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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.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.
THE DAY ROBERT KENNEDY DIED
History books in general, relate that on a certain day, a famous man and Presidential candidate, Senator Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles. The irony is that except for the actions of one deputy sheriff, he could have been assassinated sooner that day. It was in the peaceful gardens of a hospital in the City of Duarte, where the deadly attack was planned to take place. Not realizing as to where the attack would come from, if at all, the deputy sheriff did his job to the best of his ability. Looking for an unknown and armed attempt murderer in a crowd is not an easy task.
Jay was in a dark business suit and was working in a cramped little office as a Police-Community Relations Officer for the City of Duarte. The day was rather warm and sunny but somewhat hazy and smoggy which is usual for the Los Angeles area. As a deputy sheriff, he was caught up in his office projects, and was reading over some police reports of local interest. It was necessary to be aware of reported crimes in his assigned city so that the contract city Sheriff’s Deputies could be advised in a timely manner of specific problems. There were over 25,000 persons who were officially residing within the city limits. It was necessary to keep up the promulgation of the statistics or otherwise known as "stats." By knowing of all of the crimes, trends, and problems the C.R. Officer could see a possible application of police actions and tactics which could provide solutions to many of the local problems. What he did then, was give suggestions to the Temple City Sheriff's Station Captain, as to patrol assignments and procedures. On approval by his boss, most of these suggestions were also given to members of the City Council either personally or at the public meetings.
It was a good assignment. The work he did was very similar to what a Chief of Police does in a city, but the final responsibility of all problems rested with his station Captain. If a law enforcement representative was needed for a public affair, such as a dedication of a building or highway, it was his job to attend. While he represented the Sheriff’s Department his Captain could stay home. An additional role was to be a member of the staff of the City of Duarte. In this position Jay represented law enforcement. Frequently, when an important person visited the City, he was there to help and inform.
Jay remembers June 5, 1968 as a sunny quiet day. All the necessary office related tasks were done. Maybe, he thought, he could go home early this afternoon.
The phone rang. He picked it up after the first ring. It was the Station Watch Commander; we will call him John Cane. Jay knew him quite well, and had a personal liking of him. When they talked, the conversations usually went well as is with common with professional friends. When he recognized that he was speaking with his Lieutenant he started up some small talk. The Lieutenant immediately cut him off. He stated that there was no time and place now for conversation. There was a serious problem brewing in his city and time was of the essence.
The Watch Commander’s voice was very serious, "Jay, we want you to go to the City of Hope Medical Center. Senator Robert Kennedy, the presidential candidate, is touring the Center. We want you to go there and give him armed plain clothes protection.”
The assignment sounded simple enough. Jay said, "I can handle that. I will run over there right now and take care of it. When does this thing go down?"
The Lieutenant replied quickly, the tone of his voice up a bit. His voice also betrayed him and there was no doubt that he was really involved with the gravity of a serious threat to a United States Senator. "Now!” the Lieutenant explained sharply; “Get up there right now, the entourage should be there in a few minutes."
"Consider me on the way, Lieutenant, anything else?"
This time, there was a silence. The reply took much too long as there was a just stated time factor and the plain clothes deputy was supposed to leave ASAP. The delay in the Lieutenant’s speech betrayed the routine and implied a possible, complicated and bad situation. It was as if, the Lieutenant was debating whether or not to release some vital additional information, or just keep quiet. The Lieutenant made his decision to provide some sensitive intelligence information. "OK, there is a very serious problem. Our intelligence people downtown gave us this info and it comes straight from our government sources. They think that there is an actual assassination attempt planned against Senator Kennedy today. As for the person we suspect, we think that we know his country of origin." "Watch yourself deputy and I mean really cover your ass and be extra careful. This could be a very dangerous situation and we do not really know what we are looking for."
The deputy did not say anything in reply. Still holding the receiver to his head it felt that the phone line had just gone dead. The voice of the Lieutenant was a haunting memory. Still, it felt that more information should have been provided. In a few seconds many questions entered his mind about what was known about the suspect, suggested tactical procedures and expected manpower to provide security to thwart this assassination. Before he got a chance to hang up the phone the voice was there again. The Lieutenant had not hung up. The Lieutenant asked another question which was chilling and reinforced possible deadly danger of the coming events. "What kind of a weapons are you packing?"
