Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fighting fair hurts! By Lt. Pata

In 1986, I was a rookie and not-so street smart. I lived in Marin County, California so I was not exposed to the kind of stuff I would later be exposed to as a cop. While I grew up in a lower middle class area, our version of trouble was speeding, maybe stealing a car or two, breaking into a building to party and maybe participating in some unlawful botany. Not me, of course, my pals.

I learned to fight in junior high school and I was terrible at it, but even that was kid stuff, and those girls were really kind of mean. Fighting as a cop is nothing like it. Adults who fight are usually moron’s, but fighting a cop, with a gun, who has lots of friends who dress like him…well, that is kind of insane.

In the police academy they teach you how to fight fair. Its funny how much of our job has to do with perception of what should be acceptable. So fighting fair looks better on TV or to the public, but often is more painful than street fighting. I used to love the TV shows COPS or CSI Miami, now, they are the bane any cop’s existence. It used to be that when you testified to a jury, you were the expert. Now they are. They watch these TV shows and feel like they know how to do the job. I remember having to tell a jury once, for 20 minutes, that the science on CSI was not necessarily practical and how we really did things.

I am waiting to sit in judgment on a jury for a brain surgery gone wrong. I have watched enough episodes of “House” that I think, given an Exacto-knife and maybe a drill, I could pull it off. (Said with unbelievable sarcasm)

I have had similar heart-wrenching conversations with parents of murder victims. One wonderful woman once stated in desperation that she did not understand why we could not solve her child’s case like they do on reality cop shows. I felt like a jerk, but reminded her that for every one case you see on “The First 48” there are a number that never make it on TV because they are unsolved.

TV has had a huge impact on our job and depending on the video point of view and its context, seeing is not necessarily believing. But let’s face it, cop shows sell. They are interesting – which is why there are lots of shows about the job and not so many about librarians or accountants. I’d like Di Nero or Pacino to play me. Maybe Dennis Farina.

OK – Funny story time. Many years ago I worked a pretty significant case. The case was profiled on one of those reenacted detective shows. I knew the date and time it was going to be on, so, of course, I told everyone that they had this guy who was going to play me on TV. What I did not know, was that he was a nice bald man, about-oh, lets be charitable and say 300lbs. You know the kind of guy that has sweat spots under his chest and food stains on the top of his belly. Ya. I was a hero the next day

This police thing we do is violent at times. If you are smart, ending the fight as soon as possible, even doing stuff that seems shocking, like punching a guy in the chops, while not pretty, works. Trust me, the “5 from the sky” (a real police move) doesn’t work for me. I tried it once. I lost. The fist sandwich to the jaw sometimes works. But only if you don’t have access or time to get to some pepper spray or a Taser.
Oh and TV writers and cop book fiction writers - punching a guy in the chops hurts. So the multiple tenderizing of a crooks jaw on TV is kind of dishonest. One good one delivered briskly and with some profundity might break your hand.

Pepper spray works if you are a good Christian and go to church every Sunday but not if you are too close or in a room deploying it. You always know when the satanic fluid directly from the infernal region got everyone in the room too – just look for the 4 or 5 cops leaning against the house or building with that slime stuff from an alien movie falling out of their nose as they ball their brains out and wretch. It works, but it is a hazmat experience. Yuck.

The Taser or Electronic Control Device as we call it – works. Usually. I’d like to meet the guys that dream up these things just to see what makes them tick. I would have liked to be in the lab when they came up with this idea. “Hey lets make this gun that shoots darts into people, and THEN, let’s send a current through their body!” Cool! Well, I have to tell you, an ECD being deployed is kind of a religious experience for these tough ex-con’s who would otherwise need 700 pounds of cops to keep them on the ground.

The problem- if you want to call it that -with the job is that it is easy to have a complaint filed against you for just about anything and especially for using all this stuff they give us to end the fight.

Let me serve up an example of how not to do it… in the late 80’s I was crossing the street, in uniform to help out a guy who was sick. Halfway across the street an old Ford pickup with three men inside the cab became acquainted with me, er - actually the hood of their truck became acquainted with me. I flew over the hood and landed in the beautifully landscaped city planter box.

Of course I landed first onto the concrete portion of the box on my back and then rolled into the soft dirt inside. I was not happy. I was hurt. When I got up, I walked up to the driver and opened his door, this time for a proper introduction. An open can of beer fell out from the floorboards. And for those of you who care…it was domestic beer, a Marin County felony.

The group of men was drunk. Unhappy Ralph lost his cool, picked up the can of beer and threw it into the cab of the truck. I didn’t hit anyone and all I did was get my new friends foamy with the suds in the can, it still felt good to do my part to pick up the littered can. I told ya, I was mad. Well that little delivery of aluminum, hops and barley justice landed me a citizen’s complaint. No one complained about me getting run over, but I can understand that I did waste a beer, so, I get it. Guilty.

The merchants in my town were very cool after the accident. After my little circus act, one business brought me out a towel to clean my uniform and another brought me a cup of coffee, exactly how I like it. It made me smile and took the sting out of my back for a few moments.

In the academy you get all of this tactical purposeful movement stuff. How to walk, talk and use the restroom with authority. They teach you enough to be able to swim to the center of the pool, but not necessarily how to get back. As a cop, you do carry in the back of your mind a little fear that your actions might cause a complaint. I used to think it was just me and Catholic guilt.

In the old days, it used to be a citizen who thought your behavior was not acceptable called in your name and you got yelled at. Now it’s YouTube or video and it can look very bad. It kind of explains the high-blood pressure and heart attack thing with cops. But isn’t it true that integrity is doing the right thing when you think no one is looking? So many more times than not, our people do the right thing.

Think about it, maybe guys on the most wanted list have an equally stressful job wondering who is looking over their shoulder, and when the next car stop will put you back in prison. Well our guys and gals know that and try to prepare for the next stop to be the last stop. Apply that scenario every time you drive, or get out of the car to handle a call. Multiply that over 35 years, add a pinch of fast-food and an alcoholic beverage, maybe a cigarette and viola! Heart attack. Now, in my 40’s I understand the mechanism.

I fought fair once. I lost. Getting your behind kicked is an education. As a cop you quickly learn you are: 1. Not that invincible, 2. There is always someone bigger than you. 3. You should do your best to stay in shape and 4. Turning left away from trouble is Eve offering you a bite from a tasty apple, and an intoxicating trance but one you have to fight off because it is part of our job jumping into the deep end.

If you had to get your behind handed to you, I guess its better to graduate from this little painful experience at age 21 than 41. It is easier to bounce back, and if you are seriously injured, at least you have some time to heal and find another type of work, rather than be an unemployed and a lame candidate for a job at 41 years old.

I have told others, and I really believe that doing 20 years at this job is like being in the NFL for a couple of years. All of the bouncing around, getting in and out of your car with all the stuff on, going from seated to jumping out of your car and running full speed for maybe 20 yards then tackling a bad guy or getting your head whacked adds up.

Police work is not like the stuff on TV. Each night you don’t meet the woman or man of your dreams, have a shootout or a cathartic experience. But each night, if you are a good cop, you visualize the shootout before you arrive at a call that is sketchy. Cops know, the 911 hang-up call with people screaming in the background, or the robbery alarm-call at the bank, where no one answers the phone. It is a pressure valve check on the old human body, but one that is so transforming, that you would not have it any other way. (For the record -I also visualize the girl sometimes. She is usually crazy about me and a member of the Swedish Bikini Team. She is also sight impaired and has a pizza in her hands.)

The wear and tear of this work does mess with you but, like any good drug, after you sleep it off you are ready for another dose of adrenaline-induced insanity. Next thing you know you are 20 years into it and some damage is done. After all of my years of being spit in the face, that little truck thing, falling down stairways, burned by crack pipes and most thoroughly getting my butt kicked, it has been a great career, one I would recommend to the right person and an honorable way to participate with your community.
But it hurts sometimes and thankfully there is this little thing called “worker’s comp” that pays the doctor’s bills.

I think more of my pals have ended up on the receiving end of the scalpel and with fused necks and backs, than guys I have grown up with on the job who have gone out on time. The quality of life after getting a wired neck is not so great. Someone should consider a barcode tattoo on your behind for all the times you end up in the hospital answering the same questions.

An example of how fighting fair doesn’t work is the time I was knocked out by an ex-convict. You don’t forget about these things. It’s like your law enforcement first kiss. It was around 3AM and it was right in the middle of our city on a busy night. I had just given this guy a break and asked him to pour out his beer. (Ya I know, me and beer.) When I walked away from him, he walked up behind me and hit me so hard in the back of the head that I’d swear it knocked the fillings out of my teeth.

The momentum of that smack turned the earth back a rotation. The cartoon stars over my head and the coo-coo clock sound were there! I remember it. Ralphy took a dive in the first! Those are the days I wondered – did I really check the police box? I should have checked the firefighter box on my application.

I got up and took him on- fighting fair. I was not happy. This guy messed up my hair, my uniform – 100% wool and my $100.00 shirt was dirty. When I looked down I noticed I had a hole in the knee of my pants. That was it! An Italian felony. Game on pal! Its one thing to knock me out, but my pants? Are you kidding?

I got up to take him into custody after calling out my location. Worst thing I could have done. I should have taken a nap on the sidewalk. He proceeded to beat me like a rug. I was busy doing all the cool move stuff my instructors in the academy taught me and none of it worked. I remember rolling around in the center of the street with this guy, as my back-up was coming from miles away. I fought this guy for 9 minutes. I remember seeing sky and street, over and over as we rolled around. Then came my chance. I thought this guy was going to eventually kill me. I resorted to caveman stuff and simply strangled him in the gutter of the street. This was all I had left.

My stick was gone, my mace was gone, my uniform was in tatters, my hair, was a mess the only thing I had left was my gun and for some reason, I felt like I could not kill this guy for a fist-fight. Although, after glancing at my pants, the thought did cross my mind. Barbarian!

