Saturday, August 10, 2019

Evil Revealed

I wrote a few months ago about one of my earliest memories being the assassination of JFK. At the time I was too young to grasp the magnitude of the event or understand that it was a national tragedy. I didn't understand why my teacher cried when the President's assassination was announced over the public address system at Raemelton school.

I was just short of my seventh birthday.

Three years later I heard on the news about eight student nurses being murdered in one night by a guy named Richard Speck; he'd held them hostage in a dorm room after breaking in and then, one at a time, taken them into a hallway and stabbed them to death. Speck unknowingly left a witness, though; Filipino exchange student Corazon Amurao had hidden under a bed while another of the student nurses was being led out of the room. Amurao stayed there for seven hours and eventually testified during Speck's trial. He died in 1991 in prison, his death sentence having been commuted to 1200 years behind bars.

Even though I was only ten years old, that saga began my introduction to just how evil the world is.

Throughout my years until today, as I type this entry, evil has seized headlines at an ever-increasing frequency. Can't watch a newscast or pick up a newspaper without being assailed by man's brutality to man. Charles Manson's 'family' was responsible for the Tate/LaBianca murders in southern California. John Wayne Gacy raped, tortured and murdered thirty-three boys. Ted Bundy, whose actual name was Ted Cowell, confessed to raping and killing 30 women. Cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer raped, murdered, dismembered and ate sixteen young men and boys.

And then Islamic fundamentalists started flying commercial airliners into buildings.

Evil, though, doesn't really resonate until it touches you in some way, close to home, or until you see it for yourself. As a law enforcement officer you'll see it all too often.

A woman stabbed 31 times by her boyfriend early on Thanksgiving morning. Another shot in the back of the head as she exited her home by a jilted boyfriend. The brother of an acquaintance of mine shot and killed as he walked along West Fourth Street. A man found beaten to death with a bumper jack, in a field across from a bar where he'd been drinking the night before. A father shot and killed by his son as he sat in his living room over the killing of the son's dog. A son stabbing his mother repeatedly because he didn't like the man she was dating.

That's a small sampling of the evil I've witnessed. Even my wife's cousin, a local business owner, was found beaten to death several decades ago; a guy I grew up with went to prison for killing a man during a drug deal.

Evil has been around since Cain killed his brother Abel in the book of Genesis...and it has gotten worse through the ages.

All I can say is, God help us.


Friday, July 26, 2019

It Would Have Fallen On Deaf Ears

Ever have occasion to impart advice to someone who would benefit from it but you kept silent because you knew they wouldn't listen anyway?

That happened to me a few days ago as I was buying barn paint at a big-box home (barn?) improvement store.

I'd stepped up to the service desk in the paint department; apparently, six other folks had the same idea as I...take advantage of the beautiful, rain-free weather and paint something outside. The store had three people assisting customers at the desk, so I had to wait a bit. I wasn't about to leave without having this can of paint violently machine-shaken for three minutes to ensure its contents were well-mixed, as I had a week earlier with the first one. Mixing by hand in the garage for what seemed an eternity sucked. I probably needed another shave by the time I'd finished.

"Hey, I really like your shirt." This from one of the male employees behind the desk, a baby-faced, stocky young man with steel-rimmed glasses.

I'd just received a "I Stand For Freedom' t-shirt from Nine Line Apparel the day before and had donned it for the trip to the store.


This started a conversation between he and I; he owned several patriotic shirts from the same manufacturer. During our conversation the youngster mentioned that he was attending a police academy, mentioning names of some of his instructors. I knew a few of them, explaining to the young man that I'd spent three decades in law enforcement in this area.

His face lit up and I was peppered with questions; then he started talking about how he couldn't wait to start his career and that he thought he had an 'in' with a neighboring county's sheriff's office.

"I hope they put me in the detective bureau." His wide-eyed enthusiasm shined behind those spectacles as he took my can of red barn paint, secured it in the shaker and started the machine.

