Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Night of Tragedy

On a night I'm out of town on vacation, an officer is shot and killed and two news helicopters crash in midair.

48 hours after the collision, the crash scene is still taped off as investigators drain a small lagoon to retrieve wreckage from one of the fallen helicopters.

This is the view from my patrol car as I sit perched on a small hill overlooking the site. My job is to ensure nobody enters the area.

I decide to walk over and get a better look at the impact site. The wreckage has already been collected and all that remains is a blackened spot on the grass and a shallow pool of aircraft oil. A small tree has been charred and stripped of its foliage. A similar scene lies a few dozens yards away.

Pieces from one of the helicopters landed in a nearby pond. As I stood by, divers were preparing to search the partially drained pond. I could see several pieces of metal exposed on the muddy floor of the lagoon as the water levels receded.

The same night, a police officer is sensely killed over a $400 forged check. Officer Cortez responded to a forged check call like I do every other week or so. When the officer tried to arrest the man, his girlfriend caused a distraction allowing the man to pull out a gun and shoot Officer Cortez in the face. He was 23, married, and had 2 young sons. He loved his job and sacrificed is life to try and keep the streets of the city a bit safer. The man and his girlfried will both be charged with 1st degree murder and will likely face the death penalty if convicted. That's a small consolation to the family and friends of Officer George Cortez.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Murder in the First

I just finished eating dinner and was in the parking lot when an emergency call for shooting at an apartment complex was broadcast.

An officer I was talking to a few minutes ago was heading in that direction and took the call. I was a few miles behind and answered up as his backup.

As I was driving to the scene, I thought about the dozens of "shooting" calls I've responded to that ended up being nothing at all. Most of these shooting calls turn out to be someone with a gun (not shooting), or someone shooting a gun in the air (not trying to hit anyone), or sometimes fireworks. I was very familiar with the apartment complex and have driven through its parking lot almost every day. Two of my squadmates even spent a recent shift parked in front of it gathering info on suspicious characters coming in and out. It's notorious for drug and prostitution activity.

Then I heard the original officer on the radio as he arrived on scene:
"Get me some more units; There's a subject down on the East side of the complex. Roll Fire (our term for requesting the Fire Dept./paramedics) and get me a supervisor; The victim appears to be dead."

I knew we had a shooter on the loose so I activated my lights and sirens and arrived quickly. I parked out front and ran to the main entrance of the apartments. I hispanic male was lying on his side, face down in a pool of blood. I drew my gun and posted myself at the apartment entrance. The helicopter was circling overhead with its spotlight scanning the scene. Paramedics arrived and confirmed the victim was dead. Other officers were arriving to contact witnesses, set up a perimeter and look for the shooter.

The vitim's mother charged out of the doorway towards the crumpled body, screaming "That's my son!! Oh my God, my son!!" She was intercepted and lead away.

I kept my post at the doorway about fifteen feet away from the downed victim. I repeatedly scanned the apartment windows for any signs of a shooter. I could see a silver colored shell casing on the ground nearby. Blood from the victim was slowly spreading in an ever widening pool. A sheet was placed over him so only a bloody hand protruded from underneath.

After an hour of searching, the perimeter was broken down and we concentrated on getting detailed witness testimony. I later heard the victim was about 28 and got into an argument with a tall black male. The argument turned into a brief fistfight. The men separated and the shooter pulled a gun from his waistband and fired three shots from point blank range into the other man's chest area.

My first murder scene ended when the detectives arrived and took control of the investigation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Wonder

It's nearly midnight and the house is dark except for the flickering light from the television.
The soundtrack of a cartoon mixes with the gentle hum of a oscillating fan.
He's lying on the couch wearing a pair of shorts; A light blanket is weaved through his legs.
He's a tan and dark haired.
He's an average sized guy relaxing in the living room.
He's dead.

I'm standing behind a team of paramedics as they confirm the absence of vital signs on their medical machine. His eyes are slightly open and gaze blankly towards the television. One might think he was asleep except for the foamy, blood-tinted liquid drying around his nose and mouth. As uncirculating blood begins to settle in the body, it becomes darkened and visible in the fingertips and toes.

His younger brother is on his knees in the front yard, pounding the ground and sobbing. His girlfriend tries in vain to console him. It was he that found his brother on the couch and called 911 just a few minutes ago. A crisis response team is on the way to help younger brother deal with his grief.

