Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.




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Mom Shot



          It could be said, that all the things that contribute to a bad day in the work place were definitely alive and well.  He had a new patrol car partner that absolutely did not like working with rookie cops, and finally it was raining heavily.  There was a strong smell of wet floor mats, wet leather, and wet uniform wool in the patrol car.  It could also be said that Jay was not a happy camper.


          Los Angeles goes months without a hint of rain.  When the storms come, however, nature tries to catch up.  At times, and in certain areas, intersections become rivers from curb to curb.  Driving a patrol car during a nighttime rainstorm is full of difficulties.  Due to reduced visibility and the party atmosphere that seems to accompany a rainstorm, Southern California drivers tend to drive even faster and thus increase the number of traffic accidents.  Also, it is a concern to patrol crews when they park their radio car on the street as the party minded drivers can misjudge and run into the black and white.  Remember that back in 1964 the Los Angeles County Sheriff vehicles had two 8 inch double faced plastic red lights.  These so-called Emergency Lights of the times were about as bright as an automobile brake light.  The resulting reports and paperwork when crashes happen is a police officer’s nightmare.  There is no comparison between those ancient warning lights and the present extremely bright L.E.D units.


          The new Patrol Deputy had just got completed his month of FTO (Field Training Officer) training over three months ago.   Actually the deputy had been with the Department nearly four years, but spent time working the Hall of Justice Jail and two years of active service when drafted into the US Army.  After his patrol training was completed and also because of personal and family reasons, he had requested and received the day shift for a few months.  He liked the day work.  He could make independent decisions, go after crooks in his own way, and not have to put up with the strange habits of other older and sometimes stubborn, partners. 


          It's a fact that working with a radio car partner in street police work is like a short term marriage.  You do everything as a team, trusting each other to the extreme.  Both of the partners share in the results of their actions, good and bad.  If the team messes up, the Administration may discipline both. 


          Since Jay had managed to get by for three months on day shift without making any mistakes that they heard about, some of his supervisors thought that maybe he should be reevaluated.  After all, he was not getting into trouble.  Was it possible, that he was not doing anything?  His citation count on moving violations was above average and the day shift did not yield as many arrest opportunities as the early morning and afternoon shifts.  The young deputy also tended to be soft spoken and to some, this could indicate he was really not suited for police work  As a result, he ended up being administratively assigned to the Evening Shift; with a patrol car partner who had no use for inexperienced deputies.


          It was right after briefing, and the shift was just starting.  Jay and his new partner walked leisurely toward their assigned patrol vehicle.  His partner, we will call him Mike had a definite semi-permanent frown on his face.   As Jay was the passenger he was carrying a company shotgun, a model 37 Ithaca 12 gauge with a 12 inch barrel.  He removed the four shotgun shells, twisting the barrel from the receiver.  He then expertly observed that the firing pin was intact, and that the mechanism was sound.  He placed his finger just a fraction of an inch from the firing pin.  Then he pulled the trigger, checking that the firing pin barely just struck his finger.  That way, he knew that the pin could dent the primer of a shell which also meant that the gun would surely fire, if needed.


          He then screwed the barrel back into the breach of the weapon.  He knew the Ithaca Model 37 police shotgun very well.  All cops know that a shotgun can be a psychological and physical edge in a combat situation.  In a split second a 00 buckshot shell can dispense 9- .32 caliber round balls of lead.  The usual military machinegun could not match this in the instant of a shotgun blast.  The two years he spent in the Army taught him to handle almost any weapon with his eyes closed.  If he came upon a new weapon he studied and memorized every function and disassembly procedure.


Mike made it a point to tell Jay that as the senior man he was the driver and the junior man will be writing all the reports.  Usually when swamped with report forms, the crew would share the labor.  This was not a punishment, as far as Mike was concerned.  He disliked rookies and treated Jay the same as the inexperienced weekend trainees from the Sheriff’s Academy.  Mike grunted when he saw him handle the break down and then assemble the shotgun like the Range Personnel.  To make a point, Jay loaded the 12 gauge 00 buck shells faster than usual.  It was a nice show.  He could see out of the corner of his eye, that Mike hated it.


