“Tater” Jenkins done killed Uncle Billy Buck Robinson. Quick, call the law afor’in’ that son-of-a-biscuit-eatin’ coward gets clean away!”

And so it goes. Aunt Ruthie Mae runs next door to use Lula Belle’s rotary phone to call the police, a department of four men and women of varies sizes, from rail thin to chair-crushing fat—who, after one last bite, drop their newspapers and circular, creme-filled morning breakfast food and trot out to their cars to make the treacherous drive up Banjo Mountain. But not before stopping by the drive-through at Percy’s Pork Skin Palace to grab a sack lunch for the long trip. Along the way, they pass by Billy’s goats, Carl’s cows, several mangy dogs, and a cross-eyed bear who was in the midst of overturning Miss Ethel Turner’s outhouse.

The determined officers motored across Falling Car Creek and the Killzemall River by using makeshift bridges, a handcrafted series of large logs that stretched across the waters. Then, after stopping for lunch and seven breaks behind assorted species of trees (NOT an easy task for the two female officers), the patrol officers finally reached their destination, a grouping of six obviously homemade clapboard-sided, rusty-tin-roofed houses nestled along the hillside, seven miles from the nearest sunshine. Curb appeal was limited to crooked eaves, sagging beams, and lopsided stone chimneys that blew and belched smoke the color of tar paper. Several red-headed children ran to and fro, playing some sort of game that involved a single crooked stick. Their dirt-smeared faces and arms were spattered with summer freckles.

A three-legged mutt slowly lifted its head when the police cars pulled to a stop, dragging clouds of white dust in their wakes. The dog, uninterested in the action, lowered its head and resumed its nap.

Mr. Onion Parson, a man with a single tooth that sat slightly askew in a mouth as dark as a cavern, called out, “Over here, Five-Oh!”

“One Tooth” shooed a few chickens from their new perches atop the forehead of one very blue and very cold Uncle Billy Buck Robinson. “He’s right here, and he’s deader’n a doornail,” said Onion. “He done chopped Billy Buck in the haid with my best ax.”

Later, the lead officer would include in her official report, a description of that remarkable tooth as “shaped exactly like the state of Delaware.” She noted that a bystander saw Tater flee the scene on the back of a mule named Homer. However, the officer omitted all references to the chickens, an unfortunate decision that would come back to haunt her when a savvy defense attorney pointed out to the jury that the presence of chicken prints on the forehead of the deceased raised the possibility of “murder by rooster” and not by an ax-wielding Tater.

“After all,” the attorney said to the judge, “a very aggressive rooster named Killer was known to violently attack the hands that fed him. Heads, too.” Another point omitted from the officer’s report. The jury agreed with the defense attorney and “Tater” Jenkins walked away from the trial a free man. The rooster, however, was sentenced to serve as Sunday dinner. The hens, obviously brainwashed by their leader, were not charged, citing Stockholm Syndrome as their defense.

Preserving a Crime Scene

So, what really happens once patrol officers arrive on scene? Well, for starters, much of the above could be sort of true. I recall meeting several people during my career who could’ve been members of these fine families.  However, here’s how it really happens …

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 10.31.23 AMFirst on the Crime Scene

Uniformed officers are normally the first police officers on the scene. It’s up to these front-line cops to take charge, calm the chaos, and make things safe for citizens in the area, EMS and firefighters, and for the arriving investigators, medical examiner, etc.

Sometimes, crime scenes are large and complicated; therefore, it may be necessary to set up a command post—a central location for coordinating police activities.

Many police departments use some sort of mobile command centers, such as converted motor homes and travel trailers. Some patrol supervisors drive vehicles designed to quickly transform into a fully functional command post.

A command post could be, however, anything and anywhere—a local store, store parking lot, an officer’s patrol car, and so on.

The Two Types of Perimeters

  • the first is an overall periphery for the purpose of containing suspects within a specific area.
  •  an area to preserve the crime scene and the evidence within.

Crime scenes may be as small as a single room, or they can be as large as several city blocks, or more. There are no set boundaries. Investigators on the scene make this determination, as needed.

It’s best to establish a large boundary at first to ensure that all evidence is protected from outside interference/contamination/disturbance. You can always reduce the size of the permitter, but enlarging it after the fact is mostly a waste of time because there’s a risk of evidence being disturbed by bystanders, news media, EMS, firefighters, other officers, etc.

Do not rush into a crime scene without first taking everything in. Take a moment to assess the area. Are there any dangers, including hidden ones, such as gas leaks, poisonous chemicals, A KILLER WITH A GUN?

Absolutely do not allow anyone inside the scene unless they’re a vital part of the investigation team. This includes members of the police department, including command staff. Of course, if a chief insists, well, make certain to document her entry and exit times.

Do not allow anyone to leave the area until you’ve interviewed them. Treat every single person as a possible witness. Sometimes people don’t realize they’ve seen an important detail until they’ve been questioned by police.

Crime Scene Investigation Facts:

Carey A. Body just murdered his longtime girlfriend, Ida Kissedanyman, and fled on foot through an alley, over a fence, and into the rear parking lot of Beulah Bell’s Hog Jowl Emporium. Body, sweating heavily and breathing like a huffing locomotive traveling a 72% steep uphill grade, ditched the murder weapon inside a fat rusted dumpster that was stuffed to the brim with discarded hocks, pinto beans, and hunks of Crisco-drentched fried cornbread.

Therefore, even though the dumpster was four blocks away from the actual scene of the crime, the dumpster is now considered a crime scene. Why? Because evidence of a crime is located there. And, yes, detectives and/or CSI’s must paw through the garbage, by hand, searching for evidence.

More crime scene investigation facts …

  • Patrol officers often assist investigators/detectives with the recovery and collection of evidence.
  • Not all crime scene investigators are sworn police officers. Many police departments employ specially trained civilian crime scene investigators/technicians. Non-sworn crime scene investigators do not:

(As seen on TV)

  • arrest criminals
  • interrogate or question suspects
  • carry weapons
  • participate in, or conduct autopsies
  • engage in foot or vehicle pursuits
  • handcuff criminal suspects (What goes on during their free time is of no concern to us. Unless, of course, you’re writing a scene involving hot, steamy … you know).

All police officers are trained to properly collect and preserve evidence. After all, sometimes detectives are unavailable. Therefore, in those instances, uniformed officers assume the duty of investigating the crime.

detective and patrol officer bagging a gun at a crime scene

The police are in charge of crime scenes. Coroners and medical examiners are in charge of the bodies of murder victims.

NOTE: Not all medical examiners and coroners show up at crime scenes. In those instances, EMS or a local funeral home typically transport the bodies to the morgue where the M.E. will have a look as soon as possible. Detectives, in these instances, are in charge of the body and sometimes travel in the ambulance to the morgue to preserve chain of evidence/custody.

Releasing information to the media—hold your cards close to your chest until you have an idea of what information can be released to the public. Remember, what you say will be on the evening news! I know this one all too well…unfortunately.

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*As always, rules, policies, and procedures vary from area to area and agency to agency. If 100% accuracy is your goal then you make a quick phone call to the public information officer (POI) at your local police department. This is often the officer you see providing official updates on your evening news.

 

“Perception is key. How did the officer perceive the encounter? Did she fear for her life or the life of others?”

Before we delve into the topic of perception, please allow me to set the stage by using an experience from my past. I apologize in advance for rehashing the tale, but its use here perfectly  illustrates the information below.

Many of you have heard me speak about the deadly shootout I was in back in the 90’s. Others have read the story here on this blog. In both I tell of the involuntary engagement of a “slow motion switch,” and the switching-off of all sounds.

The shooting seemed to occur in slow motion while in a vacuum where sounds were not permitted to enter.

