A Trip To The ER

By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko

Manchester NH Police Department

There is, currently, a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Manchester, NH. Although it’s a fairly large facility, it is not a full service hospital. This makes New Hampshire, the only state in the country that does not have a full service VA hospital. But, putting that issue aside for this conversation, I will say that when I was on the job here in Manchester, that VA medical center was a full service hospital, and that included a 24 hour, around the clock emergency room. That meant, among other things, as with other hospitals, we were regularly called to the VA for problems, especially in the emergency room. 

Now the VA Hospital system has it’s own police force, which is federal, but despite that, we (Manchester Police) were regularly called to the VA in Manchester for any number of reasons, but most calls back then were to the Emergency Room there for disorderly or assaultive patients. Sometimes the VA Police would find a patient in possession of unlawful drugs, and they’d call us to take custody of the drugs and charge that person accordingly. 

One night I was working a 330-1200 AM evening shift and I was sent up to the VA Emergency Room for a disorderly subject. I was in a one man car, so a back up officer was sent, but he wasn’t too close by. Therefore, when I got to the ER, I got there quite a few minutes before my back up arrived. 

I arrived, letting dispatch (and my back up) know I was on the scene. Now, I found over the years that some of the most dangerous places in the community were the Emergency Rooms of the three hospitals in our city. Add to that, the other hospitals in Manchester serviced all of the surrounding communities, so our problems not only came from city residents, but they were often caused by patients who, for whatever reason were brought to the Manchester hospitals from the surrounding towns by either ambulance or police, and then left there. 

Drunks, combative or otherwise, people having mental health issues, drug seekers, for any number of reasons were brought to the Manchester hospitals by out of town cops or their Fire Departments because those communities didn’t have hospitals. Once admitted to the ER, the out of town cops usually left their problems in the care of those ERs and therefore, many of those patients then became our problems, if and when they started to act up. That was true for the VA as well, because that hospital serves veterans from even a larger surrounding area, from Massachusetts to Vermont and everywhere in between. So it goes without saying that we spent a-lot of time responding to the ERs in our city and we fought with combatant patients on a regular basis. 

At the Va, I was regularly confronted with particularly surly Veterans that were at their wits end, unhappy with what the VA would do for them, or more often what they wouldn’t do. When they didn’t get what they felt they needed for what they believed was entitled to them, or what they earned having served in the military, they often became loud, boisterous and sadly, confrontational and violent. Many of these veterans were struggling with severe mental health challenges, or they were homeless, often both. To add to problems, the medical / military world hadn’t discovered the effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries at that time, and treatment for PTSD was in the early stages, especially for Veterans. The last thing I ever wanted to do was arrest any Veteran whom I had contact with, especially the ones that were struggling with these issues. Unfortunately, often I had to do just that. 

On that night, “upon arrival” (as I usually started my police reports) I found the patient in question sitting in a wheel chair inside the vestibule to the entrance to the emergency room. There were nurses present, and the guy in the wheel chair was cursing up a storm loudly telling the staff what he thought of them and the VA in general. The language he was using was pretty bad, and his behavior, was clearly disrupting the normal operation of the ER. His behavior that night, especially in the hospital was one of the reasons why the Disorderly Conduct statute had been written and was on the books. He was clearly, by definition, causing a breach of the peace. 

The medical staff briefed me. They told me that this patient showed up often, demanded services that they could not provide or they felt he didn’t need. His visits always ended with his refusing to leave, loud shouting matches, threats and ultimately the police forcing him to leave the property, one way or another. 

At that point, all the staff walked away and left me with their unhappy client. Although he was seated in the wheel chair, I learned from the staff that the patient (who was already well on his way to the MPD lock up for the night) at times was able to stand behind the wheel chair and push it, using it as a walker and other times he used his legs to move himself around in the chair. In other words, although he had mobility problems, he wasn’t confined to a wheel chair 24 / 7, as I was about to find out. 

I started to try to calm the guy, introducing myself to him, asking for his first name, all the stuff you try to do to get someone a bit calmed down and establish a rapport of sorts so he could be reasoned with. Once I got him to talk with me, I would then see if I could help him with whatever his problem was at that moment. In this case, that didn’t work. He wasn’t having any of it. The little I did get out of him, was that the VA won’t help him, and he wasn’t leaving until they did. After a short time, I realized there’d be no reasoning with this guy tonight. I spoke further with the doctor on duty. The doctor said he had been seen, medically cleared, discharged and they wanted him removed from their property. Pretty common problem, really. 

I went back to the guy tried again to get him a bit calmer, but there was no reasoning with him. I calmly but respectfully explained to him that the staff ordered him off the property and he had to leave. He said he wasn’t going anywhere. I told him that if he didn’t leave, I was going to have to arrest him, and I certainly didn’t want do that. But I told him in no uncertain terms, if he behavior didn’t cease he was getting locked up. After a few minutes, I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere with him. So, at that point, I made the my first mistake of the night. 

I reached down as I talked and tried to grab onto the arm rest of the wheel chair and at least steer him outside into the parking lot do as not to keep disturbing the staff and patents. At that point, as I bent down, the guy struck me in my face by punching full force me with his right hand. It was quite a round house and it caught me completely off guard. I stumbled backwards, backpedaling, trying my best not to fall on my ass. I definitely saw stars, and I felt fortunate that he didn’t knock me out. 

As I fought for my balance and to stay on my feet, (I was like a drunken sot) I felt and saw blood spurting from my mouth, onto my arms and hands, down my chest and onto the floor. I think for the moment I was truly in shock. I never saw that coming. 