Some weird thing overcame me. As I was watching this guy get sleepy – actually the life leave this guy, I let up. I relaxed my grip on his throat because in my head I thought he was done fighting. It was almost like he gave up. Well, he did but only because of the motivating, if not liberal application of my hands, to his neck.

My plan was to roll him over and handcuff him. Those, of course, were not his plans. Instead, he sharply applied his knee to my intimate parts rendering me a lump on the side of road – retching. At this point I was thinking that nothing was working and now, in front of God and maybe another future Mrs. Pata I was going to barf my brains out from the pain. I remember wondering where was the love? Why were none of these big, strong, bar patrons not giving a brother a hand. It’s like I was the dinner show or something. Not one of them stepped in or even tossed a lit cigarette or maybe a bottle at this guy. I needed an AFL CIO guy or Teamster to pull this guy off of me.

I look back and I guess I understand that if this guy was doing me in, perhaps it would not have been advisable to jump in. I would have killed for a stake and a bottle of holy water. This guy was all over me. Right now I’d kill for a steak! Writing makes me hungry.

I later learned that my sparring partner was insane. He was released from the Marines for being too crazy and, was placed in a state run mental institution. His probation report read that he was “imminently dangerous to society.” Well, if that’s the case, I can understand releasing him! It’s like leaving the henhouse door open for Christ sake!
I’d like to take whoever decided it would be a good idea to let the Tasmanian Devil out of his quiet and medicated world for a ride.

After the brisk application of the felon’s patella to my privates, I fell over and he got on top of me. Right as that happened I heard sirens and the next thing I remember was someone trying to take my gun from me. I was scared to death and did everything in my power to not let this happen.

I remember rolling over on my gun so whoever was trying to take it would have to roll me over and work a little to get it. I had nothing else. I was exhausted, scared and hurt. For some reason, probably the idea that I was going to witness my execution, I could not open my eyes to see that it was one of my partners trying to take my stuff, so I could be treated by paramedics. I ended up getting a second wind and started to fight off my partner. They actually had to subdue me a little to get me on the gurney for treatment. As it turned out, I was just scared and beat up. No lasting damage, except, of course for my freaking uniform and my pride.

I do remember fighting this guy again in my dreams for a while. I used to wake up exhausted. I’m sure I was a fun date. The nightly boxing match eventually went away. He was sent to prison for 3 years. When he returned, it was business as usual. I actually had coffee with him a couple of times at the downtown 7-11. We never talked about it. I learned to get over this, that it was not personal. It was just business. Of course I never turned my back on him again. He would go on to stab a person – at the same 7-11, a year later, and go back to the joint a couple of times before he too was summoned to the infernal region. I can’t remember how he beamed up, but I had an alibi.

Stay safe and don’t turn your back on psychopaths. K? Oh – and don’t come near me with a beer. Ralph.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On your mark. Get set…. By Lt. Pata

Alrighty, so I get it. My blogs are not blogs at all…they are short stories. Guilty. Since I started on this little adventure, I was not sure what I was doing, so I called my little contributions -blogs. Um, they clearly are not. To give you an example of my technological shortcomings, when I started police work I used to write everything in pencil. Now, it is the computer. So it’s not hard to imagine that I am “challenged” in a computer way. I have cyber envy. I am digitally vacant.

My versions of the “blogs” are small morsels of my past, comingled with some of the present. Next thing ya know POOF! they go on a little longer than desired. It’s a curse. Its funny but the only time my trap is shut is when I am typing this thing. Also- remember that I can’t type and talk at the same time. To fall head first into the stereotype, I am Italian and, well, ya know the whole talk with your hands thing…for me its true.

The response to all of this blog stuff has been pretty amazing. Who would know that people were interested in this stuff? I mean after all me and my pals are not some big-city cops doing the shootout a night thing. (In reality – even they don’t do it each night. And thank God for that.) But their stories I’m sure are just as interesting. Actually, the way I look at it, they are really lessons in some ways. But I have been blessed – and at times cursed – with a great career surrounded by huge personalities in a very interesting community. I have to take a few lines and thank Beth Spotswood from CBS5 eye on blogs and Phil Bronstein at the Chronicle for giving us a little time and recognition on their own blogs and for seeing what we are really trying to do, which is chip away at some stereotypes and let you look over the wall to see there are really no big surprises.

I am a regular Joe, or Giuseppe, I guess. I just happen to come from a cop heritage that rubbed off on me, my brother Nick, my sister Diana (an ex-FBI employee and probably a spy) and maybe someday my boy. But he is kind of leaning towards being a paleontologist. I don’t care what he does. Really. I want my little guy to just love his job as much as I love mine. And, of course, buy daddy a nice Harley or Indian motorcycle someday. I just hope he does not do what his Cousin Dave did and join the freaking fire department. Holiday dinners are tense at our house. I guess every family has a black sheep. Ours is more like mutton. Thanks Dave.

I goof on myself, my family and “others.” It is a flaw, a weakness in my construction. I keep names out of it and try to be sneaky with some details that – if disclosed might make things a little too specific. It’s all true and in most cases there was a witness. Of course I have paid off the witnesses or they had an accident and are no longer with us. (wink)

Police departments are supposed to be a microcosm of society. And our little slice of heaven is just that. We have a nice variety of employees with piercings, tattoos, and people of all walks of life, color, religious beliefs, cultures, gender preference and political affliction.

It makes our world interesting and provides our customers some balance and absolutely some empathy and flexibility. It also keeps the old guys like me young and a devotee of the urban dictionary. All of the divorces, deaths, kids, births, marriages, financial issues-all the stuff our community suffers or celebrates, we do too, both at work and at home.

Suiting-up at work is not unlike getting ready for war, a paintball match or maybe for a few rounds in the ring. For those really sensitive types that saw the word war…yes, I know, we are not at war with our community. Trust me; someone will bristle at that little word. But take a look at what we wear. Bullet resistant vests, guns, bullets, tasers all of it wrapped in a nice 100% wool package. Oh and leather. Lots of leather.

The transformation is kind of cool to watch. A variety of fresh faces, like Officers Anthony Augustyn – usually on his way in from law school, Geoff Bowker, maybe Kim Larkey or Rob Cleland casually make their way across the parking lot and into our back door in their jeans, shorts, flip-flops with their iPods blaring and sometimes dragging behind them their suitcase, yes suitcase, with their work stuff in tow. All smiles until they hit the locker room.

The sardine can we call a locker room is small, cramped and the lockers – relics of WWII submarines -I suspect, are small. We shuffle things all over this little compound, kind of like a kid in high school with lockers in all of the buildings storing our things all over because we ran out of space in 1964. Closet poles are all over the place with jackets and rain gear hanging in long forgot corner’s of our police basement. The former briefing room is now the patrol officer equipment, helmet and gas mask storage room. Our guys and gals keep their suitcases there which contain report forms, gloves -maybe a snack or two and of course the obligatory Penal or Vehicle code. For those of you dying to know…the ladies have their own locker room. For those of you that thought otherwise, go to church. Now.

Not that I watch, but having been through the ritual of getting suited up for work is kind of a work in progress. First all of any sense of your past world is removed. You take off the shirt with the questionable graphic logo, or maybe the peace sign or whatever might actually indicate your bias.

The switch is almost religious in a weird way. The officers, me included, keep their religious medallions on or in the front pocket of their vest. Some have special tokens or mementos tucked in the front pocket where the Kevlar plate designed to slow down if not stop a higher caliber bullet resides. I keep a laminated photo of my son and a star with my girlfriends badge number in here. Some officers have painted in white on their black colored vests their blood type and donor status on the vest, a grim reminder of what this job can become in a moment. It is a desperate and polite message to the trauma center about what they might need quickly and what their wish would be in the event of the unthinkable. While we are on this happy subject, we also have locker letters and final arrangement documents for our peer support team to access in the event of that day.

Before the vest, you put on the black T-shirt. On hot days you use the material that wicks away the moisture. Doesn’t really help because on a hot day you could easily sweat off a couple of pounds of water. Where does it go? To your bullet resistant vest, of course. Now repeat this throughout the year and VIOLA! You have a lab experiment strapped to your body. A seasoned veteran officer could be found on the hottest of days – maybe in the walk-in cooler at the local 7-11 sitting on a stack of comfortable cases of beer.

While you can wash the liner of the bullet resistant vest, you can’t really wash the vest. So, the sweat and yuckiness is yours to keep until you get a new vest every 5 years. Nice huh? I like to call it “patina.” Some guys like Cpl. Mike Byers think its bad luck to wash the liner, kind of like a baseball player’s superstition and hang the vest like it is some sacred relic. It’s a nice little olfactory gift as I walk past his locker each day.

On cold days you wear layers of stuff. Maybe long underwear and of course the black T-shirt. About the black T-shirt. It is relatively new to us. We have been wearing it about 10 years now…that’s new. It used to be we wore white T-shirts under our uniform but we felt that it is kind of a give-away to a crook. If you work nights, the white shirt doesn’t work well with the blue uniform. I am a traditional kind of guy, so I like the white T-shirt, but as a safety thing, I get it. We are all about not being seen when we don’t want to be seen.

After strapping on the vest over the T-shirt then comes the 100% wool pants or maybe if you are a contemporary kind of cop you have on the cargo shirt and pants. I like the cargo pants. They are comfortable and they have a material that will stop from ripping in the very likely event of a tear. There is also a large selection of pockets to put your stuff in. The new pants and shirts come with rubber knee pads and elbow pads built in a very Smart idea, but not very official police-like for me. It doesn’t show well, and let’s face it, some of what we do is kind of showy and so it is not what you wear to a funeral or a council meeting…-Same thing.

Gotta have boots! It is the next thing that will cost you a mint and you put on because in reality it is the only thing that looks cool in uniform pants and it does have some utility. You can buy the mortuary boots, you know the cardboard ones that will last you a month or spend the money and get the good ones. The $200.00 brand is made with love and waterproof material. The good ones are also really light, an important feature if you have to run after a crook.