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FYI – Pictured above is the robber’s car. I fired the round that penetrated the side and rear glass of the car. At the time, the robber had already begun shooting but the only part of his body I could see was his head. That view was through both panes of glass. My round struck the side of his head. He immediately went down, but almost immediately returned to his feet and resumed shooting.

The large hole in the side of the car just above the wheel well was fired by a rookie officer who was fresh off his field training program. The  round was fired from a shotgun. The “slug” was later found in the rear compartment, inside a duffle bag filled with clothing.

To learn more about slugs and what happens when they strike an object, including a human, please click to watch the video below.

Sights, Sounds, and Auditory Exclusion

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FYI – Pictured above: A police car destroyed by gunfire. That’s me in the foreground, with the porn star/cop mustache and my sweaty hair pulled behind my ears. A state agent who’d responded to assist stands behind me near the shoulder of the highway. The suspect’s vehicle is pictured in the distance, directly to my rear. My partner’s unmarked vehicle is seen parked on the opposite side of the median, top right. He’d been in court when he learned of the shooting and had arrived on-scene at the conclusion of the incident.

It was an extremely hot August day and I’d worn a suit. I was preparing to go to court when the call came in, a 10-90—robbery in progress. Mere moments prior to the news reporter taking this photo, I’d killed a man.

FROM MY EARLIER ARTICLE:

“The sound of his gunshot activated my brain’s slow-motion function. Time nearly stopped. It was surreal, like I actually had time to look around before reacting to the gunshot. I saw my partners yelling, their mouths opening and closing slowly. Lazy puffs of blue-black smoke drifted upward from their gun barrels. I saw a dog barking to my right—its head lifting with each yap, and droplets of spittle dotted the air around its face.”

During the exchange of gunfire, I saw the mouths of partners moving and I saw a dog barking, but I did not hear either. The reason I didn’t—auditory exclusion.

Auditory exclusion, like it’s first cousin, tunnel vision, can and does often occur during moments of intense stress, such as life-threatening situations including shootouts or potential shootouts. Actually, guns don’t have to enter the picture for these stress-induced phenomena to occur. However, that’s the focus of this article so that’s the path we’ll travel today.

Stress can interfere with our physiological ability to receive and act on information

In very simple terms, stress can interfere with our physiological ability to receive and act on information received by the brain. Basically, we’re wired to survive and we do so by fighting or fleeing and sometimes freezing in place/not reacting during dangerous situations.

Typically, when faced with danger our bodies automatically increase the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which produces an uptick in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, pupil size, perspiration, and muscle tension. Blood flow to the brain, heart, and large muscles is accordingly increased. However, fine motor skills that require hand/eye coordination begin to deteriorate. This decrease in the functionality of fine motor skills allows the continuation of the more effective (at the time) gross motor skills that help when running or fighting.

One way our bodies react to intense stress is to induce inattentional blindness, a phenomenon that reaches across all senses, including vision (tunnel vision) and sound (auditory exclusion). In short, the brain processes only what the person/officer is focused on, such as a potentially deadly threat. In my case, it was a bank robber who was firing a gun at me and I know that auditory shutdown is a very real thing during high-stress situations. Again, this is from my own personal experience.

NOTABLE POINTS REGARDING PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO STRESS

  • Optical affinity can occur—increased ability to see things at 20 feet and beyond while closer objects may seem blurry, if seen at all. The same is true for near shutdown of periphreal vision. The latter is due to vasoconstriction of the blood vessels on the periphery of the retina (tunnel vision).
  • Perceptions are often distorted, such as the ability to correctly perceive a danger.
  • Sounds are processed by the brain faster than what we see. Touch is the next fastest, and smells reach the brain the quickest.
  • Motion is recognized faster than than color, and shape is slowest of all sights processed. Yellow is the fastest color we can identify. Darker colors being the slowest.
  • Furtive movement – done in a quiet and secret way to avoid being noticed (Webster’s).
  • During stressful encounters, such as those involving deadly force, furtive movements (see above definition) are sometimes perceived incorrectly, such as the movement of hands holding a dark object whose shape somewhat resembles a firearm. but understandably so when factoring in physiological phenomena such as auditory exclusion and tunnel vision.

I See Colors. Or Do I?

Remember, darker colors are identified at a slower rate than bright colors, acute vision at closer distances is greatly decreased, sounds have all but ceased to exist, adrenaline and heart rate are higher, officers are trained to fight not flee from danger, and officers are trained to react to threats. And all of this occurs in a the blink of an eye. There is no time to sit down, discuss, plan, and map out the premium response. This is wholeheartedly in contrast to the armchair cop experts who chime in after the fact with the uninformed, misinformed, social-media-educated, and inexperienced “cop’s are too quick to shoot”comments.

  • Our minds, during stressful situations, see what they expect to see. We expect a man suddenly pulling a dark object from his pocket after repeatedly telling him to not put his hands in his pocket, all while knowing he matches the description of a guy who’d just shot and killed four people, well, our minds are telling us he’s going for a gun.

If the object he brings from his pocket is dark, such as a cellphone, a vaping pen that looks like a gun barrel, especially when held like a gun and pointed at officers, a BB gun that’s nearly identical to the officer’s duty weapon, or even a bare hand that comes up and out of pocket rapidly, and the movement is in contrast to the officer’s direction and expectations, and it all occurs within a split second, well …

Remember, sound is perceived before sight, motion is perceived before color, and color is perceived before shape. These differences can and do greatly affect how an officer perceives and processes what’s unfolding in real time. And, those perceptions will definitely affect and/or control the officer’s response(s).

I can say from experience that during a potentially life-threatening situation, barking dogs, screaming officers, sirens, and gunshots are sometimes the loudest sounds you’ll ever NOT hear.

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After an intense shootout with an armed bank robber, I shot and killed the man (68 rounds were exchanged—I fired 5). That’s him above as emergency medical personnel treat him.

Even today, at this moment seated here at my desk, I can hear the deafening quiet of that morning. And I still view parts of the scene in slow motion.

Click here to read about the shootout.

By the way, not once during the entire shootout did I or the other officers smell the odor of cordite lingering in the air. Why not? Because the stuff hasn’t been around since the end of World War II. So please, please, please stop writing it into your stories.

 

It was on a cold Christmas night, several years ago, when my wife Denene decided that she’d like to ride along with me during my shift so we could at least spend a part of the evening together. It would be her first and last first-hand experience of what I did for a living.

I was the officer in charge of operations, the OIC, that night so it wasn’t as if I’d be responding to calls, meaning I thought the danger level for her would be extremely low. And I was right, the evening shift was fairly quiet with a few of the typical pushing and shoving drunks, a couple of thefts, a drunk driver or two, a peeping Tom, a disorderly customer at a convenience store, etc. Nothing major.

I took Denene on a tour of parts of the city she’d never seen, and to a few she had but only during the daytime. Believe me, some typically normal neighborhoods totally transform once the sun is down and all the “creepies” come out to play. It’s the time when neon lights replace sunshine, and when alleyways come alive with feral animals and people who pay for quickie sex behind dented dumpsters overflowing with restaurant waste and wet, slimy butcher shop cardboard and paper.

These are the streets and neighborhoods where wispy tendrils of sewer steam rise from storm drains to twist and writhe their way toward the night sky, floating and undulating until they melt into nothingness. Potholes are deep and overturned garbage cans pour out their innards for all to see. Front yards are bare dirt and sofas and used kitchen chairs sit on front porches featuring leaning posts and broken railings. At the curb laying at either side of the streets are empty beer cans and bottles and used needles and condoms mixed with dry, crispy fall leaves.

In the area sometimes called “The Bottom, prostitutes display their wares in barely-there outfits while local businessmen, average Joes and sometimes Janes, and a few city officials cruise along the dark streets comparing the “merchandise.”

