Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Monster on Sugarberry Lane (part one)

The black Labrador came ambling up to me and said, “howdy do” in dog-speak. His name was Jake and I recognized him and his purple collar immediately. No sooner had I exited my patrol car to greet him, did I see his owner approaching in the green Dodge mini-van. There were five kids hanging out both sides, screaming Jake’s name, and a mother behind the steering wheel. For the sake of this blog, her name was “Penny.”

I had met Penny a couple of times in the months preceding Jake’s dash from their yard. She was a good mom. The unfortunate thing about Penny was that she was married to a monster. We shall call the husband, “Zahhak.” Zahhak was a figure in Iranian mythology known to be a monster, so my pseudonym is approppo.

Zahhak was a waiter at a very high-end restaurant/hotel in Dallas. The type of place where you could make $60,000.00 a year in the mid-nineties. He was very meticulous and took great care of his customers. Zahhak was well liked by his co-workers, they described him as a very earnest immigrant. They said he had come from Iran and had found his American dream. All good monsters have an outer façade that enables them to walk among the general populace. This monster excelled in appearing normal…to most.

Zahhak had been in the city jail two times for domestic violence assault. I first met Penny one early evening on a Saturday. Penny and Zahhak had five children, under the age of 12. They lived in a well-maintained, two-story Ranch style home and were known to keep to themselves in the sub-division. Penny had originally fallen in love with Zahhak because of, and these are her words, “his dark good-looks and the intensity of his love.” The children had come in quick succession and they had settled in this bedroom community of Dallas in what was to them, an idyllic setting.

But on this day, it seemed that Zahhak had bounced Penny’s head off the kitchen wall for messing up his dinner. He was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor assault, bonding out 4 hours later. Zahhak received 6 months probation and took an anger management class as his penance for the crime. Penny accepted his apology, but this pattern had been established years ago.

Two months passed and my department was, once again, dispatched to the two-story house on Sugarberry Lane. This time was even worse, Penny was bleeding from a small cut over her left eye. Zahhak had back-handed her, in front of their five children, for “disrespecting” him.

Penny had finally reached the end of her rope after the second assault. She took the kids and moved out of the house. Zahhak came home from jail the next night and found a copy of a signed protective order, along with a petition for divorce, laying on the dining room table. It had taken Penny fourteen years, but she had made her break. He had never assaulted her before in view of the children, she knew his madness was escalating.

The details of the divorce matter not, except that Penny got primary custody and Zahhak had a standard visitation schedule for the five kids. Zahhak remained in the house and Penny moved into her mother’s home with her children…a safe 15 miles away.
My police department had a copy of the divorce decree at the station on file. Zahhak hated me and every other police officer he had met because we knew his secret…we knew the truth.

Eight months had gone by the wayside since Penny escaped the grip of her abuser. She bounded out of the van, her kids leading the way. I was happy to be talking to her in a non-exigent environment. There was a relaxed, ease about her and a smile from ear to ear. I told her she looked great and inquired why she looked so darned happy? Then I remembered, it was Mother’s Day,…it was May 8, 1994.

Penny told me she was going to take Jake back to the house, then she and the kids were off to Chuck E Cheese. The kids were treating her to lunch for Mother’s Day and we both had a chuckle at their culinary choice! Penny related that Zahhak had the children for the weekend, but had let her come to Sugarberry Lane that morning to pick them up for their special lunch. I helped her get the kids and Jake back into the mini-van and they drove back to the house to deliver the randy canine.

Zahhak was to have the kids until 6pm that Sunday and was none too pleased about the 2 hours he was “giving” to Penny for her Mother’s Day lunch of pizza. He had been promised that she would drop the kids back at 2:30pm. He would then keep the kids until 6pm, when Penny would again return to retrieve them. Zahhak sat in a lawn chair, on his driveway and waited for her return. The façade was beginning to slip, the neighbors could have seen true evil that day, if they had dared a glance in his direction.