Jay replied; "My (Smith and Wesson) Model 19, (357 magnum) two and a half inch,” Jay said. "I brought a total of twelve .38 special rounds to work today, six in the gun, and six in my belt loop." The Community Relations position was not a dangerous assignment and checking out a 12 gauge shotgun was not necessary. Per policy Jay carried six rounds in his off-duty pistol and six rounds in a leather loop carrier on his belt.
The Lieutenant’s voice betrayed that he was obviously not very satisfied with the answer that the plain clothes deputy only had twelve bullets and a snub-nose revolver against a person who could be in possession of much more powerful firearms. He just grunted over the phone, not replying. True, it was an expected situation, where a pocket full of ammunition and a Thompson .45 sub-machine gun would make this deputy sheriff feel a lot better. It was a fact of the times that reloading a revolver in those days meant doing the job, bullet by bullet. There were no speed loaders available at the uniform store yet. In a crisis, you only had the six rounds in the pistol. Usually, there was no time to reload, until it was all over.
The deputy then relaxed somewhat as he also realized that this would obviously be a high priority Sheriff’s Department operation and therefore could expect lots of help. His contribution would be to assist his tactical team. What cheered him up were the memorized police policy of officer backup and the vast resources of the Sheriff’s Department. He remembered that most of his assignments containing any danger, were backed up by numerous and experienced deputy personnel with appropriate weapons. He felt certain that this would definitely be a team effort. He thought to himself; we all can do it, no problem.
It almost felt like a stupid question, but Jay asked it anyway. "Who all will be backing him up and how many patrol units are you sending?" Jay smiled, and casually continued; "No one wants to go into the lion's den alone." He forced smile which made his face feel better.
The Lieutenant replied; "I will do what I can to get someone free. Everyone is at San Gabriel Mission and downtown. I have no patrol units to spare, no detectives, and you are the only plain clothes deputy available. For the time being, you are on your own, guy, you are the Lone Ranger,” Another long pause; "Good luck, guy, and be careful." With that final statement, the Lieutenant concluded the conversation by hanging up the phone.
Alone? They wanted him to stop a probably well planned assassination of a US Government Senator alone? Jay focused on that single thought as he heard the other phone hang up.
He now was holding the receiver just a few inches over the telephone. For a second or so, the situation appeared somewhat overwhelming. There was a little numb feeling, caused by the shear gravity of this situation. This feeling retreated, quickly as experience and training kicked in. Being ex-Army trained, Jay felt his latent Type "A" personality kick in as he firmly hung up the phone. He had been trained to not worry about what may never happen anyway; it was now time to roll.
As he drove his assigned patrol car which was a fully equipped black and white, Jay felt his gut start to tighten up as a sense of foreboding gripped him. His thoughts considered possibilities of the situation; the prospect of this being a no-win assignment. No backup and just him, against what?
As he approached the hospital he still refused to believe that the Department could or would not send him necessary backup in the form of more deputies. He even took a minute to sincerely pray to God that he was not to tackle this problem alone. There were no necessary examples of relevant tactical information to ensure survival in such a situation. His mind raced; what was he looking for? A group or an individual? And, what type of weapons, pistols, rifles, shotguns, or machineguns?
His training and logic finally took over as it was time to be very logical and objective. What were the chances of anything really going down anyway? Jay considered police officer career statistics and therefore decided that the probability of him being actually involved in a deadly gunfight situation was very slim. Besides, he was a very young man in those days and young cops mostly feel somewhat invincible, and have a mindset that makes the possibility of death in their minds as a near impossible conclusion.
Still, he was not very happy about the possible dangerous variables of this assignment as he drove his Sheriff's patrol car into the City of Hope Medical Center parking lot. No one seemed to pay any particular attention, as Jay parked the car in a regular parking space, rather than in the red zone. This was his rather feeble attempt to arrive with a low profile. His intention was to move through the lot, and enter the Hospital Center grounds as a regular visitor. Again this was possible, since he was wearing a suit and tie, instead of a Sheriff's uniform today.
The Senator and his entourage, consisting of advisers, security, and many other persons, had already arrived and had separated, then reassembled in small groups.
He found the entourage without any problem. He immediately spotted Senator Kennedy who looked relaxed and was talking to various persons. The closest persons standing by him appeared to be uniformed hospital staff members. Some of the others were probably from the general crowd.
It was not very hard for Jay to figure out who were the security people. Security types were easy for him to spot. He approached a group of people that all resembled each other. The first one he contacted was actually one of the security team. The deputy asked who his supervisor was. The well-dressed 30 year old man pointed to a person in still another group.