Winos and drug addicts are on their aimless and zombie-like marches, stumbling along cold concrete walks and streets until they finally decide upon a random landing spot in a storefront entrance where they smoke, drink rotgut liquor, or shoot poison into their arms or legs. Then they’ll sleep awhile before setting off on another mindless quest for the next high.

Drug runners, the low-level, bottom of the drug-selling chain, sellers of crack, meth, heroin, and weed, are at nearly every corner in the “hot” neighborhoods. Many times they damage the corner street lamps by throwing rocks at the bulbs, or by shooting them out, so they can operate under the cover of darkness.

Runners stand alone or in small groups of three or so with each holding only a small amount of dope so not much will be lost should a cop bust them. Users cruise the areas in their cars, driving slowly. When the runner spots a customer he approaches the vehicle. The driver hands over cash ($20 for a single crack rock) and the runner offers the drug. Sometimes he keeps the foil or plastic-wrapped rock in his mouth so he could easily swallow it in case the “customer” is a cop. He’ll spit the wrapped rock into his hand to exchange for the cash.

When the runners sell out they head back to the dealers to “re-up.” The process repeats hour after hour, night after night after night. The runners are always at ready to take off should an officer approach. It’s a cat and mouse game that’s played again and again—we get out of our cars and they run. We chase. They drop the dope and an occasional gun. We pick up the stuff and maybe catch the guy or maybe not.

So after seeing enough of the rot of the city, I drove to areas where officers were on the scenes of various calls/complaints, making sure all was well. Then the radio crackled with an “officer needs assistance” call. She’d stopped a car for drunk driving and the driver refused to get out of his vehicle. She’d struggled with him a bit, through the car window, but had no luck. In fact, he’d spit at her and attempted to bite her. He’d struck her arms with his fist and tried to punch her face.

So off I went to see the trouble for myself. Other officers were on the way to assist. When Denene and I arrived two officers were at the driver’s window grabbing at the man and striking at his arms with batons. A third officer was standing at the passenger window preparing to break the glass. I told Denene I’d be right back (the equivalent to “Hold my beer”) and stepped out of my car.

Since I’d trained each of the on-scene” officers in defensive tactics during their time at the academy, and the fact that I owned my own gym and martial arts school, and because I the ranking officer on the scene, well, they’d assumed that I’d handle this situation. So they parted to allow me access to the driver.

I politely informed the wild and drunken and very large man that he had two options. One, remove his seat belt and get out of the car on his on. Two, I’d cause him intense pain while removing him from the car, through the window. When he spit at me it was my conclusion that he’d opted for choice number two.

A few seconds later, after inflicting quite a bit of pain (I knew this because he was squealing and squawking like a wounded animal), I pulled his fat rear end through the seatbelt and through the window (with his helpful assistance since he wanted the pain to stop sooner than asap), pulled him to the ground, spun him around and over using a wrist-turn-out. I then cuffed his hands behind his back.

I told the female officer who’d initially stopped the car to place my handcuffs in the box outside my office door when she’d cleared from processing the man. I then turned and walked back to my car where I nonchalantly asked Denene if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee. Only a minute or two had passed since I first stepped out of my unmarked Caprice.

She said, “How can you be so calm after such a violent event? And how in the world did you get that big man to fit through that window and all so quickly?”

I, like every officer out there, didn’t think twice about it. It’s what we/they do, those sorts of things—pulling grown men through car windows and the like. It’s part of the job, like editing is to a writer.

Yes, it was Christmas and we were together. But she never again rode with me.

She eventually stopped listening the police scanner we had at the house. She switched it off one night, for the final time, after hearing me tell other officers that “I’d go in first.”

Yeah, she’s much happier since writing about this stuff is a WHOLE lot safer …


Aikido

Aikido uses the attacker’s own force against him.

A wrist turnout applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist, forcing the suspect off balance.

Proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique. To complete the technique the officer maintains his grasp, rotates the suspect’s hand up and to the rear in a counter-clockwise motion while simultaneously stepping back with his (the officer) left leg. The suspect ends up on the floor on his back (see picture below). Any resistance inflcts excrutiating pain in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

Combative suspects are normally forced the ground for handcuffing. From this position, a quick turn of the suspect’s wrist and arm will force him to roll over on his stomach. Any resistance causes extreme pain and could severely injure the controlled wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

To effectively control the wrist, the elbow must be stationary. From this position, the suspect is easily handcuffed.

This wrist lock can cause intense pain in the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Forward and downward pressure forces the suspect to the ground.

 

Ready on the left? Ready on the right? Ready on the firing line. Commence firing!

Those words, or something similar, are heard by officers all over the country as they attend their annual mandated firearms qualification. Yes, at least once or twice each year all officers receive word to report to the range to qualify with their duty weapons.

Many officers, for the first time since the last mandatory qualification, pull out their handy-dandy gun cleaning kits to spruce up their sidearms. Then, with pistols all clean, shiny, and properly oiled, a few begin to feel a bit of anxiety creeping up. Suppose I don’t qualify? What happens if my scores aren’t high enough? You know, my eyesight is a bit weaker since last year. What if I miss the entire target? Will I lose my job?

Well, those are worries that should never arise because officers should be required, or at least encouraged to shoot more often. Practice by repetition is the key to firearms proficiency. Budget woes should never affect or stand in the way of an officer’s ability to defend himself/herself.

However, ammunition and training time are often one of the first things to go when funds grow tight. But that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’ll probably remain. So cops deal with what they have, which sometimes isn’t much.

Firearms In-Service Training

Some departments do little more than have their officers line up on the range, wait for the command to fire, and then blast away at stationary paper targets, hoping they’ll punch enough holes in them so they can pass the minimum qualification requirements. Then they call it quits until the next year. Short, sweet, and cheap. But is that enough to survive in today’s increasingly dangerous world? No, it’s not.

How Many and What Kind of Attacks?

Each year the FBI collects data regarding the number of law enforcement officers who were assaulted during that particular 12-month period. For example, In 2018, from the 546,247 officers working for a total of 11,788 law enforcement agencies across the U.S., a whopping 58,866 officers were assaulted while performing their duties. To break it down a bit further, that’s 10.8 officers assaulted per 100 sworn officers.

Attacks With Injuries Received

  • 24.7 percent of the officers who received injuries in 2018 were attacked with hands, fists, or feet (personal weapons).
  • 8.4 percent of the officers were attacked by persons wielding knives or other edged weapons.
  • 6.1 percent of officers were attacked with firearms.
  • 16.0 percent of the attacks on officers who were carried out by subjects using weapons other than those listed above.

In the years from 2009-2018, 9,857 were injured by edged weapons, 439,719 by personal weapons, and 80,692 were injured by suspects who used “other” dangerous weapons to carry out attacks. During the same time period 21,954 officers were injured by firearms.

Many of the over 21,000 officers who were victims of firearm attacks were killed during shootouts with armed suspects, NOT in gun battles with stationary paper targets.

Now, I’m not saying those officers weren’t properly trained. Nor am I suggesting they didn’t respond appropriately to the threats to their lives. Not at all. Sometimes you do everything right and the worst still happens. What I am offering is that there are numerous techniques and tactics that could and should be taught to each and every officer. Things that could help them in the field.

Classroom time is great, and necessary, and goodness knows there’s a mountain of wonderful books and research material available.

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Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide for Writers, is a how-to, behind the scenes book designed especially for writers. The book can be found in public schools and university libraries all across the world, on the shelves and desks of thousands of writers, including many top, bestselling authors, on the nightstands of fans of police TV shows and people who’re interested in learning about police officers and procedures, in police departments, police academies, and more.

Book “learnin'” is great, however, it’s a must to incorporate hands-on exercises into police training whenever possible. This is also why the Writers’ Police Academy came into being—so that writers can experience the same training as what’s offered to and required of police officers and investigators.

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International bestselling author Tami Hoag, Writers’ Police Academy 2016.

