TALES FROM THE DONUT SHOP BY JULES A. STAATS
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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.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.
Man with a Gun; now what?
It was a quiet Saturday afternoon. The autumn sun was much too hot for the deputy’s liking. There was absolutely no breeze, the L.A. area smog was thick, and the black and white Los Angeles County Sheriff’s patrol car was uncomfortably hot behind the wheel. Police cars were still not air conditioned in those days. It was the summer of 1966.
Jay’s attitude started to change, and he produced a welcome smile on his face as he thought about a way to partially resolve his discomfort problem. A good way to cool down, when faced with circumstances like this, was to drive out of the patrol district, driving at faster than patrolling speed which is way below the posted speed limit. This driving at the speed limits allowed some air to circulate while taking a so-called patrol joy ride. Some called it the “4-40 air conditioner” or driving the patrol car at 40 Miles Per Hour with all 4 windows open.
Driving a short distance out of the assigned patrol district to another beat was common practice. Everybody did it; policy allowed it and it was fondly called "poaching" by the troops. It goes on, to this day.
For today, the poaching was completely alright, since there were no sheriff’s units assigned at all to the unincorporated area known as South Monrovia/Arcadia. This unincorporated County area was adjacent, west and south of his patrol area. Jay reasoned that in the event of an emergency down south, he would have to proceed to this area to handle the problem, anyway. What better reason to see what is happening down there?
His original plan was to just check out a business district in the center of this area, make sure the locals saw that there really was police protection around, log it, and return to the Duarte area about ten degrees cooler.
The Deputy made a pass down the business district. He saw nothing unusual. Driving slowly was allowing the car to warm up inside again. It was probably time to get out of here and get up his speed again. Jay made a mental note; Best I get back to my reporting district, as I feel that a call for service is coming soon.
Actually he was almost done with his sweep of the small three block business district. Having worked this area on the bleak hours of the early morning shift, he was aware that there were service alleys behind the shops. He decided to check out one more of the alleys, as he did on the night shift. It was interesting to see what the area looked like in the sunlight. He swung the patrol car down the two block long alley.
It's strange, how cops gravitate right for trouble.
As Jay drove down the alley, he saw two men who were facing each other at a distance of three feet. One was holding a gun, a large semi-automatic pistol. From Jay’s point of view through the driver side window of the patrol car the gun was pointed in the direction of the other.
He was not prepared to see this, in broad daylight. His thoughts raced: An armed robbery going down. And here he was a one man unit. Worse, nobody in the other patrol cars knew he was here. This was not good!
The alley was populated with only these two persons. One was a white male, about 45 years old, short and stocky, with a nearly bald head and was holding his hands up, well over his head in the typical hold-up victim's position. The opponent/suspect, (after all, he was the one with the gun) who was also a white man, appeared to be about 45 years old also. The man with the gun had a full head of grey hair, and needed a shave badly, as he wore about a two week growth of beard. The bad guy was also wearing a bright Hawaiian type shirt.
It should be restated that in such situations time appears to slow down. What seemed to be a long time of observation occurred actually in a mere instant.
The gun looked big and deadly. For the reader who knows his guns, Jay immediately recognized this weapon to be a caliber nine millimeter Smith and Wesson Model 59. The weapon holds fourteen bullets in the magazine plus one in the chamber, and can fire shells as fast as a person can pull the trigger. Jay was very aware that he carried a revolver; a K frame Smith and Wesson with only six bullets in the cylinder and that he was at a distinct disadvantage in the event of a gunfight with this person.
Maybe it was instinctively, and without knowing it, but Jay had reached for the microphone of the police radio. Unfortunately, there was no time to do anything. The gunman was to his left, now only seventy-five feet from his car window. He had let the patrol car creep toward them while staring at the incident unfolding. It was too late to retreat without being seen. He knew that he was in a lousy position for a gunfight and that he had really screwed up. He threw down the unused radio microphone on the front seat.
The man with the gun, heard the car, and started to turn the gun toward Jay.
The deputy sheriff was somewhat experienced, but only had worked for the Sheriff's Department for five years. Three and a half years of that time were spent, working in the Jail Division. Years later, he would have planned his approach much better. But this was now, and the mistakes were already made.
Jay’s mind was working fast, remembering his rather recent police combat training, that his car window was down, and that the glass and combined metal would stop the first bullet if it hit the door. After that, the glass in the door would be shattered. The rest of the automatic pistol slugs would probably cut through the door like a knife through hot butter. He could be killed in the next few seconds unless he shot first. He had only a split second to draw his .38 special revolver and fire through the driver side window.
Quickly, and due to hours of practice, the deputy drew his six inch Smith & Wesson police revolver from his sitting position. Quickly, he lined up his front sight at the armed suspect at the end of the long gun barrel. Jay felt the trigger move and saw out of the corner of his eye, that the hammer of his weapon was coming back. The semi-automatic pistol was now pointed his way. A fleeting thought: “This is the moment of truth, and he was about to live or die in a gunfight.” The police revolver cylinder appeared to very slowly turn counter clockwise, moving to a firing position.
The scene shifted into a super slow motion. For the deputy, the scene in front of him was almost like unreality. For a very long instant, time actually appeared to stand still.
Then something completely unexpected actually bizarre happened during this split second of time.
The suspect just threw the gun away, in a high lazy arc. For those who have worked Law Enforcement an incident can change in a split second. Police are all trained in the concept of preclusion, where a deadly threat stands down and that the use of reasonable force must then also stand down. Jay relaxed his trigger finger and fixed his vision on the firearm, as it seemed to float toward the open door of an old 1960 ford pickup truck.
