“No amount of law enforcement can solve a problem that goes back to the family.” J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I.
“The police must obey the law while enforcing the law.” Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren
“The trouble with laws these days is that criminals know their rights better than their wrongs.” Author Unknown
I loaded all my gear into my brand new Ford Crown Vic and hit the streets on graveyard shift. I was happy to be back in uniform serving the public. It was like coming home. No more marathon murder, rape and robbery investigations for me. I had once again burned out as a detective and asked to be transferred back to patrol for a less stressful break. Once again I put in for my favorite shift, graveyard. I was promoted to sergeant in my eleventh year and spent the first two as a detective sergeant in the major crimes division. Now it was time for me to supervise the men and women on patrol. I was confident I could help them in many ways. The years I spent working major investigations were valuable. I wanted to share this knowledge with those who reported to me. I wondered if I could handle directing and advising street cops on family fights, street fights, barking dog complaints and the various calls patrol officers responded to each night. The last time I was on the street, I was a corporal with limited supervisor authority. Being a street sergeant is the most important roll on any department as direct supervision is concerned. Street sergeants are responsible for every call officers make. I wondered what type of supervisor I would be. I gave considerable thought to this in the weeks leading up to my transfer. When I was a street officer, I was blessed with working under some great sergeants. They supported, respected and nurtured me every night. They cared for my safety and often backed me up on dangerous calls. They let me take the lead roll on calls and observed my conduct. They coached and counselled me in their after the call debriefings. They offered constructive criticism and compliments evenly. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be a “working sergeant” that did not sit in his car and give orders over the police radio. I wanted to be trusted and respected by the officers under my command. I was determined to earn this trust every chance I had.
Shift change is a strange animal that fascinated me. Half the officers on the last shift are called into the station at the end of their shift. They turn in all of their reports and head home. It never failed. Every night during shift change, half the officers were called to the station and before the new shift could hit the streets, we were at half our strength. Calls for service seemed to serge at this exact time. The 911 center was faced with numerous calls for police. These calls ranged from auto break-ins, loud music, family fights, robberies, rapes and injury accidents. The dispatchers were required to inform patrol supervisors of all the calls waiting.
I had just hit I-20 from Allen Avenue heading west toward my area of town. I was assigned to Mooretown, Queensborough, Western Hills and the Cross Lake districts. I was basically responsible for the entire western half of our city. My Lieutenant stayed in his office doing paper work that included scheduling the next few days of shift assignments, vacations, transfer requests and citizen complaints against officers. He listened to his talkie and monitored how I was handling my duties. He was a quiet, laid back guy who spent his entire 20 years as a cop on the streets. He was easy to deal with and I liked being his sergeant.
The 911 dispatcher called my number, unit 115, over the radio advising me of all the calls requiring my direction. We had a couple of family fights, a minor accident and a prowler call. We had just enough officers available to respond but they were in other parts of the city. I had to ask my counterpart for his permission to assign the calls to his people. It was a common request and I was quickly granted permission. I told headquarters to dispatch the available officers. Now there were no officers on the streets to respond to a call unless we pulled them off the calls they were already working. I advised the operator I would back up the officers on the family fights. I intended to make both of the family fight scenes. It would be almost an hour before the second half of graveyard officers hit the streets. I knew I would need to make some hard decisions during that manpower gap.
As I drove along the interstate highway, I was excited to finally be in a nice, new cop car. My Crown Vic had less than a hundred miles on it. The other sergeants who worked days and evenings took great care of her. None of them smoked or ate in this unit. She continued to smell new, which I loved. I listened to the routine chatter on the police radio and flipped on the nice FM stereo to my favorite country station. I cannot name the artist but I liked his song. He sang about the county where the blacktops end and the dirt roads begin. That’s where living begins. I sang along with him as I drove. It took my mind back to the Mayo Road. We lived way out in the country when my brother, Bubba, was age six and our little sister, Sheila, was 4 so I would have been five.
I remember a hot summer day with little to do for fun. Bubba and I always found things to do to pass the time. We did not have a TV. We were too rowdy to play board games and we loved being outside. Most summer days, our attire consisted of a cheap pair of shorts with no pockets, just an elastic waistband. We ran barefoot, shirtless and kept our hair buzzed short. The road we lived on was nothing special. It was long and straight made up of gravel rocks packed loosely over a mound of tan soil. When it rained, it was slippery and muddy. In the summertime, it was graded by giant road graders. Bubba and I loved to sit on our front porch and watch them drive by with the spikes plowing the mix of soil and rocks. It was followed by another grader that used its big blade to smooth the surface. I remember it was hard to ride a bike on the freshly churned roadbed because it was soft and somewhat mushy.
