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.