Two years undercover: Copyright 1-4992347791
In the fall of ’77, I was finishing my second year on patrol. I was lucky and had made arrests in a couple of cases. Catching a serial rapist gained the attention of Chief J. Kenneth Lanigan. J.K. would be the last Chief of Police under the old form of government in Shreveport. Retired Deputy Fire Chief Terry Hayes, his boss, was the last Commissioner of Public Safety. Hayes was over both police and fire departments.
I worked downtown as part time security at United Jewelers on my off days. One day a store clerk approached and handed me a copy of the Shreveport Times. She pointed to a news article and said, “Congratulations. You made the paper.” The S.P.D. grapevine rumored J.K. would shake up things within his department when he took the reins from former Chief T.P. Kelly. Chief Kelly was under Commissioner George W. D’Artois, the man who hired me as a cop.
Note: Former Shreveport Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize nominee, Bill Keith, is the man I consider the true expert regarding Mr. D’Artois and his reported connection to the mafia and other criminal enterprises. Although I know much about this story, I am not able to improve on what Bill Keith published under his title “The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death.”
I scanned the news story and saw J.K. moved 13 people in S.P.D. to new positions. I was moved from patrol services to the office of O.C.I. (Organized Crime & Intelligence). The commander of this division was Lt. Robert Merolla. His predecessor was Sam Burns. Burns was promoted from the rank of Captain to Major and transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division, commonly known as the Detective Office.
Even though I was off for my three days, I reported to my new office the next day. I met Lt. Merolla. I was to report to duty the next day on evening shift. I linked up with my former field training officer, D.E. Stevens, Bobby Wyche, Donnie Gray, Mark Johnson and Russell Stroude. Mark and Russell were rookie classmates of mine. We became a team. We worked together on vice cases. I learned all about bootleggers, prostitutes, organized crime syndicates, motorcycle gangs and other hate groups such as the Klan and the black panthers.
I was a little disappointed at becoming a vice detective. Sure I was happy to be one of the fresh faces in a division with a long history/rumors of corruption. My heart was set on becoming a criminal investigator/detective. Nevertheless, I eagerly accepted my new assignment. I planned to spend the shortest time necessary in O.C.I. and do a good job. Hopefully, one day I would be a real detective. It seemed J.K. was doing his best to clean up the image of O.C.I. The bag men had not gone out of business. They had gone under the surface and were not as open with the payoffs they collected from illegal gambling houses, whore houses, drug dealers and neighborhood grocery and liquor stores who sold alcohol on Sundays and after hours. I did not know where the cash filled sacks were now delivered but knew the practice continued.
There were indicators it still existed. For example, if a store owner failed to cooperate with the bag men, we to were instructed hire undercover citizens, called snitches. They went into the store in question on Sundays to attempt to make a liquor purchase. We did not work any vice cases unless our Lt. gave his approval to proceed. All cases assigned came from his desk. I am not saying my Lt. was dirty or involved with the bag men. He probably was directed by someone above him to focus on certain vice targets. I suspected he was directed by another chain of command and division. We hid listening devices on our informant and recorded the transactions made with marked money provided from our petty cash account. We transported the liquor to the crime lab to prove it was alcohol. We arrested the store owner and the case went to city court. Many cases never made it to trial. I suspect store owners saw the writing on the wall and made payments again to the bag men.
I knew of several gambling houses but was not allowed to go after them. When I pushed the subject, I learned the owner of the games was often a C.I. (confidential informant). When a major crime occurred such as murder or armed robbery, the criminal detectives could solve the case quickly and arrest the suspect with information gathered from the C.I. I accepted this as a necessary evil. In order to get the names of murderers and robbers, we overlooked the petty misdemeanors of gambling and prostitution. To many cops back then, it seemed worth it. I came to tolerate it.
After a few boring months of working whore cases and Sunday liquor violations, I grew frustrated with my new job. I wanted to arrest really bad people. Lt. Merolla was cool. He listened to our team as we designed an undercover intelligence program. He approved its implementation.
