Monthly Archives: July 2010

Public Service

I walked into the living room and said, “you do know the dog in the corner of the bedroom is dead, don’t you?” Yes, came the reply, Rex died about a week ago.

It was the most filthy house that I have ever been in…I immediately told the dispatcher to call Child Protective Services. It seems the family was really attached to poor old Rex and couldn’t let him go. A rotting dog in the bedroom was not the only problem. There were dishes stacked all over the kitchen with rotting food….bugs were everywhere and evidence of rats. I asked the two kids where they slept and they pointed to piles of clothes on the floor. They were removed from the house that day.

It was always interesting coming home after a shift as a police officer. Generally family members or a spouse will ask how your day went…what happened? I used to tell about 25% of what I actually did or saw….why spread the misery? I know quite of few of you that read this blog think cops are all assholes. And believe me, after working in police departments for eight years….assholes do tend to gravitate towards the profession….it is, in fact, an asshole magnet. But there are also really good and decent folks that pick up the job that enables you to help people and make a difference in lives, on a daily basis.

One of the departments I worked at had a program called Save Our Seniors, or S.O.S. People could sign up old folks they knew in town that lived alone. Once a day an officer cruising the beat where they lived would stop by to check on them. A social program that worked and help spread some good P.R. for the department. I started out hating it, along with all my buddies on the force. We wanted to be out kicking butt and taking names….not sitting at your Grannie’s kitchen table. But something strange happened after about a month into the program. Everyone involved started liking it….friendships were formed, our service to the community got an expanded definition.

I had one lovely lady that gave me apple pie and coffee…just for sitting with her. We talked about The Price is Right television show and the Texas Rangers…her two favorite things. I found myself chatting it up with geriatrics in between DWI arrests. It made some days really strange because of the juxtaposition of my contacts…but it was a good strange.

We had an Explorer program at the police department. The Explorers are a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America. It is a career oriented program for young people interested in law enforcement. They do ride-alongs in the patrol cars and generally learn what it is like in the field of public service. During my career I did have young people ride-along with me, but otherwise did not participate heavily in the program. Why? The Boy Scouts of America discriminate against gay people and do not allow them to be scout leaders. This discrimination bleeds over to the Explorer Program and because of this, I could not/would not participate more than the department made me. It continues to be a great program, I just wish it wasn’t associated with the Boy Scouts. I guess queers can’t be Eagle Scouts or Scout Leaders….and they certainly can’t aspire to be police officers. (insert sarcastic grin)

I had this one older woman in town that was in a wheel chair and was independent, save for the fact, she couldn’t get in and out of her car. Her husband had a bad back, so you guessed it…they called the police department when they needed help. Most citizens don’t know all the extra services police department sometimes do in the course of a day. Small towns are more apt to help out in things like this, I admit…but you still would be surprised. So about 3 times a week the woman would call the dispatcher and one of us would go to her house to do some lifting. I had set the police academy record for females in the bench press, so I came well equipped to help her. Evidently she liked how securely I lifted her one day…so she requested that I be dispatched every time thereafter. The dispatcher would call me on the radio, the running joke was that to send me she just repeated the words the woman said to her. “Send the girl!”

Both police departments that I worked for had a service for citizens going away on vacation. Prior to leaving an application was filled out that outlined all the specifics of the trip…and the house they were leaving behind. The department would then put the house on extra patrol and at least once a day we would walk the perimeter and jiggle the doors. It was really a good, free service….call your local police department and see if they offer this perk before you fly off next time.

I guess my point in writing this blog today is that being a police officer has many facets. I know I have written about the exciting calls previously…they are really crowd-pleasers to read about…I get that. But I want to paint a broader picture today of what it means to decide upon a career in public service. The officers you see today cruising around your city are really doing a great amount of good for you and others. Helping your fellow-man is what it is all about….and for most that is why they signed on to be a part of the thin blue line.

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you get stopped today for pushing it and running that red light. It won’t hurt my feelings if after signing for the ticket…you drive away from one of my brethren and utter the one word that might make you feel a little better. Asshole!!!

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Stupid is as Stupid Does

Here is a hint, a tip of the trade for any criminals reading today’s blog: Don’t run and the police won’t chase you. Seems simple enough, right?
One night, on patrol, I was traveling down the main thoroughfare of my city, routine stuff. I noticed a man walking from a 7-11 store, holding a 12 pack of beer, he appeared to be about 35 years old. I would have kept right on driving save for the fact that when the guy saw my patrol unit he started sprinting! Looks interesting, I thought, so I gave chase and caught the guy about 3 blocks south of the store. “Why are you chasing me?” was his first comment to me.