As the medics leave the house, I am alone with the man. It is not creepy, scary, or even sad to me. It's simply a part of my job that I've come to handle the same way others might handle a conference call or a pizza delivery. I scan the room for any obvious signs of foul play. The doors and windows are all locked and there is no visible trauma on him. My duty is to stand by and prevent anyone from coming into the house until the detectives arrive.

Then I begin to wonder:
Why would someone so apparently normal and young just die? Who was he and what did he do? How will his parents react when they find out? I already saw how affected his younger brother was but what about coworkers, ex-lovers, friends, and neighbors? Will a lot of people come to his funeral? Was he liked? Did he have any kids? I saw junk mail and bills in his name on the counter and wondered how long mail will still arrive for him. What was the last thing he ate? Who was the last person he talked to and what was said? Did he want to die? Did he kill himself or did he have some kind of medical ailment?

Why don't I feel sad for him? I have a family and friends and can't begin to think how I'd react if something happened to one of them.

Whoever you are/were, I hope you rest in peace.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I'm Back

Since it's been almost a month since my last post, I'll try to catch up with a collection of miscellaneous items.
Here's an anti-theft device (the Club) placed on the steering wheel of a 75 year old woman's Suburban SUV to prevent her 45 year 0ld live-in son from driving drunk. You see, son likes to drink a lot and his sales position at Sears doesn't pay quite enough for him to move out of mom's house and buy booze. Somehow, son was able to drive the Suburban to the nearest Circle K to try to buy more booze. The clerks refused to sell the intoxicated driver any more alcohol so he got back into the vehicle to drive home. Unfortunately for him, the club device prevented him from backing out of the parking space so he inched forward and backward for about 20 minutes until an astute citizen decided it might be a good idea for the police to check this guy out. With a breathalyzer reading of almost 4 times the legal limit, we found a new place for him to spend the night.
A man came home after work and noticed his elderly neighbor's front door slightly ajar. He walked up to the entry way and yelled her name. After receiving no reply, he feared for her welfare and called police to check on her. He was afraid to go in himself and when I pushed open the front door I understood why. Perhaps the dozens of boxes stacked in the front courtyard from QVC and Home Shopping Network should have been my warning. Most of the boxes appeared unopened and were stacked to the ceiling. A glance inside the house revealed an even more puzzling sight. Hundreds of clothing items lined the hallway still in plastic and with price tags still on. Other rooms were piled with various cases, boxes, crates, and other packages of all kinds of merchandise. The living room, dining room, and one bedroom were unusable due to the stacks of mostly unopened boxes. I announced myself loudly several times and was starting to believe the woman was under a deep sleep or worse. In the master bedroom I peered over a wall of items and saw a large, elderly, topless woman lying on her side watching a baseball game on T.V.
"Whatta you want?", she calmly asked.
"I'm here to check on you. Your neighbor saw your door open and tried calling you on the phone. When you didn't answer he called for help.", I replied.
"He's an asshole."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, why?"
"Why didn't you answer when I shouted police and came into your house?"
"I's watchin TV."
She was too preoccupied or too lazy to bother putting on a shirt and made no attempt to conceal herself. I was curious about the thousands of dollars worth of merchandise all over her house but concluded it was no use asking her about it.
As I finished the trite conversation I silently wondered why all the topless women I come into contact with are overweight, overconfident, and over 60. Where are all the attractive exhibitionists and why aren't they ever in need of police assistance?
A man called police after his 45 year old daughter threatened to kill him. Apparently she's had some mental issues and has been arrested many times for weapons violations in the past. A mental health evaluation team wanted to interview her and asked for police assistance. As we neared her house, her father advised us she had numerous firearms, body armor, and was going to kill anyone that tried to get into her house. I met with other officers and a Seargant down the street to formulate a plan. A supervisor with the SWAT team was nearby and decided it would be a good opportunity for his teams to get some experience. My role was downgraded to traffic control while two fully geared tactical SWAT teams surrounded her house. The power, water and gas was shut off and her vehicle disabled. As the teams took their positions and prepared to make contact (and/or force entry into the house). The woman ranted and raved and came to her door several times before being coaxed out by the negotiator without incident. No guns or body armor was recovered but it was better to play it safe.