That day we were very bored. Daddy, in many ways, was like a big brother to us. He had a keen sense of humor about him. He came home from work the day before and pulled his old Ford station wagon into the front yard like he always did. Most every day, Momma packed his lunch and Daddy skipped eating his dessert of cupcakes. Like clockwork, he got out of his car carrying his little brown paper sack and opened it for us. He saved his cupcakes and gave them to us as a snack. This day he really surprised us. When he closed the door, I noticed the sack was not the small size he normally carried to work. This sack was a full size grocery bag. He slowly opened it as we closed in on him. He ran his hand down in the bag and suddenly grabbed something that seemed alive! He held it tightly as he slowly pulled a big brown snake from the sack. It was wiggling as it tried to free itself. We did not realize it was a rubber sake and the wiggling was caused by Daddy’s hand. He tossed it on Bubba and it wrapped around his neck. Bubba stumbled back and fell to the ground. I screamed in fright as Bubba rolled and fought for his life from the big deadly snake. Once Daddy stopped laughing, he told us it was just a rubber snake and it was not real. In seconds, Bubba had that big nasty snake in his hand and was chasing me. Even though I knew it was fake, it still scared the hell out of me because it looked so real.
I felt sorry for Sheila when she came out of the house heading in our direction. I was conflicted. Part of me wanted to warn her but the devil in me let her walk into Bubba’s trap. He hid the snake behind his back and called her over to him. He told her he had a surprise for her. When she was within a couple feet of him, he flung it on her and it wrapped around her little neck. Bubba giggled and Sheila screamed as she ran across the dusty yard and into the house. Momma caught her in the kitchen and snatched the snake from around her. She threw it on the floor and stomped it several times before she realized it was made of rubber. Sheila cried for another 10 minutes while Momma yelled at Daddy like she did Bubba and me when we were bad. Momma snatched the front screen door open and tossed the snake into the yard. She had a stern look on her face as she told Bubba and me to never bring it back into her house.
Back then, the only visitors we had on a regular basis were door to door insurance salesmen, vacuum cleaner salesmen and Baptist preachers. That day was going to be a fun filled day for Bubba and me. First thing we did that morning was coil the big snake and place it on our front porch. Bubba and I crawled under the house to watch. Hours went by and finally the preacher paid us another visit. He looked like Elvis. He had long, thick black hair that was combed back in oil making it shiny. He wore black dress pants, black cowboy boots, a white western dress shirt with a western bolo tie. He drove a ’56 Ford Crown Vic painted white and turquoise. The rear springs were lowered and the back bumper was only a couple of inches from the ground. It had fender skirts over the rear wheels, dual radio antennas and dual exhaust pipes. I loved his car and wanted to have one just like it one day. He was so accustomed to our place, he did not hesitate to drive up to our front porch and jump out. He took one step and jumped on the porch with his hand out preparing to rap his knuckles on the front door. His right boot landed directly on the snake. He must have felt it. He glanced down and leaped from the porch to his nice car. His face was milky white as he spun his tires across the yard and blasted back on to the gravel road. Bubba and I rolled in laughter until we cried.
The road we lived on had very little traffic. An automobile went by once an hour. Bubba, to this day, is a genius in my mind. He thought of things no one else could dream. We went to the barn where Daddy kept his fishing gear to get one of his nice rods and reels. Bubba tied the thin clear fishing line around the snake behind its head. We placed the snake in the grass facing the roadbed. Bubba tripped the lever on the reel and began walking backwards across the road and into the woods. We hid in the thick dust covered brush and waited. An hour later, we finally heard a car coming our way. Old man Dunn lived in a nasty shack about a mile down from us. He hated Bubba and me. I am not sure why. We only bombarded him with rocks every time he drove by in that old, nasty pickup. I cannot count the whippings we received each time he reported our attacks to Daddy.
The vehicle we heard was old man Dunn. As he drove within sight of the snake, Bubba began to work his magic. He started reeling in the spool and flicking the tip of the rod. The snake wiggled across the dusty road. We saw the old man’s eyes spot the snake. He hit the gas pedal and steered to hit it. He ran over it and continued down the road. He watched in his mirror as Bubba brought the snake back to life. The snake moved again. Old man Dunn slammed on the truck brakes and skidded. I heard the gears grind as he popped it in reverse. He backed up fast and hit the snake again. He drove over it until he saw it laying dead in the dirt road. Bubba flicked it again and old man Dunn went after it. He jumped from his truck and ran to the big snake. He stomped it several times, kicked it in the shallow ditch and left. We had tears in our eyes as he drove away.