From the boots you put on the gun belt or the “Sam Brown” belt. OK, this should your first clue that this might be a sketchy job. We wear two sets of belts. Yep. There is the regular black belt that keeps the trousers up and then the utility belt, yes like Batman’s belt, that keeps your weapons and adjunct equipment properly stowed. This belt is attached to the other belt by way of mysterious straps of leather adorned with shiny snaps. Seriously, you would think the Marque de Sade was the designer of this uniform – or maybe Michael Jackson’s wardrobe guy.

The belt holds the gun, two sets of handcuffs, gloves, radio, ASP brand “baton” (an impact weapon) Extra bullets? Check! They are there on the belt too. All of it has a purpose and all of it is used virtually every night.

Our “stuff” is loaded up and checked in the locker room. The gun and electronic control device (Taser) are checked outside for obvious reasons.

When I see football players or baseball players in the locker room I think of our team getting ready. Not to play, but to provide our service and to prepare for whatever might come our way. Will tonight be the night we get in a shooting? Will all of my guys and gals come in at the end of the watch, in one piece, much-less alive? The game face goes on when the uniform goes on. It is a state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, it is not like a church here, briefings are very spirited and there is some time to yuck around, but the air seems different in our building than when it did just before you walk in. And not just because Mike won’t wash his vest carrier or because of the dank, musty smell of the dungeon we call a police station.

When these courageous and selfless officers come out of the locker rooms, whether it be the men’s or women’s locker’s they are ready to go. You can see the change in behavior from the moment they passed the backdoor into our little, dark, cramped world.

Some people have said we look mad or maybe mean. OK, sometimes we do. It is part of the game-day ritual. Take a look at the football player on the bench. How about the stare from the bullpen? It is the same mechanism, with just different results. It is state of mind stuff.

The job will sneak up and get you if you pretend to be Deputy Barney Fife. There is some science that the “friendly” or passive kind of cop has a problem getting killed. That is not to say the roulette wheel will not land on your number – no matter who you are. Take a look at officers who are getting killed. They are well trained heroes who were greeted with misfortune. As I write this two officers have been killed in the last two weeks. One last night. It is all about balance, fate, training and luck.

After the uniform and briefing, it’s time to strap on your office, a two-thousand something Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. This is a boring looking, but fast little car. It has been the industry standard for a number of years, both as cop cars and as taxi’s. But that has all come to an end. Ford stopped making them. Soon you will see all kinds of new cars hitting the street. It is actually pretty exciting.

Once you hop in the car, you check out all of the stuff that makes it your office. The mobile data terminal, the first aid kit, the stop-stick, the high-powered rifle and the bean-bag shotgun. The mobile data terminal is what we get our calls on – actually we are dispatched on the radio, but the details, the dirty little details -are on the screen. The MDT’s also give us criminal and contact info with photographs, car info, you name it, and you can get it on our MDT’s. And to those who would feel a little irregular about all this info based stuff, all of it is audited and checked and encrypted. It keeps us honest and totally transparent. The stop-sticks – they are a James Bond like device that will flatten tires of bad guys (And good guys alike who forget they are on the road) who are trying to get away. A car chase with the stop-stick deployed usually will be good for a set of police car tires. It happens.

Here I am trying to make this a simple more bloggy type blog and I am already five pages into it. And I am just getting started. So in order to facilitate the function of the blog, I will stop. Yep, to my critics I say – There ya go!

Stay Safe – Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Ralph.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Skullduggery by Lt. Pata

A couple of years ago I was the Detective Sergeant for our Investigations Bureau. It was a cool job for a couple of reasons. Reason 1: I could wear a suit, the official uniform of Italian men. Reason 2: I have spent about half my career as a detective and found that it was the most cerebral part of police work for me, either in the patrol car or in the bureau, investigating and putting clues together was my juice. It gave me an opportunity to completely investigate things patiently if not loudly...I used to get really vocal with some of my clients, usually after I politely put the phone receiver, gently into the receiver. Reason 3: I was exposed to some of the best cases and I was able to sink my teeth into some major events that changed the lives of our community, our department, other departments and most sincerely, my life oh and of course, coffee was the potion that would transport me to that spiritual Jack Webb place in my brain.

Being a detective and especially a guy with the police art talent exposed me to a new side of crime. The filthy dirty, underhanded side. People who are actually sinister in the manner they conduct their lives. Those rotten people that prey on our children, our elderly our disabled and cowardly take the property of others when they are not looking. My pop’s sense of right vs. wrong coupled with my grandfather’s execution of justice the N’dragngheta way, helped form my foundation for doing the right thing. The N’dragnheta was a “social club” similar to the Gambino’s but in the old country. The really, really, old country and Nonno Ernesto was, um, the Village scorekeeper er, maybe I should say “shot caller.”

The stories from years on the street and in the bureau would get your attention and as the years aggregate they create a protective veneer over the sensitive parts of my soul making me have to reach down a little farther to feel some things. I am invited back to the real world through my non-cop friends, my boy and a healthy application of pasta. All of those quiet moments are what help mold you into what you might be once you retire from this business.

One of the events that changed my attitude was the discovery of the human soccer ball on a neighborhood hillside. The call came out the night before and I received the call at home. “Ralph, the sergeant said, I think we found a skull.” Apparently a local guy was trying to clean up the hillside of a thicket of blackberry bushes and picked up what he thought was a soccer ball buried half way in the hardened dirt. Surprise! It had holes in it and was too light to be a bowling ball. The holes were, of course, for eyeballs. I am guessing for the guy that found this…there was a near incontinent -with a sudden lack of atmospheric pressure moment -as he sucked in a volume of air preparing for the big Holy $#@! that would accompany his ever contracting bladder. The discovery of this bony globe would be the beginning of a week long effort to resolve this case.

My experience with these kinds of finds was that they were usually fake or Native American bones. Marin County is loaded with Native American remains. I had a car sit on the remains all night at the end of the street so we could get on it first thing in the morning, well almost first thing. I had to see my friend Peet for my seductive elixir of roasted legumes. That beautiful, beautiful brown extract from the Arabica beans.

There was no use in going out the night of the call, because if was what I thought it was, it was not going to get any dead-er and hillside excavations suck at night. The only thing you accomplish at night is stepping into deer droppings and fall. Even with my center of gravity enhanced by fettuccini, I still have balance problems on steep hills. Remember, the Pata collections of people are lovers, not Billy goats. I ended the call and returned to my baby-back rib dinner. (Sorry, had to)

Too early the next morning I took Det. Auld with me, after coffee of course, and drove to the hillside where the World-Cup skull was found. I joked with Blair that it was probably some kid’s dirty trick, that I just put an officer on the bones all night for no reason and that I was going to have to explain myself to my boss. My boss was Lt. Al Piombo. Al is one of those brilliant guys who, given enough time would solve world hunger. Seriously, I used to be jealous of how smart this guy was and respected how he trusted me to do my job. Of course, my respect for him did not dissuade my goofing on him by booby-trapping his office when I could.

Blair and I casually walked up to the hillside from the street and saw all of this thick blackberry all over the place. Of course I had a coat on and it was starting to get a little warm, so I wanted to look at the bones and become a hero by telling everyone it was Native American or someone’s science room silent instructor, you know the bones hanging on the wire thing at the back of the class.

I walked up to the officer who directed Blair and me up to the scene. When I got close I saw the skull in the position it was found. I’m not sure what soccer league our reporting party was in, but this was not big enough to be a soccer ball, oh and the squiggly lines on top, where the three bones meet, gave it away to me that it was not suitable for making a goal. Well, not in its current configuration.

When the Officer rolled the skull over exposing the bowling ball holes, the two eye sockets and nose, I immediately felt everything from my a stomach down lock down tight. I’d swear I heard God start laughing at me. My heart started to beat faster and suddenly it became really, really hot out. The patron saints of nausea were also visiting me to enhance the moment of discovery that would rock my little world.

Of course I still didn’t put my coffee down or take my coat off; doing so would be a violation of the Dragnet code of conduct. I turned around and then told Blair, “Uh, we’ve got problems.” He asked me why, “Bull, they didn’t have dentists that back then.” My skull had fillings. In our business that was a clue. The Native American’s did not have access to 1-800-Dentist in the 1800’s. Problem number two…it appeared to be a child. The skull was tiny in size. Big-Big problems for us. Problem #3. I had to use the little detective’s room.

I had our patrol guy’s seal off the area and I contacted my boss. It’s like the horn for a cruise ship went off, notifying everyone around that we had problems. Of course all good cops are voyeurs in a way and dayshift showed up to see what the big deal was. And where there are cops…there are administrators, neighbors, ghouls, and yes, the media.

When you find a skull, it is likely that you will find bones nearby. We treated this like it was a crime scene and put up the tents and ordered the pizza. We also moved into the neighborhood with our Mobile Command trailer.

The next call was to the Coroner. Two investigators that I have so much respect for, Dave Froehner and Daryl Harris, showed up to give us a hand. This was going to be an archeological dig and we needed the pros to help. The Coroner called on two scientists from an archeological firm in Sonoma County to come and help us. Suddenly this was an Indiana Jones moment. The only thing missing was the hat and whip.

One of the first things we needed to do was discover from our archeologist if we were dealing with a Bona-Lisa or a Napoleon Bone-apart (Boy or girl.) One challenge we have, always, is keeping the lookie loo’s from contaminating the scene. This was not so hard because it was at the end of a road. Then there was the media air-force above. That was not so bad, but if you needed a moment to stretch out the elastic in your boxers or something, it would be on the tube. Not really a flattering moment, ya know?

We did all the background work on this we could. We pulled reports from the area, set up a hotline, made a media splash to see if we could get some callers to share their thoughts with us. We do this pretty often, not just for leads, but it is pretty cool to hear the stories, conspiracy theorists, and yes, angry ex-wives who snitch off their husband as the killer. The psychic’s are also an interesting group. They like to call too. I am not that closed minded to discard the thoughts of the psychic, but of course it is fun to poke at them a little. I’m a little psychic too… you see I knew they would call. See. Psychic. I rest my case.