I had come in early that Sunday to work a double-shift. A friend on the day shift wanted the holiday off to spend with his wife and kids, so I had traded 8 hours with him. I would use my 8 from him another day. It was about 12:30pm when I said my goodbye to Penny and her troop. I drove off to patrol my district on a very slow Sunday afternoon.

By the time May of 1994 had rolled around I had changed departments and made the rank of sergeant. I was supervising the evening shift in a Dallas suburb of about forty-thousand people. I was biding time, wanting to leave it all for law school, but until then I did my job, and I liked to think I did it well. My badge number was 212 and all hot calls were dispatched through me. A “hot” call was one in which you proceeded, code 3, lights and sirens.

212? 212, go ahead. Code 3, domestic on Sugarberry Lane…she didn’t even have to give me the numbers…I was flying towards the scene. It was standard for one more unit to be dispatched as back-up, he was 6 minutes out…I was less than 3. The time was 2:55 p.m., oh my, I thought….Penny had returned the kids late.

My heart raced with the car as I made my way, siren blasting. A sense of foreboding came over me, this time things would be different.

END OF PART ONE

Advertisements

Ally McBeal and Perry Mason…I’m not.

So when you are a criminal defense attorney you tend to talk on the phone a lot. I tell people news they don’t want to hear and it can get tedious. As a cop I used to stand beside a person at, or soon after, one of the worst moments in their life. Nowadays, I am on “the dark side” as my cop buddies call it. I help sweep up the aftermath, defending the downtrodden. I protect the accused rights and ensure that they get a fair shot, as I attempt to poke holes in the State’s general case.

The telephone calls tend to go down the same misguided road. The potential client wants Perry Mason to represent them for the price of a happy meal. That person sounds easy to work with and please, right? Sounds like they have a nice grasp of reality. What does it matter that they were speeding 90 mph down the highway with a loaded 9mm and a couple of ounces of pot? “I know we are going to win this one! The cop didn’t read me my rights BEFORE they put the cuffs on me!” You poor, dumb son-of-a-gun…..you are so painfully unaware…let me please help you for next to nothing. Yeah, right.

I have started directing people to my website after first talking to them on the phone. I want them to see a picture of me. My partner says I have a sweet, feminine voice and people are taken aback after meeting me in person. They get a consult from “Ally McBeal” and then get to meet the big girl from “The Practice.” It has worked out and has eliminated that first puzzled look I was experiencing with new clients.

I have never had a client not hire me because I am queer. That is a pretty good thing, it makes me happy just to write that down. People generally hire me for my brain, not my appearance or sexuality. If I can get them to come talk to me, the retention rate is about ninety-percent. That just goes to show you when someone’s ass is truly on the line, all prejudice goes by the wayside.

One day a woman set up a consultation at my office and we chatted about her incarcerated husband. Hubby was in the county jail on two counts of credit card abuse, a felony. We discussed the procedure for bonding him out and my fee. She stated she would like to hire me…of course, I told her I wouldn’t accept a card. The woman left stating she would come up with the cash and call me in a couple of days.

Next day arrives and I get a call from the woman’s adult son. He related that now both of his parents were in the county jail. It seems the woman was caught walking out the front door of a Lowe’s Home Improvement store with a microwave hoisted on her shoulder! The son had gathered money from extended family members….I gave him my “family plan” rate and he hired me.

I did a jail visit with my criminal couple and asked the woman why on earth had she stolen a microwave oven?? “I had a plan. I was going to steal stuff, pawn it, and bring you the cash.” You can’t make this stuff up folks. I NOW advise clients to come back when they have “legally” obtained the cash to hire me.

I wish I could tell you I have had a “Perry Mason moment”…you know the type, where the camera zooms in, I spin and point at the person I am cross examining….they blurt out tearfully that they were the one that killed the guy and not my client! If you want one of those moments, head on out to Hollywood with the money you will save by NOT going to law school.

