighbor, she was screaming, “the kids, the kids!!”

I asked her if any of the kids were still in the house? She responded that she didn’t know, but saw three of them running down the street. Thinking at least two small kids were in the burning house, as well as Penny and Zahhak, I entered the garage and observed the door leading to the kitchen open. I could hear my back-up arriving out front, as I drew my weapon.

I entered the kitchen and came face to face with Zahhak. My back-up entered right behind me, his name was Wilson. Thick black smoke was filling the kitchen and it was burning my eyes and throat. It was obvious that Zahhak had burns on both forearms, severe burns…as well as on his torso. He also had a butcher knife in his right hand and had appeared to have cut his hands…blood was pooling at his feet.

I told Zahhak to drop the knife or he would be shot….he dropped it in quick order. Wilson and I grabbed him and drug him out on the driveway. Wilson quickly returned to the house to attempt to find the children and Penny. I rolled Zahhak on his stomach and handcuffed his hands behind his back. The skin on his forearms was rolling up, burned and shriveling….falling off to my touch. With his injuries, I knew he was not moving, so I left him and ran back into the house.

On the return trip to the kitchen I had to immediately get down on my hands and knees. The only available air was at the one foot level, everything above that was total blackness. I could hear Wilson shouting, still calling out for the kids. Wilson checked several rooms and could not find any sign of life.

I made it as far as the living room and could go no further. I had never experienced heat at that level before. I could feel my eyebrows synging as I faced a veritable wall of hot air. I could not make myself move another inch…my mind wanted to find Penny and the children…my body would not allow it. Wilson had bravely made it farther than I did, but even he was retreating, not making it to the master bedroom. The house belched both of us back on the driveway, along with big billows of black smoke.

What had seemed like an eternity was only about eight minutes and the fire department was now on scene fighting the fire. The Careflight medical evacuation helicopter was ordered by the fire department Captain, as Zahhak’s injuries were life threatening.

Wilson stayed with Zahhak and would be traveling to Parkland Hospital in the helicopter with him. The fire was now extinguished as I looked down the alleyway and saw five small kids standing beside a woman. Thank goodness, Penny and the kids had made it out!! I took a deep breath of the fresh air and sighed. The woman was now running towards me, getting closer….it was sadly not Penny.

The woman was a neighbor from four houses down, she stated her kids were playmates of Penny’s children. They had run to her house in sheer panic, looking for help. I told her to take the kids to her house and keep them inside until someone was sent to get them. She turned to walk back and said that the kids had told her, “Daddy set Mommy on fire!”

The fire department Captain was calling my name and standing at the kitchen door. I met him there and followed him back through the smoldering house. The fire originated in the master bedroom without extending past the attached hall. The bedroom was completely black as we walked through it towards the master bathroom.

The Captain motioned into the bathroom and I entered alone. There was Penny, motionless in the bathtub. From the breasts down her clothes were burned and melted to her skin. I could see several knife puncture wounds on her breasts as well as her neck. She was staring at me in frozen disbelief….Penny was dead.

Zahhak had waited for Penny’s return that day, sitting in the driveway. He shouted as she pulled up and the shouting followed her as she escorted the children into the house. The fight had escalated to the point where Zahhak had grabbed the butcher knife and chased Penny around the house. At one point pinning her down on the floor of the master bedroom, stabbing her repeatedly.

The twelve-year-old son had watched as Zahhak had drug Penny to the bathtub, and threw her down. A waiting gas can was on the bathroom floor. Zahhak poured the gas over a screaming Penny. Zahhak was sloppy in his crime and got gasoline on his chest and arms. When he flipped the lit match into the tub, flames shot up and licked at his body.

I worked the crime scene and didn’t leave the house for four more hours. I helped lift Penny from the bathtub and watched as something shiny fell out of the side of her burnt jeans. Upon closer inspection I could see a gold-colored coin glistening on the blackened floor. I picked it up and found it was a token, a token for games from Chuck E. Cheese.

Officer Wilson was treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital. His valiant effort was done with no thought for his own safety. He was a good officer and had acted heroically on that “slow” Sunday.

Zahhak lived, but had to endure painful skin graphs and the loss of one testicle. He was convicted of murder in a Dallas County District Court. His plea bargain and attached sentence was so incredibly low, I cannot make myself include it in this blog. Zahhak would, at sometime in his life, walk the streets a free man again. I have no reasonable explanation for this fact, as I did not take part in the prosecution, past the point of arrest.

The five children were adopted by Penny’s mother…this is all I know about them. The last time I saw the twelve-year-old is when I walked down the street and told him and his grandmother that Penny was dead.

The coroner ruled Penny’s official cause of death as smoke inhalation. Could I have saved her if I could have made myself move beyond the living room? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can still relive the unbelievable force and heat of that burning room sixteen years later.

I would have liked to have finished this blog with a happy ending or a funny phrase or twist. But there is no such ending to relate….domestic violence ends really badly sometimes….people get hurt…people die.
I would continue to go on domestic violence calls for the rest of my law enforcement career. I would look into the eyes of aggressive men and women…volatile and angry again. I would see others that had intent to cause harm and that were on the brink of madness.

But I would never see the blackness or evil-heart of Zahhak matched again. Nor would I forget a woman named Penny and her last Mother’s Day on Sugarberry Lane.