As it turned out this was not a murder. But what happened? Days of sifting and digging dirt gave us most of our dearly departed. Some of the parts that were departed were yum-yums for the wildlife in the area, but we recovered most of the victim. Our CSI team of Peggy Ruge, Lynette Keller, Andorra Lee, Marc LaPlante, TJ Collins (yes a cool name) and others sifted yards and yards of dirt. The dirt was screened, and then taken to smaller and smaller screens. Finger bones in the dirt for years look a lot like little twigs. This find was in a grove of trees under a huge blackberry bush. To make matters worse, nice people over the years deposited their trash and steak bones in the area we were digging. So we had a few porterhouse false alarms.

We learned that a load of blackberry cuttings were picked up by the city and taken away. I called and found that the cuttings were still in the back of a truck at our corporation yard. A city dump truck containing the chipped remains of blackberry bushes and brush was sent back to the scene for us to shovel and sift through for any other clues. Our city Public Works crew’s dropped what they were doing and sifted the 5 yards of brush to make sure we had the entire victim and did not miss a clue. It just occurred to me, are we recyclable?

As our CSI team worked with the archeologists, using paint brushes to brush back inch after inch of dirt, we found bones dressed in what was left of denim jeans. At first it looked like the bones were tied up in a non-consensual way…but upon closer inspection, it was just the elastic part of the denim material left behind. The fabric appearing to be a ligature- was God having a little fun with me at the expense of my blood pressure. At the top of what used to be pants we found a button for LEE brand jeans and a cloth tag with some numbers on it. Our friends at the coroner’s office in Marin took the button and tag and did a little digging around (sorry) to find out what they could of the jeans. OK, ready for this?

That little tag told us a month and year of manufacture. The location of the tag on the zipper was changed in the early 1980’s from zipper to the back of the pant. This was definitely found near the zipper, so our friends at the coroner’s officer were able to date the pants. The coroner actually talked to the artist that designed the jean who was still alive living in the Midwest. The jean company was also able to tell us the year they switched from snap buttons to regular buttons. The number of belt loops was also a clue for us. All of this info was so interesting and gave us a time frame of how long the body may have been there. Pretty cool eh?

I noticed that the body had some thick blackberry roots growing through some of the bones. So here was my, or should I say Blair’s problem…why was this body under a thick blackberry bush? Was it dumped? By now everyone was calling us wanting to talk to members of our team about their missing cousin from Arkansas. Was this a murder victim?

I took the blackberry root from the victim and drove it to the genius’ at the UC Davis school of botany. These guys rocked! I felt like I was in the movie Silence of the Lambs when Clarisse met the bug guys at the university.
Two PhD’s met with me and looked at the root. These guys were not as creepy as the bug dudes in the Silence of the Lambs, but it was a very cool moment much like the movie. They were smart, and had a good sense of humor.

These two collaborated and told me the origin of the blackberry bush. “This is a Himalayan blackberry bush.” Really? “You can tell by the gray on the back of the leaves. “Ya, I said, I figured it was that” (I am such a liar.) The doc’s then took out a razor blade and sliced a sliver from the root. They put it under an electron microscope and told me how long the root had been in the ground. That data would give us a time frame of how long this victim had been there. The docs gave me a number around 18 years. They then said, “I think this part grew through your victim’s bones in the spring.” I looked around for the candid camera again, and then looked for the marijuana bong. “How can you tell that, doc?” They explained that the rings on this plant showed fall and summer. The dark represented slow growth, interpreted to these guys as fall. My sample showed some light growth just past the dark ring; therefore, my sample indicated the victim was in her spot in the springtime.

I drove home with a headache. This was all to smarty pants stuff for me and I felt like I needed a beer and a bar to dumb me back down. (Sorry but, lets face it; the local gin joint is not the Library of Congress.) On the way in I spoke to our park ranger, Mark Hedeen who told me that he recalled a number of years looking for a missing person, a woman on the hillside. He told me that SRPD even used tracking dogs but could not find a thing. Hmmmm. I was becoming really interested in this case.

On the last day at the site, we were preparing to remove the body of the person in the ground. I called for our police chaplains to respond so we could give this person a little official send off from what would be her almost final resting place. A couple tough-guys thought this was over the top, but I believe in Karma and decided she deserved it as much as anyone. The police staff at the scene, Coroner and archeologists stood around Lynn, (We named her) and said a little prayer for her as we were able to finally take her from her cold and undignified resting place. Blair and I along with our CSI staff personally carried her in casket box to the coroner’s van. It was important for both of us to do this and deliver her the willing and responsible hands of the coroner’s office. It is kind of like we had a relationship with her and after all of the time and effort, not to mention a few sleepless nights, we felt connected. It was a respectable handoff. I still remain proud of our team.

When we went back to the office we checked our messages. I had a call from a woman who lived directly up the hill from our find. I drove to her home and met with her the next day and asked her what she knew. She pointed out the house next door and told me that there was a woman who lived in that home, a small framed woman who had some pretty significant alcohol problems.

I would later learn that she had good reason. Five members of her family were lost at sea when the 1964 Tsunami from the Alaskan earthquake hit Washington State. Her husband,mother in law, and two children would later die in a car accident years later. Her cousin died of suicide and his adult child would also kill himself. This family, now all but wiped out was about to lose one more. Lynn, as we called her wrote a suicide note and was heard late one night by the neighbor saying “They will never find me this time.” SRPD responded to her home in the early 1980’s and found a ladder from her back yard to the blackberry infested forest behind her home.

I raced back to the police station and found the report now filed on microfilm. The automated record check we conducted did not go back far enough; this case never hit our radar screen.

The report had the name and suicide notes. The woman would never be found. Did we just identify “Lynn?” I gave the info the Coroner’s Investigators. Our coroner’s team found a last living distant relative in another state. That person submitted to a DNA test and after a month of waiting, we were able to identify Lynn and give her a proper burial. Lynn would no longer be missing. She was found, less than 200 yards from her fence. We never knew how she died, but an estimated opinion would suggest that she drank some alcohol, took pills then crawled under a blackberry bush to sleep. Sleep she did, for 20 years.

Stay Safe. Ralph.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turn for the worse by Lt. Pata

As a cop you are not really supposed to have that moment where you actually see your life pass before you. Not really. I mean of course it happens on every episode of popular cop shows, along with the shootout and paramour experience, but in real life, it happens - but it is not as sexy as on TV and at least in my experience I did not jump in the bottle or take drugs or seek out some cheap one-night stand. However, now looking back I am wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Built in excuse, a little legal- but immoral bad behavior-How long will Catholic guilt and Italian pathology poison my opportunities to have the adult “E” ticket experience? Sheesh!

Don’t get me wrong, I am a little interested in some vices. A nice bottle of Rafanelli Cabernet or Zin perhaps? I am not a prescription medicine guy but the company of a beautiful woman, Madonna (The mother of Jesus not the naughty singer-Said lovingly, almost like singing it- while looking up and both my hands flexing the index fingers to both thumbs.)…don’t hate me. It is my heritage. I love women.

As far as meds -once I brought back a canister of Oxycoton to the Emergency Room the day after a wonderful doc at Kaiser prescribed it for one of my many bumps from the job. I did not know what to do with it because it made me sick and I figured someone else could use it. I figured I could trade up- or down for something that would not make the lining of my stomach introduce itself to my mouth and nostrils. I am a really really bad patient. Some would call me pathetic. The idea of barfing, makes me sweat. Anyway, I remember the doc saying to me, “Are you kidding? You know the street value of this stuff?” Ya, like I was going to sell it to my pals.

After fighting fair, once-I remember seeing my life, short as it was and not quite as adventurous or interesting, pass before my eyes. Actually the fist of the bad guy, his knees, and the cement passed before my eyes first. I guess the moral of the story is if this misfortune is going to happen, then it really should happen late in life, so at least the story – actually the slideshow in your spinning head -is interesting. Mine was about silly stuff, you know, the past gals I dated, my pets and my mom’s ravioli, maybe a couple of really good donuts. It was probably a PG maybe an R rating – tops if it were a movie for others to see. Now, of course it would require the almighty version of a motion picture rating of an NC-17. I confess, I have enjoyed my life. Forgive me, it’s been 25 years.

So the slideshow- while in the heat of the battle- is a little distracting. Thankfully you have the loss of consciousness that works out the details with your subconscious. They are pals. “Unconscious, meet Subconscious.” A little synaptic handshake and POOF! You’re on your way.

It’s hard to swing or take a shot at the bad guy when in my subconscious – “life passing before me delirium” - my sweet mom is there in my hallucination, trying to feed me. “Not now mom I am getting my butt kicked!” In my experience, it is the few moments in between the well placed -fist-assisted clock-cleaning- punch that provide this little visual hallucination. But everyone is different.

The best way to describe it for you, the consumer of my nightmares, is to put in foam ear-plugs, then take a couple Valium- go to your girl or guy friend’s home and tell them you cheated on them and watch the festivities. Be sure to duck when the book War and Peace is thrown at you. Oh and jump off the roof for the pain factor that sneaks past the experience goal-keeper. Another good way to experience the wonder of this is to crawl in an industrial dryer at the Laundromat.

Of course, while many won’t get there, at least on a assault-induced level, Murphy’s law, or the Italian version, lets call it Peppino’s law’s, would ensure that I have this wonderful life fulfilling event. Twice. For now.

The first event was completely born out of my sense of stupid cop-ism. I normally don’t participate in my own behind whipping, but for some silly reason I decided to stay in the fight this one time. I should have handed this guy the keys to my car and bailed into the bar for a drink. I devoted a blog to my butt-pounding and if it makes it past the censor – you should get it any week…So – I won’t bore you here with the details.

The second event was much less painful, but more of a mortality-reality check. Facing down a guy with a gun is “Interesting.” I don’t really recommend it…well not for most, but there are a couple of folks I think of who would benefit from it. It is the big equalizer or perhaps the huge roadside sign in life that sets the perspective on the balance of your life. ATTENTION RALPH – Duck!

My little late night lesson in fight or flight, or survival was an attention getter to many, but mostly to me. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was another event that caused me to relive it in a cruel little way- designed by God I’m sure, to make me never forget that I am totally expendable, mortal, and made of water and gooey stuff that when damaged leaks red.