The closest I have ever come to that scenario…and I am reaching, is the following case:

I was consulting a young woman and her father in the hall of the courthouse before going inside to have a misdemeanor trial before a judge. My client was accused of disorderly conduct at an apartment complex. The complaining witness told police my client was in the middle of a large crowd of raucous college students fighting and cursing in public, with anyone that would take her on. The scene was a parking lot of a complex that was within a few blocks of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

We went into the courtroom and the State proceeded to present their case. The star witness entered, he was in full Navy dress uniform…sparkling and crisp…in his attire and demeanor. The prosecutor asked him the necessary questions to get the elements of the offense into the record. One key response piqued my interest. When asked how he was so sure that the defendant was the instigator of the disturbance, acting so disorderly and obscene,…he retorted the following way: “Well sir, I tell you…I am very precise in everything I do, that is why I joined the Navy. I am a very observant person and my place in the military has made me be even more acutely aware of details. I am NEVER wrong about something that I see personally.” The prosecutor smiled and lowered his head, wishing he had spoken to the young sailor a little bit more before putting him on the stand. Then it was my time to cross-examine the “precise” witness.

Good afternoon sir. You are NEVER wrong in something you observe personally?
Response: No Ma’am.
Did you have a chance to see me in the hall before we all walked in to this trial?
Response: Why yes, you were seated with your client and a man.
Did you contact or talk to me at all?
Response: Well ma’am, I walked up to you and asked you if this was court #3.
That isn’t PRECISELY what you said, is it?
LONG PAUSE
Response: No, Ma’am.
Will you state PRECISELY what you did and what you said?
ANOTHER LONG PAUSE
Response. I walked up to you from behind and tapped you on the shoulder. You were seated and turned away from me. I said, “excuse me SIR, is this court #3?” I am sorry Ma’am, I just didn’t see you well at first, then I corrected myself.
So you SOMETIMES make mistakes in your observations, don’t you?
Response: I guess I do Ma’am.
So you are not as PRECISE as you think you are?
Response: No Ma’am.
Are you sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person causing all the trouble in the parking lot was this young woman seated to my left?
Response: No, I guess not Ma’am.

The Judge cast a smile in my direction as she declared my client not guilty.
The next day a very large flower arrangement was delivered to my office. The card read, “from a very grateful Dad, you MA’AM, are an excellent attorney.”

On Broadway

Mrs. Broadway liked to lay down naked, right in the middle of the road, on the double yellow lines. She really wouldn’t give me an answer when I inquired about why she did this at least once a month. She wasn’t working with PETA and making some statement against furs. She wasn’t trying to block construction of the new Super Target in town…she just liked being a human traffic control device. I first met her when working a year stint on the evening shift.

It would have been bearable (pun intended) if she looked like Heidi Klum, but alas…she did not. Mrs. Broadway was 76 years old, weighed about 90 pounds and bathed rarely.

221? 221, go ahead. That 10/96 is up to her old tricks again, can you be en-route? The technical term for 10/96 was “bat-shit crazy.” I got stuck with the call EVERY time because I was the only female officer on the shift. 221 en-route.

The procedure was always the same for the “laying of the hands” on Mrs. Broadway. I would pull the car over, put on my latex gloves, and shove Vicks Vapor Rub up my nostrils. Vicks was often used on welfare check calls. You know the type…call to 911 comes in on a hot summer day and caller says they haven’t heard from Uncle Fred in two weeks, can you send someone out to his house? Vicks was always mandatory in that situation…good old Uncle Fred was usually pretty ripe after two weeks of sitting in the bark-o-lounger.

But getting back to Mrs. Broadway… notice the dispatcher didn’t give me a street name and block…because Mrs. Broadway always chose the same site. She liked a road just south of the downtown area, right in front of a convenience store. There would always be one kind stranger standing over her…sacrificing his jacket. The locals at the store would be yelling at the kind stranger to save the jacket, not the old woman!

Now before you start thinking I didn’t try with Mrs. Broadway, I did. She had been taken into custody on mental detention warrants twice before and released. Mrs. Broadway had answered the young admitting doctor’s questions correctly, devised to measure sanity, and had been quite proud of herself on both occasions. I particularly loved the 3 hour wait in the ER, handcuffed to her, that preceded each quiz.