Inwardly I cringed. I didn't have the heart to burst his bubble, to explain that he'd have to work years in a cruiser, answering calls for service, and that he'd have to prove himself before being considered for such an assignment.

I also couldn't bring myself to recount some of the morbid, horrible things he'd be exposed to, the hardships he'd have to endure, the sometimes unimaginable scenes his eyes would see but his brain would not want to accept as real.

Memories kicked in. Seeing needless death for the first time outside of a funeral home, I'd answered a call at a farm in 1981; the middle-aged woman who'd called was worried because her husband hadn't returned from the barn after feeding his livestock. She was worried because he was supposed to see a doctor the next day and had convinced himself he had cancer.

I found him hanging from a rafter in his barn, rope knotted at his neck and an overturned, rickety wooden chair beneath his lifeless body. The morning sun had just peeked over the eastern horizon as I notified dispatched to have the coroner respond.

Then I had to walk back to the house and tell the distraught woman that her husband had taken his own life.

Presently the youngster turned the shaker off and set my barn paint on the counter; he obviously wanted to continue asking questions but others seeking assistance were standing in line behind me.

"It was very nice meeting you, sir. Any suggestions for me?"

I wanted to tell him what I'd been recalling. I wanted to tell him to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer or consider a career as a bricklayer or an educator. Be anything but a policeman. I didn't because I knew he'd shake that advice off, much as I would have decades ago if someone had suggested the same to me.

"Good luck."

I went home and gave both garage doors a second coat of that barn-red paint.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

"Don't You Know Who I Am?"

Celebrities' preferred statement when encountering police.

I heard that question a few times back in the day. Most times I did know who they were; most times, too, I did my job in spite of that knowledge.

The very first time I had contact with someone who expected me to know who they were was way back in 1979-1980, while working for Ashland PD. A car passed me eastbound on East Main Street, right about where the old Dairy Dolly used to sit, traveling fifteen miles per hour above the posted speed limit. I activated the light bar, turned on the car and stopped it a few hundred yards away. The vehicle pulled to the side of the road and, even before I was able to open the cruiser door, its driver popped out and was walking towards me, a big smile adorning his artificially-tanned face.

The driver extended his hand. "Hi, officer. I'm Mark So-and-so, TV 5 weatherman. How are you?"

WEWS channel 5 out of Cleveland. I recognized the guy immediately.

"I'd like for you to get back into your car, sir, and then I'll need your license and registration." There was no requirement to show proof of insurance back then; heck there weren't any seat belt laws, either.

The wide, bright smile fled his face, replaced by a look of bewilderment. Eventually he received an invitation to municipal court for driving fifteen MPH over the limit. I preferred having Dick Goddard tell me what the weather was going to be anyway.

A few years later, this time at Ontario PD, I had occasion to encounter the local television sports anchor during a traffic stop. He didn't jump out of his car and extend his hand; he just flat-out asked the question after I requested his driver's license.

"Don't you know who I am?", he said with a palpable air of indignance.

"Not until I see your license, sir." Of course, I knew who he was, too. Like the Cleveland weather-guesser, the local sports talking head got a ticket.

I've had interaction with other celebrities also that didn't involve violations of the law. The Indians' Jim Thome is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth professional athletes I have ever met. I worked an autograph session for the future Hall of Famer at a now-defunct card shop across from the Holiday Inn. Chatting with him while eating pizza after the session was finished was like talking to a neighbor.  Likewise with the Tribe's Julio Franco and Albert Belle, the latter in spite of his outwardly gruff demeanor. Both very nice gentlemen.

The comedian Gallagher, on the other hand, was a nightmare.