We continued to wait and our patience paid off. The preacher made his morning rounds and was heading back to town. He had his windows rolled down and drove about 10 miles an hour so the dust would not roll into his nice ride. Bubba worked his magic again. The preacher spied the big, nasty snake. There are numerous verses in the Bible that cause people to despise serpents. This preacher took them to heart. He swerved and hit the snake. Like the old man, he glanced in his rearview mirror and saw the snake still moving. He skidded the Crown Vic to a quick stop. A big cloud of dust enveloped the car. Dust filled the interior as he spun the rear wheels in reverse. The loud exhaust pipes bellowed and gravel blasted under the car with loud pings. He rolled over the snake once again and continued backing until he could view the snake over his hood. Bubba waited and flicked the rod again. The second cloud of dust smothered the nice car and caused the preacher to start coughing.
He killed the engine and got out in a full run through the giant cloud of tan dust. He killed the snake with his fancy, black shiny cowboy boots. His oily hair was caked with a fine layer of tan dust. Each time he stomped the snake, a small cloud of dust blasted upwards and coated his lower black trousers and boots. When he thought the snake was dead, he must have heard us. Our filthy little paws were tightly covering our mouths but our snickers still slipped out. He glared at us and saw the fishing line attached to the snake. He charged at us yelling, “You little sons of a bitch! I’m going to whip your asses!” No way would he catch Bubba and me. We were fast and knew every rabbit trail for miles. Momma stopped him from taking the snake away in his car and made him toss it in the yard. She told him she never heard a preacher cuss like that. She informed him she would never take her children to his church. He told her that was fine because he never wanted to see us again.
115, Unit 115, came over my police radio.
Go ahead headquarters.
We have another call, Sergeant. We have a report from a lady who lives on Hermosa Drive. She just got off work and picked up her baby from daycare. She is trying to get home and the only street that leads to her part of the neighborhood is Tierra Drive. She is reporting several men who live in the Tierra apartments are standing in the middle of the street and will not let her drive through. She went to a gas station at the corner of Pines Road and Greenwood Road. She is waiting there. What do you advise, sir? Should I hold the call until the second shift hits the streets in about 45 minutes?
No headquarters, I will take the call. If I need backup, I will let you know. Many supervisors in a case like this would make 911 hold the call until other officers were available. I was not one of them. The picture I formed in my mind was clear as I pulled in the gas station and met the young mother. Her little, baby daughter was in the car seat sleeping. The mother looked exhausted. She had worked all day and was tired and hungry. She needed to get home, feed her baby and put her to bed. She was a single Mom and worked two full time jobs. Calling the cops was clearly her last resort.
I told her to sit tight until I returned. I would clear the men from the street. I knew the Tierra apartments well. It was a low end complex, subsidized by the government. Most, if not all, of the tenants were unemployed and hated cops. Crime there was common place. I had worked many felony investigations ranging from murder, rape, burglary and robbery in this area. Shreveport had an abundance of drug problems often gang related. The men I was about to encounter were likely raised and taught to have a strong distrust and hatred for law enforcement. To compound this, I was a white male cop. I knew I was the most hated man in the neighborhood even before I stepped from my unit. My unit was a standard police supervisor’s unit. It did not come equipped with a prisoner protective screen like patrol units. After being shot and experiencing a near death ordeal a few years earlier, I made a personal promise to myself. I swore I would always do my best to stay alive, not be hurt and sent to another hospital and go home to my loving family at the end of each shift. Back then I had a reoccurring nightmare. I dreamed I drove up on a bad call and was shot in my car as I was unbuckling the damn seatbelt. This dream changed my behavior. On every call I responded, I unfastened my seat belt at least one block from my destination.
In my early years on the streets, I carried a gun, handcuffs, a big flashlight and a night stick called a baton. Later we carried a P.R. 24, aka hooker stick, nicknamed after the police TV show, T.J. Hooker. Only recently had we more or less abandoned the sticks and replaced them with mace or pepper spray. Finally, our department was progressing. We no longer beat people like cave men with clubs who were attacking or resisting us. One block from the Tierra apartments, I disconnected my seat belt. I pulled out my big can of pepper spray and held it in my left hand with my two free left hand fingers on the driver’s door handle. I held my glock 9 mm pistol in my right hand and with those free fingers steered the wheel. I eased around the corner and headed slowly west. I formed a plan in my mind. I would let the men in the street see I was a policeman in a big shiny police car. I hoped my mere presence would cause them to ease back out of the street. I did not want to engage them. I only wanted them to do the right thing, get out of the street and let citizens travel freely. As I passed the nasty complex, I saw them. There were eight or ten of them standing in the street in a diagonal line. The far left end of the line of men reached the curb of the street to my left. As the line spanned the street, it was at an angle that the last guy was about 10 feet deeper into the neighborhood than his friend at the other end of the line. They boldly stood their ground staring at me. None of them moved an inch. I noticed the guy at the end of the line was standing away from the beveled curb. I could drive past him if I ran my right wheels over the curb and into the grass. I was trained to only look at suspects’ hands in hostile situations. None of these young adults were armed. I kept an eye on their movement in case one decided to dig in a waistband or pocket for a gun. I was barely rolling when I came up next to the last man in line. My wheels were in the grass when I came within three feet of him. As I was about to pass him, he moved. He took a step toward my window, leaned over almost face to face with me and shouted, “What you looking at you white M.F.?”