Once again, I arrived at the scene, scooped up Mrs. Broadway and delivered her safely home. She always reveled in the walk back into her house, wearing a yellow police officer raincoat and strutting for the benefit of her nosey neighbors. I let her wear the coat, it belonged to an officer that shared the patrol car with me on the day shift. His name was Chancellor and believe me, he deserved it. One night, just for kicks, he had stayed late after his shift and filled my personal car, from floor to ceiling, with the department’s weekly total of shredded paper.

The behavior continued for another six months until the little old threadbare eventually got a legal guardian and moved into an assisted living facility. Mrs. Broadway’s days of terrorizing passing motorists and small children were over. I heard she liked to walk the halls in a long yellow raincoat that hit right about her ankles and had a funky smell.

Officer Chancellor hadn’t noticed it until one day several weeks later when a mighty rainstorm hit town. He telephoned me angrily at home asking where his yellow raincoat was? I told him it was “on Broadway.”

Just Hum.

It’s probably some sort of mental tick or deficiency, I just know it. I hum all the time. My father was a hummer, genetic you see. Some say it is a sign of a happy heart,…I tend to think it is one of those threads that I hang on to, just to maintain my sanity.

I was consulting a new client today, he has a pending assault charge, the result of a domestic violence disturbance at his house. He said, “I was drunk, we argued, I punched her.” The guy was reviewing the employment contract, that I have all my clients sign, when I realized I was doing it. I was humming, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. The client looked up at me and we both smiled…..he hired me.

Maybe I am blogging about this today to see if there are anymore like me out there? I have my own internal soundtrack playing at all times, really don’t even need to turn on the car radio. Recently, I have been stuck in 1973. If you check the Billboard Top 100 from 1973, you will be amazed…some really great music.

My mother used to take my sister Junene and I to the Army Navy Store, circa 1973, to shop for jeans. They had the bell-bottom/hip-huggers we loved, in every conceivable color. They were cheap so we could afford to buy several pair each. We would go home and throw them on our bed and start matching up the colors with our tops.

We had orange shag carpet in our room and a black light. Junene had every inch of the walls and ceiling covered with black light posters. We would switch on the turn-table and listen to Santana, Chicago, Cat Stevens, Sly and the Family Stone, and Elton John…just to name a few. We would lay on the floor with our feet stuck up on the bed, reading album liner notes. I was one cool chick in the fifth grade.

That is the about the time I told my mother whatever happened to me in life…I never wanted to get “raked!” She asked what I was talking about? I told her I saw on the news where 3 young girls were “raked” in Dallas. I envisioned a scary man with a large lawn implement, lurking in our front shrubs.

I used to play touch football with all the neighborhood kids. We would come home, throw our books on the kitchen table, and run out of the house. No childhood obesity to worry about in those days. If we weren’t playing football, we were riding our bikes…constantly. I had a red Schwinn with a banana seat, of course. My friend, Rod, and I disassembled the swing set in my backyard and used the long metal rod supports for front-fork extenders. We made a standard bicycle into an “Easy Rider” chopper in short order. Then of course, you had to attach a playing card to the front wheel spokes, with a clothes pin, to add just the right audio for our cruises on Oak Street.

The neighborhood was abuzz one summer when a new restaurant, we had never heard of before opened, called “Pizza Inn,” on Pipeline Road. A tall kid, with sandy hair came knocking one day and my mother answered the front door. He was handing out coupons for one free, small, pizza..trying to get the locals to try the new hang-out in town. My mother asked the kid if he was tired and he responded affirmatively. She said, “If I give you five bucks, you can quit for the day. Just give me that stack of coupons and no one will be the wiser.” We ate pizza that summer like nobody’s business….my mother made a different kid go in each time and pick up the goods. She figured out a seven man rotation would help us elude detection….it worked.

We had a driveway that was on an steep incline. My father would arrive home every day about 6pm and park his 1968 tan Cadillac Deville. Invariably, he would forget to set the emergency brake and the car would slide down the drive, cross the street and wind up in our neighbor’s front yard. This happened at least 5 times, never once hitting the neighbor’s house, always settling down nicely right up against their shrubs. They had a sense of humor about it…one evening my father pulled up to find a 2 ft by 2 ft sign in the neighbor’s yard. It read, “Reserved Parking, Jim Only.” He walked across the street, and ripped the sign out of the yard, embarrassed.