As I stated earlier, officers learn some skills best through repetition, and it’s the “over and over again” training that helps officers learn to react almost instinctively to various threats and situations. Then, when/if those events present themselves, officers will revert to their training and react appropriately.

Therefore, it is an absolute must that officers spend at least some time training under “threat” situations. After all, suspects on the street are simply not going to stand perfectly still with their hands hanging at their sides so that officers can squeeze off 50 or 60 rounds at them. So why should officers train as if they’re going to someday face a one-dimensional faceless paper bank robber?

Believe me, facing a live person who’s shooting at you is far different than shooting at an ink-blotted paper rectangle. Everything changes when a human suspect pulls the trigger, sending a bullet toward your head. Your brain has to suddenly shift from “it’s only a paper target (paper-man, or flat-man, syndrome)” to HOLY S**T HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME! mode.

Sure, some practicing with stationary targets is necessary. That’s how cops learn the basics. But what else could they do to better prepare themselves for the real bad guys?

Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter, Writers’ Police Academy 2015 – Firearms Simulator Training

1. Shoot in low light situations. Not all firefights are going to happen at noon. In fact, many, if not most shooting situations occur at night. So why practice all shooting in the bright sunshine? And practice shooting while holding a flashlight!

2. Tactical reloading. Spend lots of time practicing reloading while under fire (pretend of course). When performing reloading drills, officers should practice discarding/dropping the empty magazine. You do not want your hands full, trying to reload while bullets zip by your head. However, when/if possible, shooters should place the empty magazine where it’s easily accessible for future reloading, if necessary.

3. Practice shooting while using various objects as cover. The practice will then come naturally when in the field. Always use cover!

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4. Officers should  always face their target (never turn their backs on the shooter!). However, some departments have the officers first shoot from closer ranges (5 or 7 yards), and then when they’re finished at that distance they turn around and casually walk back to the next firing point. NO! They should back up to the next point. This instills the habit of always facing their aggressor.

5. Strong and weak hand shooting. Always, always, always practice shooting with either hand. The possibility of entering into a firefight with an injured strong hand is always a possibility. If it does, officers certainly want to be able to at least hold, point, and shoot their firearms with some degree of accuracy.

6. Practice shooting at moving targets. Bad guys do not stand still. Neither do cops when they’re in a firefight. So why always practice shooting at stationary objects? I cannot stress this point enough.

7. Spend time on firearms training simulators. Simulators are great tools for preparing officers for real-life scenarios. They’re also great for pointing out weaknesses in stressful situations. I’d rather correct my errors in a classroom, not after I’ve caught a couple of rounds to my torso.

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Firearms simulations training, Writers’ Police Academy 2010.

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International bestselling author Lee Child and, to his left, world-renowned forensic anthropologist Elizabeth Murray—firearms simulator training, Writers’ Police Academy 2012. Th shooter to Lee’s right is Dr. Murray’s sister.

Finally, and this is to the officers out there, practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition! What you do during training is what you’ll do on the street. I guarantee it. So even if your department doesn’t offer extra time on the range, you do what it takes to find somewhere to practice shooting. Your life may soon depend on your ability to use your weapon effectively.

Be safe! Your lives matter to a lot of people.

A cry for help

“I’m going to kill both of you, and then I’m going to blow my brains out, right here!”

Philadelphia had the ball and were one score away from winning the game against Washington. It wasn’t that I was a big fan of either team but I’d watched the game from the opening kickoff, therefore I had a good deal of time invested in watching and I wanted to see it through.

“Sit. Down!”

There it was again. That voice. One of our kids must’ve had their tv volume turned to high. If it continued I’d have to speak to whichever teen culprit was hard at work damaging their young eardrums.

It was somewhere just shy of halftime when I’d kicked off my shoes, popped a bowl of popcorn, and poured myself into the couch. Denene occupied the end of the sofa on the opposite side of the container, and occasionally our hands met at mid-bowl.

I’d been working on a  particularly pesky case and my day had been long and it felt as if I’d walked a million steps and had questioned as many suspects and witnesses. Therefore, a night in front of the TV with my wonderful wife, with no thoughts of murder, guns, and wacked-out suspects, had been a most welcome thought. Until, that is, I once again heard the voice, the one I hadn’t been positively sure I heard the first two times.

“Sit your ass down so I can get this over with.”

Now I was certain  that “the voice” was coming from someone on the outside of our home and not from a blaring television speaker. And, before I could get to the window to see who it was that felt to yell and scream and disrupt the entire neighborhood during Monday night football, and why they were doing so, the living room curtains came alive with winking and flashing blue lights.

This, in MY neighborhood. My quiet and peaceful southern quintessential neighborhood with large, gnarly and stately oak trees , a lazy river that ambled and snaked its way behind the homes on our side of the street, a small country-style church with an A-frame tin roof and tall steeple, and residents who took the time to stop whatever they were doing to smile and wave at passersby. It, by golly, was a neighborhood where baker Jason “Honey, the cow done gone and laid an egg in your molasses patch” Smith would feel right at home.

“Put down the gun! Put it down now!”

I parted the curtains and peered outside. Our normally quiet street was littered with several marked patrol cars parked at various angles. Their strobes flickered and fluttered, with side-mounted spotlight beams stretching from each car until they all came together at the front porch of our across-the-street neighbors, an elderly couple who spent a great deal of their days there rocking and sipping iced tea from Mason jars that most likely once held vegetables from the meticulously maintained garden in their backyard.

I stepped out onto our front porch to have a better view of the goings-on. Yes, I, too, had become a member of the the looky-loo club, the folks who worm and squirm their bodies into position for a peek at whatever action that attracted the men and women who maintain absolute control of the “blue lights.” But I had to see. The force pulled my attention to the action. Besides, it was kind of nice watching the events unfold without being a part of it. Had I been involved I would have been the ranking officer and charge of the scene would have fallen to me. So I watched, standing in the cool fall air, wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes.

Uniformed officers  positioned themselves, as they should, behind their vehicles. Youngsters, the entire lot of them. One, a young rookie who’s haircut had the still-fresh buzz-cut look of an academy recruit, held a position at the rear of his car. A female officer who stood no taller than five-feet when wearing a pair of Bates tactical boots, had one foot inside an open car door with the other planted on the pavement behind an angled front tire. She used the space where the door met the car as a prop for her weapon. The expression on her face was a serious one.

Other officers were scattered about, willy-nilly, with one using an in-car microphone to bark out orders to the armed man who, at that point, paced the porch like a caged circus lion. His white-haired mother sobbed while his frail father rambled on about not having any money to give, especially to supply a drug habit.

“Put down the gun!”

The standoff went on for a while,—too long, actually—before I decided to stick my nose in it. I’d arrested the across-my-street gunman a couple of times in the past, mostly for minor crimes to support his drug habit. I knew him and he knew me. It was a start and that’s a place where we often begin … a start.

I walked across our front lawn (shoeless) and then out onto the street where a couple of the officers recognized me. I’d taught them officer survival and defensive tactics during their time at the training academy. I asked one of them to use their radio to let the others know I was there and planned to contact the subject. In other words, DO NOT SHOOT THE OLD GUY FROM ACROSS THE STREET.

I began my move by first calling out to the gunman from a position that was away from his parents. He turned to face me, with the gun, a .357 revolver, down at his side. I took a step out into the light so he could see me, and what a sight that must’ve been—t-shirt, running shorts, no shoes, and…that’s when I realized I had not grabbed a weapon when I left the house. I was unarmed. What a D.U.M.B.A.S.S. thing to do. And here I was, the veteran who taught officer survival tactics to other officers. This stupid move was more like officer suicide. Absolutely in sharp contrast to all rules, regulations, training, and above all … common sense.

I started talking to the young man. “Donnie (not his real name), how can I help you tonight?”

“Nobody can help me this time, Detective.” Good, he recognized me.