The beginning started like this: I was driving in at the end of the night and I was looking for trouble. I was driving west on a troubled boulevard in our city when I saw a felony car driving past. A felony car is a nice moving container of “suspected” criminals. The car was filled with people and was driving past me really-really slow in the opposite direction. It was like every nerve receptor in my body was alerted and telling me….turn around….turn around NOW. So, stupid Ralph, did. In hindsight, I now know it was God and his pals “Saint Pain” and “Saint Scare the Pants off of You” that dropped a nickel in the Ralph juke box of life and ordered up this little event.

I tried to not fall into this trap by evoking the innocent citizen clause. I said to myself, Naaaaah, these guys are just passing through. Well, just as I was about to disengage, they did a naughty thing that caused me to close the deal and pull them over. The result was my traitorous right hand lowering from the steering wheel, to the police light bar thing and then the fateful un-twitching deliberate right handed motion across the lever that sealed my fate. I activated the overhead light-bar. Oh, the naughty thing they did to seal their fate…they used their blinker to indicate a left turn. NO ONE uses their turn indicator. That coupled with the other stuff, like a burned out license plate light, (totally serious) and the fact they were driving the speed limit, was it for me.

I called out that I was going to stop this car. Smart Ralph called out the number of people in the car. There were 4 seen, but actually 5 in real life once I pulled them over and could see all of my new friends. In San Rafael we get an automatic cover for this, a car stop at night was the trigger. (So to speak.) The fact that there were 5 guys in the car, gave me an extra car for cover.

My pals Rob Guidi (now the Chief Inspector at the D.A.’s Office) and a martial arts expert kind of guy with a cool name and now retired Officer Bart Snyder, a muscular guy who actually reminded me of pit-bull, were my cover officers. The stop was in a good place for trouble. In a certain part of town, not unfamiliar with things that go “pop” in the night.

Before my cover could arrive I walked up to the car’s passenger side, a little trick I learned to keep people off balance a little and give me or any cop the only advantage that they could have in a car stop. Remember that most people getting pulled over have that time to hide or pull out things to make your life miserable. These guys would not disappoint me.

“Hi guys! I stopped you because your license plate light is not working…” (Said in my best Beaver Cleaver cheery way.) Yep, that was my probable cause. Oh. My. God. Getting it out fast and as friendly as you can is the key to keeping any weapons in their pants, which would, in turn keep mine in my holster. Its basic street cop stuff designed to put the bad people at ease. Think about it…you’re a crook, you just robbed or maybe killed someone. You are paranoid and now this pudgy cop is pulling you over. Now, throw in a little crack cocaine and you have a recipe for the OK Corral.

The old license plate light is a cheap little reason, but one sanctioned by the law and one that gave me what I needed, a legal introduction. The astonished crew from North-Richmond California gave me the look like, “Seriously?” It is not a stretch for me to play Colombo and act like an idiot…one would say that, perhaps it comes naturally. So – I gave these guys my best stupid cop – nothing is wrong pitch, which probably saved my life. These guys bought it.

Ok, you may not believe this…but there really is something to feeling a vibe. I had a really bad feeling as I walked away from the car that something bad was up. I guess it is part of the reason I stopped them. Officer Tom Sabido was in shrink school and was doing his Master’s Thesis or a paper on the “premonition” thing or whatever you call it when cops get that spider-sense hair on the back of your neck feeling. Ask anyone, - ask him it is real! It is also another of God’s misguided games – at least on me. Sure, he will give it to me for labor reasons, but when it comes to matrimony, or perhaps investments…I get the big goose-egg. Nothing. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Not even a wave of nausea.

By the time Officer Guidi and Officer Snyder got there, I was ready to invite these guys to the beautiful scenery that is the sidewalk in this lovely part of town. I remember walking up to the car, a crappy dumpy rusted-out lowered Chevy and I asked the occupants if they would not mind stepping out. OK, so here is every cop’s dilemma. Keep your audience in one place, making a smaller target, or getting them out so you can keep your eyes on those filthy little trouble-makers – their hands. I got them out. I wanted to see what was in the car. I asked the driver if I could take a look around. He said yes. Remarkably, people normally always say yes. In his case, he knew he had nothing bad in the car. It was on him. I came out of the car dejected. I knew that something was up. But where was the dope? Grrrrr.

This next little event proved to be annoying. I should have just said thanks, dusted these guys off and left…but no. Not me. I asked to search these guys individually. As luck would have it, of course they said yes. What I did not know, was that their “yes” was my little avenue to personal growth that would cause a vacuum effect relationship between my trousers and my lower gastrointestinal area.

So I picked the wrong-or maybe now as I look at it…the right citizen to search. Rob and Bart are dialed in to the other 4 guys and I start to work my way down this guy’s prize-fighter shoulders – searching all the way. This guy could have been a welterweight boxer. He was fit. But his fitness betrayed his central nervous system.

I like to take it all in when I am dealing with people…no matter what I do. So the artsy guy in me noticed a couple clues: One, he was sweating, Two: He was talking really fast, Three: I could actually see the beating of his carotid artery on both sides of his neck, as I stood behind him and Finally: I could see and feel his muscles contract as I touched his shoulders to check under his armpits. (Ya sexy job eh?) Now, Ralph was getting nervous. This guy was nervous like a priest in a line-up.

I asked a really-really stupid question, but one, again that I think may have contributed to me not getting shot. I asked my new pal “Um, you don’t have a gun, do ya?” Flabbergasted and a little hurt, he assured me that he did not. Phew! OK, now that I got that out of our system, you know the 300lbs elephant in the room, I said, OK, and started to search him again. Because, of course, he would never lie to me. People are too good.

I put my mitts back on this guy’s shoulders as I prepared to search under his armpits and down his spine for hidden stuff. You know, knives, machete’s guns bombs. Etc. Don’t laugh. I actually took a hand grenade off of a El Salvadorian guy once. I’ll share later.

The second I put my hands on this guy’s shoulders again he tenses up. Now it is the late in the evening, around 11-ish it’s not cold and my hands are not especially repulsive or cold to cause such a reaction, in fact I think they were nice and toasty –if not sweaty so I am wondering, what is going on? And I do it again…the question thing. This time, I am NOT HAPPY with the answer…Actually it was more of a statement…. I said “You have a gun don’t you?” Not really wanting the truth, I got it.

My new criminal friend said “Ya!” I tell ya…the planet stopped rotating for a second.

OK, lets dissect this a little. He didn’t just say “Ya” and direct me to his blued steel pistol….no no, well, not really, I guess he did in a way, He decided that our friendship, or acquaintance was over. It was terminated and he no longer was interested in forging a working relationship that would allow me to help him mend his ways. One that would help him find a new path. Nope. He made the decision that although he did not know me, he was more interested in ending my short life. Perhaps it was a harbinger for things to come.

My new client had a pistol and decided to go for it. I did not get the “sit around the campfire wanna see my new gun” vibe. I really-really got the trouble signal that this was not going quite as I had planned. Now I was wanting to be in my happy place, perhaps in Vegas, or maybe surrounded in a bathtub full of my mom’s lasagna or gnocchi. I would have settled for having to eat my way out of a tub full of peas, while listening to Justin Bieber – I hate peas and need I comment on JB?

My would-be terminator was going for it with all of his energy. I responded by paying attention and turned to basic survival and did what I thought was reasonable at the time. All of my parts were working. I remember the submarine “Dive Dive Dive!” alarm going off in my head. Aoooooooga Aoooooga!, then there was the fire bell “Ding ding ding!” Followed by my guardian angel flying down grabbing me by the front of my shirt collar and vigorously slapping the taste out of my mouth as he shook sense into me that this was the real deal. This is what the silly firearms and defensive tactics instructors had prepared me for. This is why cops drop dead at 50…the stress of this one moment. All of that training was for this moment. Holy #%$@! (My pulse is rocking right now as I write this and yes I have gone to the bathroom twice since I wrote this little paragraph.)

As the non-visual and inaudible alarms went off in my head, my body became a task oriented piece of equipment. My epiglottis slammed shut. PROBLEM, I need to tell someone. Mr. Epiglottis, my soft pink squishy pal designed as a safety hatch to keep barf down, squeaked open-long enough for me to say those nauseating but necessary words….”GUN! HE HAS A GUN!” That was it, my pink soft palate slammed shut so I would not barf and still be able to breathe. AND breath I did. My lungs inflated twice their size, I’m thinking now that it was their little way of getting my last breath in or perhaps getting ready for the organ donor recipient.

Next: The behind. My rear-end started to consume my underpants and trousers in an alarming rate. I actually think this is why I am interested in clothes. I believe that this event integrated the natural fibers of my boxers into my DNA on a chromosomal level.

Every muscle contributed to this fight. I remembered instinctively going for the bad guy’s gun. There was a flurry of action going on and I distinctively heard the sound of a metal hitting the ground. But it was not my guy’s gun because I had it in his hand. OK, new problem….HOLY @#$%! His pals are also armed. This is a big problem to cops. Um, there are five of them and three of us. And I am fighting this schifoso with all I have.

Dilemma. What the hell do I do now? I have his hand trapped over his gun. My right hand is pushing down in the guy’s waist band as he is trying to pull the freaking gun up. It was a push pull thing and the whole time I am thinking…no you don’t! My other hand was punching him in the head then as he moved forward toward Bart, I got a hold of his puffy jacket from my position behind this guy. New problem. Bart is standing in front of this guy with his pistol drawn pointed at the couple of guys that are remaining.

Two bailed and ran. So Bart – not by any design of his own, is not in a good place, but he and Rob are probably the reason this has not digressed into a big shootout.

I think Rob called out the “Officer Needs Help” on the radio, but still all of this… these last few pages lasted literally seconds. The fact that I can remember it is because of the slowed down time perception that happens in these “OMG” moments. I can tell you right now that I can smell my crook as I sit here typing. I think I can smell the foundry his pistol was made at and I might be able to tell you if the guy that poured the metal was wearing deodorant.