Donnie Gray and I were selected to go undercover and gather important intelligence information. We grew out our hair and wore jeans and t-shirts. We carried our handguns inside our cowboy boots. We created fake Texas driver licenses and addresses. We bought a chocolate brown, ’73 Pontiac Catalina 2-door sedan and attached a set of Texas tags. It had no police radio or anything connecting it to S.P.D. Each night Donnie and I took money from our petty cash account and went to beer joints frequented by known criminals. We were expected to drink beer, smoke cigarettes, play pool with thugs and build friendships with them. I was having the time of my life. I was an undercover cop paid to shoot pool and drink beer. It was right up my alley. The first week working undercover, I learned the most paranoid people on earth were dopers and undercover cops. I rank cops as being the most paranoid. It took me a few weeks to calm down and become the fake Texan I claimed to be. On a rare occasion, someone would call me Pat. I quickly told them that was not my name. If they insisted I was Pat McGaha, I gave them my fake name and pulled out my official looking Texas driver license to convince them they were mistaken. It only happened a couple of times. They went away saying, “Damn man. You look like a guy named Pat McGaha I went to school with. “I laughed with them and said, “Well, I’ve always heard everyone has a twin.”
Donnie and I were successful at times. We got in with a group of burglars. With the help of burglary detectives, we busted them and their fences recovering numerous stolen guns, fishing tackle, jewelry and new appliances taken from new homes under construction.
My pool shooting improved to the point I made around $100 cash each night betting on my games. I was still loving this undercover game I was playing. One night Donnie and I were in the West Wood club drinking and playing pool. We spotted a guy we suspected was wanted on numerous warrants. I introduced myself and got his name. As the bar closed, I invited him to meet me for a few games of pool the next night. I laughed with him that I would buy all his beer because I intended to take all his money. He enjoyed the banter and said he would buy my beer instead. Later that night, Donnie and I slipped through the back door to Central Records at S.P.D. undetected. We were searching for the warrants and photos of this suspect. An officer, about half crazy and taken off the streets for his own good and the good of the citizens of Shreveport, was riding the desk. He walked over to challenge us.
“You two are rookies, right?”
“Well, not any more.”
“We are vice detectives now.”
“Oh really? You on duty now?”
“Yep, sure are.”
“You been drinking on duty?”
“Yep, sure have.”
“Well, I’m going to have to report you!”
“Go right ahead man. It’s part of our job”
“No way. We have rules against drinking on duty! And I’m going to bust your asses!”
Things went down hill from there. We grabbed the warrants and photos and headed for the door. The hyperactive records officer followed demanding to see our police I.D.’s so he could write his report. We refused and hit the door to the back parking lot. He followed us to our Catalina, pulled out a pocket notepad and wrote down our fake Texas tag number. He thought he had us.
The next morning my boss called me at home to chew my butt for being stupid enough to come to records after drinking. I tried to explain why but he was not in the mood to listen. He instructed me to stay away from the station at all times. When I needed cash, I was to meet one of our team members on the streets. At that point I had to start carrying my talkie so I could link up with team members. Going forward, we stashed our handhelds in the trunk beneath the spare tire. For over a year, I never set foot in the confines of S.P.D.
Working undercover took its toll on us. The newness wore off. Donnie went back to the team. Mark Johnson replaced him. I was energized working with Mark. He had been a bull rider, a true blue redneck from Winnfield, LA., and a former Marine Drill instructor during the years I served as a tanker. We were roommates in the academy at L.S.U. He could out drink me any night. He was fun. We enjoyed gathering good information we fed to detectives and narcotics. Our work paid off. Our efforts resulted in numerous felony arrests.
