Street crime short stories # 7
I was riding Queensborough on graveyard patrol. My regularly assigned police unit was in the police garage out of service. A story for a later date. All spare police units were on the streets. The desk Sergeant assigned me the semi marked unit belonging to Lt. Woods for my shift. I was given strict orders to take care of it. Lt. Woods was off duty until the next night. I promised the sergeant I would be careful. As I opened the basement door leading to the marked units, I heard him say under his breath, “Yeah right, McGaha”.
I loaded my gear into the nice Crown Vic. It was low mileage and still had the new car smell. I liked driving it. It was not equipped with big bar lights on the roof. This allowed me to cruise closer to the street thugs at night. The big roof lights were dead giveaways. The thugs spotted them blocks away.
It was a summer Saturday night. The street calls were buzzing. I responded to family fights, prowler calls, silent burglar alarms and countless gun shots fired. Every 30 minutes it seemed headquarters alerted us of gun shots fired on various corners. I rolled on several. By the time I arrived on the scene, the suspects had vanished.
I always kept my driver and front passenger windows rolled down with the A.C. cranked high. I wanted to hear sounds of guns being fired, glass breaking or women screaming. It was common for me to inform headquarters of these things. I initiated multiple cases of women screaming because of attacks by a boyfriend. I really struggled to follow departmental procedures in these domestic abuse cases. If an officer hears a woman being beaten, he should radio the address to headquarters and wait outside for a backup officer to arrive. I hated standing on the sidewalk near my unit waiting for my beat partner to rush to my location. Meanwhile I could hear a woman being battered. Usually I disobeyed this policy and rushed in the house alone. I never really got in trouble for this but I did get my butt chewed out several times.
I would pull the dude off the lady, handcuff him and start escorting him to my unit for transport to the city jail. Often the lady begged and pleaded with me to release him. I never understood this behavior. He had just severely beaten her and now she wanted me to let him go.
Around midnight I was slowly driving north on Exposition Avenue from Greenwood Road. I heard a couple of gunshots nearby and drove in that direction. As I approached W. College near the Caddo Parish Job Corps, I noticed a young female running south on the west sidewalk of Exposition. When she saw my unit, she waved her arms in the air signaling me. I eased up and opened my door. I put my left foot on the pavement and kept my right foot in the car. I held the door open and left my engine running. She was out of breath as she told me what was happening. She pointed up the street at a man on the same sidewalk. He was in his early 20’s wearing dark pants and a red t-shirt.
She yelled, “That dude is shooting at street lights and scaring folks.” I reached inside my unit and grabbed my radio mic to alert headquarters of call for service.
“Headquarters, I’ve been flagged down on Exposition and Darien Street. Lady is pointing at a male one block north of me on the west sidewalk near Job Corps. He’s wearing black pants and red t-shirt. Lady states he has been firing a pistol. Roll backup this way. Clear the channel for me.”
I got back into Lt. Woods’ new unit. I pulled my pistol from my hip holster, kept my seatbelt detached and held my left hand on the door handle. I steered with my right hand while holding the pistol to the wheel.
I slowly eased along the street as I closed in on him. As I drew closer, I knew backup was only a few blocks away. I was about 200 feet away from him when he glanced over his shoulder at me. He stopped for a moment. I hit the brakes thinking he would fire on me. I wanted to be out of the unit if he did. I did not want glass fragments splattering into my face from the windshield.
He quickly bolted west on to the Job Corps campus. The training center was surrounded with fencing. He blasted through an open pedestrian gate. I turned west and drove parallel to him on W. College. As I reached the next street bordering the campus, he darted across and ran into what was once a usable, gravel covered alley way.
Years earlier the city stopped picking up garbage from residential alley ways. They now collected it from the front of houses. The alley was abandoned by the city. It was a jungle. I saw massive Wisteria growth had nearly closed off the alley access. The suspect was from the neighborhood. He knew there was a cave like opening in the giant Wisteria bush. People often used this as a pass through. He was about 100 feet away from me. I immediately forgot my promise to the desk sergeant. I smashed through the jungle wall in the fairly new Crown Vic. I snagged several wisteria vines with my spotlights attached to both sides of the windshield. I dragged them through the alley. My headlights lit him up. He was still about 100 feet ahead of me. The weeds were overgrown and came to the height of my front bumper. Laying in the alley blocking my path were several old metal and plastic trashcans, a broken down Big wheel trike for kids and other trash the neighbors had tossed.