          A final thought of the briefing was still ringing in his ears.  The Watch Commander Lieutenant made a point of advising of an up-and-coming departmental policy to almost completely do away with Code 3 responses, with red light and siren.  Jay had the opinion that this was an ill-conceived policy, brought about by supervisors who did not wish to authorize this level of an emergency response and then be considered responsible for a bad result such as a crash of the patrol car.  It was felt at that time, that to do away with emergency responses would make all the station Watch Commander’s job easier.  This almost unwritten policy to severely limit Code 3 responses continued until shortly before Jay’s retirement, eighteen years later.  Many deputies never agreed with it.  Some rolled code 3 anyway, if a response time could save lives and they felt like it was personally justified.  The policy created a bad image in the eyes of the public, when deputies tried to get to an emergency call fast, without using red lights and siren.  The public, seeing uniformed deputy sheriffs passing on the right, weaving aggressively through traffic, and running red lights without any warning lights and siren was very unprofessional.  Still, it was now the so-called policy and every patrol deputy was not to roll Code 3 unless specifically authorized by a Watch Commander; Lieutenant or acting Lieutenant.  Jay felt that this policy was very counter in his mind to his oath, to protect life and property.  He thought; what if the Fire Departments and ambulances had to abide with this stupid policy?


          Tonight, the final word from the Lieutenant was very clear.  Further, as of tonight, there would be no Code 3 runs unless absolutely necessary.  All such emergency responses were to be entered in a special log book, with a complete statement of justification.   The Watch Commander would be immediately advised of any absolutely necessary Code 3 run, and would decide if the "gravity" of the situation warranted such a "dangerous" procedure.  None of the deputies at the briefing dared to mention that those ambulance drivers, firemen, and other police departments were having no real problems with code three responses. 


The result of this procedure, in the author's opinion, finally made the Code 3 call a very unusual event.  Some deputies, as time passed, could not handle their cars properly in the rare event of an assigned code three.  As a result, many actually did crash their patrol car when they were called upon to respond with their red lights and siren.


          Having this policy warning along with his new assignment with a grumpy partner really depressed him as he completed the final check of the patrol car and equipment.  He was even having second thoughts about staying in this line of work.


          The night was definitely not getting off to a great start.  The public address system blared:  "Car 54 see the Watch Deputy NOW.”  [1]


          Mike and Jay threw the rest of their gear into the car, quickly walked back to the lobby and approached the complaint desk where three deputies handled sheriff’s station walk in issues.  A citizen had come to the station to report a stolen bicycle.  Since Mike had decided Jay was the book man, he talked to the victim and wrote down the necessary information for a stolen report.  At the same time, all the evening shift units were now arriving in their assigned patrol districts.


          The Watch Commander approached Mike and advised that he wished to speak with him before they go out to the field.  A few minutes later, Mike walked into the Lieutenant’s office.  The door was closed and Jay

 could not hear what was discussed.  A few minutes the door opened and Mike had a deeper frown on his face.  He handed the patrol car ignition key to Jay and said in a cryptic voice; “the boss says you are driving pal.” 



          It was ironic, that taking that bicycle report in the Sheriff’s Station placed them as the only close unit to respond to an emergency call.  Mike and Jay were just leaving the desk area, when the Watch Deputy shouted, "Come here quick!" 


          As he turned back to the Watch Deputy, he continued, "You guys have a Code 3 call.  A deputy got hit by a car, ambulance is rolling."  It was on Rosemead Blvd. which was just a little over a quarter mile away from the station.  They both ran out the door to the patrol car, finding out, that a heavy downpour of rain had started.


          Jay jumped behind the wheel, doing everything at once, just like he practiced for three months on day shift.  The engine was started, red lights on, siren switch up, headlights on, brake off, and away they went.  The 383 cubic inch Interceptor V-8 roared to life accelerating briskly on the highway, as the mechanical siren spun its motor into a shrill scream.


          The Sheriff’s Academy taught him well in emergency driving.  Later that year they would offer a special Pursuit Driving Course at the Pomona Fair Grounds. 


Driving a patrol car with reds and siren is not all that dangerous if you request, rather than demand the right of way.  You also have to take every advantage of traffic situations in a split second.  What is really needed in Los Angeles is X-ray vision, but cops unfortunately have to roll Code 3 without it.


          Within minutes, they arrived at the scene.  A pedestrian on the sidewalk—an off duty deputy--had been knocked down by a driver leaving an apartment complex in the heavy rain.  The injuries were minor, just bumps and bruises.  The traffic accident report was straightforward but would involve 6 forms, but Mike, the experienced deputy, had all the information he needed in his notebook before the ambulance left.


