Copyright 1-4992347791 2017
Like many of us, I use terms in my speech and writings and have no idea how they originated. In the U.S. Southern states, we are known for weaving old sayings and cliches into our colorful stories.
Graveyard shift: England is old and small and they ran out of places to bury people. They dug up coffins and took the bones to a “bone house” to reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 were found to have scratch marks on the inside. They realized they were burying people alive. They thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground tied to a bell. Someone would sit in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer.”
I confess to being a romantic and do not deny I love old tales. The true definition, the “graveyard shift”, according to highly educated folks who researched the history of the term, discovered it is not founded in the above story. Regardless, when I use the term, I think of this story because I visualize the setting. Working graveyard shift as a cop or detective was special. It was a challenge, a mystery and a badge we wore proudly.
Day shift detectives were a different breed in my opinion. They were not as dedicated as those of us who worked the graveyard shift. Not to say they were bad cops or they were not dedicating their lives to public service, they just did not place investigations at the top of their lives like the rest of my team. Many worked extra jobs when they clocked off duty each day. They changed their uniforms and headed to the local Malls and Movie Theaters to work security.
The senior detectives enjoyed weekends off. I was junior to most so I worked most Friday and Saturday nights. I enjoyed my shift and loved working with some great investigators. We were a great team. It was common to link up with Bobby Wyche, Glenn Schach, A.J. Price, Chipper Hayes, Danny Fogger, D.E. Stevens and Gary Pittman. Sometimes I worked through the night and was joined by Gary Alderman who most often worked days.
It was mid-March and I was working another weekend in the major crimes unit. I spent that Friday in state court standing around waiting to give my 15 minutes of testimony before I could go home to take a nap before reporting for duty. The early part of my shift that night was uneventful. I typed several supplemental reports on a couple of murders and rapes I investigated the week before. I made a big pot of coffee and chatted with several detectives about their current cases. We often briefed one another on our cases in hopes of getting a different perspective. 24 minutes after midnight, I was in my office about to knock out another report while listening to my police talkie tuned to the patrol channel. When officers were sent to shootings, robberies and other felony calls, I paid attention. Many times I rolled on the call with the street officers before they formally requested a detective. Headquarters sounded the alert tone over the police radio frequency. The female dispatcher alerted officers in the Allendale neighborhood to respond to a reported shooting and stabbing in the 1900 block of Myrtle Street.
I grabbed my gear and headed to my ugly, unmarked detective unit. I flipped on the police radio and informed headquarters I was responding to the shooting call in Allendale. The scene was a mile from the police station and I arrived within moments. When I rounded the corner, I saw flashing red and white lights of a fire engine and a fire ambulance down the street. I pulled up to the scene and stepped beneath the yellow police crime scene tape that blocked citizens from a light blue Chevy Caprice. I spotted the officer in charge of the investigation and approached him. Lenny Bonnette was an up and coming officer. It was clear he would one day become a detective or narcotics investigator. He was known for being a street savvy cop and making good arrests. He was honest, played by the rules of the law and wrote detailed police offense reports. I walked up to Lenny and asked him to give me the run down on the call. Two men had been attacked. One was shot in his left upper shoulder and the other sliced across his ribs below his right armpit. They were inside the ambulance parked nearby.
I always did my best to take a quick recorded statement from gunshot and stabbing victims at the scene in case they did not survive surgery at the hospital. I stepped to the rear of the big, red and white ambulance and tried to open the rear doors so I could climb inside. The young E.M.T. and I had never formally met but over the years we made numerous calls together. When I flipped the handle and pulled the door open a few inches, the E.M.T. stuck out his head and said they were about to pull off as they needed to take the two victims to the E.R. as soon as possible. He told me I could follow them and try to get my statement at the hospital. He pulled the door closed as I stood there. I could see the bottoms of both victims’ shoes through the small windows. Something struck me odd as I studied the large layers of red clay mud caked to their shoes. At the time, men like these two victims, took pride in their footwear. Most often they wore white name brand tennis shoes and took pains to keep them clean. One of the victims was wearing a set of white tennis shoes and the other had on a new set of hiking boots.
The ambulance spun off heading for the state hospital leaving Lenny and me in a cloud of black, diesel smoke. Lenny told me the names of the two wounded men. One was Arthur L. Brown who had been sliced across his ribs and the other was his friend Terrell Porter who had a gunshot wound to his left upper chest. Both were in their early 20’s. Lenny pointed out a third male standing inside the crime scene tape near the blue car. Gregory Means and was with the victims at the time of the attacks. I approached Means and identified myself. I asked what happened and where it occurred.