Jay was then personally led by this man about fifty feet away to a smaller assembly all dressed in three piece business suits. He was then introduced to this man in charge of security. Jay Identified himself as a Deputy Sheriff. This supervisor of security had a different name but we will call him Raymond. The pleasant realization and the solution to all his concerns up to this point finally struck him. This would be his backup! These were probably highly trained and well-armed United States Government people and were definitely experts in providing security. It now became obvious that all Jay had to do was to reveal the intelligence information he had. Looking right into the eyes of the security supervisor he got to the point at once.
"Ray," Jay asked the head Agent, right after identifying himself as a Deputy Sheriff, Los Angeles County, are you Secret Service?"
Ray's reply was clever. He returned his direct gaze in Jay’s eyes without blinking, grunted, but did not really say yes, no, or maybe. Jay was sure that he had grunted in the affirmative but Jay later found out that he probably was not a member of the US Secret Service.
The stoic look in the possible agent’s eyes and the feeling that this person really did not even want to talk with him today really grated on his ego but Jay stated the primary concern causing him to be here; “Ray, are you aware that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has good information that an assassination attempt is planned against Senator Kennedy today?"
The expected reaction to this bombshell statement never even registered at all on Ray’s poker face. Ray just stood there, not wearing sun glasses, but just looking him with steel grey eyes. He had to be a fantastic poker player. Then Jay wondered if this man had even heard him.
Actually, he was wrong with his assessment of this man. The security agent supervisor had definitely heard him, and was not impressed at all. The taller man just looked down at him like this deputy sheriff was a vagrant with leprosy. As a result, he now felt as if this guy was looking at him as old spit on the ground. After a long moment of silence the tall man finally decided to give him a short answer. He actually allowed a half smile as he replied; “I never heard about anything of the sort, deputy."
Jay quickly assured him, that his information was very reliable, as the Department is known to have one of the best Intelligence Bureaus and contacts in the United States.
"No." He sort of grunted out. He just was not buying the information. The agent was obviously going to be bull-headed about this. Worse yet, he was not going to do anything about the warning that Jay had just voiced.
Jay felt his ears were starting to burn and he found himself suppressing a welling anger within him borne from extreme frustration. It was part of his personality that he could not stand neglectful, stupid people with authority, who think that they know everything and will not even listen to a person who just might have good information. This guy was not going to do anything that meant doing some actual work or effort. Jay mused; this guy was a lazy incompetent...... Stopping his runaway thoughts cold, he put a cap on his inner rage. Feeling frustrated with his ineffectiveness with this agent, would get him nowhere, Jay asked one more question.
"Even though you don't think there are any problems, I want to know something." The deputy said in the best authoritarian and professional voice he could muster; "What type of weapons do you have, IF the information I have is correct, and you end up having to take some type of action or even end up in a gunfight?" Jay thought; that should get a rise out of this guy.
However, the reply from the agent completely stunned him. He just could not believe that the so-called agent, security guard or whatever he might be, was telling him the truth. This man had to be lying to him. But this eventual reply was somewhat timid, and in a much quieter voice, as if he was finally and was actually telling the honest truth. "Senator Kennedy does not like guns and does not wish us to be armed. None of us have firearms, Deputy."
Jay was shocked and incredulous as a result of this statement, causing conflicting emotions, as he was now both frustrated and also furious. It could not be completely bottled up. This was enough! Having served for two years in the United States Army, Jay had some idea how the ineffectively the United States Government worked. True, you cannot change the course of things, easily. A lot of government types fail to utilize the initiative. Still, he had never encountered such a lackadaisical and obviously clueless person. This was an assigned protector of others but was also a person who clearly did not care a hoot about the danger to another human being. It was the antithesis to his First Sworn Duty as a Deputy Sheriff: "TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY.” What galled him the most was that the man who did not care about Senator Kennedy's danger was possibly a member of a much respected government law enforcement agency? What law enforcement agency in the United States Government does not carry a gun? Could it be, that the Senator held a firm belief that guns do not actually protect people and by disarming his security detail everyone would now be safe from an attacker?
Although this man was trying to make the deputy sheriff think that he was Secret Service in reality he was probably only a private security guard, but acted as if he held a position of high authority. Jay was younger then and was somewhat inexperienced and yes, he should have demanded identification. He later found that the United States Government Secret Service was not assigned to Presidential candidates until after Senator Robert Kennedy lost his life. 
