Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I had kind of heard a rumor about a friend of mine last night, then today it was confirmed in the papers, ours and Albuquerque's.

Chris was a cop, and apparently a pretty good liar. I've known him for about 13 years, when I started here as a cop he was a cop in the next town over. We used to pass an hour or so of night shift parked on the line where our towns met, just shooting the shit, sometimes we'd catch a meal break together.

Chris had won the Silver Star, the third highest Army citation for heroism, during the Gulf War, was an officer in the Army Reserve, was one of the very few cops I had met who had been in an officer involved shooting, and always came off as someone who knew his shit, someone you would want covering your back if things went bad.

Not long before I left the police department here, he transferred over...problems with the new chief over there. He wasn't the only one, a couple more made the same move around the same time for the same stated reason.

Chris was aways the guy who you expected to climb the ranks. A stickler for policy to the point of being annoying, he was still the guy to seek out for a midnight legal opinion or help throwing a criminal complaint together at the end of shift. I think everyone expected him to be chief someday, and not how some become chief, climbing over the friends they've stabbed in the back on the way up, but by consistently doing the right thing.

The last couple of years Chris had been doing a very good job at the high school as a school resource officer. The kids (mine included) really liked and looked up to him, as did the staff.

Chris got arrested the other day. Seems he wasn't an officer in the reserves, probably never had been. He forged military orders claiming that he needed time off for mandatory training and collected city paychecks for that time off. He's charged with felony fraud and forgery, and more charges are likely.

He was four years away from retirement from the police department. He'll likely spend that four years in prison.

I say we were friends, we never hung out off duty, he wasn't someone I'd call to help me move just because he had a pickup. But Richard was.

Richard was a friend of mine in Oklahoma. He was my supervisor until I caught up with him in rank. We worked together, we did security work off duty together, we painted houses together in our off time, we went to Christmas parties at each other's houses. We were in a couple hairy pursuits together, we responded to several bad calls together, including one where a mutual friend died of a heart attack.

We were pretty inseparable for a couple of years, until I got promoted to the same rank and had my own shift. But even then we stayed close, until politics got in the way. The city was trying to push out the old chief. Richard was backing him, I backed the new guy. Even then it was a friendly rivalry, just like it had been when I backed a young Arkansas Democrat against his Republican incumbent for president. It was just one of those things we'd argue about and then go get breakfast.

Then Richard fell off of a ladder while doing an exterior painting job. No one was there with him at the time, and he crawled into the house with two shattered ankles to call for help.

By that time the new chief was in place and I had been given the choice job of commander of detectives for picking the right horse.

Not long after that, before he was even off of medical leave, Richard left his wife for a young clerk who worked in one of the convenience stores we frequented. That's when my new boss, the guy who I thought was going to be an improvement over the old guard, came to me and ordered me to prepare a case against Richard under a 100 year old adultery law that hadn't been prosecuted in decades.

I balked, he threatened. I called the DA, he assured me that there was no way in hell that he would pursue the case and advised me to just prepare it and bring it to him and he would refuse it. I felt filthy while doing it, but I did it, and it went down just like the DA promised, no charges.

That's when I knew I had to get out of that department, and it was the final shove that pushed me to New Mexico. But by then Richard and I didn't talk anymore.

A few years after moving here I heard that he had gotten another job in police work in another Oklahoma town. Then I heard that he had been arrested for burglarizing businesses while on night patrol.

Luis did the same thing. Luis was one of my supervisors when I first started in the department here. He was lazy, but a nice guy. Sometimes he'd bring his banjo in and play for us to pass time on a slow Sunday. One weekend I went to the lake on my days off and came back to find that Luis had been arrested and that I had been promoted. Weird feeling, that.

Luis had come under suspicion of burglary and our own detectives had set him up with a sting operation and had caught him with stolen property in the trunk of his police car. Embarrassing yes, but at least our guys had done the catching. It's always worse if someone else has to do it for you.

There was the guy that I went to the academy with in Oklahoma...two of them actually...both went to jail for fraud or burglary. The guy who was sheriff in my own home county back there, a guy who I had ridden the school bus with when we were children, who just got sentenced for that most cliche of rural cop stereotypes, shaking down out of state motorists for cash.