Means told me he and the other victims were in a dice game in north Shreveport at the Peach Street apartment complex. They were in a breezeway when two men ran up and robbed them. During the robbery, the one armed with a handgun shot Terrell and the other with a large knife cut Arthur Brown. I stopped the interview and pulled out my talkie. I radioed officers in the northern part of town to head to the apartments and search for witnesses and the original crime scene. I told Lenny to keep Means close so I could take him to my office for a more detailed statement. I learned the blue Chevy belonged to a lady by the name of Gay Booty, the girlfriend of Arthur Brown. I found her in the nearby crowd on the sidewalk outside the crime scene tape. I invited her to step into the restricted area to talk. She was a large lady and easy to talk to. She had a lovely smile and was very polite. Her car was the only real evidence or crime scene I had at the time and I needed to process it before I could release it to her. She understood and granted verbal permission for our I.D. officers to proceed. I checked with Lenny and determined my good friend L.L. Jackson would be on the scene in a few minutes.
L.L. was always in a good mood and kept a smile on his face. We hired on S.P.D. at the same time and rode Cedar Grove when we were rookie cops in training. He was a great duck hunter and almost became an ordained minister before becoming a cop. He could quote scriptures from the Bible for hours. I loved L.L. like a brother. Many times on a call he would walk up and give me a big hug. At first, it made me want to run off embarrassed but in time I really did not care who saw him hug me and tell me he loved me.
This night was not a good night for us. When he opened the door to his unmarked crime scene unit, I noticed he had a frown on his face. When he walked up to me, he did not offer a hug or a smile. Instead, he was strictly business. He wanted to know what I had and why he was on the scene. I told him about the dice game, shooting and stabbing information I had and the only real evidence was the car that transported the victims to this location. I told him I sent patrol officers to the Peach Street apartments but they had not reported anything yet.
L.L. asked, “What do you want me to do?”
Just process the car, L.L. I sensed he was angry and it appeared directed at me. I racked my little brain and could not come up with anything I had done to hurt his feelings or offend him.
“What kind of processing do you want?”
I want evidence to a crime, L.L. Search the car and see what you can find.
I was not in the mood for bullshit. I looked him in his eyes and told him to do his job. He wanted to see my search warrant for the car. I told him I did not have one but I had permission from the owner of the car to search and process it.
He stood there looking at me. He then walked to the car and opened the driver’s door. He reached inside the car and collected a pack of Kool cigarettes from the corner of the dash. It was common for people in the ghetto to open their smokes from the bottom. These people tore a small hole in the bottom of the pack and pulled out single cigarettes. I once asked a suspect why he opened his smokes in this manner. It was to prevent dirt and dust from getting on the filter that went in his mouth.
As I waited for L.L. to get in gear, I watched him tear the tiny hole in the smokes making it larger. I was talking to officers searching for a crime scene at the apartments. They talked to several people and no dice game, robbery, shooting or stabbing had taken place in the complex. I looked at L.L. who was still in his bad mood. He turned the smokes upside down and began dumping each cigarette out on the street. He cut his eyes at me and said, “I don’t see any evidence in here.” He tossed the empty pack back on the dash and headed to his car. He opened the trunk and stood there.
I knew the story about the shooting and stabbing was a hoax. I was determined to get the truth out of the victims before the night was over. I was going to rake Means over the coals once I had him alone in my office. L.L. was screwing up the little evidence I had so I joined him in his anger. I called his boss to my scene. Lt. Lawson rolled up moments later and approached me. I gave him a quick run down on the case. L.L. stood by listening to me talk. Lawson was a good guy and close friend of L.L.’s. I could see he was about to stand up for L.L.’s lack of performance on my scene. I cut him off.
I said, “Lt., I have one man shot, one man stabbed, a witness who is lying to me. I only have this car to go on right now. So here is what I want. I want you to make L.L. do his f……….g job. I want this car processed completely. If there is evidence, I want it collected and sent to the lab for processing. If you and L.L. are not willing to work this scene, then pack your gear and get out of my crime scene. If you leave, I will call the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s office crime scene guys to come and handle this case. If you do not do your job, and if you try to mess up my crime scene, I will arrest you both for interfering in a felony investigation!”
Lawson was caught off guard but he knew I would put him and L.L. in jail if they destroyed evidence on my crime scene. He thought about what I said and turned to walk L.L. away for a private conversation. I watched them walk to L.L.’s car. L.L. waved his arms in the air and raised his voice. I do not know to this day why he was in a bad mood or was perhaps pissed at me. Lawson talked to him a few minutes and he did as he was told. He returned to the blue Chevy and started shining his flashlight around. I asked Miss Booty for the car keys so I could open the trunk.
As the trunk popped up, L.L. called my name.
“Hey Pat! I found a big bloody skinning knife under the driver’s seat!”
I shined my flashlight in the trunk area and saw a giant cowboy hat. It clearly did not belong to some boys from the hood. It was bent and fashioned in a way only cowboys did. It had an expensive feather headband with a small Justin boot and Rebel Flag pendants on it. When I saw the rebel flag, there was no doubt it belonged to a white man, not a black boy from the ghetto. I saw a large, damp, blood smear on the top, as if whoever placed the hat in the trunk had blood on his hands. Near the hat was a pair of men’s cowboy boots. The upper portions of the boots had damp blood smears inside. It was clear someone had bloody fingers and thumb as they lifted the boots and placed them in the car.