I continued forward. Trashcans glanced off my bumper. I crushed the old yellow Big Wheel as I bounced along in my pursuit. When he reached the third or fourth backyard, he hooked a left. This lot did not have a back fence. He dashed across the lawn and jumped a little red wagon. There were all types of children’s toys scattered about. I was thankful it was late at night and these kids were in bed.
He was heading to the right side of the old house built on pier and beams. Only a narrow driveway ran along side the house, no carport or garage. I dodged swings and rounded a big oak tree. He was almost to the sidewalk heading for the street. I gassed the unit and caught him in the middle of the street at a full run. I rammed him with the front of the unit. He bounced into the air in front of me. The impact startled him. He landed in the driveway directly across the street. The two driveways were directly across from each other. I did not need to turn. I drove down one, crossed the street and into the other. The suspect was on the ground scrambling to get his feet under him. I slammed on the brakes, shoved the shifter in park, opened my door and rocketed to the front of my unit. I left my door open and the motor running. We struggled with one another but I had the upper hand. He was still on the ground. I was on top of him. His hands were visible and I did not see his pistol. I planted my knee into his lower back and locked his arm behind him. I applied pressure and convinced him to bring the other one around for cuffing.
We were inches from the front bumper of my unit when he spoke the words I will never forget.
“There go ur car man!” The suspect hoped I would release him and go after my car. His hands were cuffed behind his back. He still could run. I did not want to chase him any longer.
I looked over my shoulder. At first I thought someone was stealing my unit. I then realized no one was behind the wheel. The car had popped out of park and slid into reverse. The engine was idling. The car was rolling backwards into the street. I was forced to make a quick decision. Let the handcuffed suspect free and chase down my unit or hold him until backup arrived to lend a hand. I elected to hold the suspect. Together we watched the unit creep down the driveway and up the one across the street. The driver’s door was completely open. The car seemed to be traveling about three miles per hour. I hoped the door would catch the corner of the house and stop without doing any damage. Wrong!
The engine kept up the momentum. The car door hit the house and extended as far as the door stop allowed. Then the stop broke and the door gave way. Soon the door was against the left front fender. The left spotlight was broken off and the fender was dented. The car continued down the side of the house making an awful scraping sound. The homeowner turned on the lights and came out to his front porch. He did not see the suspect and me on the ground across the street. He looked down the side of his house and yelled at the car to stop.
Finally the car was free of the house and headed for the big oak tree in the backyard. The homeowner saw there was no driver. He ran to the car in his undershorts, reached inside and slammed the gear shifter in park. He turned off the ignition. I yelled at him.
“Hey mister, over here!”
He waved and went back inside his house. Moments later he came out wearing dress slacks. He walked up to me wanting to know what was going on.
Once I explained to him what happened, he calmed down. Back up officers arrived and helped me pat down the suspect for the pistol. Inside his waistband under his shirt was a old, rusty Colt 38 caliber, six shot revolver. I opened the cylinder and saw four rounds had been fired. Two live rounds were still in the gun.
I spent the next hour at the scene quieting the homeowner, writing my report and waiting for the police wrecker to arrive. I regret telling the back up officers about the suspect saying, “There go ur car man”. By the time I got off duty, every officer on my shift knew this phrase. For weeks my new nickname was. “there go ur car”.
When the wrecker arrived, the mechanic saw the unit number, 102. He asked why this unit was on the streets. It was suppose to be in the garage for a factory recall issue. He said Lt. Woods reported the shifter popped out of park and in reverse. The unit should have been Red Lined or taken out of service and repaired.
I went before the departmental accident review board and received a written letter of instruction. I violated several departmental procedures. 1. I failed to turn off the engine before getting out to arrest the armed suspect. 2. I failed to roll up my windows. 3. I failed to lock the doors. I could have appealed the discipline to the chief’s office but decided to take the petty punishment and put it behind me.
My unit was still in the repair shop the next day. My Lt. assigned me to the paddy wagon. For the next few days of duty, I hauled nasty drunks to jail for other patrol officers. Most of those I transported had vomited or defecated on themselves. The arresting officers would not place them in the rear seats of their units.
I was one happy guy when my unit was released from the repair shop and I was back in her once again on the streets. Cops are an unforgiving lot. For a long time after, fellow officers called me, “there go ur car man!”
Years later I would be known as “Mace McGaha.” When you learn the reasons why, I promise you will be fascinated.