I was standing on the sidewalk, playing with with my Clackers that evening. You remember that toy with the two acrylic balls, on rope tethers that you smashed together? They were taken off the market after several kids Clackered themselves right into brain-damage. My father walked past me, threw the sign in the trash can, and proceeded into the house…..I think I heard him humming.

Rudy and Me.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Rudy?” If not, I highly recommend it. It was released in 1993 and stars Sean Astin, very inspirational. It tells the true story of a young man’s dream to play football for Notre Dame, against all odds…and I mean ALL odds.

Mid-way through the movie, you witness the pivotal scene where Rudy gets a letter, for the fourth semester in a row, from the Notre Dame Admissions office. Three rejections have preceded it and Rudy nervously sits on a park bench, holding the unopened letter.

I sat in a dark movie theater one afternoon and watched this movie alone. As I watched the movie unfold and with it, Rudy’s dream…..it touched a nerve. I was a police officer and had reached the rank of sergeant, supervising an entire shift, composed of all men. It dawned on me that I was not happy, I was 32 years old and had abandoned my dream.

My path to get to this moment of clarity was quite different from what you would expect. I have written, in earlier posts, that I thought about being a cop as a child, but I started college as a pre-med major. I wanted to be a doctor until my junior year when I hit organic chemistry….the law, the law sounded good at that point, my professor agreed!

I worked my way through Texas Woman’s University by working at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. You know the parking booths that take your money as you exit? I worked the midnight shift there in the early 80s. I would sit in the booth and do my homework, with minimal interruptions, from scant motorists. I would leave the job at 7 a.m. and travel to Denton for day classes, sleeping in the evenings.

A funny thing happens when all the forces in the world align for you….Kismet they call it. Switching to criminal justice as a junior and picking up a Constitutional law-book was THE moment of Kismet for me. Like taking a deep breath and truly tasting sweet air for the first time. No wonder I sucked at organic chemistry!

I spent countless nights in the toll booth, with a small heater, blowing stale warm air at my face, as I studied. I loved all the work that my professors threw at me. It didn’t matter if it was a paper on adult corrections or modern law enforcement…I always finished wanting more. I didn’t think about being a police officer at that point, law school was the goal.

After 3 years of motorists bitching about parking fees and inhabiting my own claustrophobic cell, I left DFW Airport. My sister owned a deli, in a suburb of Fort Worth, and I dropped in one day for a sandwich. I overheard two cops, in the next booth, discussing a 911 dispatcher opening at their department. I applied that day and got the job the following week. So long motorists, say hello 40 foot tall Jesus!

Yes, I said hello 40 foot tall Jesus. On the first week on the job, I handled a four fatality, car accident and Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Miller was a regular caller to the department and liked to talk about seeing Jesus in her backyard. I played along with her, she seemed to like that. No use in filing charges on an eighty-nine year old woman, for 911 abuse, just because she liked to chat it up with the big guy.

I was a dispatcher for about 12 months, then the department sent me to the police academy. I finished police training and my B.S. in Criminal Justice in close proximity. I decided to be a cop after listening to one year of people having all the fun on the other end of my radio transmissions. That and reading the atrocious police reports that came across my desk to type. Good grief, where did these guys go to school? I thought, “I could do this job, I could write a better report than this!!”

I worked in about every capacity you can, on my way to becoming a patrol sergeant. I gained my stripes, and war stories with hard work…..all because I didn’t want to sit in a parking booth or type other people’s reports….but my dream was fading.

I took a week vacation and took the law school entrance exam. What is the problem with that I asked myself? Take it and see how you measure up… go from there. My grade point average in under grad was not pristine. Lack of sleep was not something that made me aspire to graduating with “summa cum laude” after my name.