My mind went back to the mother and baby in the car. Not only did these bastards prevent her from driving down the street, they were hateful and arrogant. They were trying to prevent a police officer in a marked unit to go past them.
I did not need to think out a strategy nor did I have the time to do so. With my gun holding right hand, I slammed the shifter into park. With my left hand on the door lever holding my mace, I opened the door as trained. I placed my left boot on the inside of the door for two reasons. One was to speed the opening process and the other was to prevent the suspect from charging against the door and slamming it in my face. He stood his ground. I was now out of the unit facing him. In my peripheral vision, I saw the other men to my left slowly closing in on me. I ordered the suspect who yelled at me, “Get out of my street.”
He said, “Your street? Your M.F….ing street? Man, this my f…….ing street! Now get your white pig ass out my street!”
By now, the street gang was standing shoulder to shoulder starting at the back fender of my car up to where I was facing off with the vocal suspect near my driver’s door.
My time was up. It was fight or flight. I chose to do my job which was to clear the street of these thugs. As the smart guy opened his mouth to yell at me again and as they closed in on me, I took the only action I knew. If they got their hands on me, I would be beaten in the street to a bloody mess and relieved of my gun. They intended to put me in the last place I wanted to be, a hospital or the city morgue. The cannon like blast of brown liquid and pepper spray mist filled the mouth and eyes of the main suspect. I kept my finger on the trigger and blasted a semi circle to my left hitting six or seven of the advancing thugs. Like roaches hosed down with a can of Raid bug killer, they fell to the ground screaming in pain. The two thugs that had enough time to dive away and roll out of my spray stood on the sidewalk yelling at me. The blinded men rolling around on the street yelled for their friends to help them. I told the men on the sidewalk to drag their friends out of the street and to stay out of my street. They did as instructed. I got back in my car and returned to the single mother and baby. I told her to hurry home. The street was now clear.
I got on the radio and told headquarters I had cleared the street. I applied a chemical agent to disperse an angry crowd of men who blocked the right of way. I told her to expect another call soon. I knew the suspects, or their families, would call S.P.D. to complain or request the fire department to respond to wash out their eyes. I told headquarters to notify the fire department not to respond to these calls for aid. Every apartment had running water. I parked at the gas station looking north back to Tierra Drive. I knew this mess was not over.
A few minutes later the 911 shift changed with new dispatchers and call takers reporting to work. The new dispatcher was not informed of my incident. I saw red and white flashing lights of a big fire engine as it crested the hill beyond Tierra Drive heading south. I radioed headquarters to ask where Smoky was in route.
“115, be advised, Smoky is in route to give first aid to several men in the Tierra apartments. These victims were sprayed in their faces by a police officer and they need medical attention.”
I responded, “Headquarters, tell Smoky to leave the scene right away. There will be a large crowd in the complex and they are aggressive. I was the officer who sprayed the men. They surrounded me and was about to attack so I sprayed them. They were blocking the street. Please read the message on my last call on Tierra.”
Moments later, the big fire truck headed back to the fire house. About 15 minutes later, I was again called by dispatch.
115, Unit 115, be advised the manager of the Tierra apartment complex is requesting officers. He reports a crowd of over 100 people disturbing the residents and refusing to return to their apartments.
Headquarters, send all available area units to the complex with me this time. Tell Smoky to station on the corner outside the complex. Soon, I had 10 or 12 units with me as we rolled into the complex. The centrally located parking lot is surrounded by two story buildings facing inward. A crowd of over 100 had gathered in the lot and were angry. I met the male apartment manager and learned only a few in the crowd lived in the complex. The majority of the crowd members were from the local neighborhood or were visiting guests. The complex manager wanted them to leave or he would file charges against them for trespassing.
At this point, I heard a couple of men in the back of the crowd yelling at me. They were attempting to incite the mob and turn them against us.
“That’s the white m……….f…….g pig that sprayed me with that shit for no reason at all!”
I spotted the first guy I sprayed.
Officers, arrest that man for impeding traffic. He is one of the group that blocked the street. Several officers chased him down and cuffed him. Before we left the scene, we arrested five of the suspects I could identify. As we handcuffed, the crowd dispersed and disappeared into the shadows. We pulled over to the nearby fire units and allowed the fire fighters to wash out their eyes. I accomplished my goal that night. I went home to my family unhurt and they did not need to visit me in a hospital room or the morgue.
Months later in city court, these thugs were convicted after the single mother and I testified against them.
Some criminals know their rights better than they know their wrongs.