Back to my problem. Let go of the hand holding the gun…giving this guy a split second to turn around and blast me or Bart as I pull out my Beretta? OR, keep him from pulling it out giving me some time to try and strip it from his hand and maybe if I am lucky, this jerk will shoot himself. I suck at gambling and this was the gamble of my life. Maybe Bart and Rob’s too.

Another little concern…my Beretta holds 16 really fast rounds, I feared I would end up shooting this schifoso and a couple would get past the goalie and hit Bart. This, in official police terms – SUCKED! I am not ashamed to tell you, I wanted to shoot this guy. I did. I still do. My index finger is cramping right now.

During the fight, apparently the good Lord found it in his best interest to keep me alive. I remember punching this guy in the head and holding on for dear life, seriously, to his right hand. Well, in doing that, I actually did strip the gun from his right hand. Of course I did not know that at the time. My hearing was shut off and the aperture of my vision was about the size of a quarter. The suspect pulled out of his jacket, and did another no-no. He grabbed Bart’s gun and tried to steal it from him. Bart did an awesome job of pulling it away. Now all of this really made me quite upset, and I fell to the ground – disturbing the natural fibers of my LAPD blue pants. Ralphy is no longer scared. He is angry. Really Reeeeeeeeallly angry.

Once the crook pulled out of the jacket, it was like the beginning of a horse race. This guy was ON! Now, a sane guy would say, “see ya!” and let him go. But not us. Cops go after these guys and Bart and I ran after this crook who was pulling away from us like he was in the Olympics.

I remember seeing Bart try to light the suspect up with the laser on his pistol but it was bouncing all over the place. Once this guy made a quick left, poof! He was gone. About 100 yards into the foot chase, I could hear the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, and almost like the guy directing the soundtrack for this race was turning up the stereo slowly introducing the sound of my flat feet running. There was also the huff and puff of my Mediterranean body sucking in air like a jet engine.

Bart and I called out the last direction of the crook and that we lost him in the apartment complexes West of us. While we were chasing this guy the couple of blocks, I remember one of the OTHER crooks, who was with him, was not running toward us in this dark industrial part of the street. I guess the sigh of us running make him hop a fence at a car dealership –right in front of us! It was a bad move for him for a couple of reasons. It was a fenced-in lot AND-the top wire was razor wire. Yes, at this moment I am smiling. This guy just jumped into the Cusineart food processor. But imaging the confusion, we are chasing one guy and another is running toward us. If it was not so serious, it could have been a comedy. Did I mention the razor wire?

The “Officer Needs Help” call turned into a county-wide response of cops. It was beautiful. There were probably 60 cops there. This guy was in our perimeter. I remember I was assigned to check every a group of apartment complexs with our police K-9. It was with one of my personal cop heroes now Sgt. Rick Clary and I think it was his alligator-with a toupee- (disguised as a police dog) MAX. Max was a very angry little German Sheppard. And he was so good. Max was the piranha of dogs. Max, or as I called him Maximum or Maxi-tude, was ready to find my guy who disappeared in the night, That dog put his nose to the ground and pulled Rick toward an apartment complex in this heavily dense populated neighborhood. Max took us to these carports and then to the laundry rooms of this one complex. Picture, if you will, a small room that is not unlike a box, with a couple of windows, containing washing machines and driers.

Max is all over this one room. Rick knew the crook was there. Max looked like a junkie ready to get his next meat fix. His fur was all spiked up on his back, I could picture him tying a hankie around his neck while the saliva lathered up his snout. I looked in the window with my pistol drawn ready to do this again with the crook. All I could see was a huge pile of clothes in the corner of this room. I don’t think I blinked as I scanned the room for my crook. And then, I received a gift from God.

As I stared at intently at all of the stuff in the room, suddenly, the pair of shoes in the pile of clothes moved. But just a millimeter. I remember shouting…he’s in here! I was a maniac. I was shouting for this guy to put his hands up, because as far as I knew, he was still armed. I was rewarded for my observation, by receiving a love bite from Max who tried to get my attention. I think Max was trying to get me to shut up so he could go do his job. Or maybe he was jealous that I found him first. All I remember is seeing teeth of what I thought was a werewolf coming my way and Rick - with his eyes wide open and pulling as hard as he could to keep Max from devouring my lower leg. The boot saved my shins – and the pooch went in to get his treat. The crook really should have put his hands up. But he didn’t and I was ok with that, I know Max was. He literally became a squeaky toy for Max.

After Max introduced his canines to the suspect (liberally) I noticed that Mr. Tough-guy had enough. As soon as he popped his hands up, Max stopped chewing and again, good overcame evil. The hands up part was not quiet as fun as the chewing part for me, but all good things come to an end.

I don’t think I slept for a week after this. I do remember receiving a telephone call from a Richmond Police Officer the next day. I did not know who this guy was, and actually still don’t. I remember him saying “Congratulations, you are alive.” He then told me that the crew I stopped was conservatively estimated to be responsible for a half dozen robbery homicides in North Richmond and Contra Costa County. The cops were very interested in the guns for ballistic work.

As for the rest of the crew…the “clink” I heard during the fight was another gun. The guy who ran and hopped the fence was armed too. Thank God he was too much of a chicken to pull the trigger on us. I also thank God for razor wire. He needed some help from an emergency room doctor to stop the leak and put him back together. Yes I am still smiling. I suspect it was Rob and Bart having the crook’s behinds in the sight of their guns that kept me and us alive. Two of the other guys were wearing bullet -proof vests. Moral to the story, never use your turn indicator. As far as I can tell, the guy that tried to introduce me to his pistol is still in prison. I think he got 15 years. The others stayed in the joint for 9 years. The guy who hopped the fence, last I heard he was on the run.

Stay safe. Ralphy. More to come.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Hawaii.......

This blog comes to you from the Island of Kauai. I thought I’d bring you up to speed on what’s going on around the PD. It has been a busy couple of months for us. Like any family we have had people sick and injured even a death to our family and have had to muscle through it all while trying to maintain the same level of service our customers and clients have grown to like. Needless to say it has impacted the blogosphere but, I have a remedy for those moments. I have saved up a couple and they are on-deck to submit in the next few weeks. So here I sit in Hawaii, listening to the water and typing this little filler article until I can get my head around the next wave of blogs. Oh, and let me tell ya…there is a next wave…No pun intended. (Hawaii)

The last few months our team has been working with Dominican University to help them pull off the California Governor’s Debate. A huge endeavor, especially when you look at the stakes in this race and what it meant to San Rafael, not to mention the University. Now add a stabbing, shooting, miscellaneous thefts and missing people and bad stuff and you should get the picture that our shrinking staff has been working pretty steady trying to make it all work. It reminds me of a chainsaw juggling act

I have to hand it to Dominican; they did a great job of pulling off this debate in a well managed if not frenetic way. The energy level, months, then days leading up to the event could have powered a small town. Setting up an event like this is not like planning a wedding. Well, it might be if the bride and groom were polar opposites and the vows they were taking –literally “for richer or poorer” had a profound effect on everyone on their guest list…the welfare of Californian’s from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.

I will write more about this event another day, once we figure out who we want to drive the USS California, and once my medication wears off. For now, suffice it to say, I am qualified to be a Sheppard who specializes in herding cats.

In September one of our finest young officers lost his brother in a tragic auto accident. I can remember being at the range with 20 officers and police staff who were trying to learn how to deal with difficult people with the application of firepower and negotiations. During the range day, Captain Starnes announced the loss of our officer’s brother. It was like all of the air was sucked out of the room. God wound up and pitched a fastball directly to the private parts of our team. Immediately heads dropped to the ground. I watched as our officers, dispatchers and police specialists put their hands on their hips, turned and walked away from each other to have the moment alone. The wiped-out lack of expression, punctuated by the thousand-mile gaze said it all. (Hard to do by the way with shots being fired all around you. Gave me a new appreciation for our troops…)

While none of us knew this officer’s brother, it might have been anyone of our brothers. No smarty pants Ralph here. It was sobering. We all knew the struggles of this officer in growing up in a not so pleasant world – and knew the sacrifices his parents and grandparents made for their entire family. So, to hear this news was especially difficult and disappointing. Like all good cops, we took a few minutes, then immediately brainstormed on how we could rally and surround this family with what we could offer. Solving the problem and rescuing the innocent. It is kind of our way. Our dedicated and woefully inadequate but genuine way.

The day of the funeral was interesting – to say the least. I drove over to Richmond on a Saturday, with the Chief of Police. A number of our officers came on their own time to stand beside this family and our pal in his moment of need. The arrival of black and white police cars, and officers in a very weary and torn part of this city was not met initially with praise or a feeling of “come on in, we were expecting you.”

The tension could have been cut with a knife. We were not what people expected to see. I remember feeling like maybe we were being self indulgent or perhaps selfish in showing up. After all, the officer was our friend, but this was their brother. Those feelings left almost after I stepped out of the Chief’s car. The gray in the sky seemed to yield to sunlight as the hardened suspicious looks, thawed and retreated to acceptance and tolerance.

The service for our officer’s brother was amazing. More life was present at this funeral than I have experienced in both of my weddings and in all of my religious experiences. The singing was on par with any professional group on the radio or any choir twice its size. The sermon and recollection of the young life by family and friends was warm and sincere. I was in the most real and loving event than I could recall in years. The pastor acknowledged the 300lb elephant in the room, the cops. The parishioners and mourners gave us applause. I was touched. We all were.

Finally, I have to share the wonderful sight of men and women of all ages standing, singing, and I will never forget seated in my pew, looking up at the beautiful woman, maybe 80 years old, now standing, who pulled out her own tambourine from her purse and joined the young man on the drums and one on the organ as they celebrated this lost young life. As I looked up and around the room and reflected on our arrival, I wonder how many other young lives were celebrated in this hall. Well done. Attention organized traditional religion: time to take a field trip. I have an appointment with the Pope. We need a little facelift.