“I don’t know about that, Donnie. Tell me what’s bugging you and we’ll go from there.”

I moved a bit closer to the porch. Twenty feet to go. His face was peppered with beads of perspiration, in spite of the chilly night air, and his eyes were wide, wet, glossy, and rimmed in red. He constantly licked at his lips, and used his non gun hand to pick and scratch and rub the opposite arm.

“It’s going to stop tonight. I’m tired of it! Everything. All of it.” he yelled.” Tears leaked from his eyes and eased down his cheeks until they fell one by one to the concrete floor.

A few more steps. Five feet to the porch deck. Another six or so to where he stood. I tried not to look directly at the gun.

“If you’re tired of it (I was sort of certain he meant the drug addiction) let’s sit down and talk about it. I may have the answers you need. I think I can help.”

His finger slid into the trigger guard. His shoulders trembled. The slow trickle of tears had morphed into rivers. He glanced toward the street and then back toward his parents. I had to move, so I walked toward him. “Donnie, let’s talk. But first I’ll need the gun.”

The silence was deafening. The only sounds I remember were the faint clicking of the light mechanisms on the patrol cars as they controlled the flashes spins, and whirls, and that of my heart as it thumped against the inner wall of my chest.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Whir, spins, blink, wink.

Thump, thump, thump.

I held out my hand as I walked (faster now).

He took a step back, but stopped and slowly began to raise  the hand holding the handgun.

There was no turning back at this point, so I continued my forward march.

Donnie raised his hand and turned the gun backward, handing me the butt end. It was over and I felt myself exhale. Officers ran to the porch to escort Donnie’s parents inside. EMS personnel followed them into the house where they tended to the distraught couple.

I remained outside where Donnie and I sat on a porch swing. We talked for quite a while before patrol officers handcuffed him and then led him to one of their cars.

A magistrate committed Donnie to a temporary stay in a psych unit where he was evaluated and released after a few days. He was charged for the incident at his parents’ house but the same magistrate saw no reason to hold him in jail, so Donnie was released on a PR bond.

Two weeks later I was working a controlled drug buy and heard a call come across my radio about an unconscious man lying among the leaves in the wooded area next to a trailer park. I was nearby so drove over to see if I could help out. It was Donnie, and he was not breathing and he had no pulse. I started CPR and, to my surprise, he came to after only a few minutes (seemed like hours to me). EMS arrived and whisked Donnie off to the hospital. Doctors told me he’d overdosed but would be fine in a few days.

I stopped in to see Donnie one afternoon and sat beside his bed for an hour or so. We chatted between bouts of his crying and forgiveness-begging. I wished him well and told him to call when he was released and I’d see to it that he received help for his addiction. As I headed to the door a couple of nurses playfully teased us about the “sexy” lip-lock Donnie and shared during the CPR. He laughed and I took his good spirits as a sign of better days to come.

Two weeks later another radio call came in about a possible overdose. This one was at Donnie’s apartment. I flipped on my blue lights and siren headed over. When I arrived on-scene, the lack of urgency on the part of the officers and EMS workers told me all I needed to know.

After a chat with the EMS folks and M.E., I got back in my car and drove to the house across the street from ours. The walk from the street to the front door was an extremely long one, and when the door opened and the faces of Donnie’s parents appeared, well … you know.

1030 hours.

Radio transmission – Theft from jewelry store. Items taken – two diamond rings with value exceeding $10,000.

Subsequent Traffic Stop

Weather – Sunny. 84 degrees.

Probable Cause for stop – Vehicle matched description provided by jewelry store owner. Plates – out of state. Unknown numbers/lettering.

Weapon(s) involved – Taurus .380 recovered from beneath driver’s seat. Fully loaded with spare magazine in small cloth bag. No weapons used in connection with the crime.

The Case

My partner and I were pros at playing good cop/bad cop. In fact, we were the go-to guys for eliciting confessions. But these two, the man and woman suspected of taking two expensive diamond rings from a local jewelry store, were also pros. In their line of work—stealing and con games—they were some of the best in the business and their racket was an old one. They’d pretend to shop for engagement rings. She tried on several, asking to see first one then another and then back to this one and then the other and so on and so on until the clerk has an assortment of sparkly bling scattered about the glass countertop like a spattering of snowflakes on a frozen lake surface, much like the winter wonderland appearance of our backyard this morning.

Their goal, of course, was to confuse the clerk so that they could pocket a few gems and then make their getaway after not seeing the “perfect” ring, bracelet, or necklace. It worked. When the frustrated clerk/owner returned the collection of items to their respective spots in the cases, she noticed two valuable rings were missing. So were the two “customers.”

The responding uniformed officers asked for a description of the pair of thieves, but the owner simply couldn’t offer any solid details. They’d so thoroughly confused her that all she could remember was that one was male and the other was female. She was able to recall their race and that both wore nice clothing … she thought.

However, she wasn’t sure if it was the man wore a blue shirt or if it was the woman whose top was blue. She was confident the man had on khaki pants, though. No doubt about that detail. She was also certain about the description of the getaway car—it was a dark colored vehicle with out of state plates. Not sure which state, just not the familiar blue lettering on white background of Virginia plates.

For the record, the actual color of the man’s shirt was green; the woman had selected a red and white striped top as her shirt du jour. Both were wearing blue jeans at the time of the traffic stop, a stop that took place within 30 minutes of the theft. There was no other clothing inside their car. The owner’s descriptions were not even close and, unfortunately, the store’s surveillance cameras were switched off. “Oh, we don’t bother with that thing,” she later told me. “Far too much trouble.”

Surprisingly, the store owner was correct about the license plate.

Perfectly Legal Little White Lies

Questioning the two suspects was going nowhere. We had them in separate rooms and we alternated between the two, trying every trick in the book, including telling perfectly legal little white lies. You left fingerprints. The clerk ID’d you. Witnesses saw you. Yada, yada, yada. But we were spinning our wheels because they’d readily admitted to being in the store.

They simply weren’t talking.

They said they’d looked at and tried on rings. However, they didn’t like what they saw and left. But they didn’t take anything. It was their word against the store owner’s and we had no evidence. They’d allowed us to search both them and their car and we found nothing but the gun, which was illegal—he was a convicted felon and the gun was concealed.

We tried every legal card up our sleeves, but no dice. We had nothing.

Frazier v. Cupp is the case that permits police to tell little white lies during interrogations.

So, with the pair remaining as silent as Mr. Bean during one of his comedy sketches, I took a walk around the hallways, trying to think of some sort of angle to help garner a confession.

As I passed by the door to the dispatchers’ room one of them called out with a cheery “Good morning,” so I stepped inside. I noticed a small stack of new videos (VHS tapes at the time) beside her terminal. The top one was a collection of Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny’s image plastered on the front. He held a carrot in one hand and his rabbit lips were split into his typical buck-toothy grin. The video was a gift for her child’s birthday.

I had an idea and asked to borrow the tape for a few minutes.

After a quick stop in my office for a bit of artistic trickery, I returned to the interview room where the female suspect sat waiting. When I opened the door and stepped inside she smiled and asked if she could leave.

I took a seat in the chair across from her and returned her smile. Then I slid the tape across the tabletop. “We have a video,” I said. What I didn’t say was that I’d removed the Bugs label and replaced it with one I’d handwritten in my office before returning to the interview room. The new label simply read “Tape – June 6, 1994.” (June 6 was the current date, and Tape…well, it was a tape, right?).

“When I show this tape to a judge…well, you know what’s going to happen, right?” I said.

Tears quickly formed in the corners of her eyes. Then she looked down toward her feet and nodded. “I know,” she said. “Yeah, we did it. He took them, though. Not me. You saw that on the tape, right?”