Suddenly L.L. was himself again. He was excited to find the knife. He knew the importance of the knife blade and handle covered in damp blood. This did not fit the story Means was telling. We also found a western style belt in the trunk. It was for a large man, much larger than Means and his two buddies. This did not match the styles worn in ghetto neighborhoods. It was a white man’s cowboy belt. L.L. took numerous photos of the items before he collected them. He placed each item in large, brown paper sacks and wrote the case information on the bag with a sharpie pen. I felt things were breaking in my direction as I loaded Means into my ugly unit and headed to my office. I wanted Means to worry so I did not say a word, nor did he. I saw his face and knew he was deep in thought. I knew he was altering his story as I drove.
When I reached the office, I gave him a seat in my small windowless office, my cave. I let him sit alone for a while so he would worry his story was coming undone.
I checked around for a team member in the division offices who would be a good partner to help me break down Means story. I was disappointed to learn all the good members were tied up on other active cases. The only guy left was Smoke. When I stepped in his cave, he was on the phone with some woman I am sure. He got off the phone and asked what I needed. I sat down and gave him every detail on my case. I told him Means was lying and I suspected they had robbed some white guy, took his personal belongings and left him somewhere. I hated I was stuck with Smoke. I did not respect him. He should never have been promoted to detective. He was another good ole boy liked by the brass. He did write good reports but lacked the common sense, the gut instincts, the ability to read body language and facial expressions when he interrogated people. He was a weak guy that belonged on the streets in uniform. I knew there were many young officers on the streets that could have become great detectives. Smoke held a position that should go to one of them.
I took the lead and went though each tiny step of misinformation Means had presented. He did his best to react to my confrontations and I was winning each point. I asked how the bloody knife got under the driver’s seat of their car and where did they collect the white male’s boots, belt and cowboy hat. He told me they won them from a white guy in the dice game at the Peach Streets apartments. I hammered him hard. I told him we sent officers there and there was not a single drop of blood on the sidewalks of any breezeway. That officers went door to door questioning tenants and all said there was no dice game, gun shots or a stabbing. I told him I knew there was a poor man out there somewhere, dead or dying. If there was a chance he was still alive, please take me to him. I told him the guy had a family and they needed to know where he was. If he was dead, help me recover his body. I knew I was shooting in the dark but the reaction I was getting from Means proved I was on the right path. His chest was rising and falling quickly. He was breathing rapidly. His heart was pounding so hard I could see every beat in his upper chest and veins in his neck. I had him so close to breaking. At one point, he broke down and began to cry. He shook his head and was on the verge of confessing. I could tell I was that close.
I exhausted everything I could think of to say. Smoke sat quietly watching and listening. If my partner had been a decent detective, when I tagged him to climb in the ring like a tag team wrestler, he would have finished him off. He would have gotten Means to finally break down and tell us the truth about the owner of the cowboy stuff, if the owner was dead or alive. Smoke was not a good detective and his mealy mouth, weak ass approach destroyed everything I built. It took Means a few minutes listening to Smoke stammer and stutter around blindly to lose it all. Means sensed Smoke’s weakness and took in a second breath. He played Smoke like a banjo. Means leaned back in his chair and wiped the moisture from his eyes. He looked at Smoke and me as if he was winning. It was as if Smoke had not heard a word about the facts I told him in his office before we confronted Means. He never connected the dots of evidence or the lack thereof. He should have heard the points I presented to Means and when I trapped him. He should have followed my lead and continued along this path. A good detective would have been able to add to what I was doing. Not Smoke.
I re-entered the interrogation. Smoke leaned back to watch again. Too bad he was not intelligent enough to learn from this. I hammered Means once again. Again I trapped him in his lies. He started crying again and leaned over with his face almost touching his skinny knees. I had him on the ropes and I needed a real detective to tag in. Smoke’s second chance was weaker than before. He lost everything I gained. Means caught his breath and wiped his face once again. When Smoke finished his futile attempt, I ended the session.
I finished my shift sick at my stomach and headed to my little country farmhouse. As I drove, I could not stop worrying about the unknown victim. The man who once wore a cowboy hat, western boots and belt. Did he have a family who was praying for his safe return? Deep down, I knew the answer was yes. I racked my brain playing the entire case over and over in my mind. Each time, I came to the same disappointing end. I knew a man had been seriously wounded and there was a chance he was lying in the woods somewhere suffering. I was frustrated that Smoke had once again failed me and our department, moreover he failed the owner of the clothing. I knew my supervisors would not authorize overtime with a new partner to confront Means. I knew Means had gained confidence during our interrogation and even with a good partner, he would now hold to his statement. I needed a break to use against him.
At home over coffee with my wife. I told her about the case. Most cops are taught to never bring your cases home to your family. I needed to tell the story so I might stumble across something I missed. I thought about going back to work and not requesting overtime approval. I could work out this case if I could find a good team partner. If we could find that elusive break, it would be worth it. I called the office and learned every day shift detective on duty was tied up working other cases. I was exhausted and realized my brain was dull. I needed to be sharp to go up against Means again so I went to bed.