As if this emotional shot to the ribs was not enough, our organization dipped to an injury level I have not seen in more than 10 years. Some were detectives; some were from SWAT others from our patrol teams. Cynical cops always dissect the mechanism of injury and then apply their own physicality to the injury… it’s our version of water-cooler talk about the weakness of one of our own. Like the recipient of the injury was made of glass or china. That is part of the culture, and I would say “there but for the grace of God…” I am a court- recognized disabled officer who was damaged in a 1996 car accident. I get it. I can still work, mostly because I love my job and I feel like I have more to do and offer. I can work through the pain, but I have to admit getting up some days is not so easy and at times not so smart. I can do it, does not mean everyone can do it. But many before me have worked through injury and illness and I am sure after I go many more will deal with their pain in their own sobering ways. So long as those ways are not tied to the pharmaceutical industry. A couple of my friends have gone that way and sadly, they are no longer employed and others are no longer alive.

I still go to the Emergency Room a couple of times a year for the “big shot” that will fix my neck. Most of our officers have or are headed to surgery to fix their injury. It’s hard to fake that. It gets back to my saying that this job is like being in the NFL for a couple of years.

The treatment for some of these injuries, a sinister byproduct of this vocation, is second to some forms of Chinese torture. Imagine being 25 years old and having to have your nerve endings burned off to ease the pain. Or maybe a nice cadaver bone affixed to your spine? Rods, pins and screws used to hold together the frail and failing skeletal infrastructure? Sure. How about seemingly routine arthroscopic procedures to knees and shoulders almost like ordering a sandwich at a local deli?

Our department Chaplains has had a spiritual workout these lasts few months. I am sure their white collars can stand on their own from all of the use. From the death in our family, to the injury and illnesses and two very critical incidents involving young people, our officers have been navigating demons from these events with honor and valor as the robberies, crashes, domestic disturbance and violence calls do not cede to our moments of misery and seem to slide in between our “normal” calls for service, oh and the debate.

Its’ been a rough season at SRPD, but still our people move forward as we enter robbery season. Like a watch you can count on, a few days ago our first in a series of robberies started. Note to Detectives’ - stock up on legal note pads and pens – oh and keep your sport coat handy.

I can’t tell you how proud I was as a San Rafael Police Officer, an OLD San Rafael Police Officer, when I heard Officer Chuck Tirre call out on his radio that he was in foot pursuit of a robbery suspect a few weeks ago. Chuck is one of our most senior – if not the most senior officer in the organization. I love it when one of our “mature” officers runs down a young hyena as they rob or victimize a citizen. It sets the tone for the young officers that we, the infirmed and lame are not done. These young criminals have no idea. While the years do affect the infrastructure of a cop, usually in the form of ravioli deposits throughout the body, the mind and engine of these cops is ready and willing to take on any threat. Officer Tirre is a great example, well, actually, he is one of those weirdo’s that never got fat, but still, his motor was on when the robbery call came out.

The suspect picked wrong - that day. Chuck, Officer Bob Henkle, also part of the department’s tenacious “venerable” team and honorable survivor of a violent act that nearly cost him his life more than a year ago, ran this guy down into a building where he tried to hide from our guys. I ran from the police building after ordering up a helicopter from the CHP. I was determined that we were not going to lose this guy and I wanted to be there. The wise-guy in my head was chanting “neener neener neener!” because I knew this guy was done and we were going to resolve this situation professionally (Neener neener withstanding.)

In police work we get clues, delivered to us at times from the almighty. A big-big clue is when a handful of ordinary people, just trying to do their jobs, run like they are on fire from a building in all directions. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a clue from God. The bad guy is in the building. Of course those running out were normal. Once we secured the perimeter, it was time for us “abnormal types” to go in. The adrenaline was palpable. I recall hearing the shouts of our people on the radio and live from inside a phrase that is a “gut bomb” for anyone in the business- “we are not code 4!” What they were saying in polite hurried police talk was: ‘get the %$#@ inside we need help!’ While maintaining a perimeter, those who could go in-did. When I got inside I saw the suspect kicking, screaming and resisting the best he could on the floor. Of course he was a gang member who was threatening to kill our officers while they tried to subdue him on the floor. Of course good overcame evil and our client was arrested and taken to the hospital for evaluation, prior to being booked. When a suspect is acting pretty violent, we take them to the hospital in an ambulance first to avoid any conflicts that might occur, like maybe a cardiac arrest.

Attention bad people – hereinafter are clues that your criminal ways have betrayed you this fine day: One: Sgt. Wanda Spaletta, a great street sergeant, who is not shy about overcoming resistance from suspected criminals (wink) is the boss; Two: Sgt Coale a weightlifter who has to turn sideways to walk through a doorway is on duty; and Three: The likes of Officer Tirre, Officer Sabido and Officer Henkle all seasoned vets who are hip to your wily ways are working and have arrested people probably before you were born.

Good overcame evil and the “alleged” bad man was arrested. I love the word alleged…the press use it all the time. It is a dishonest word, but one used all the time because apparently we always arrest the wrong guy – or gal.

So from Hawaii, stay safe…bruddah! Ralph.

Next few weeks – A blog on fighting fair, an archeological dig and who knows…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Busy Busy!

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to apologize for no new blog posts. I take full responsiblity as Ralph sent me a blog to review weeks ago but it has been a very busy month. Ralph is on a well deserved vacation in Hawaii but when he gets back I will have him re-send the blog which I have since lost in the mass of e-mails I get everyday. I hope all is well with everyone as we move towards the exciting holiday season.

Lt. Dan

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Kilo Club by Lt. Pata

Back in 1989 I was a new cop. I tested and got the best job in the world, undercover guy in the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force. It still remains one of my fondest memories and the pals I made in the unit have become life-long friends and really are like family. I worked with I think the best Marin County had to offer back then. An eclectic group of professional’s who thought outside of the box, politely teased and poked each other, but when it was time to get to work, or pick on the Fire Investigators that shared our office for a couple of months…we did the heavy lifting on serious cases and did a great job of messing with the hosers and chasing them out of our office. Regarding the best job in the world thing…OK, food taster for Food and Wine magazine and Bed – Room comfort researcher for the Four Season’s Hotels might be a better job.

We were a “Major” unit because we were not limited to just narcotics. It was our focus, but back then, there was a nice variety of criminals for us to pick on. The beginning of our unit was pretty cool. We were each hand selected for our strengths and personalities. Then Lt. Walt Kosta and then Sgt. Scott Sibbald were the team leaders. I will never forget the interview. I was totally nervous. I gave the panel all of the standard cop answers about why I wanted to be in the unit.

I think I wore a J.C. Penny Blue suit and a horrid wide tie to this little soiree. Oh, the humanity! Let me take this minute to apologize to the late Gianni Versace and Mr. Armani and Zegna. I’m certain my punishment will be purgatory consigned to a WalMart brand suit, or worse, shoes.

At the end of the questioning the stoned faced leadership thawed a little. Sgt. Sibbald looked at me and reminded me that while all of my answers were correct and very professional, that being in the unit would be “a blast” too. He was not kidding.

After I was selected I packed my bags and left behind SRPD for the Task Force. There was a certain lieutenant who was not supportive of my move and did not feel I was a good candidate, so, I had something to prove. And, prove it, I did. Neener neener neener, ya big meanie. – Oh and thanks for your office!

It was a cool experience. I remember saying goodbye to my pals and did not look back for a number of years. That was a little problematic, when one day my black and white buddies forgot what I looked like.

You see I was setting up a drug deal in a parking lot when my beautiful paramour Beretta 92F Pistol, apparently made a surprise performance. The very hip Hawaiian shirt, pulled up and over my gun which was in the small of my back. So there I am at a really nice grocery store in a really nice part of town looking like one of characters from Miami Vice on the payphone and my pistol is making friends with all of the housewives. I told you, God likes to play hide and seek with me.

Oblivious to my armed rear-end’s “how ya doin’” act, I sat in my car waiting for a delivery of cocaine. Suddenly I see a number of black and white patrol cars circling me like I was a seal and they were sharks. I am getting a little frustrated because Mr. Drug Dealer only likes to deal one on one, not with a bunch of cops as spectators. Suddenly a group of police cars pull in behind me and I hear that nauseating sound a universally recognized sound that can only be a police issued Remington Model 870 shotgun. It is a beautiful sound when you are on the trigger side and you hear the gentle steel hands of your long-legged long gun escorting the plastic canister of death to receiver of the gun. That little canister containing those 9, 32 caliber hemisphere’s suitable for non-voluntary insertion into the unwilling recipient. This time, ME!

My frustrated fog of boredom is then illuminated by the following unfriendly demand: “YOU IN THE CAR PUT YOUR HANDS UP!” My brain had the following conversation with the rest of my body…Holy @&$! My eyes dilated, the eyelids of my “ravioli eyes” opened way past their intended aperture, nostrils-open wide and take over breathing duty as Mr. Mouth prepares for babbling and, or vomiting. Hands slllllooooowwwly move from the steering wheel to the roof of the car. Lower gastrointestinal tract, secure the aft hatch!

I look in the rear view mirror and I thought I was facing the firing squad. There were 4 cop cars and all of them were pointing guns at little old me. My arms were spring activated and immediately attached themselves to the roof of the car.

Now a couple of things were going through my mind. 1: If I get shot I am really going to be upset. 2: If I get shot, I am going to a hospital, where I dig this nurse and they are going to cut off my pants and she will see my beer-mug patterned boxer shorts. 3: #2 won’t matter, because in a second it will look like I spilled a beer on my boxers. And Finally, I knew if they pulled the trigger none of this would matter because I would be an ornament on a cold stainless steel table and some ghoul doctor would be taking pictures of me naked as they part my waterproof full body leather container and expose my insides.

It is never a good idea to negotiate with the cops when they are ordering you to do things. Especially with guns. So, I am trying to comply, but I also don’t want them to feel silly when they discover it’s me. I shout out of the window, “Jimmy – it’s me Ralph!” After I am told to be quiet and comply, I start to wonder if I owed any of these guys time off from a shift trade or something…I finally get someone’s attention and my pals put away the arsenal and dust me off. I thank them, and they drive off, probably to coffee. Of course my deal never happened and I drove out of the area quickly, completely embarrassed. I wanted to take up smoking. One gun pointed at you is bad. Four with a couple of shotguns mixed in, sucks.