          About one hour late, they finally arrived in their assigned area, known as South San Gabriel in those days.  Jay’s mind wandered just a bit, as they approached a favorite drive up do-nut shop.  A cup of coffee would certainly help warm up a damp, cold body.  Their clothes were soaking wet from standing in the rain at the traffic accident.  Both deputies were stubborn about wearing rain gear and had suffered the consequences.   The rain was now a constant and heavy downpour.  It was probable that the storm would last all night.


          He felt intimidated but he swallowed hard and then spoke; "How about a cup of coffee, Mike?"


          Mike was also known as a man of few words and said, "O.K."  He pulled the police vehicle into the alley behind the shop, out of sight of the public.  A moment later, the aroma of steaming coffee was filling the patrol car.  Jay reflected; Thank goodness for coffee.  Us street cops just can't live without it.


          It is ironic, but that act of holding the coffee to your lips, enjoying the smell and warmth of the brew, somehow  auses a creation of major police problems somewhere in the patrol district that will be assigned to you to solve.   It is an axiom that major problems or incidents are handed to the one police officer who is in possession of a fresh cup of coffee.  The end result is that much coffee served to police officers is not consumed. It is thrown away subsequent to driving to the next assigned major incident.


          Jay had just taken his first sip of the coffee and then squinted his eyes in disbelief as he heard the call over the police radio:  "Car 54, a 902, Baby Choking 2523 North Edwards Drive.  Car 54 your desk advises roll Code 3."


          Jay was also known for his mumbling under his breath.  He spoke under his breath, "So much for a no-code 3 policy."  He tossed the coffee out and sent the empty cup into the back seat as he tore out of the donut shop and into traffic the motor driven siren screaming again.  (There were no prisoner cages back then)


          As he swiftly rolled through the 10:00 P.M. traffic, the rain started coming down even harder.  The view of the road in front of him was obscured by the deluge.  The plastic red lights over the windshield reflected off the raindrops.  The red glare made the driving even more difficult.  Jay glanced to his right while clearing an intersection.  Mike’s face was stoic.  Because of the complete silence of his partner, the roll to the victim's home seemed to take much too long, even though the Radio Car’s speed and their rapid arrival on the scene were possibly impressive.


          When they arrived at the house they found that the choking baby had been pulled from one panicked family member to another.  The rough treatment had inadvertently cleared the plugged airway of the two month old baby.  Looking back, it's very probable, that the family unwittingly performed a Heimlich Maneuver on the baby, thereby saving his life.  Thank God, Jay thought, this baby was going to make it.  What were the chances that the passing of the baby back and forth saved his life?


          The baby and the mother were transported to the local hospital via the responding ambulance.  Since there was no crime or loss of life no report was necessary on this incident.  Jay maneuvered the patrol car toward a quiet shopping center parking lot as Mike still had a report to complete.


          Nothing happened for a whole hour, and Mike had the opportunity to finish the entire six page traffic accident report involving the deputy sheriff.  Now, all he had to do was get the Watch Sergeant to approve it.  Mike knew that if he could submit the reports now, he could make any minor and necessary revisions right after the shift ended.  There was no Field Sergeant available, who could shuttle in the reports.  So Mike picked up the radio then sought and received approval to 10-19 back to the station.


          It was now becoming a very quiet night for all the district patrols.  The Sergeant said that he had time to approve the report, if they waited around for a few minutes.  The Watch Deputy was staring at Jay while he was talking to a citizen on the telephone.  There was no 911 service in those days and most emergencies were all reported to police and sheriff’s stations.   The Lieutenant was standing next to the Watch Deputy.   A short exchange of words and the Lieutenant stated; “Do it!”


The Watch Deputy pointed at Jay with emphasis; “You guys have a hot call in another district!” He continued; "Jay, Mike, you got a 187 (Murder) in progress, shots fired, victims are a woman and her child, get down there Code 3 per the Watch Commander."


          The crew ran to the waiting patrol car by the side door of the station.  Jay started the engine while Mike flipped the emergency red light and siren switches.  They were now on their third Code 3 call for the night, and all of the responses were in heavy rain.