I'd been working overnight security at the Holiday Inn a few nights a week for a couple of years. Often, when entertainers performed at the Renaissance Theater next door, they'd lodge at the hotel. This particular Friday evening the man famous for smashing watermelons had finished a show and gone up to his room. Around midnight or so, I happened to be standing at the far end of the front desk, chatting with the clerk, when Gallagher exited the elevator. He strode to the counter and, in the most vile, disdainful, profane language, asked the female desk clerk if there were any restaurants open " this F-ing town." He was not trying to be funny.

That incident forever changed my view of Leo Anthony Gallagher. I can't stand the guy.

Likewise, I was working a few years later when actress Glenn Close rolled into the hotel at 2AM, entourage in tow. This was when a film crew was in town to shoot prison scenes for the movie 'Air Force One' out at the reformatory. Ms. Close played the role of the Vice President of the United States in the film, opposite Harrison Ford's president. All I can say about her is....she looks better on screen.

Then again, I'm pretty sure I'd look better on screen, too....with a LOT of makeup and special effects, at about a hundred yards away.

                                                        Ashland Police Dept, 1979


Sunday, June 23, 2019

I Just Shake My Head

The same thing that happened on the old TV show 'Cops' is starting to happen on A & E's 'Live PD'...only on a whole different scale.

It's getting to the point that I don't know if I can continue watching.

Back in the day, when 'Cops' first came on, it was mainly Miami PD officers. Not that it was a bad thing, but it was the same people all the time. The one officer, whose name I don't recall, was a real 'pretty boy'; by that I mean that his combed-back hair was always perfectly coiffed and he made sure to wear his gold....not the badge, but the necklace, rings and bracelet. This guy looked as if he came straight from central casting with the lite version of the Mr. T starter kit.

As the show expanded to other agencies I noticed another anomaly, something that non-TV cops didn't do: whenever a group of officers would finish a call, after the arrests had been made and the bad dudes/dudettes went to jail, those involved would stand in a semicircle and tell each other what a great job they did. Every call, no matter how run-of-the-mill, every show.

I used to laugh at the TV when those officers would do that.

There's a line that Clint Eastwood's 'Gunny Highway' used in 'Heartbreak Ridge' that would fit what I almost expected them to do after the show, but I want this blog to remain family-friendly.

Those of you that have seen the movie can probably imagine what I'd print, though.

That brings us to Live PD.

Great show but, on most episodes, there's one or two officers being shadowed that are definitely camera-aware...and they make sure to act and dress the part.

By 'dress' I mean that they're sure to have their uniform shirtsleeves tailored in order to display bulging biceps covered with long as they have the guns for it. Skin tight and ending just at the bottom of the deltoids, they seem to constantly have their thumbs on the gunbelt, arms bent and flexed.

That's not a knock on tats or fitness by any means, it's the 'hey, look at my arms and be deeply impressed' way they carry themselves when the camera is pointed in their direction.

If they thought they could get away with it, I'm sure some would be completely sleeveless.

Here's the kicker: I've seen coppers that looked like they were in chess club in high school that were great police officers and I've seen muscle-bound hulks wearing a badge that did just the minimum they could to get by on the street. All show and no go.

I don't care how much you bench press. I do care if you have the verbal acumen to talk a person out of committing suicide.

Endeth the rant.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Brothers I Otherwise Wouldn't Have Met

You work in a profession for thirty, forty years and you're bound to make some good friends. In a factory, on a construction crew, running a retail store, you'll meet people who can become like a second family.

Nowhere is that more evident than the military, in a fire house or, in my case, a police department.

Putting your life on the line, often repeatedly, with co-workers builds pretty strong bonds. Shared experiences, risks and profound events in the intimate confines of a police cruiser during an eight-hour tour produces connections that can't be found in an office building. They just can't.

I've met some real characters in law enforcement, guys and gals who, under different circumstances, I would never have crossed paths with. Some of them became extended family, people I call my brothers and sisters, who I love dearly and would do anything for, knowing that particular gate swings both ways.

A few of these fellow officers no doubt would have made it in the world of comedy.