Then there was Billy. Billy was a retired captain from San Antonio PD who started working in the same neighboring town as Chris while I was still a police officer here. As with Chris, I would often meet Billy at the town line and shoot the shit with him. Coming, as he had, from a big city, he had great stories and seemed to really have his shit tight, procedurally and tactically.

A couple of years later and Billy had transferred over to a neighboring county's sheriff's office to be closer to the house he had bought. He was mostly working around a very small mountain town with another acquaintance of mine, Bob, who had transferred over there from our own sheriff's office. Bob was a native New Yorker who had fallen in love with the west and all of it's trappings and had moved out here to be a real western lawman.

One night Billy and Bob were sent on a call of a domestic disturbance just outside of that tiny mountain town. Bob went to the back of the house while Billy approached the front. Inside, the resident, a convicted felon and member of a white supremacist prison gang, was shoving his dead girlfriend into a closet. He had shot her just before the deputies had arrived. He exited the back door, leaving his young daughter cowering near the closet that held her murdered mother, and encountered Bob near the back door. For a split second, Bob was engaged in what he may have fantasized about before coming west, a showdown with an armed desperado. Then he was dead, shot once in the forehead.

Hearing the shot, Billy ran around the house, the bad guy coming around in the other direction. Billy found his friend and partner dead and went back around to the front where he came face to face with the suspect. Both raised their pistols and fired, but Billy didn't miss, and Bob's killer fell wounded. Billy then did what we were all trained to do after wounding someone, he secured the bad guy's gun, and handcuffed him. Even if the suspect appears dead that's what you do because you never know.

Billy called for help, then went inside, and found the little girl and the dead woman. He then walked back out into the front yard, in front of God and his patrol car's video camera, and put one more bullet in the wounded, cuffed suspect.

Billy half-heartedly tried to portray the shooting as justified, but ballistics and video nailed him. He was ultimately convicted of manslaughter, a lesser charge than murder, because of lack of premeditation. The prison gang who's member he killed put a hit out on Billy before he had even entered the system and many of them are now doing extended sentences for that conspiracy.

As far as I know, Billy is still ok and still doing his time, but when he gets out there will be another sentence hanging over him, some piece of shit with something to prove will always be out there ready to take a shot at him or his family.

There is no way to justify what Billy did that night eight years ago, cops cannot appoint themselves to the position of judge, jury and executioner. Our society does not and cannot work that way. All of us who do that job at some point have our gun pointed at someone, knowing that the world would be a much better place if we could just stop this fucker from taking one more breath. The majority of us take our own deep breath, send our finger on that long trip from trigger to safety, put our gun in our holster, and reach for our cuffs.

I also know that Billy's betrayal of society's trust lasted all of a second, just long enough to pull the trigger. Actually, one third of a second; not days, months, or, as in the case of Chris, years.

In a way, to me at least, his betrayal is the least offensive.


Annemarie of Holland said...

Oh man, don't you hate it when you think you know someone and then they pull off stunts like that? Keeping an open mind becomes harder and harder, it seems.
Agree with you on Bill though. Sure, it's wrong to shoot someone who's already wounded and cuffed. But he probably didn't have a functioning brain for a few minutes there. Or if he did, maybe he thought the guy would be out on the streets again one day causing more harm, and decided not to let it happen. Wrong, I guess, but I find it easier to grieve for Bill's fate than for the dead guy, I must admit.

PS/ I like the way you write. Haven't had time to check out much of your blog yet, but if it's about food and drink, count on seeing me around here more often!

Maria said...

This has nothing to do with anything, but I noticed that you are reading THE STAND. What do you think? I think that next to THE SHINING, it is my favorite....

Eric said...

Annemarie, thanks for the compliment, and stop by any time.

Maria, I have a weird relationship with King. I have only ever finished one of his works of fiction, The Gunslinger. I loved that one, but somehow didn't make it through the second book.
His memoir, On Writing, is excellent, hands down the best book about writing that I've ever read.
So, I don't know. I'm not far into The Stand yet, but so far I am enjoying it.