Jay bit down hard, on the back of his tongue to not show any emotion. It was a tactic, trained to recruits in the Sheriff's Academy. He remembered that a deputy sheriff must be in complete charge of himself, if the situation is to be under his and only his control. The pain of his back teeth on his tongue helped him to maintain his cool.
He then managed to successfully manage the tone of his voice, saying, "Do you mind, sir, if I meet personally with Senator Kennedy and see if he needs my assistance?" It was great; he realized that his voice actually sounded patronizing.
The reply to this was even more unbelievable. "A little advice, Deputy, don't tell Senator Kennedy that you are a cop. He will not let you near him, if he knows that you are a cop." He added with the words; “He absolutely hates guns.”
"Thanks," Jay said, "I will just tell him, that I'm an Official for the City of Duarte, which I am." The agent muttered something which could not be understood and turned away, as Jay left the so-called security team to walk toward Senator Kennedy.
There was no one to announce him, so the plain clothes deputy sheriff just introduced himself as another community relations type city employee, to Senator Robert Kennedy. They spoke a bit about the weather and the nice crowd that had shown up to see the Senator take this tour of the hospital. Jay noticed that the Senator was very congenial, and warm. They then chatted for a few more moments, about the city that the deputy represented. When Jay suggested, that he accompany Mr. Kennedy to assist in any questions during his tour in the city, the Senator appeared delighted.
One of the head executives of the hospital then joined Senator Kennedy and took a position to his left. Jay decided to take a position to the rear and to the right of the Senator as the two ahead of him were now chatting.
As he walked behind the Senator, he thought to himself, that his close uncovered position to the Senator obviously placed him in grave danger should the attacker possess a handgun or rifle. He then noted mentally: Nuts, nobody else would do this security detail, and someone had to do it. Jay thought; If any attack should take place, that the best vantage point would be at the Senator's side. This could be a real wild toe-to-toe gunfight, just like in the old west.
As the tour progressed and while still on the grounds in the open, the executive who took the task of directing the walkthrough pointed out various buildings of the hospital complex. At that time, the City of Hope Medical Center was known worldwide as a place to go, when all other doctors had used up all of their medical options for a severely ill patient. The City of Hope Medical Center housed many of the best cancer specialists in the world. Especially, in the case of a sick, incurable child, there was hope here. Over the years, Jay found the name, City of Hope, very fitting, indeed.
As he walked behind the Senator, his eyes intently scoured the crowd while he tried to single out and identify a person or persons who had the intent to commit murder. All he could see were men, women and a few children who all looked like good law abiding citizens. The deputy asked himself again; what am I actually looking for?
As he walked behind the two men he would never forget the aura and radiating charisma of Senator Kennedy. This was a man; he personally felt that was surly destined to become the next President of the United States. This man definitely had the ability to command attention and respect by his mere presence. Here was a person, who expressed great interest, empathy and concern for recovering and terminally ill children, whom he chanced to meet today. Yes, to this day, many people still hold a strong opinion, that had he not been assassinated, he would have been a great President of the United States much like his brother.
There were several hundred people in the crowd. The onlookers were unrestrained by any ropes, or any police personnel. Still, the very large group was very orderly, and politely and quietly stayed well to the side of the walking path.
As a result of continuously, looked into the crowd, he now was feeling a headache coming on, although still intensely searching for the one or more persons who could be a deadly threat. Nothing changed and everyone looked the same. Just a lot of good people watching a presidential candidate tour a hospital.
Suddenly, Jay felt the presence of danger. Someone, he felt, was nearby, like there was nearby a very evil person and who was now staring at him. He had this feeling in his gut that there was someone in the crowd with a gun out there. No question that he was certain of it, but there was no visible indication of any danger that he could see. He somehow just felt raw hostility out there and that he was being scanned by one or more people who would want to attack them in the next instant.
The plain clothes deputy tried to think of something that he could do with the limited resources he had, and the fact that announcing danger in error would embarrass everyone including his Department. There was absolutely no place to seek cover from gunfire. If this was to be the place to pull off an assassination, this was a fantastic location for any attacker. In desperation, Jay pulled his coat back, as if by accident, displaying the large frame, large target hand grip snub nosed revolver on his right hip. By letting the coat hang behind the grips of the gun, the crowd would definitely see it. It stood to reason, that a bad person seeing the exposed gun, next to his handcuffs might hesitate, before attacking. The Senator was slightly in front of him and still to his left, and as a result never saw the exposed weapon. Jay twisted left and right, making sure everyone in the crowd saw that Jay was carrying a gun and handcuffs.
