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My 50 Year Anniversary in Law Enforcement - Part 2

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  • My 50 Year Anniversary in Law Enforcement - Part 2

    Continued from Part 1

    Blacks and Mexicans flat out did not get along together in this town. The was particularly evident at the intersection of 11th & E Streets. On the south side sat the Blue Front Pool Room and Jettie Mae Harper’s Soul Food Café, both Black establishments. On the north side sat La Alegria, a Mexican bar. The PD frequently got calls there involving fights between the two groups.

    At about 7 PM on a Friday night, my Sergeant and I were sitting in our patrol car at 11th & E Streets. We watched a group of Black males walk into La Alegria. A few seconds later they came running out the door and as they did, a literal wall of bottle came flying after them. It was like watching something in a cartoon, seeing all those bottles suspended in midair. My Sergeant radioed in that there was a disturbance at 11th & E and requested assistance. Sensing the potential volatility of the situation, he approached the Black males, told them to give him their names and addresses, to point out who threw the bottles, that he would take care of things for them and they wouldn’t have to get their hands dirty. One person spoke for all when he said, “I ain’t givin you my name, I ain’t givin you my address, I’m goin in there and killin the MF that did this!” He and his “associates” then ran into the bar.

    My sergeant and I followed, but immediately I was pinned to the wall by six Black males who seemed to come out of nowhere. As I looked across the bar, I saw my sergeant pinned to the wall on the opposite side of the room by another six Black males. Lying in the middle of the floor was a Mexican male whose head was being stomped on by the guy who had the bottles thrown at him. There was little I could do at the time but get my baton up and hold people off me. I could see my Sergeant doing the same. To this day I do not remember what happened after that. I just remember walking out the front door of La Alegria and seeing multiple officers outside. Who got those guys off me or how I got out of there is a complete blank.

    The situation had fallen apart outside. Blacks had lined up on one side of the intersection and Mexicans on the other. Each was shouting insults and throwing rocks and bottles at each other with us in the middle. By now, we had every on and off duty officer from the department present, including reserves, but it wasn’t enough.

    Back then, there weren’t such things as automatic door locks on cars. Prisoners couldn’t get out from the inside of the patrol car, but anyone could open the back door from the outside. The fighting was intense and when someone was bad enough to be arrested, we didn’t have time enough to cuff him, so they just got tossed in the back seat of a patrol car. However, we were so outnumbered that we had no one to guard the cars and prisoners, and keep ourselves safe at the same time, so a minute or so after someone was put behind the cage, a member of the mob would come around and let them loose. I don’t remember how many people we arrested that night, but by the time everything was over, no one was in custody.

    We put out a mutual aid call for assistance, for what it was worth. The nearest town was 10 miles away and they only had two cars on, They sent one unit. There was another town 10 miles away in the other direction with just two unit on, but they declined to assist. There was a big city 30 miles away. Their PD did not respond, but the SO did, with some deputies driving 120+ MPH, several blowing engines and leaving abandoned patrol cars littering the freeway.

    After two hours, we hadn’t made much headway. As we took stock, we realized we were spending our resources to protect the smaller Mexican group, who was using us as a shield while they egged the Blacks on by calling them names and throwing thing at them. Our sergeant went to the Mexican group and told them we were withdrawing in 15 minutes and if they were still there, they were on their own to defend themselves. They left and we left. I wish someone had thought of this earlier. The following day, warrants were issued for all those who could be identified as having participated, and a round up began.

    We were a fairly rural community, 30 miles from the nearest big city. The Sheriff’s Department had a small substation next door. Two of the Deputies we worked with most often were Odie Lee and TC. From the names alone, you kind of get the idea as to what they two were like.

    One evening Odie Lee and TC went in pursuit of a motorcycle, headed out of town into the desert on a two lane highway. Back then motorcycles couldn’t go as fast as they do now, but patrol cars were very fast. They chased him at 120 MPH for about 20 miles before they got bored. The motorcycle was maxed out, but the patrol car had a lot more speed left. Back then, plastic batons has just been invented to replace wooden ones and Odie Lee was one of the first to get one. TC eased the patrol car up beside the motorcycle. Odie Lee took his plastic baton, aimed it like a spear and tossed it into the spokes of the bike’s front wheel. The motorcycle came to an immediate halt. The rider did not.

    TC, the other Deputy, was skilled at goading people into taking a swing at him. 1969 was back before the time of Kel lights (steel flashlights) and TC used to carry one of those long aluminum lights that held five D cells. Whenever someone tried to hit him, he always struck the offending arm with his flashlight. This usually caused two things to happen. First, the flashlight would wrap around the suspect’s arm. The resulting force would cause the flashlight’s endcap to blow off and batteries to come flying out all over the place. The other thing was that it often broke the suspect’s arm. He would then pull away what was left of the flashlight and thrust its head into the suspect’s chin, breaking the glass and embedding it into his jaw. The sheriff’s department had a policy of compensating deputies for equipment damaged in the line of duty, but TC had lost so many flashlights this way that the Sheriff personally issued an order saying this particular deputy will not receive any more flashlight reimbursements.

