Working in a small department, one quickly learns how to handle many situations without the additional layer of safety a back up officer can provide. Working a call by yourself isn’t the safest thing to do, but neither is the job of law enforcement I suppose.
The department I worked for was a relatively small agency of less than 50 officers on the edges of a major metropolitan area in the southeastern United States. Although we enjoyed a low crime rate, the spill-over from the big city definitely kept us busy.
When I hit the road on this one Saturday afternoon, there were only three officers out on patrol: me, my partner and our lieutenant. My partner and the LT immediately left for a multi-car accident with injuries blocking a highway, and I was sent to a “shoplifter in custody” at a grocery store.
In theory, mine should have been an easy call with a little bit of paperwork and a quick transport to the city jail. Instead, it wound up being an incident that had me fighting for my life.
After arriving at the grocery store, I met with the manager, witness and suspect. I viewed the store video footage, collected statements, removed steaks from the suspect’s pants and made the arrest. After loading the suspect into the back of my patrol car, I sat in the front seat and filled out some booking paperwork before heading off to the jail. That’s when the case took an unexpected turn.
As I was parked along the curb outside of the store, two men came walking out, one pushing a cart with a few bagged groceries. Both men stared at me with the “aw crap” look that every cop knows so well. I watched them as the pair pushed the cart up one row of cars in the parking lot. All the while, they were staring at me in an almost cartoon-like manner.
Suspecting the two may have been involved with the would-be meat thief in the back of my car, I asked my arrestee if he knew the pair. “I’d rather not say” was the response, and confirmation, the handcuffed subject provided.
I drove over to where the dynamic duo had stopped walking in the parking lot. They had just opened the passenger side door of a beat up car as I pulled up.
The pair was quite a sight: one was about 6-04 and 275 pounds, while the other was much shorter and wiry. The big fella was wearing a skin tight shirt and shorts, while his smaller companion was wearing baggy BDU pants and a baggy t-shirt. I figured between the two, the shorter guy was more likely to have concealed stolen merchandise on his person. Ultimately, I would be right.
I exited the patrol car and introduced myself in the “aw shucks” manner I had practiced for several years. I found that I could often get suspects talking if they thought I was just a dumb hick cop.
At first the two denied knowing the arrestee in my car, but quickly tangled themselves up in lies and admitted they had come to the store together. With a little more talking, the pair agreed to let me pat them down for weapons and stolen merchandise.
Granted, two suspects to one cop is never a good ratio, but everyone else was still tied up with the accident. So, I did the best I could with what I had. I put the big guy – who was very cooperative and mostly honest throughout the encounter – on one corner of the patrol car, with the smaller subject on another corner. It wasn’t perfect, but it allowed me to search the one while watching the other.
Believing the big guy was not hiding anything in his uncomfortably tight clothing, I started with him so I could see how the smaller guy reacted. Sure enough, as soon as I started with the tall one, the short one turned around and started to walk off.
I quickly told the big guy to stand with his hands on the car, and provided him with a brief, but colorful, description of what would happen if he failed to comply with my instructions.
As I walked up behind the shorter man, he reached into a cargo pocket, pulled out a block of cheese, and tossed it into the open car. Having now witnessed the subject trying to hide evidence of a crime, I took the man by the left arm, placing him into an escort position and began to lead him toward my patrol car.
Knowing I could gain compliance more easily if the suspect was thinking about answering questions rather than thinking about running or fighting, I began to ask him a series of questions while I moved him away from his vehicle.
I asked “do you have any weapons on you?,” the suspect hesitated and said, “um, well, you know…” When I heard his reply, an internal alarm went off immediately, and we both acted at the same time. As the suspect’s right hand went down into his right cargo pocket, I began to turn the suspect. As his right hand came out of the pocket, I could see it was holding a Marine Corps K-Bar style knife. I slammed the suspect into my patrol car with all of the strength I could muster.
I had turned the subject 90? when I slammed him into the car, so most of the impact force hit him on the right arm holding the knife. The impact caused him to drop the knife as he was starting to come up with it. As the knife bounced away, I took the subject down, stunning him with an impact into the pavement. I was able to handcuff the subject and get him into my patrol car without further incident.
The big guy, hands still on the hood of my patrol car, was pale and shaking. He looked as though he had seen a ghost, and was repeating “I didn’t know he had a knife, sir!”
As it turned out, the small guy with a knife was wanted for attempted murder of a police officer in another jurisdiction about two hours from my town. He and the original shoplifter were working a nearby construction site, and the two of them caught a ride with the big guy to the grocery store. The large fellow had nothing to do with their crimes, and was very happy to accept the title of “witness” in the report.