People usually don’t sprint like an Olympian, in street clothes, while holding a 12 pack of Bud, I responded. The dispatcher came over the radio and stated the clerk at the 7-11 had just called 911 to report a theft. Is it a 12 pack of Bud, I asked? The dispatcher, now thinking I am super cop, described the culprit that stood before me.

Do you really need a beer that bad, I asked? “They charge more than the grocery store, it is a rip-off!” No, I said…you just did the ripping, not 7-11. I ran a check for warrants on the guy that came back clear. I decided not to arrest him, but instead issued him a misdemeanor theft ticket. I took the 12 pack, evidence you see, and set the guy walking back towards his house….no beer, but with a ticket and fine of about $250.00.

On the west side of town we had a trailer park that was adjacent to a major four lane highway. On night, after hours of drinking and partying….a man decided he desperately needed a cigarette…the tobacco kind. It was about 2am when he decided to cross the four lanes of traffic on unsteady feet. He did not make it.

Our officers arrived on the scene to find that approximately 7 cars had struck the guy…3 actually stopped and waited for us to investigate. His friends at the trailer park didn’t even know he had left the party…and couldn’t identify him…dental charts had to do the trick. What was left on the highway of the guy…well, adjectives won’t do it justice. Moral of that story? Cigarettes will kill you.

One day the dispatcher asked me to come to the station to take a theft report. I arrived and met with a blonde woman of about 40 years of age. She wanted to make a report that an unknown man had stolen $50.00 cash in the parking lot of the local Target store. Here is how she related the story: “I was in the parking lot and he asked me if I wanted to buy something…I gave him the money and he ran off. I want my money back or what I was buying. Fair is fair!” When I asked her what she was buying, she did not hesitate, “weed!”

This woman was so irritated at being taken or so blonde, she wasn’t processing the big picture. So you are volunteering to me that you were screwed on an illegal drug buy in my city? Is that what you want to say? The light bulb went off and I wish I had a picture of her face! Do you really want to report this theft today or do you just want to walk away? “Can I walk away?” I wished her a good evening and went inside for my dinner break. It reminded me of something my 7th grade English teacher did one day. He saw graffiti painted on the side of the school building that said, “SMOKE DOPE.” He wrote the two words on the chalkboard then added a well placed comma, “SMOKE, DOPE.”

I wonder if she was related to a kid I met on the first violator contact I ever had as a cop. I had my training officer with me and we were patrolling by a high school looking for truants. We saw a older Chevy sedan pulled up by some benches at a park about 5 blocks from the school. As we pulled up the windows went down and plumes of smoke exited all four windows. Four teenage males were inside the car. The smell took me back to the rock concerts of my own high school years.

My FTO (field training officer) was approaching the driver window and I walked up and stood at the right rear of the vehicle. As the FTO was inquiring if the boys had any pot in the car…the back right door started to open…ever so slowly. A hand came out and dumped a baggie of weed right on top of my left foot. The boy turned his head and noticed me for the first time! He tracked up from my shoe the entire length of my 5’11” frame and our eyes met….it was priceless. Being a cop was going to be fun I thought. Stupid is a growth industry and will provide me with life-long job security!

Fast forward 22 years….I got a new client five weeks ago and asked him to come to my office for a meeting. He was on probation for felony criminal mischief and got caught smoking weed at school. I asked him his goals in life, what did he want to be when he grew up? Answer: Bum. It was his birthday and he was sitting across the table from me stoned. I twisted off on him…letting him have it for over 30 minutes. His mother seemed stunned, but thanked me profusely afterwards.

We went to court yesterday and were able to get him into a drug treatment program for youth, plus probation. The young man that walked up and shook my hand was completely different in appearance and demeanor. He was neatly dressed and sober. I couldn’t believe the transformation! He thanked me and said he hadn’t drank or smoked pot since that day at my office. “I didn’t remember what it felt like to be sober.” He told me he had applied at 7 different stores and fast food places the previous day and was intent on finishing school…his mother had tears in her eyes.

I left the courthouse and got into my car. I closed my eyes and thanked my mother. I had channeled my mother that day when yelling at the poor kid. My sister Junene, actually gave me a bracelet after my mother died with the letters WWJD inscribed on it. Meaning no disrespect…she knew I would interpret it correctly…What Would Jewel Do? The kid was lucky I just used words that day and didn’t pull out the 60s model fly-swatter. A few grill marks on the rear-end could only help some of these junior criminals…even if it does reduce my future earnings.