Was law school something I could even think about at this time? I had a good paying position, could I walk away to chase a dream? My score came back competitive, but it didn’t send me doing cartwheels in my yard. Time to load up my gear and go to work…. my dream was placed nicely in an old shoe box, along with my test report.

Two years passed until the day I found myself sitting in that dark theater watching Rudy with his fourth letter. He opened it up and read the words, “we are pleased to accept…”
The good news sends him sprinting to go tell his dad about his acceptance to Notre Dame. I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for those of you yet to see it, but Rudy woke me up.

A new law school had opened up in my home town and became my focus. I owned a home and could not feasibly pick up and move out-of-town. My attempt to get into law school would ride on one application. If it was truly meant to be for me…surely they would accept me. I was wrong. The rejection letter was received in quick turn-around. I imagined the admissions board passing my packet around and sharing a good laugh at my expense. I imagined 20 years of law enforcement and an unfulfilled dream.

Even though it was a new law school, they routinely got about 2000 applicants each year for a class that would be approximately 220. Mind you these applicants are not under-achievers…a lot of them do have those Greek honors after their names, getting in would not be easy.

I grew another year older and continued to chase bad guys every night. The time rolled around to try it again and I put together another application packet. One of the requirements of the law school was for each applicant to write a letter expressing why they feel they should be accepted. What do you think I wrote? If you guessed a war story, you would be correct.

I poured out my heart, I wrote about my friend Officer Ross getting shot and my participation in the arrest of the shooter. I wrote about my beginnings and how I found my way to criminal law….I wrote about my profound desire to become an advocate for others….then I waited.

I collected my mail that day and noticed the return address of the law school. My hands started shaking as I walked to my backyard. I sat down on a lawn chair and started watching the trees as they swayed in the breeze. I laughed a nervous laugh remembering Rudy on the park bench. Well, look at me…no movie music in the background this time. I feared my dream would float away, on that same breeze, with a second rejection.

I ripped the envelope and saw the words I had longed to read….”we are pleased to offer you a seat in the next class…!!”

I would like to tell you that I went running off down the street, as the music crescendoed, and the credits rolled or that I had a vision of a 40 foot tall Jesus…but that did not happen…this was reality folks, come on!!

I did run around the backyard yelling and crying like a happy fool for a full five minutes. And then a couple of days later I drove out to the DFW airport. I drove from the north end to the south, a fifty cent fee at that time. I gave the girl who took my ticket a fifty-dollar bill, told her to keep the change, and told her to never give up on her dreams. She looked at me like I was a freak and opened up the gate for my exit….she shoulda seen the movie.

Shots Fired, Officer Down! (Part Two)

And after that brief commercial break….our story continues.

Well, the keys explained why the car wasn’t moving. The wife told me that her husband wasn’t hit. Ross’s return shots had all went right through the center of the back window and out the front….unbelievably missing both occupants.

I could hear the siren of back-up Officer Fritz approaching the scene from my west. The hammer on my Smith & Wesson was ready to strike it’s mark….as the suspect started to exit the vehicle. I asked for hands and he showed me hands, no gun. He was screaming, “please, kill me!!” I would have gladly obliged him, but again, no gun.

In a split second, he turned and ran right into the path of eastbound traffic and headed across the center median of the four lane highway. Officer Fritz saw this and drove his unit across the median, in hot pursuit.

I quickly slammed handcuffs on my pregnant prisoner and left her where she sat. Ross was protected by his vehicle and not laying on the roadway. I needed to pursue the suspect and help Fritz. I got into my unit and went back to the crossover.

The suspect had crossed the westbound traffic, without becoming road-kill, and was now running towards a small grouping of houses just off the highway. I knew that if he jumped a couple of fences, he would have to come out on the street that my patrol car was fast approaching. I told the dispatcher to tell the ambulance to pull up and help Ross. I could hear screaming sirens from EVERY direction!

Looking back now, this was not a guy that wanted to commit “suicide by cop.” That is a technique where someone wants to end it, but doesn’t have the balls to do it themselves. They point a weapon towards an officer and let law enforcement do the deed. This guy was a coward, through and through.