Suddenly she wouldn’t shut up, telling me they’d dropped the rings out of the car window when they saw me pull out behind them. I sent a patrol officer to the approximate location where he found both rings. She also confessed to other thefts in other cities. The gun, too, was stolen. They’d broken into a home and found it while searching for valuables. The necklace she wore that day was stolen, as was the watch on her boyfriend’s wrist.

When I entered the room with her boyfriend/partner in crime, with the tape in hand, my first words to him were, “What’s up, Doc?”

An hour later we had signed confessions from both suspects.

And that’s how Bugs Bunny helped me solve the Case of the Missing Jewelry.

And, well…

Like all patrol officers and police detectives, I’ve seen a lot of horror. The real-life kind, though. Not the kind that sprouted from an idea that once lived in a dark, dank corner of Stephen King’s twisted mind.

Sadly, quite a bit of the terrifying gruesomeness stemmed from domestic violence, and some of the acts were far beyond the comprehension of the typical human being. The brutality discovered during many investigations were both heartbreaking and stomach-turning.

For example, one night we received a call to be on the lookout for a pickup truck with oversized tires, the kind used for off-roading. The caller said the the driver was a white male with short hair. She went on to say that he appeared to be heavily intoxicated and that had physically assaulted and abducted a white female from the parking lot of an area nightclub.

Witnesses at the scene told us that the man was known to be armed with a handgun and his truck was equipped with a gun rack mounted behind the seat and was clearly visible through the rear window. The rack contained both a rifle and shotgun. He was an avid hunter and an equally avid drinker.

Just minutes after dispatch received the initial call, they received another about the same incident. This caller, though, shed more light on the situation. The abducted woman was the girlfriend of the man who’d taken her and he’d returned home after a day of deer hunting and liquor drinking to find her gone. They surmised that he’d noticed her favorite party outfit was missing along with her “dancing shoes” and then, in a rage, set out to search for her. This would not be the first time this had happened.

A few miles from their home, the angry drunk, with a pistol tucked into the waistband of his faded Levi’s, indeed found his girlfriend on the dance floor of a local club, cheek-to-cheek and belly-to-belly with a city slicker from out of town.

After promptly decking the rosy-cheeked man who wore a crisp button-up shirt, creased khaki pants, and brown leather shoes, the boyfriend pulled the woman from the parquet floor and dragged her out into the parking lot where he punched her a few times before ripping her polkadot mini dress from her body. She’d worn nothing but her birthday suit beneath.

He pulled her across the rocky lot and then shoved her inside the cab of his truck. Witnesses said he’d caught her long blonde hair in the door when he slammed it shut and, as he tore from the parking lot spraying cars and bystanders with stones and bits of fine gravel dust, they saw her hair fluttering and waving in the breeze.

Every cop in the area was watching for the truck. Officers checked the homes of the couple and those of their families and friends. They searched the man’s hunt club, and other night clubs in the city. They drove down dirt roads and along side roads and country roads. In the city they made passes through alleyways behind shopping centers and malls and grocery stores. Beside railroad tracks and in city parks and cemeteries.

Then we received the call we didn’t want to receive. A young couple were traveling along a country road a few miles from the city when they saw something in the road. At first they thought someone had perhaps struck a deer. Could’ve been anything, though. Maybe an old mattress, a garbage bag, or even a hippopotamus for all they knew. After all, “seeing things” was a possibility since the purpose of their super-slow drive in the countryside was to smoke weed, enjoy a bit of acid, and listen to good music.

When they drew closer they realized what they’d suspected to be a deer, or a hippo, was actually the bloody body of a nude woman. They guessed her age as somewhere around 22 or 23. She was dead, of course. Her entire body was one single hunk of road rash.

We finally located the man sitting in his truck parked at the edge of river. The place was a favorite of teens and young adults. They went there to drink, swim, smoke dope, and party. The spot was in the middle of nowhere. So far out, actually, that when you reached the middle of nowhere you took a left and traveled 10 additional miles to get to this place.

The boyfriend confessed to the abduction. He also said that he and his girlfriend had argued. He told us that he’d held a gun to her head, but it was just to scare her. He also said he’d ordered her to perform sex acts on him while he drove. When she refused he hit her repeatedly with the barrel of the pistol. Then, suddenly, she managed to open the truck door and jumped out. At the time he guessed that he’d been driving at a speed of approximately 70-80.

The man said he saw her body, in his side mirror, as she tumbled along the pavement. He stopped and backed up to check on her, but decided not to get out of the truck, thinking there was nothing he could do for at that point. So he left her there, like a chunk of roadkill.

I’d previously arrested this same man for domestic violence—threatening his family with a shotgun and later pointing that same firearm at me. The woman, his wife at the time, was not the blonde who’d leapt to her death from his truck. This was a different woman—his former wife—who he’d beaten more times than I can remember. And each time, she took him back and refused to testify against him in court. It was only after he’d fired the shotgun in the direction of their children that she’d decided she’d had enough and left him for good. Still, the judge merely ordered a fine, no jail time, and he was back at it again with other women. I guess shooting up his house and threatening people with a loaded firearm, and pointing that loaded firearm at police officers, well, I guess that was simply not a big deal to the judge.

This last time, though, he was charged with manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend.

Finally, the man would get what he deserved; however, the judge, the same as before, found the man guilty as charged but let him go with time served. He’d been in jail for only a few months prior to his release.

 

Working the graveyard shift on weekend nights comes with a special worry … closing time of local bars. Before streets and highways become obstacle courses for pin-balling drunk drivers, comes last calls and the traditional bar fights. And, with those last calls for alcohol and final, desperate pitches for late night encounters, some inebriated patrons find themselves involved in physical altercations.

Sometimes barroom brawls are nothing more than shouting and shoving matches; however, there are times when the action involves weapons and bloodshed and even murder.

Club brawls are a unique breed of fighting. They’re where typically everyday people who, with the irresistible goading of alcoholic beverages, are suddenly transformed from the meek and mild of fuzzy kittens to someone who believes they’re ten-feet tall and bulletproof. And why wouldn’t they feel so invincible? After all, they’ve spent several hours chugging drink concoctions with names such as Cobra’s Fang, Mind Eraser, Corpse Reviver, and Death in the Afternoon.

The transformation from quiet librarian or gentle mystery writer to a beast who eats rusty nails for breakfast”is a slow one. Their speech grows louder and their eyes wilder and wilder as time and drinks pass. Tongues grow thick and nerve grows bold.

Vision becomes blurry. Rooms spin and sometimes the transformers even see things that aren’t there.

Live bands and DJs add to the frenzy by playing music that turns even the tamest hearts into pulsating and throbbing, blood-pumping workhorses.

The combination of noise, music, alcohol, drugs, flashing and blinking and whirling lights, and people frantically dancing like a gathering of rabid Tasmanian devils, stimulates emotions and hormones to chart-topping levels far beyond the tolerance level of the average man or woman.

Bar fights are caused by, well, anything and everything, or nothing at all. When inside a drinking establishment, people don’t need a justifiable reason to punch another person. This, my friends, is an unwritten rule. People feel free to punch, bite, scratch, kick, or whatever, as long as they do so within the four walls of a club that serves “adult” beverages. At least that’s the belief of bar-goers who take offense to whatever they deem is the offense du jour.

Bo Bo Juice

Could be that they, the bar fighters, don’t like the way you belt out the chorus to Peter Framptom’s “Show Me The Way.” You know, instead of “I want you, to show me the way,” you’ve always, for your entire life, thought Frampton was singing, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” Or they don’t like the way you left eye wanders toward their significant other while the other attempts to focus on the mole in the center of their forehead. Whatever.

(80s rocker Greg Kihn once told me that, for years, he thought Frampton was saying, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” True story.).

Anyway, to get to the point of this tale, nightclub fights often involve multiple people and such was the case one particularly warm Friday night (early Saturday morning) at 2 a.m.

Fight in Progress!