A Simple Man in the Dark

I got a call of thanks from a client this week. He had just spent 12 months in a federal prison and was thankful for every day he had just experienced behind bars. We will call him Spencer. Spencer was facing up to 87 months for his crime. The Federal Judge liked the sentencing memo I filed on Spencer’s behalf and saw remorse in my client’s statement in open court. We have two sitting Federal Judges in Fort Worth and cases are put in their respective courts by luck of the draw. We got very lucky.

One Judge is extremely rigid and I feel confident my client would have received 87 months, for sure. Spencer’s case was assigned to the more open Judge that likes to quote scripture in court….again, we got lucky. On sentencing day there was relief and tears from Spencer and his extended family and friends. They all wanted to thank and hug me, it was a rare day in the life of an attorney. I left the federal courthouse that day knowing that I had done some good lawyering and truly had helped make a difference in one family’s life.

Spencer is a traveling salesman….he is a simple man. He attends church every Sunday, is married with one child. He stands about six-foot and is thin…always looking like he could use a good meal. I spoke to fellow church members and numerous friends, neighbors. All had similar comments about Spencer….that he was extremely thoughtful, helpful, courteous, a Christian man. Spencer’s wife and child were loving and likewise devoted to Spencer. The fact that he committed a crime was a terrible thing, but did not diminish their feelings about him.

If you met Spencer you would like him. I doubt anyone of you would pick up on his secret. Spencer is a simple man in the dark.

Spencer called me one Tuesday afternoon, having been referred by a work associate. He said the U.S. Postal Inspectors were investigating him for a crime and it was urgent that he see me. Within 2 hours Spencer was seated in front of my desk, nervously fidgeting and tapping his right foot. Spencer was unraveling right in front of me as he haltingly answered my questions and told his story.

I have been in the criminal justice system, in one capacity or another, for 24 years now, so I have heard and seen just about everything. People sit in my office and unburden themselves, they throw their missteps and addictions my way in hope of help. Sometimes I think they want a communion wafer and a pat on the head, “go in peace child.” I have equated myself to an eighteenth century “sin-eater” before…the English/Scottish ritual of paying a peasant to come to the altar of the dead. Food is layed about the deceased and the sin-eater eats…and with the food takes the evil and sins of the dead man so he can rise to heaven. Or it might just be my innate obsession with food….go figure.

Spencer likes to look at computer pornography. More specifically, Spencer likes to look at child computerized, pornography. About this time you will begin to judge Spencer and assume he is a pedophile. You should also be judging me as an attorney. (How can you represent people like that?)

I have to be able to represent Spencer. If I believe in justice and everything that is right with our system…he must be defended just as vigorously as the teenager that gets caught with his first joint. Spencer has the same rights and access to due process that we all do. Guilty or innocent, pedophile or not….the system MUST work for him.

When I first met Spencer he didn’t believe he was a pedophile if he just “viewed” porn and never acted out his dark desires. After 12 months of a sex offender program and counseling, he now can see his victims for the first time. Spencer is a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. I think that he is a very low risk for recidivism. I hope I never see him again.

Spencer is staying away from the dark. He has already found another job and is hopeful for his future. In our telephone conversation he said, “Because of you I am a free man again and am home with my family.” I was happy and sickened by that statement. I can believe in the man and rehabilitation and at the same time be repulsed by the darkness. Twenty four years of experience and knowing I did the right thing….but still a small pang of uneasiness thinking that if Spencer does regress, I somehow contributed to making it happen. My belief in justice for every man trumps all other emotions and remains steadfast…even while I acknowledge some conflict. I would be lying to you if I didn’t divulge the conflict.

You have to believe out from the dark can come some light. We cannot give up on hope. Hope is the light that burns within us all. Without it we are lost…we must never be without it, even when dealing with an issue that disturbs and revolts us all. You gotta believe it burns within every simple man.

Groovin on Oak Street

Thomas Wolfe was right, you can never truly go home. Figuratively or literally…all of our homes are no more. My law office is in Fort Worth, Texas about 20 miles from the house that I grew up in on Oak Street in my hometown of Hurst. Since I started this blog about growing up in Texas I have been spending many an afternoon in quantified snapshots of my childhood. I jump in the past for about an hour while I write the latest blog entry, then presto, I hit publish and I am back to the reality of life in the 21st Century.

I have to admit that living in the past for those moments has kept me nostalgic and I found myself in my old neighborhood recently. I had a quick appearance in a justice of the peace court close by and before I knew it I was driving down familiar paths. I pulled onto my old street and parked under a shade tree. This was a place in my past where anything could happen if you imagined it…anything was possible in your future if you planned and worked hard for it. I took in the present and drifted back to the days long ago when I ran around in cut off blue jeans and perpetually scabbed knees. Go long Julie…down to Mrs. Champeaux’s car and cut left, I will hit you with the pass!