The distance to the truck was about thirty feet. Still somewhat surprised, he saw the gun then fly through the driver side open window, bounce and land on the seat of the pickup truck. Also, somehow, the weapon did not misfire from being thrown into the truck.
This was an unexpected change in a deadly force situation. The danger of the situation was greatly reduced when the man threw away the deadly weapon. The deputy was now in control and he had the only gun in this situation. Jay exited the car, his drawn service pistol at the ready and approached the suspect, who now had his hands in the air. Then the other man raised his hands again, they both had their hands up, waiving in the air.
He had to smile, as Jay thought to himself, both of them have their hands up now. What gives?
The suspect with the stubby beard managed to croak out a few words with difficulty, "Deputy, I can explain all this."
“On the ground now, cross your legs” The formerly armed man instantly complied and seemed to know the drill almost before the commands were given. He even clasped his hands behind his back so that he could be handcuffed. This was known as “the position.” He handcuffed the perp without any problem.
There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered. He needed to find out if a crime had really occurred. He asked the probable victim, "Were you being robbed?"
"No." The paunchy man replied.
Jay had not taken his eyes off the suspect. "What's going on, pal? Why the gun?"
"Deputy,” the suspect stammered, "Just let me take something out of my pocket."
Cops don't like suspects taking things out of their pockets. The suspects request was not very appropriate under the circumstances.
Cautiously, the Deputy responded to the statement. "What is in your pocket? Tell me; tell me only, what you want to show me?" Then: “Let me take it off you.”
"O.K. O.K. O.K, Deputy,” The suspect was stammering badly, but was starting to speak a little more understandably, ”I'm a Deputy Sheriff, L.A. County. I'm just on vacation. I've got a badge and I.D. Trust me."
Jay spoke very slowly, so that there would be no misunderstanding or unnecessary movements. He was thinking: This could be all a trick. Maybe this was a fellow deputy. And then again, maybe not. Perhaps he threw the gun away, because it is broken. Maybe, he might have another weapon in his pocket. Besides, he did not look like a cop. Too scruffy to be a cop. He looked too old to be a cop, too.
"Fine, I will take a look at it” as the deputy removed a wallet from the back pocket.
The wallet contained his deputy sheriff badge and picture Identification. He was a brother alright, from West Hollywood Sheriff's Station. Jay could now relax a bit, and subsequently removed the handcuffs from the off duty deputy.
The West Hollywood Deputy was still very excited as he was allowed to stand up. His explanation was blurted out, non-stop, “I stopped by the tailor shop to see my old school buddy. He is a friend of mine. Look, I've been on vacation. Oh yeah, my looks. You know how it is, when you kick back, and have not bothered to shave for a couple weeks. I know I look lousy. While we talked, we left his store. We ended up in the back alley. I just bought this Smith & Wesson 9 MM automatic, brand new. I was just showing it off to him. Herman, here, had just handed me the gun back. It wasn't even loaded. I pointed the gun just past him, a few inches to his right, and said something to Herman about the balance, how fine the balance is. Just then, he said to look out where I was pointing the gun. It was not even loaded. He put his hands up as he said that. He wasn't scared. He was just kidding at me. But he had his hands up. Then you came out of nowhere. I knew you would think that I was robbing him with this gun. I can't believe the lousy timing, you coming by, just as my buddy put his hands in the air. I knew I could be shot dead, on the spot by you. All I could do was to throw the gun away. Good grief, it must be over thirty feet away, but I threw the gun at the open door of my truck, and hoped the gun would not be ruined. No, what I really hoped for was that you would not shoot me, blow me away.”
The gravity of the situation had sunk in. The off-duty deputy sheriff's hands started to shake badly. Jay felt his muscles tremble a little bit too. This was a terrible tragedy that almost happened.
He then reminded himself mentally; I almost shot a fellow officer. An off-duty Deputy Sheriff who was holding an unloaded gun. He clenched his teeth tightly together to keep his self-control. He was talking through a clenched jaw, when he replied, "Too close for my liking, partner. I'm sorry for what you went through. But understand it was just a little bit rough on me too." Then, another wave of reason, common sense, and a strong feeling took control of Jay. There is a bond, between cops, stronger than many people can ever understand. It is frequently called camaraderie, comradeship, and esprit de corps. Jay walked up to the much shaken Deputy Sheriff, put his arm on his shoulder and spoke softly, “This never, ever happened. I'm not writing any paper on this." Jay cleared his throat, as his voice was catching. He said it again, clearly, this time. “As far as I am concerned, this incident never happened."
They all shook hands and the grasping lasted for a few extra moments.
And, no one knew, that this ever did occur, to this day. If written as a Tale, then maybe it never really happened. Believe that if you want.
It is now, over 50 years later. The author never told anyone about the fellow officer, who almost became the subject of a shooting mistake. Of course, to protect him and his family, the names and Sheriff's Stations are changed.
This brings up another sober fact of life, for a person in Law Enforcement:
The hardest task of a police officer is to know when not to shoot, even though it appears that the time to fire is now. Even if it appears, that to hesitate that split second means to lose, to die, a law enforcement officer must be reasonably sure, before he takes a life. It is part of his sworn duty, "To Protect Life and Property." Many police departments call this, "Commendable Restraint." It is true, that this restraint has resulted, in dead peace officers. However, it is one of the awesome responsibilities of the policeman, trooper, ranger, agent or deputy. Few who are not in law enforcement actually understand how much cops really care about human life.
Finally, let us never forget the dilemma any Law Enforcement Officer can face in an instant and without warning: To be suddenly placed in the position of Police Officer, Judge, Jury, and Executioner.
Another case of being in the wrong place at the right time, and processing all the variables of what appeared to be a deadly threat resulting in possibly exercising deadly irreversible force.