          By this time the constant downpour was causing accidents, flooding, and electrical power problems.  All the other districts units were now very busy.  The only available unit to assist Jay and Mike was the station adult detective unit.  They had fourteen miles to roll to get there.  The spotlight plastic clip-on red light and the mechanical siren hidden under the hood were worthless for clearing traffic and the detectives decided they would just go with the traffic flow.


          He and his partner had eight long miles to travel to the far south end of the station districts.  The motor driven siren had a familiar sound to it by now, and was almost comfortable.  Jay mused; How quickly, a person adapts to situations.  Traffic was light, now, as it was now after midnight.  The Code 3 response now felt very routine as he raced through the driving rain.


          Both Mike and Jay however were both very concerned about the situation to be dealt with.  Neither of them wanted to find a child suffering from a gunshot wound or worse yet killed.  Jay turned off the red lights and headlights a block away while Mike stabbed the electric siren brake button bringing the motor to a rapid stop. The policy was to now respond with stealth, no lights.  Jay pressed his left foot on the floor mounted brake light kill switch so no stop lights would be visable.  


          As they slowly approached the location, they observed a poorly kept thirty-three foot long travel trailer that was apparently permanently parked on an overnight type trailer park.  The rain could have given them lots of concealment from an adversary but as they slowly approached the trailer the rain completely stopped.


          Mike and Jay immediately observed a long barrel revolver, held and in the palm of a middle aged man.  He was coming out of the door of the trailer holding the weapon with the muzzle pointed down but still posing an obvious  definite threat.  Both deputies barked orders to the suspect to freeze.  Jay lined up the barrel of his six inch service revolver on the man with the gun.  As his finger rested on the fame of his .38 revolver, he wondered for a split second if he would have to also kill a person tonight?


          Both deputies were relieved when the suspect dropped the gun.  Mike ran up to the gunman, grabbing the weapon and making short work of handcuffing him. 


          "What happened?" Mike said.   The two deputies still did not know how many people were shooting guns around here.  If one person had a firearm in his hand there could be other armed suspects hiding in the darkness or even inside the trailer.


          "My wife is shot," the large man who was the suspect cried out.  The handcuffs holding his arms together behind him were obviously uncomfortable. "There is blood everywhere.  On the baby too."


          "Did anybody else have a gun?"  Mike asked. 


          "This is my gun," the suspect pointed his head towards the gun Mike had recovered.  "That's the only gun around here."


          Now that the danger to the deputies was apparently minimized, they cautiously went inside.


          There was lot of blood throughout the living area of the trailer.  Still, the deputies were trained to not make an assumption on the physical condition of a victim.  The presence of a lot of blood does not always mean a fatality.  If you can stop the bleeding, the person may still survive. 


          Jay quickly looked for gunshot wounds.  The young woman was lying in her bed, and was clutching in her left arm a very frightened two year old boy.  Both the little boy and the woman were covered with bright red blood.  Jay got the child away from the mother, and found out that he was not hurt at all.  It was the mother who was seriously injured with a single gunshot wound to the palm of her right hand.


          The weapon Mike had confiscated was a .22 magnum caliber.  The 8 inch long barrel pistol was a revolver and resembled an old west six shooter.  The gun was still loaded with five hollow point bullets and an empty shell.  The crew determined that apparently, the bullet entered the flat of the victim’s right palm, and traveled all the way to her shoulder.  They later found, that the bullet stopped at the shoulder joint.  It was learned later that the damage to her arm was profound.  The bones in her arm were broken into tiny jagged pieces.  The victims arm was obviously twisted and deformed from the terrible injury inflicted by a single powerful .22 caliber bullet.


          Jay found an area of heavy bleeding coming from an almost severed and exposed artery in her upper arm, and pinched it stopping the blood flow.  The bleeding slowed at another wound opening in the upper arm but increased at her palm.  Mike pressed his thumb over the hole in her hand and stopped the bleeding.  (Rubber gloves were not used in patrol until many years later)  The woman did not respond or say anything, just stared straight ahead, obviously in a complete state of shock.


          About five minutes later, the ambulance crew took over, applied pressure bandages over the wounds and got her off to the hospital in a hurry.  Remember Los Angeles County had no paramedics in those days and the Fire Department Rescue Squad was tied up at another emergency due to the storm.