My partner and I were wrapping up a drug deal, a buy-bust, in a pretty bad section of town when we heard the call come in over the radio.  “10-10 in progress. Billy Bad Ass’s Bar and Grill (name changed to protect the guilty). Weapons involved. Shots fired.”

Buy-Bust – a police sting-type operation where undercover officers purchase drugs from individuals and then arrest the dealers once they’ve handed over the drugs.

By the way, in our area 10-10 was a fight. In the neighboring locale 10-10 was code for “negative.” This is why agencies shy away from 10 codes.

Imagine the confusion if you were on the other end of a radio when you heard someone say, “10-10. 10-4?” Now, in plain speak, to his coworkers this officer stated, in 10-code, “There’s a fight in progress. Do you copy/yes, you understand my message, right?” However, you being an officer from an agency whose 10-code is entirely different, heard, “Negative/No. Yes.” Therefore, your hope for backup to respond would go unanswered.

I know, I’m rambling and I’m all over the place, but I see things in the telling of this event that could add tidbits to your fiction, such as the term “buy-bust, so I stop to emphasize and explain.

Okay, back to the fight. My partner and I were pretty close to the scene so we activated our emergency equipment (that’s cop speak for we turned on our blue lights and siren) and headed to the bar. When I turned the final corner and the bar came into view, I saw several small fights—two to four people here and there, and one large fight—at least thirty people in a big pile—and all were in full slug fest mode.

I pulled my unmarked car into the middle of the lot and gave a couple blasts of the siren. The piercing and unmistakable sound normally clears out a few people, especially those who are holding contraband, such as dope and illegal weapons. It also sends the probation and parole violators running like scared rabbits. In their wake are the people with outstanding warrants. Siren blasts are an easy and effective way to cull the herd.

We parked near the largest pile of fighters who looked like an army of ants, all squirming to get inside their hill at once. We tried to pull off the outside layer but didn’t have much luck because new people dove onto the pile every few seconds. So, we began to spray the entire pile with pepper spray. In fact, we let loose like we were spraying a large infestation of insects.

A nice side-to-side motion of the canisters worked well because the mound of people slowly began to dissipate. Lots of moaning and groaning, tears, and mucus. Remember, before you say our actions were overkill, there were only two of us and 30-40 of them. We had to even the odds.

When that group finally had enough we turned our attention to a smaller, but more dangerous fight that had erupted to our right, near the front door of the club. An older, biker-looking guy was waving a knife of sword-like proportion at two younger men.

My partner and I gave our cans of pepper spray a couple of good shakes to make sure all the good stuff hadn’t settled to the bottom, and headed toward biker dude.

We’d worked together for so long that our arrest techniques came naturally. I went for the knife hand (I’m still not sure how I always got stuck with this duty), and he went for the other. I quickly disarmed the guy and took control of the knife, but he was a little stronger than we’d bargained for. Actually, he was a lot stronger than we’d bargained for because, as they say, it was on! We had a real struggle on our hands. Getting cuffs on that clown was really tough.

Fortunately, like the finely-tuned arrest team that we were, we each went for our pepper spray. Unfortunately, the biker dude saw it coming and ducked. Yep, we sprayed each other squarely in the face. Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever been pepper-sprayed, but let me be the first to say it ain’t pretty.

Neither of us could see, so we just held on to our guy and slowly slid to the ground, maintaining our grip on biker-dude, and waited for backup to arrive. Of course our fellow officers gave us a really hard time. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

By the way, the effects of pepper spray stop immediately if you dunk the affected body part in ice water. However, once the ice water is removed the burning starts all over again.

Lee Lofland

Help, my name is Lee. I’ve been pepper-sprayed. 

I think I’ll stick to writing. It’s much safer …

 

 

Age Prediction based on bodily fluids

Lucky Thomas got himself nabbed by a day-shift flatfoot after his latest job, a quick little “in-and-out” B&E of Linda’s Ammo Depot.

The eager copper spied Lucky climbing out of Linda’s office window with a bag of “goodies” in hand. The beat cop yelled, “Stop!” but the word merely shifted Lucky’s feet into high gear, setting the stage for an early morning foot pursuit.

rocky the raccoon

The officer, with keys jingling and jangling and holster slapping and popping against his outer thigh, chased the career bandit down Pleasant Street, two blocks on Happy Lane and then eight blocks up Freedom Way before Lucky ducked into the alley between Ida Sue’s Thrift Store and Rosco’s Rib Shack.

Lucky, a former track star at the local high school, probably would have lost the chubby cop had he not slipped on a pile of yesterday’s slick-as-eel-snot collard greens and greasy ham hocks that Rosco’d left out for the pair of hungry raccoons—Rocky and Roxie—that pay nightly visits to the Shack’s overflowing maggot-laden dumpsters.

An exhausted and nervous Lucky barely had time to catch his breath when he felt the steel cuffs clamping around his wrists. The sound of the jaws ratcheting closed was all Lucky needed to hear to know that he’d been arrested, again.

But is it always that clear to people? Does an arrest always end in handcuffs?

Well …

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Lucky’s lawyer, I.M. Shady, a shyster of less-than-stellar reputation among his peers, who needs not open a door to enter a room (he slithers beneath them), argued that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest his client. However, Circuit Judge Hugh Didit, quickly delivered a guilty verdict and sentenced Lucky to twelve months in the county jail.

Judge Didit, citing the officer’s perfect eyesight and that those two perfect-peepers saw Lucky climbing out of the window holding a bag of stolen goods was all the probable cause needed. “Guilty!” said the judge, in that distinct booming voice that had been known to rattle the feet and ankles of the clerks working on the floor above the courtroom. “Take him directly to jail, and do not pass … well, you know the drill. Get him outta here. Next case! Oh, and counselor, I suggest you study the meaning of probable cause before coming back in my court.”

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Sitting in his cell at Sheriff P.U. Stink’s lockup, Lucky often wondered if things would’ve turned out differently had he ducked inside the restaurant or the thrift store. Could the officer have followed him inside without a warrant?

One of the jailhouse lawyers, a long-timer who charges a pair of tennis shoes, two pieces of cake, and a month of cell cleanings to write a Writ of Habeus Corpus, explained the law to Lucky, saying that, sure, during a foot pursuit if the officer sees the bad guy run inside a building she can indeed rush in after him. However …

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During the discussion of “what’s legal and what’s not” it didn’t take long before a crowd of inmates stopped by to listen to the jailhouse lawyer explain the various laws and scenarios. So, enjoying the attention, the self-taught legal eagle further explained why pat-downs (frisking) are legal. He said …

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In fact, the faux attorney even cited the case where it all started, Terry v. Ohio.

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Lucky, after the lecture was over, climbed onto his bunk and stared at the ceiling, wondering what some guy in Ohio had to do with his getting caught two states away. He also decided that he’d never again eat a meal of ham hocks and collard greens.

Investigating a murder can be, and often is, a methodical and meticulous slow-grind of information gathering. It’s knocking on many doors, speaking with countless numbers of people, digging in the dirt and leaves and mud, pawing through mounds of garbage, searching through closets and hampers filled with grimy and disgusting clothing. It’s collecting solid bedding and mattresses, stained underwear, and body fluids. It’s hours and days and months and years of clue-chasing rollercoasters that seem to go round and round and round and up and down and back again. All to catch a person who ended the life of another human.

In the end, it’s extremely satisfying to ratchet cuffs around the wrists of a suspect who used a weapon of some type to kill. All that hard work coming to a close leaves an investigator with a combined sense of relief, success, and satisfaction that they’ve help bring a small bit of closure for surviving family members.

Sometimes, even though mountains of potential evidence piles up during an investigation, it’s the tiniest bit—a trace—such as a carpet fiber, that serves as the cornerstone of a case. And such was the key element that helped Delaware investigators nab a serial killer known as The Corridor Killer.