One day I was requested to report to the office to attend a briefing on a motorcycle gang murder. I slipped in the back door unnoticed and sat down with the other team members. Lt. Merolla read an intelligence report from El Paso, Texas P.D. A motorcycle gang hit had taken place in that city. He provided the name, physical description and mode of travel of the gang member hit-man. He was a white male with long, reddish blonde hair, 6’4″, 260 lbs riding a black Harley. It was believed he was heading to Shreveport to hide out. The notice was received before lunch that day. I was briefed around 3:00 p.m. I went home and washed my orange Jeep C-J-5. It had a removable cloth top and a factory V-8, 307 engine with a 3 speed manual transmission. I installed twin thrush mufflers on it and loved the loud rumble of the pipes.
I removed the top and took her for a spin. I picked up Spike Prokopf. We eased around the streets of Southwestern Shreveport on that lovely summer evening. We were near Old Highway 80 and Flournoy Lucas Road. I drove west intending to ease over to Waskom, Texas for a cold beer. I spotted a lone Harley motorcycle heading eastbound. He was well below the posted speed limit with a chick on the back of his bike. Louisiana did not have a helmet law then. I zeroed in on his appearance. He had long, reddish blonde hair, easily weighed over 250 lbs and was over 6’0′. He also had a Texas tag on the back. I told Spike about the wanted hit-man as I reached under my seat for my police talkie.
I flipped it on and called for a marked unit near my location. Ronald E. Dean was another good friend of ours and fellow classmate in the academy. Ron answered my request for assistance. I told him about the hit-man and the suspect Spike and I had under observation. We gave Ron our location and direction of travel. Soon Ron rolled passed us. I was a quarter mile behind the biker keeping a safe distance not wanting to get burned. Ron pulled in behind the biker and flipped on his overhead lights. The guy pulled over and got off the bike while the chick remained seated. I knew Ron was at least 6’1″. When the biker stood in front of Ron, I could see the biker was several inches taller. Spike and I were both armed and ready in case the stop went bad. We would not let Ron get hurt by the big brute.
Ron radioed the suspect’s vital information. I listened and wrote down his name, address, DOB and other information as we parked some distance behind the stop. Headquarters notified Ron there were no wants or warrants on the biker. Ron cut him loose without any hassle or tickets. As soon as the biker rumbled away, Spike and I rolled up to Ron and visited for awhile.
About a month later, I was riding around town with Donnie Gray in the old brown Catalina. We were going west on W. 70th at Linwood when headquarters hit the alert tone on the radio system. Only major calls were broadcast after the tone. We listened. The operator advised all officers in the vicinity of Charlie’s Lounge on W. 70th a shooting had been reported.
Officer Roy Don Watts announced he was a block from the call and would advise. He was at the scene moments later and radioed all responding officers to disregard. He stated there was a shooting but the suspect and victim left the scene before he arrived. Roy Don was a great officer and often drove the south paddy wagon. He was smaller, like me, but would fight a chainsaw at the drop of a hat. S.P.D. brass rode us hard back then because of officer involved accidents. Most often we crashed as we rolled through red lights while responding to major calls for service. Roy was sensitive to this effort. This is one of the reasons he told backup officers to disregard.
We learned the suspect in the shooting rode an old Harley. After he shot the victim, he tried to get away from the lounge but his bike would not start. He rolled it across the street into the bushes near Oak Terrace Junior High School and slipped away on foot.
I was driving that night. I slowed down and waited at the light at W.70th and Mansfield. The alert tone sounded again. Headquarters announced an injury accident at Hearne Avenue and Hollywood. Seconds later an officer announced he was on scene and needed a Shreveport Fire Department ambulance to his location. He informed all officers off duty officer, Ron Dean, had been shot by a big, blonde biker at Charlie’s Lounge. He stated the suspect was armed with a large, chrome plated revolver. The accident involved a friend of Ron’s who was transporting him to the hospital at the time of the crash.
Ron’s gunshot wound was so severe, the officers on the scene loaded him into the back seat of a police unit to rush him to the E.R.
Donnie and I realized the likely suspect. We knew he was on foot trying to make it to the biker safe house. We knew the exact location of the house and radioed officers to cordon every city block near the home. We did not want the suspect to get to the house and flee Shreveport. The perimeter was quickly set up while officers searched the Sunset Acres streets for the big, blonde biker on foot.