Ted Brinley immediately comes to mind. Ted and I worked together at Ontario PD in 1983 and part of '84, he coming to OPD after several years at the Richland County Sheriff's Office. Ted had the innate ability to make anyone laugh just by facial expressions alone; throw in the razor-sharp wit and his disdain for those in command, well...I'll just say that you never knew what he would say next, but you could be sure it would be funny.

Working afternoon shift together, Ted told me that the other half of the double he lived in on Creston Rd in Ontario was open; I rented it and, for the year that it lasted, we did much carousing after our shifts. Then came the day I was hired at Mansfield PD in 1984 and moved into the city.

Ted died a few days after crashing his motorcycle in the summer of 1985. I was honored to be one of his pallbearers at the funeral.

At Mansfield it was Jan Wendling, master of pranks and scaring the ever-living solid waste right out of you. The youngest of four brothers to serve at MPD, Jan was known for using a rubber, hairy gorilla mask to scare those unsuspecting souls who were his prey. It is rumored that he once hid in the back seat of a cruiser, raising his ape-head just as the copper driving turned to look behind him as he backed out of a space in the police compound, causing that officer to side-swipe a pole. As I said, that is rumored to have happened.

One hot summer night found he and I laying on the floor of a motel room, using an overturned table as cover as Jan tried to talk an armed, mentally-unstable woman out of the bathroom. The special response team (SWAT) waited all night outside the room, then-Captain Messer deciding to have Jan continue to talk to the gal instead of sending in a negotiator, as my squad sergeant had built somewhat of a rapport with her. I lay beside Jan, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun should the woman decide to come out shooting.

It was a very long night but, in the end, she surrendered peacefully. She'd been wanted on a felony warrant out of Franklin county for stalking a doctor and breaking into his house.

Those 'shared experiences' I mentioned? That was one of them; Jan's been one of my best friends ever since. Not that he hadn't been before, but that night cemented it.

I was maybe 20 yards away from Gary Foster the night someone took six shots at him in the middle of Bowman Street near Harker. Keith Coleman and I once turned a car stop into a search warrant at the driver's home that saw the recovery of a sawed-off shotgun, pistol and crack cocaine. Bob Powers stopped a stolen car out of Columbus one night on Walnut Street, whereupon all 4 occupants took off running; the guy I chased and caught (with the aid of a citizen) had been wearing a 9mm handgun in a shoulder holster. Big Chuck Norris and I, on one of the absolute coldest nights I ever worked, spotted a guy who ended up being responsible for a string of 18 business burglaries in the Lexington Avenue/Trimble Rd area. I was with Joe Petrycki, who's now MPD's assistant chief of police, when we crawled into a furiously-burning apartment building in search of the elderly, ground-floor occupant; luckily, she'd been at a doctor's appointment when the fire broke out.

We suffered some smoke inhalation and took a pretty good chewing out from the fire guys when they showed up a few minutes after we came out of the building. I have great respect for the job firefighters do, especially after that incident.

I call every one of those men my brothers, guys I wouldn't have had the opportunity to know had I decided to stay in the grocery business in 1979.

...and law enforcement was a hell of a lot more exciting, too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Dirty Cop

There's few things in life more intolerable to me than a dirty cop.

Bad drivers, rude, profane people and obnoxious, undisciplined teens? No problem. Egomaniacs, the socially-elite who parade their imagined superiority to the world? Piece of cake. Crooked cops are a whole different story.

I've had the displeasure of wearing the same uniform as a few who chose to run afoul of the law; four ended up in prison. There's another out there, a guy who is older than me and retired on disability when I was still a young copper, that eventually went to prison for trafficking cocaine. He's been out for awhile now, back in the area and no doubt back in the drug business.

He also murdered his wife. That's only my opinion, as her death was ruled a suicide, but I have strong reason to believe she didn't willingly put a gun to her head. That's all I'll say about that one.