Officer Fritz rammed the back fence of a house just as the suspect’s feet cleared the top of the chain link. Fritz jumped the fence and was now in foot pursuit. As I turned the corner and hit the street…I saw the suspect running from the side of a house, directly in front of me. I stopped, jumped out of the car and did my best impression of Lawrence Taylor. (football reference for all non-sporty girls and guys)

I hit him from the front as Officer Fritz hit him from the back….the three of us tumbled onto the gravel driveway in one big heap. Now when an officer is shot…your friend…and you don’t know yet, his condition….and you find yourself sitting on top of the suspect…well…let’s just say the suspect was injured in the “fall.” He also got the business end of my .357 pointed right between his eyes…this time he did not plead for me to kill him, but begged for mercy…..I gave it to him…mercy people, I gave him mercy.

We made the evening news the next day and watched it from the hospital room of Officer Ross. His bullet-proof vest stopped 3 rounds that were surely fatal…the fourth hit him in the left buttock region. The doctors decided to leave the round in as more damage would occur trying to remove it than it was worth. The suspect would forever more…you guessed it, literally be a pain in the ass for Officer Ross.

Officer Ross recounted that as he initially approached the vehicle on the traffic stop, the suspect had raised his weapon from his waistline, a .380 automatic pistol, and started shooting. The first shot hit Ross in the metal plate of his vest, right at his heart, and knocked him backwards. Three more hit their mark as he tumbled to the rear of the suspect vehicle. Ross stood up and fired four shots through the back window before falling where I found him.

The suspect received 60 years for his deed and would not be eligible for parole until after 15 years of that sentence because of his use of a deadly weapon. The baby born, the next day, would graduate high school before ever meeting his father. Some guys just don’t want to go to jail for DWI and for driving a stolen car.

My department, shockingly, up until that night, did not require its officers to wear bullet-proof vests, it was optional. Optional because they cost about $600.00 each and the budget did not have any room for the expense.

Officer Ross liked arresting DWI offenders and was number 2 in the department in that statistic. I often have wondered what would have happened if I had not checked out the tire store, but instead had observed a weaving tan four door, with no license plate, entering my district.

Number 1 in the department for DWI arrests was not wearing a bullet-proof vest on that fateful night in November of 1988…and that, to quote Paul Harvey,…is the “rest of the story.”

Shots Fired, Officer Down! (Part One)

It was November 6, 1988 at about 12:40 a.m. and I was on patrol on the east side of the city. I checked out at a tire store because I saw a suspicious car pulled up by the back door. I gave the dispatcher the plate number of the vehicle to run on the computer and began to investigate.

I let my guard down a little when I checked the hood of the car and found the engine was cold. I started walking the perimeter, along with my handy Mag light. The dispatcher called out, “221?” Go ahead, I replied. He told me the vehicle was “clear,” meaning not stolen and no warrants attached to the registered owner. The address was local, so I checked a few doors and went back to my unit.

I had graduated the police academy just 9 months before this night.
Low seniority had bestowed upon me a place on the midnight shift, 11pm-7am….some cops call it the “dog shift,” for obvious reasons.

As I was walking back to my patrol car, I could hear another officer alert the dispatcher that he was stopping a car for investigation of driving while intoxicated, it did not have a rear plate. The officer was working the district next to mine and I was a mere 4 blocks away from him.

The officer was a friend, in small departments you tend to develop close bonds to people. Although I don’t have any military experience, I hear soldiers say the same thing. When you entrust another with your life, you develop a connection that is tough to match in other occupations. His name was Officer Ross, and his radio number was 230. He loved arresting drunks, so I figured I was about to get stuck waiting on a tow truck.

I pulled out of the tire store parking lot. Even though it was a cold November night, I kept the driver side window down about 2 inches. This enabled me to hear my surroundings, plus the police radio, and the regular car radio or “good times radio,” as it is called in law enforcement. Even then I listened to the oldies channel and Peter Frampton was singing about how he loved my ways….pop, pop, pop, pop!!!