But, the attack never came. There was no attempt on the life of Senator Robert Kennedy at this location. After what seemed an eternity, the tour finally ended, and the entourage climbed into their vehicles for a trip to, and eventual tour of the San Gabriel Mission. Nothing happened there, either. This entire afternoon turned to be a non-event and a non-crisis. Jay then felt that he may have overreacted to the suspected threat.
Then, as history relates, Senator Kennedy was off to Los Angeles, for another affair. That evening Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated that same evening, at that Los Angeles hotel on June 6th right after midnight. His fear of guns was probably justified, as a gun was used to kill him.
When Jay heard the news of the assignation he naturally felt very bad about the death. In one way he was glad that nothing happened while he was solely in charge of providing armed security. There was some satisfaction that he had done his job when called upon, although perhaps there never was a danger present in the first place.
It was some months later. He was talking with a friend of his who worked L.A. Sheriff’s Homicide. The conversation eventually drifted to the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy. He told the detective about some of the things that transpired that fateful day.
The detective snapped his finger as he realized he just found some missing information. An unknown fact to him was just uncovered. He now knew who the mystery bodyguard was as the Government would not provide any information the Homicide Detective at all. The Detective thought it just was a member of the security detail that walked with Senator Kennedy that stopped the planned attack. He related to Jay, that the ammunition used for the killing was actually purchased at the Fish Canyon Gun Club which no longer exists today, in the same city of Duarte. It was purchased by the killer that very same day. The deputy later talked to another friend of his who was an employee at the pistol range and who confirmed that this was purchase of the ammunition was true. The Gun Club was only three miles from where he was guarding Senator Kennedy.
Another detective friend of Jay’s related more about this subject, some days later. The events transpired as follows: When Sirhan-Sirhan was first interrogated and before the Feds took over custody, he told the investigating homicide deputies that he was planning to kill the presidential candidate at the City of Hope. He had just bought the special hollow point .22 long rifle ammunition. This was a new type of ammunition, intended supposedly, to kill game quicker. The ammunition was, what is called "dum-dum” or fragmentation type bullets. In other words, the bullets come apart, almost exploding inside a body, on impact.
As the story from this Detective goes, the only thing that prevented the killer from doing anything at the time was an unknown man in a business suit, with a gun and handcuffs showing on his belt. Asked why he did not try the assassination attempt anyway, Sirhan said, "That man in the suit with that gun looked very mean. He had the eyes of a killer. I felt that he was the kind of person who would shoot back at me in the crowd.” He related that this mean man looked right at him as if he knew him, yes he actually frightened him. Sirhan continued; “police many times shoot into a crowd in my country. I did not want to take a chance with such a mean killer"
If he only knew what Jay was really feeling at the time?
Over the years Jay reflected that people’s lives are like fragile threads, weaving a course through time and space. It seems so unlikely that our lives could affect to any degree the firm and huge ropes of major events that make history. Many different scenarios could have played out that day. Had Sirhan-Sirhan run out of the crowd and attacked, an actual gunfight may have resulted. The “commendable restraint” taught as policy at that time—and to this day--would prevent a police officer from taking other than a clean shot at this suspect with innocent persons down range. If this suspect had attacked with his gun blazing the possibility that the deputy sheriff would have been injured or killed was a real possibility. And what of the fate of Senator Robert Kennedy? The welfare of the crowd of innocent persons was the prime consideration in any actions that would have to be taken. That is why the plain clothes deputy allowed his sidearm and handcuffs to be observed by the bystanders. His Oath of Office as a Law Enforcement Officer included the words “to protect lives and property” as previously stated. This was still another situation where he was at the wrong and most dangerous place at the perfect time.
From this incident and events that transpired later; he finally realized that any one of us may stay or even change the larger scope of the future of the entire world by our seemingly insignificant actions. In this case, just using a nasty glance while staring blankly into a crowd, along with showing the butt of a gun, stayed the course of history allowing an important U.S. Senator who was running for President of the United States of America to continue to live. Where would the world have been, had there been no further attacks on the Senator’s life? On this afternoon a Deputy Sheriff prevented a deadly attack from a planned assassin without firing a shot, and the result was the saving of another human life.
For a short while.
It is sad, that others, forewarned by this deputy sheriff decided to be politely correct or just refused to care.
 After the assassination of Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) authorized the Secret Service to protect all persons who were actually running for this office.