Back in the mid-90s I was working in a ten-county anti-drug task force. It had been my goal for several years to work in the unit; you wore your hair however you wanted, grew a beard and dressed like...well, not scumbags, but not far off, either. We ran CIs, 'cooperating individuals' who, most times, would make a few buys from drug dealers for us, who would later be indicted by a grand jury, thus putting them in the court system. There's many variables to the chain of events described but, by and large, that's how we operated. Sometimes the unit executed search warrants on dope houses in the middle of the night, usually with the assistance of the county-wide special operations team...the black-garbed, automatic weapons-armed door-kickers commonly referred to by the public as SWAT.

It was the best position I would hold during my 30-plus years as a police officer.

On occasion we'd work other types of crimes, too, such as prostitution, white-collar, gambling and liquor offenses. It was a weeks-long joint venture with the state liquor cops that introduced me to my first dirty law enforcement officer.

The operation was called a '61-B' because that was the section of state liquor administrative code used to cite establishments into hearings before the liquor board. Sending several agents to the area, nearly every bar in the county was checked over several nights. My partner, who commanded our four-man afternoon shift unit, a man I called my 'rabbi' because he'd taught me so much about how to be a policeman, and I were assigned a female agent. I'll call her Janet.

Janet was short, bespectacled and rotundish, a gal who let you know immediately that she knew her job and, probably, yours too. To me she seemed a little arrogant...but she knew liquor law.

Her job was to enter an establishment and mingle, chat up the bar staff and watch for liquor violations. Our only means of communicating with her was one-way; she wore a body wire, or transmitter, that permitted us to monitor her conversations, though we had to be positioned within a couple hundred yards or so. We'd worked out a code phrase that would indicate trouble and needed intervention on our part prior to Janet entering a dive on the west end of the county on the night in question. We anticipated her spending an hour or two inside and then moving on to the next location.

That's not what happened.

Rabbi and I were parked at a closed landscaping business probably a hundred fifty yards from a place I'll refer to as The Hollow. We listened as Janet went inside and seated herself at the bar, ordering a drink that she'd nurse while doing her job. It wouldn't do to have an undercover agent become inebriated, you know.

Janet struck up a conversation with a male who obviously had taken the seat beside her. She stuck to her cover story, which I'm unable to recall now, while the male proceeded to inform her that he was an off-duty sheriff's deputy from a few counties away, originally from the community where The Hollow was located, and that he liked to come 'home' on his time off so he could party in a place where no one would know his profession.

Then things got very interesting.

Stephen, the deputy, asked Janet, the undercover state liquor agent, if she'd be interested in throwing in if he bought a quarter-pound of marijuana. Janet, God bless her, agreed, but said she'd have to go to an ATM to get some cash. She told Stephen she'd be back as soon as she could and left the bar, driving straight to where we were parked.

As soon as we'd heard the events unfolding, even before Janet left the bar, the inside of our car became a flurry of activity. Rabbi immediately got on the cell phone (it might even have been one of the ancient 'bag' phones that were all the rage in the very early days of wireless communication) and instructed the other half of our crew, Larry and Duane, to sign out some SIU (Special Investigative Unit, which we also were) cash and bring it to our location after photocopying the bills.

How they did all that in under 25 minutes, driving from our downtown office to the west end of the county, is still a mystery to this day.

Carrying our cash, Janet returned to the bar. Our plan was, after the deal was made, to take down Stephen when he left the bar; Larry and Duane were going to stop the dope delivery guy after he left the immediate area, arrest him and recover our photocopied buy money.

Janet went back inside the bar; Stephen suggested they wait in his car in the parking lot for the delivery guy to show up. A few minutes later the pair were in the crooked cop's car, chatting while awaiting their dope. At one point, Stephen was heard to say something along the lines of, 'have you ever seen one of these?' Our girl asked him what it was and, I'll never forget this, the mope says, "It's a nine-millimeter with a laser sight."

Now we've got him armed during a drug transaction, which enhances the crime.