A dark and story night

As it’s been said to not be said, it was a dark and story night on November 29, 1987, when 23-year-old ex-prostitute Shirley Ellis hoped to to catch a ride into Wilmington by hitchhiking along Route 40 near Bear, Delaware. She was on her way to deliver a Thanksgiving dinner for an AIDS patient who was undergoing treatment at Wilmington Hospital.

At approximately 9:25 p.m. that evening, a teenage couple pulled into a popular make-out spot to do the things teenagers do in those types of secluded locations. It was then that they discovered Ellis’ partially clothed body. Her legs were spread apart and autopsy later revealed evidence of torture and mutilation—she’d been bound at the feet and the ankles and scraps of black duct tape were still attached to strands of her hair. It was likely that the tape had been used to prevent her from screaming. She had not been sexually assaulted.

Seven months later, on June 28, 1988, Catherine DiMauro, a 31-year-old woman with a history of prostitution arrests, was walking along Route 40, near Bear, around 11:30 p.m. It’s not known if she was soliciting customers or simply using the route to go from point A to point B. But it was that night when she accepted a ride from a man driving a blue van. Her nude body was discovered by workers building a nearby apartment complex. Her wrists and ankles were bound and, like Ellis, duct tape had been used to silence her. And again, like Ellis, there was no indication of sexual assault.

This time, though, a vast amount of blue carpet fibers were found on DiMauro’s body. Finally police had a clue. A minor clue. But a clue. And the police were all over it. They assembled a 60 member task force with access to airplanes, helicopters, rental vehicles, and an unlimited budget. No stone or fiber was to be left unturned or untested.

The task force consulted with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia, and they concluded that these acts were the acts of a serial killer.

The team decided to send out undercover female police officers dressed as prostitutes to walk the stretch of Route 40 where the killer had picked up the victims. They flirted with the men who stopped, and there were several, but they never got into a vehicle. In the meantime testing was underway to identify the blue fibers found on DiMauro’s body. Without fibers to use for comparison, however, these blue pieces of evidence would remain on hold.

On Aug. 22, a prostitute named Margaret Lynn Finner went missing. She was working the streets along U.S. 13, near the stretch of Route 40 connected to the crimes of the serial killer. Finner was last seen climbing into a blue Ford panel van with round headlights. The van was driven by a white male.

Roughly three months later, Finner was found dead near the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Due to the advanced stage of decomposition a cause of death couldn’t be determined. No clues were found and no one was charged for death.

Undercover Ops Begin

On Sept. 14, 1988, a 23-year-old New Castle County, Delaware undercover officer dressed as a prostitute headed out to walk the Route 40 corridor, hoping to snare the killer. It wasn’t long before a line of 5 or 6 vehicles lined up on the side of the road. The drivers of those vehicles included doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers, and they all wanted to talk to “the prostitute.”

But the vehicle that caught the undercover officer’s attention was a blue Ford panel van with round headlights that drove past. Her cops’ alarm bells sounded loudly inside her head when the van stopped a little farther down the road and turned around to make another pass. The driver of the van repeated the action, driving past and then U-turning, seven times within a twenty-minute period.

The officer walked to a more secluded area, hoping to tease the driver into stopping. Finally the van pulled over and a white male opened the side panel. The officer immediately saw blue carpeting covering the van’s interior. She later said the man was different than any other person who stopped for her. His demeanor was cold and he was difficult to engage in conversation. He seemed to stare through her.

The Blue Fibers

While talking to the man, the undercover officer used the time and distraction to rub her hand on the carpeting, pulling out a few blue fibers for testing. The driver, though, demanded that she get in the van, but she refused, saying that she tired from partying and needed to sleep. The man gave up and drove away. A task force member in the area recorded and ran the plate numbers on the van. It was registered to Steven Brian Pennell, a Delaware electrician. His record showed no arrests.

Police sent the blue fibers were sent to a lab for testing. In the meantime, on September 16, Michelle Gordon, a 22-year-old known prostitute was seen on Route 40 climbing into the passenger side of a blue Ford panel van. But there was a witness and she knew both Gordan and Pennell, and she recognized Pennell’s van

This time, however, police caught a major break. The lone witness to the abduction knew both Gordon and Pennell, and she immediately identified the vehicle. Sadly, Gordon’s body was found four days later when it washed up on the banks of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal on Sept. 20. Gordon died while being tortured.

Three days later, 26-year-old Kathleen Meyer was last seen alive hitchhiking along Route 40 around 9:30 p.m. This time the witness was an off-duty police officer who saw Meyer accepting a ride from a man driving a blue Ford van. The officer ran the plates and learned the vehicle was registered to Pennell. Meyer’s body was never found.

After having to wait for evidence (carpet fibers) to be processed and Delaware Attorney General Charles Oberly to approve a search warrant for Pennell’s van, police took matters into their own hands and pulled Pennell’s van over for a routine traffic violation. This allowed them to take Pennell into court to pay his ticket.

Icing on the Investigatory Cake

In the meantime, officers searched the van and immediately discovered carpet fibers that matched those on the victims. They also found hair and blood and even the same brand of duct tape used to silence DiMauro. The icing on the investigatory cake was Pennell’s gruesome “torture kit”—pliers, needles, a whip, handcuffs, knives and various types of restraints.

Police had their suspect.

Pennell opted to remain silent and did not offer a statement.

The blue carpet fibers were indeed the cornerstone of the entire case against Pennell. Without them, the state’s case could not have moved forward because any other actions and evidence would have been ruled as fruit of the poisonous tree.

So, of course the defense attorney attacked the fibers, stating the officer did not have a legal right to remove those fibers from the van without a search warrant. However, Superior Court Judge Richard Gebelein denied the defense claims and ruled that the carpet was in plain view once Pennell opened the door to invite the undercover officer inside the van.

Justice Arrives

On November 23, 1989—Thanksgiving Day—as a massive snowstorm blanketed the area, Pennell was convicted of murdering Ellis and DiMauro. The jury, however, deadlocked on the Gordon case. They also deadlocked on the death penalty.

In 1990, Pennell was sentenced to two life terms in 1990 and, as a result, Pennell filed appeals, alleging that the fiber seizure was unconstitutional. During this time, police continued their investigations and, based on new evidence, Pennell was indicted for the murders of Meyer and Gordon. Pennell asked the court if he could be allowed to represent himself for the new charges. The court granted the motion.

Pennell then did the nearly unthinkable. Even though he did not offer a confession, he pled no contest to both murders and asked the Superior Court to impose a sentence of death.

At a hearing to determine if Pennell’s life should be spared, Pennell offered a bizarre argument for his own death –  “‘The law was developed from one book, and it’s that book I quote from,” he said. “‘In Numbers, chapter 35, verse 30, ‘Whoever kills a person, the person shall be put to death.’ “‘Also, in Genesis, chapter 9, verse 6, ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood by man, his blood shall be shed.'”

“This court has found me guilty on the testimony of witnesses. So I ask that the sentence be death as said by the state’s laws and God’s laws. That’s all I have to say.”

Perhaps it was both fitting and somewhat spooky that, on Halloween day in 1991, Pennell was sentenced to death. As part of Delaware’s mandatory death penalty appeal process, Pennell appeared before the to the state Supreme Court court on Feb. 11, 1992, where he again asked for his own execution. He remains the only person to represent himself before the state Supreme Court, and the only one, of course, to ask for death.

During the entire case, Pennell always referred to himself in the third person. Never in first person.  During the appeal, Pennell said to the court, “The perpetrator must have sensed a pleasure in the killings. Since he did not commit just one, but continued in the same depraved manner on the others, this pleasure is evident.”

On March 14, 1992, Steven Brian Pennell was the first man executed in Delaware in 46 years.

Pennell died by lethal injection, and as a result of a savvy undercover police officer who thought to grab a couple of tiny blue carpet fibers.