The neighborhood was much smaller than I remembered, the front lawns are typical size, not the 100 yard football fields that I envisioned in my youth. It is run down and what we would call a “lower income” neighborhood now. Back in its heyday it was the stuff that Leave it to Beaver was made out of…picture perfect American Dream material. Of course that vision was/is skewed, there were no families of color within 25 miles of my house. The American Dream in the 60s and 70s was quite a different concept, depending on what side of the railroad tracks you were born on…unattainable for a number of people. Sure, the neighborhood now had diversity, but it also had a stank about it, a smell of desperation. Desperate people working their butts off, barely able to see middle-class on the horizon.

The Fraser Photinia bushes I used to play behind were still along side my childhood home. I remember setting up a card table with a red/white checked table cloth on it. I pretended the shaded interior of the bushes was an outdoor cafe in Italy. I served pretend pizzas to the other neighborhood kids who paid for their dinner in marbles. The overall appearance of the house was okay, but it needed attention at just about every level of upkeep. I fought the urge to go knock on the door and feign entry somehow. Even the truth sounded like a weird plan…”Hey, I used to live here. Can I come snoop around the inside of your house?”

I was actually the most curious about one piece of wood molding. There was a door that divided the kitchen from the hall of the house, and the side molding of that door would be a cherished piece of memorabilia for me. For it was on that door where my mother documented our growth every year, carving the wood with a steak knife and marking it with an ink pen. If the subsequent owners hadn’t done anything as far as remodeling to the house…could that still be there?

There are two yards on the street that are still kept up and nice. I know, for a fact, that two long-time residents still live there…in their eighties, but still kicking. That is the one thing I have trouble understanding sometimes….why does poor have to go hand in hand with trashy or unkempt? It doesn’t….but I still try not to judge because even a lawn mower and gas cost money. Who knows, the occupants of my old home might be choosing between gas and groceries this week….right?

The shopping center about 3 blocks up the road used to have a beautiful theater, back when they only had one screen per building. There was also a pizza place, a five and dime, and a drug store called the Super-X. Now there is a car parts store, and a convienence mart that sells liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Most of the units in the shopping center are vacant and grass grows up between the cracks in the parking lot.

I thought back to walking the isles of that five and dime store called M.E. Moses. The manager wore a suit and tie and was a surly looking guy that reminded me of Ed Sullivan. I used to imagine him announcing my name as we entered the store, just like on the TV show. Now shopping in isle 2…a tom-boy that can hit a fast ball and knows good jokes….plus we have The Beatles…a reeeeally gooood shoooow for you tonight!

I usually bought caps for my pistol, along with long, flat taffy and jaw-breakers. I also bought a Mickey Mouse watch there one day in 1973 that I still have today. The kids that now live in my house will never know the joy of a true five and dime….you could actually buy a sack of candy for a dime! My mother would always give me a quarter for her candy of choice…she went for the good stuff….a Cherry Mash, remember those?

If I could give one thing to all the kids in my hometown today, it would be the kind of environment I had growing up. The feeling of safety…peace in your mind, good food in your stomach. Touch football in the street, bikes and go-carts, yo-yo’s, pretend pizza in the bushes…..forgetting to go inside to watch 3 TV channels because you were having the time of your life outside. You know the time I am talking about right? When a large drink at McDonald’s was what they call a small now. That childhood is the recipe for creating well-adjusted adults my friends…..I chuckle when I write that because I had that and there are days when I feel my grip on sanity slipping…but I maintain because of that foundation!

I sat there under the shade tree and daydreamed a little before departing. I imagined The Rascals singing the song Groovin and children playing in the background. My sister Junene says to me, “hey, I found .65 cents in Dad’s recliner, wanna go up the street?” My mother is yelling something at me and standing at the front door with the fly swatter in her hand. Yeah, I say..the store sounds like a good idea! We should probably buy mother a Cherry Mash I tell Junene….I used her good dishes for my breakfast run in the bushes this morning! The smell of fresh-cut grass is in the air as we jump on our bikes and peddle our getaway.

Mr. Wolfe was right…you can’t go home, but you can briefly visit if you are a professional, middle-aged daydreamer like myself. I drove back to my office still thinking about that piece of wood molding….maybe one day I will get the nerve to knock on that door. Maybe the new occupant is a scruffy little tom-boy that likes to cook Italian dishes in the bushes and shoot cap guns…odds are she is into Beyonce and Justin Bieber and spends all day texting, never venturing outside….but a girl can still daydream. Anything is possible on Oak Street.