Shortly thereafter the dope arrives; our mope gets out of the car and, with half of the money used to buy the quarter-pound belonging to us, makes the transaction. Delivery guy leaves, followed by Larry and Duane (at that time, De-Wayne, as I called him, bore a striking resemblance to actor Tom Berenger). Rabbi and I heard Stephen divide the grass with Janet; they said their goodbyes and she got out of his car.

The impending felon left the lot and drove a half-mile west to another bar, one which no longer exists today. Rabbi and I waited outside in the lot for the other half of our team to arrive, they having had a marked cruiser from the local department take custody of the drug dealer they'd stopped. Once they arrived the four of us walked inside; our man was sitting mid-bar, drinking. Rabbi, an imposing figure, stepped beside the soon-to-be ex-deputy and told him he was under arrest for trafficking in drugs. Without a word, Stephen stood up, put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed.

I can tell you this now: never, for the rest of my career, did I take more pleasure in slamming a cell door closed than I did that night.

We towed Stephen's car, got a search warrant and recovered his half of the marijuana along with the laser-sighted 9mm handgun. Janet had the other half of the dope and it all was logged into evidence. Our bills were recovered from the dealer during the book-in process, pretty much nailing his coffin shut. We spent the rest of the night completing our paperwork...and notifying the Sheriff for whom Stephen worked of his deputy's arrest.

The next morning, that same Sheriff drove to our jail and fired the mope we'd locked up, still in his cell.

 I love a story with a happy ending.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Earliest Memories Include Getting The Cops Called On Me

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States when I came into this world in November of 1956, a cloudy, cold Tuesday afternoon in Portsmouth along the banks of the Ohio River.

I spent a couple of days in what was then called an 'incubator' because I was a little small.

The earliest memory I have is of falling off a swing set in our yard and cracking my head on its metal frame. Pretty traumatic stuff for a three-year-old. Dad scooped me up and took me in the house. Now that I think about it, that blow to the head might explain much.

A significant memory is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the days that followed. His death was announced over the public address system at Raemelton school that afternoon; my teacher, Miss Lindbeck, cried, as did a lot of the staff. During the time his body lay in state in the Capitol rotunda and JFK's funeral, cartoons were preempted during television coverage. I couldn't watch Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat or Deputy Dawg. Black days for a kindergartener who didn't understand the magnitude of a presidential assassination.

We lived, back then, at 766 Lexington Avenue; at the time, Lex was a two-lane road and we had these big pine trees out in front of our house. They were the perfect cover for an incident that resulted in the first...and only...criminal contact I had with police.

I was five years old and had the police come to my house because my neighbor, Jerry Harper, and I had been throwing clods of dirt at cars as they drove by from behind the pines. Jerry was a couple of years older and easily convinced me that 'bombing' cars was a good idea. When I saw the cruiser pull into the drive I ran into the house and hid behind Mom's skirt as she worked in the kitchen, she not understanding why I was so scared...until the cops came to the door. That policeman, when he stepped into our living room, seemed 8-feet-tall and scared the ever-living crap out of me when he leaned over and, an inch from my face, said I'd go to jail if I ever threw anything at cars again.

Looking back, this is all pretty funny stuff now; you see, Jerry's Dad was a Captain on the Mansfield Police Auxiliary, yet Jerry spent a lot of time being in trouble. The policeman who came to the house had the sole aim of instilling fear...mission accomplished. I can recall several instances during my time wearing a badge of doing that very thing to a youngster, aside from telling them they'd be incarcerated. The point was to get them to behave, not make them afraid of police.

I was so scared by that brush with the law that, hours later, Mom asked where the harmonica that our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Fleming, had given me was.

"It's outside." I wasn't about to go near the door.

"Well, you better go outside and get it, honey. It's supposed to rain tonight and it'll get rusty."

The thought of going outside was horrifying. I told Mom I didn't want to.

"Well why not?"

"Because that policeman will get me and take me to jail!"