I was now driving west on an access road that ran along side a major four lane highway. The traffic stop site was eastbound, still two blocks up, on that same highway. An old truck was passing me in the parallel westbound lanes of the highway. Did I just hear gunshots or did that old clunker just back-fire? BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!

Holy shit, that’s gunfire! Dispatch! I hear gunshots, start additional 10/27 towards 230! We used 10 codes to talk on the radio and 10/27 meant back-up. I flipped on my overheads, took off my seatbelt and sped towards my fellow officer.

This particular highway did not have on-ramps but had crossovers. I had worked several fatality accidents at the very intersection I was now crossing, because…well, crossovers are really hazardous. The time was about 12:50 a.m. and traffic was light in both directions.

As I hit the center of the crossover and looked to my right, I could see the suspect vehicle facing me, a tan four door, with Officer Ross’s unit parked right behind it. The spotlight from his car blocked my view of anything further at that point. On the radio, Officer Ross screamed,”230!!”….then silence.

Small caliber guns pop when discharged and are sometimes confused with other sounds. When I heard the returns, I knew it was the larger caliber of Officer Ross and his .357 revolver. I knew this because I had a Smith & Wesson .357 caliber gun just like it on my duty belt.

I crossed over the eastbound traffic and turned west on the opposite side of the highway, on the access road once again. I slammed the car into park and got out. I used the engine block for cover and draped myself against the left front quarter panel. My unit was cattey-corner from the suspect’s vehicle, with about 12 yards of the grass median between us. That is when I got my first look at my friend, Officer Ross. Shots fired, officer down!

Ross was laying on his back at the right rear of his unit. He was conscious and holding his weapon in his right hand…it was shaking violently. I asked him if he was hit. Ross responded, “four times.” He was giving it his all just to maintain, as I focused on the suspect vehicle.

I had arrived so quickly to the scene, the suspect was miraculously still in the driver’s seat. The thought went through my mind that he too might be hit or dead. The car would have already made hasty exit but for not that very reason, right?

The passenger window was somewhat foggy and I could see there were not one, but two passengers. I had my gun directed at the head of the driver. I was fully ready to use deadly force, I could not let anyone exit the vehicle, walk back to the downed officer and finish the job!

Also during this time, I advised the dispatch that we needed an ambulance, but to have them stay 2 blocks off until the scene was secured. My backup was flying towards me, as were two Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. The troopers had monitored my radio channel while on a coffee break in the next town over. If you want to see it “rain” police, yell “shots fired, officer down” across the airwaves. Help was on the way, but the welfare of Ross was all mine.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not calm…I was professional, but I was not calm. My normal voice went up a couple of octaves and I was screaming at the shooter to obey my commands. I wanted the driver to exit the vehicle showing me his hands, so I could get him prone on the pavement and create some stability. Getting him out of the car would prevent a vehicle chase. Believe me, my requests were loud enough for him to hear and littered with language better left out of this war story.

I maintained a line of site, but it was not a clear one. The right front passenger was moving about the car. I also had eastbound traffic passing on the other side of the suspect car. A round not stopped by metal or body, could pass through to an innocent.

The right front passenger made a move and exited the car. My finger was definitely applying more pressure to the trigger…and then I saw her. A Hispanic woman, appearing to be, about nine months pregnant, was running right towards me screaming. I couldn’t make out her scream and her hands were holding her stomach at a low point where I could not see them.

Well, this is a scenario that they didn’t go over in the police academy, a potential pregnant killer charging you! I didn’t know at that time if she was the shooter or not, couldn’t see her hands, and didn’t know if she intended me harm. I had 3 seconds to make up my mind. Count to three and tell me what you would do?

In hindsight, it would have been a justified use of deadly force. I let her get to within arms length, then with my left hand, pulled her to the ground beside my unit. I kept my gun trained on the suspect car and could see she didn’t have a weapon. She told me her husband was the driver, he had a gun, and he wanted to die. I told her to sit down on the access road and if she moved, she would die.

Officer Ross had now lost consciousness. I asked the woman if her husband spoke English and she responded, “yes.” I asked her why he hadn’t fled the scene? I glanced down as she opened her hand to show me the car keys.

End of Part One