Glenn Schach rolled into the parking lot of the Bayou Club on Mansfield Road near Valley View. It was a nasty dive a few blocks from Charlie’s Lounge. Glenn was a street savvy cop. He was serious about encountering the man who just shot one of our brother officers. He opened the door and looked across the dark beer joint. Seated in plain sight was William Steven Light AKA Wheeler, a known motorcycle gang member. The same man Ron stopped a month earlier for Spike and me. Wheeler was smart to go to a crowded bar with plenty of witnesses. His pistol was discarded near the scene of the shooting. When Glenn entered the bar with his weapon in his hand, Light placed both of his hands flat on the table. Glenn cautiously approached Wheeler and placed the barrel of his S&W, model 66, 357 caliber pistol to the back of his head. Glenn whispered, “Move one muscle and you are a dead man!” Wheeler froze. Seconds later other officers arrived. They kept aim on Wheeler as Glenn cuffed and searched him. He was taken to jail and booked for attempted murder.
I learned from Detective Jackie Lewis, one of the lead investigators in Ron’s case, Ron was off duty as reported. He and two civilian buddies attended a wedding party near Cross Lake at an apartment complex clubhouse. They left for another party across town in the eastern part of our city. They needed a restroom break and a beer. They pulled into the gravel parking lot of a dive bar called Charlie’s Lounge. Paying no attention to several Harleys parked near the front door, they entered and walked to the bar to place their orders.
Wheeler and his scummy gang members were seated in the back of the dive and spotted Ron. Wheeler recognized Ron as being the officer who stopped him. Wheeler knew he was off duty. Wheeler decided to confront Ron. I understand Wheeler may have pushed or swung on Ron. Knowing Ron Dean, he would defend himself. I heard Ron whipped Wheeler and knew it was time to leave the bar. Ron and his two unarmed friends hurried to the tan, early 70’s model Buick Regal trying to disengage the motorcycle gang members. Wheeler ran to his Harley, reached in his saddlebag and withdrew a 44 caliber pistol. As the Regal backed out of the parking space, Wheeler ran to the car and shot Ron through the small passenger opera window striking him in his head. The driver in Ron’s car did his best to save Ron. He was involved in the accident at Hollywood as he raced up Hearne Avenue. Ron died shortly after arriving at L.S.U.M.C.
Within days after the murder of Ron Dean, the motorcycle gang packed up and moved to another city.
Wheeler was found guilty of 2nd degree murder. It was not 1st degree murder because Ron was off duty at the time he was killed. Several of us at S.P.D. lobbied to have Ron’s murder listed as “in the line of duty”. We worked hard to convince the board of directors over the U.S. Police Memorial in Washington D.C. to include Ron’s name on the National Monument. After a lengthy debate, sometimes heated on my part, Ron’s memory was denied this honor.
Shortly after Ron’s death, I went back to patrol. I was almost an alcoholic drinking five nights a week for two years. I never drank on my off days. I wanted to sober up and clear my head. For me, the fun was over as an undercover officer. I needed to be grounded again. I went back to patrol, my home, for a year or so.
It is confusing for people when they hear about the death of officer Ronald E. Dean. We actually lost two officers named Ronald E. Dean. Years after my friend’s death, we lost a member of the Jumpout Boys on a drug raid at Pines Apartment Complex in the 7900 block of Line Avenue in Cedar Grove. The second Ron Dean was on duty when killed. He was one of the first officers through the front door of the apartment being raided. The suspect in that case knew beforehand about the raid and concealed himself .
When Ron crashed through the front door, he was bent over in a low football, blocking position. The suspect fired his weapon at Ron. The bullet struck him near his collar bone, an inch or so from his protective vest. The round entered his chest and killed him within minutes. Later in my series, I will tell detailed stories of the eight officers/friends that were lost during my career.
With my sincere respect to both Ronald E. Dean’s friends and family members, they were loved and part of our family within S.P.D. May both of these men never be forgotten. They were great men and cops. We miss them to this day.