    One hot summer night I spotted a sheriff’s unit parked in the alley behind the jail and a deputy crouched by one of the jail cell windows. As I approached I heard him whispering insults through the window to the prisoner inside. It seems that prisoner was a very cantankerous drunk he had booked in a little while earlier. In the other cell was another drunk. The deputy was whispering insults, making his drunk think the other drunk was challenging him and pitting the two against each other while separated by their cells. By now he had both worked up to the point that they were shouting insults and threatening each other with grievous bodily harm. I reminded him that in the morning, I had to drive both of them, uncuffed, to breakfast. The deputy stopped.

    The interesting thing was, while none of this crap would have been accepted in a metro area, all the conduct I’ve described by the police and the court appeared to have been accepted by this local community as justice and a normal way of life. The word Karma was not in anyone’s vocabulary back then, but folks seemed to understand the concept. If someone was the subject of a humbug arrest or court sentence, most accepted it as catching up for something they previously did but never got caught for. They just pled guilty the next morning and moved on with life. No one filed complaints, or initiated lawsuits, or went to the press. It was just their way of doing things. I sometimes think you could have falsely arrested someone for the assassination of President Kennedy and he would have pled guilty the next morning because he thought it got him even for something else he got away with in the past.

    For me, working there was like having gone back in time yet another 50 years prior to 1969. I’d moved here from the big city and been raised in a professional police family. Clearly this was not the place for me. Granted, I was young and this was my first job in law enforcement, but this place – particularly the mindset of the community – scared the crap out of me. Fortunately, I had been on the eligible list for the state and during my time in this small town I’d turned down two job offers from them. I had one job offer left before my name would be removed from the state list. When it came, I took the job, was gone in flash and moved another 300 miles to the State Capitol.

    I learned that the city later disbanded the police department and the county sheriff took over policing the community, absorbing some (but not all) of the local officers. The bullies on the department were refused employment by the sheriff. One bully went on to develop a serious substance abuse problem (both drugs and alcohol) along with his continued propensity for violence. The last I heard he had been arrested numerous times and had a warrant out for his arrest. The Chief quit after a squabble with the City Council and went on to be a patrolman at a city college PD. His replacement was hired by the Sheriff as a Sergeant and sent to work in the jails. The Lieutenant was hired as a Deputy and assigned to work as an FTO. He was then fired after soliciting sex from his female trainee. The only officer who seemed to do good was one I worked with briefly. They SO took him as a Deputy and he finished his career as a Bailiff in the courts.

    As previously mentioned, I moved on to work for the state. My first night was an eye opener. I came into graveyard roll call to find around 15 officers waiting to hit the streets. This was much better that my old department where on graveyard it was just me, the dispatcher and sometimes a second officer. The Sergeant, a scruffy looking guy who looked like he’d seen his share of action began his briefing. He said (and to this day I remember it verbatim), “OK men, go out on your beats. If you see trouble, walk the other way. If you can’t walk fast enough, I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want any reports coming in at end of watch. Carry your Citizen’s Arrest cards with you.”

    My heart sunk. Immediately I looked around to see if they were handing out blinders with the radios. I then began to wonder if all this was just a very long, very strange dream and waited for the music from the Twilight Zone and the voice of Rod Serling to start playing in the background.

    Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

  • #2
    I love these old stories.
    I make my living on Irish welfare.

    Comment


    • #3
      The 70's were a different way of policing.

      I understand you started in 1969 and these stories were from there but when I started in 1976 (in October I will start my 43rd year.....still semi active in LE ) it wasn't much different..

      I had a discussion with an old colleague Monday night about "the old days" and some of the old timers from when WE started.... Wehad a Sgt who started in the profession in 1945...............in the 60's he was placed on the desk because he was too hard (read violent) on the public. Can you imagine what he had to do to get demoted from LT to Sgt and placed on a desk in the 60's !!!!!!!
      Since some people need to be told by notes in crayon .......Don't PM me with without prior permission. If you can't discuss the situation in the open forum ----it must not be that important

      My new word for the day is FOCUS, when someone irritates you tell them to FOCUS

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      • #4
        I could read these all day everyday.

        It gives us new guys a better idea of what it was like back then compared to now. Even senior guys in my agency who long for the good old days don’t paint it as well as you did L-1. Then again, old days to them are 25-30 years ago, not 50.

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