          As the suspect, now also known as the husband of the victim, and father of the two year old boy, sobbed in a small chair, still handcuffed behind his back.  Jay was glad to see that the Station Detectives, Car 405 had arrived to handle the investigation. 


          Charlie, the senior Detective asked, "Who shot who?" 


          Mike had it all figured out. "It looked like the suspect did it."


          "I did not do it!" the suspect pleaded.


          "Who did it then?"  Charlie the Detective replied.


          "I don't know," the suspect wined, "I was outside.  I heard one shot, ran inside and saw the gun on the floor.  Only my wife and the baby were there.  I think she shot herself.  We had been arguing when I walked outside the trailer but I did not hurt her, believe me please!"


          All four deputies looked at each other, exchanging knowing glances.  The nature and entry of the wound indicated that she had put her hand up as a gesture of protection, just before the gun discharged.  This was absolutely not a suicide attempt by the woman as evidenced by the nature of the gunshot wounds.  The suspect's theory would not ever hold up.  He was going to jail for attempted murder.


          Then, the suspect made a statement that did not help his case.  Actually all the deputies present took umbrage to his next statement;  The suspect blurted out, "Maybe the boy shot her."  There was immediate restrained hostility on the part of these deputies when the suspect tried to transfer blame, accusing a 2 year old boy of shooting his mother.


          Strangely, Jay did not react with anger to the suspect's statement as if he felt something touching his mind.  They both had not washed their hands yet and were still standing in the living room of the trailer while listening to the conversation with the suspect.  Jay had not pre-judged this suspect as he was to be considered innocent until proved to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a Court of Law.  He mused as a train of thought came over him; Could it be what he is saying is true; could it be a real possibility?  It was if a silent suggestion wanted him to investigate further.


          Just then, a backup patrol crew arrived.   Jay had the opportunity to wash his bloody hands.  When the two deputies eventually entered the now crowded trailer the Lead Detective asked them to take the suspect to the station and place him in a room for interrogation.  Following a silent inner suggestion that did not make much sense, Jay asked the transportation crew to wait a minute.  While everyone watched, some with profound reservations, Jay knelt down and softly told the now calmed two year old boy, that everything was all right.  After talking to the child for a moment, he positively responded and started to view Jay as his new deputy friend. 


          Then, while everyone was watching including the suspect who was standing near the doorway between two deputies, Jay carefully unloaded the .22 magnum. He verified the clearing procedure with all the deputies present.   Again, Jay noticed it was a western single action six-gun type revolver with an eight inch barrel.  To fire such a pistol, it would be necessary to pull back the hammer a substantial distance, as far as it will move.  Then pull the trigger to fire the weapon. 


          He handed the now unloaded weapon to the boy, with the barrel pointed to the side.  The deputies shifted on their feet being very uncomfortable with a two year old with a gun, even if it was definitely not loaded. 


          In an instant, the little two year old repositioned the gun, then pointed the revolver at Jay’s stomach, quickly and deftly pulled back the hammer all the way back, and pulled the trigger.  All the deputies in the room were speechless at what they had just observed.


          Jay asked the boy a question.  "Is that what happened to your mommy, son?"


          "Yaa." he replied.


          Tests and investigation later substantiated this and verified without question, that the little boy actually had unintentionally shot his mother.  Further, when the mother was stabilized and conscious she also stated it was an accident on the part of her toddler son.  The fully loaded gun had been stuffed under the mattress.  The 2 year old child had pushed his hand under the mattress, retrieved, cocked and fired the pistol.  The mother had woken just before the shot was fired and placed her hand against the barrel.


          The husband of the victim had done nothing criminally wrong and was not charged with any crime.


          This was a tragic example of bad situations being observed and learned.  A little two year old child, having watched western movies, and seeing his parents handle a revolver, learned how to operate it only too well.  The tragic result was that this little guy almost killed his mother and inflicted a severe and lasting injury.  The gun had been stuffed under the mattress for family self-protection.



          It is important to realize that the little boy actually knew where the gun was, reached under his sleeping mother, pulled out the weapon, and cocked it. 


          It has been said so many times, that people ignore the sound advice.  "Do not ever place a firearm, where a child can somehow get to it."


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[1]   Car 54 was an actual designation for the South San Gabriel patrol unit.  The TV show “Car 54, where are you had nothing to do with the fielding of this sheriff’s radio car.