The first week at the Task Force was kind of an introduction to how things used to work. But I was not selected to do things the way they used to be. We were all selected to do this job our way. Walt was the best boss. He was very supportive and he was a giant in the cop world. Lt. Kosta had worked a number of homicides and was really a star at SRPD and in the county. I mean when Detective Magazine writes a story about one of your cases, well, then you hit the big-time! He also had two master’s degrees, so he was not a slouch. Walt gave all of us enough room to get the job done. I can still remember seeing Walt standing in the door of his car at a shopping center after my team arrested a prison guard for buying cocaine to smuggle into prison. I recall handcuffing this dirty cop and hearing loud claps and someone (Walt) speaking loudly to a crowd of people in the lot “Another drug dealer goes to jail ladies and gentlemen!” The whole crowd started clapping and some sang the tune to “bad boys,” seriously, as we lead this guy away. This was a pretty cool experience.

The Task Force was located in a non-descript building, far away from any police station. Of course we were the undercover pool for the county and to do our job we all dressed funny, grew our hair and drove a combination of cool cars. Except mine, of course. My first car was a Chevy Beretta. What a dump-truck car. (Sorry to the Beretta owners of America, but seriously, yuck.)

We ended up switching cars pretty often, because some entrepreneur decided to sell a list of “Task Force” cars, with their descriptions, capabilities – like monitoring conversations (You know James Bond stuff) and license plates to patrons of local bars. Of course they were all wrong, but you have to hand it to the guy that thought that little one up. I think he sold them for $20.00 a pop. Nice. By the time I was out of the unit, I had a Buick Regal convertible, A Mercedes Benz convertible, A BMW, a Camaro and a Toyota and a few others.

One of our jobs was to attach ourselves to the feds when they came to town. The DEA liked us because we played well with others. So did the FBI and State Narcotics. Our unit had a great reputation because we worked pretty hard and were not territorial. All we wanted to do was catch crooks and send them to jail. By the way DEA does not stand for Don’t Ever Apply but FBI does mean Forever Bothering Italians. I keep trying to tell them what my dad told me, the “Mafia” was invented by Richard Nixon. That’s my pop…I love him, but he needs a little work.

One afternoon my pals were ready to leave and the DEA blew into town. The group was doing this “reach out and play with the local’s” thing. So, I was single and had no life and volunteered to go out with these guys. I was doubled up with this agent in a car in a Southern Marin restaurant parking lot when without provocation or warning, this high-roller in a really really nice car parks next to us and starts talking about ounces. Seriously, it was like Christmas. We are in a parking lot and a drug dealer pulls in next to us and starts talking about ounce deals of cocaine in what would later become my car.

The agent looked at me in amazement and asked if I heard the same thing he heard. We watched this arrogant guy (completely metro by the way) drive across the street into a secured parking lot. Well, it was not that secured because I got into it and watched in amazement as this dealer stocked the front seats of a half dozen unlocked cars with ounces of cocaine. Each car was parked next to each other and the driver’s doors were unlocked.
The suspect opened each one and slid a Ziploc bag containing cocaine under the front seat of each car. The cocaine gods were all over me. I should have bought a lottery ticket.

We took this guy off and found a kilo of cocaine and a huge amount of money in the trunk of his – now OUR car! We whisked him away and towed all six cars. All six cars would later be forfeited and sold at auction.

This guy thought he was Pablo Escobar or something. We get him to the county jail and roll him. Its funny these guys never hold their own. They roll over on their sources pretty easily but they like to feel like they are getting a deal. The art of the roll – to develop a client into an informant – will test your patience at times because these guys and gals are generally self-centered, and greedy. We nicely make the wannabe government informant disappear from jail because it seems that everyone knows everyone and the word gets out that the police talked to the them. It’s kind of like government sanctioned and consensual kidnapping, or “Rendition.”

I decided to let this guy cool his ego in the jail for a night and brought him down for a nice talk the next morning. The crook got escorted down to the sheriff’s office to a private room where I and the DEA agent were waiting for him. Immediately this loser starts to mouth off about what he wants and needs. He looks terrible. He has a little stubble on his face and the gel wore off. He tells me that he can’t talk to us or do anything without an espresso. Hey, it’s Marin. I have had about as much of this princess that I could have and its only 7AM. I didn’t get much sleep and one could say I was grumpy. I was not in my happy place.

I agree to get him an “espresso” – at the sheriff’s office, right!
I go over to the coffee machine in the hallway with the institutional prison quality coffee; you know the stuff that comes in a foil pack. I dump yesterday’s all day long brewed coffee into a cup. I look around and then dump some of grounds into the cup and give it a stir and bring it back. He drinks it and looks into the bottom of the cup after taking a sip and gave me one of those looks like, “OK, ya got me.” I smile back and ask if I can get anything else for him. Surprisingly, he says no. It’s too bad too because I had a great idea for a cold cup of water.

We set up the deal and like all good dope deals, we wait and wait and wait then set up the deal in a couple of locations. Dealers always want to change the location. We like to control the location because on more times than I can remember on major deals there usually is help or some other person you don’t know about hiding. It’s a huge risk, but one we try to plan for. Try is the optimum word.

Once the deal is arranged, we give Mr. Drug Dealer back his car, temporarily, of course. We set up a 5 key deal with his crime partner another pathetic pretty boy, from southern Marin. You know, tanned, manicured fingers, probably wore a little makeup. Because of the weight of the deal and the amount of money involved we pulled out the stops and manned this case with several agents and detectives.
We put my crook up on a wire and my boss and I team up in a car nearby to monitor the wire and eat Doritos. The wire car calls the shots usually with the case agent inside.

After our team is set up we sit there for what seems like forever. We wait and wait for the deal to go down. My boss and I are parked across from the meet location and we send in our crook to wait for the connection. Finally after about four hours the middle-man drives up in his foreign convertible. He gets in my bad guys car and the two of them start to talk.

After a little small talk the middleman says to my crook, “Crook, I heard you got arrested.” Of course I am now preparing to make a boom in my pants. He then says, “Lift up your shirt and show me you don’t have a wire.” My heart squeezed shut. This is my first big case and it’s going to go down the toilet. My quick-thinking criminal reminds the suspect of their long business history and blows him off. The two have a little more small talk and then the middle man says “Um Crook, you have not shaved today, you never not shave…show me that you don’t have a wire.” My informant tells the middleman that he got up late and did not shave. I’m telling you the transmission in my car was smoking because each time the guy did that, we went from park to drive thinking we were going to have to rescue this informant. My hair was starting to fall out.

Finally, the middleman says, “Crook, you’re wearing the same clothes you did yesterday and there is a helicopter up there that has not moved….show me your not wearing a wire.” My whole team is on edge, I am feeling like I am going to barf and we are ready to end this when suddenly the cocaine gods shined upon us again. The middleman’s pager goes off and he exits the car to use the pay phone.

When he does this my informant rips his wire off and ditches it under the seat of his car. OK, I dated this, right? Pager and pay phones? For those of you to young to remember,
we used to not have cell phones. Pay phones usually came in a booth and were popular places to make calls, change into superheroes outfits and pee.

When the middleman comes back to the car, I could see my informant lift up his shirt. Once he did this, the middleman left the car and made a telephone call from the phone booth. When he returned, the informant gave us a prearranged visual cue that the deal was being completed.

Without notice and right freaking in front of us, a new guy appears from the bushes and runs across the street. The freaking mule was right next to us in the bushes! He too was watching the deal. I wonder if he needed to down a bottle of Tums to keep from getting sick like we did.

Once the mule crossed the street, he delivered a key to the middleman and ran off. The middleman gave the key to my informant and the group split up. OK, now we had a little problem. Um, where’s the dope? Who do we follow? A team split and followed Mr. Middleman while a team stayed with our informant and another team split off to follow the guy on foot who delivered the key.
Within minutes we stopped the middleman, stopped our informant and arrested the key guy. But we still did not have a car or dope and no one was talking. It’s not against the law to talk about drugs and last time I checked, it’s not a crime to carry a key. So, I now feel like I have been slugged in the gut. Of course it was nothing, just God poking me and having more fun with me. What a knee slapper! I am guessing John the Baptist and St. Raphael, the Saint who was “represntin’” for the home team here in San Rafael had a big laugh.

Our high-stakes game of hide and go seek was just beginning. We carefully delivered all the criminals back to the local police station where we tried our best to motivate some truth from our drug dealers. Of course everyone was worried they would get whacked by the source, who is now out 5 kilos of cocaine (more than 10 pounds) AND the money.
I applied that fear liberally as leverage to get one person to roll. Loudly talking to your pals like “WOW! I’d be really mad if I lost 5 Keys and all that money. Sheesh! Glad its not me!” And roll they did. Later this case would get a little dicey and Mr. Mule would end up rolling. But not until we found the drugs for ourselves.

It took a couple of hours but our group found the car in a parking lot. It had a broken window. Not what you would expect to carry tens of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine. The cocaine was wrapped up, just like you see it on TV and was lying in the hatchback, not even under a dirty sheet.

So everyone went to prison. The source was never fully disclosed, but the mule, our informant and the middleman all went to federal prison for some time. The mule however had a much harsher sentence. He was deported back to his native country after being released from prison. When he was returned, I was told by the feds that he was hanged by his fellow countrymen for violating his religion. I still have a picture of him. He was younger than 25 years old.

For perspective drug dealers: It’s not like TV. Only three things happen to dealers. They go to prison, they get killed or they start using and end up dead.
I have not seen many successful dope dealers. The guys in the big house on the hill that you see glorified in movies are few and far between. Even they get killed. One of ours ended up being the spare tire in his car left at the park and ride for a while. Eventually, like in this case, someone will talk. They always do…and it’s been my experience that the girlfriends you promised to take care of, and ex-wives really, really like to consult undercover narcotics agents for the purpose of blab therapy. Thanks girls.

More later. Ralph.