As my vision stated to clear, the guy was still in his wheel chair but he took a boxing position turning his chair towards me ready to throw another punch if I came within range. It was apparent he was willing and ready to hurt me any way he could. He was certainly indicating he was not done and not going without a fight. Well, at that point, I lunged at him and tried to grab a wrist to place a handcuff on, but I found that was a lot harder than you would think. All I accomplished was that chair fell over onto it’s side and all three of us (Him, Me and the chair) ended up in pile on the floor. “F—-this” I thought. Now the real fight was on!  

I tried to roll him over and found myself on top of him. He was doing a pretty good job of defending himself, and I started to throw a few jabs at him while at the same time trying to fend off his blows. My pokes at him with my weak-side or left hand were having absolutely no effect on him. I had a pair of handcuffs in my right hand, which left me only one hand to both defend myself from his blows, and at the same time try to restrain him. Wheelchair or not, I was going to have to overpower him by force in order to arrest him. I remember that he was strong as hell. I can only imagine what a sight it must have been with me and the fighting wheelchair guy going at it with the wheel chair tipped over on it’s side. To make matters worse, no one was there when I got punched, but now several persons came to watch me roll around the floor with this quasi disabled, soon to be my prisoner, individual. 

It was at that time my back up arrived. I don’t know what had taken him so long, nor do I know why I never saw a VA cop (I silently cursed them as well) that evening, but my back up took one look at what was going on, apparently was mortified at what he saw and yelled “Marty! What are you doing?” At which time he grabbed me from behind and forcibly pulled me off of the person I was trying to arrest.

When I turned to ask him WTF he was doing, he must have seen my bloody face for the first time. He appeared to be even more shocked and cried out “Marty, what the hell happened?” I was in no mood for explanations and I was pissed that he pulled me away from the guy. I tried to say ”what does it look like?” but I can only imagine the sound that came out of my split, bleeding and swelling mouth was something that must have sounded like the incoherent noises that Ralphy’s father used to make when he strung several curses together in the movie The Christmas Story! I always remember Ralph’s father screaming out something that sounded like “nuttafinger” (accent on the last syllable) in a high pitched voice when his lamp fell apart. I imagine my answer to my back up that night sounded similar to that. I turned back to my suspect who was trying to scamper away, half crawling and half dragging himself along the floor. He reminded me of a chimpanzee using his arms to scamper across the floor of some jungle fleeing a predator.  

“HELL NO!” I thought. “You’re not going anywhere” as I pulled loose from my backup and flung myself back onto this fellow’s legs who suddenly NOW decided he wanted to leave. Sadly for him, that train had long left the station.  

At some point during this struggle, I was able to pull out my OC spray and I sprayed the guy. It had no effect on him, which is not unusual, but it burned the hell out of my eyes, lungs and open cuts. However, it had plenty of effect on some near-by VA employees as they rushed past the three of us. They fled into the night all the while coughing, choking yelling and cursing.  

Even with another cop to help, the struggle continued and at one point the cop I was with also sprayed him. Eventually, after what seemed to be an unending battle, we got the suspect subdued, handcuffed and I called for the wagon.

I was a mess, we all were, but from what I could tell I was the only one of the three of us that got hurt. I was out of breath, and my eyes and lungs were burning from the OC spray, and like the employees who fled, the other cop and I were both coughing and choking. While all this was going on, I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed, or to laugh, or what. The time for keeping or trying to retain my “Police Composure” was long past. I was hurting in several different ways, and the fact that a guy in a wheelchair had almost gotten the best of me didn’t help me feel any better. 

Thankfully, the wagon showed up pretty quickly, and I turned the guy over to them. He started to fight and resist the wagon guys, even though he was in handcuffs. The wagon guys had to push and drag the guy, but I could see he could still walk somewhat on his own. Apparently, when he was done with me, I was in worse shape than he was! 

My prisoner was then loaded into the back of the wagon, as was the department SOP, they had to sit him on the bench and secure him with a seatbelt (always a dicey task with a combative prisoner) for the ride to the station. At that point, the fun started again. Not that it ever stopped, mind you. As I stood and tried to get my composure, as well as catch my breath, I heard a whole lot of yelling and banging coming from within the wagon. I could actually see the box part of the wagon swaying back and forth like it was being blown around in a wind storm! Another fight was on. Later, I learned that the guy was fighting, and kicking the cops the whole time and they sprayed him with OC, which would have been a third time OC was deployed on him. Every cop that uses OC spray has to complete a Use of Force report outlining the situation and reasons justifying it’s use. Not only that, but the cop that sprayed someone during an arrest, had to then decontaminate him before they could be booked. The paperwork, the bane of the street cop, was sure starting to pile up on this one!  

After a few minutes of this, one of the wagon guys comes out of the back of the wagon, huffing and puffing, swearing. He slammed the rear doors to the wagon closed, and I pointed out to him that the nearby wheel chair belonged to the prisoner. Much to my amazement, the wagon cop walked over, picked up the wheel chair with two hands. grasping it by each handle and after spinning around a couple of times with the chair like a discus thrower at a track meet, finally released it and the chair went flying into the nearby trees and bushes. I thought then that if my high school track coach (Yes Mr. Hall, I’m talking about you!) had seen this performance, he would have tried to recruit that cop onto his team! At that point I didn’t give a damn about the guy I arrested, the wheelchair or anything else other than my mouth. 

One or two kind nurses took pity on me they tried to clean me up. Others raised an eyebrow or two after seeing two cops rolling around the ground with what they thought was a wheelchair confined veteran. It was then that I discovered  whenever I opened or closed my mouth my jaw was actually clicking! I thought I was heading for stitches and had broken my jaw! I had seen people with fractured jaws, and how broken jaws were treated, and the possibility of having my jaws wired closed and sipping Hi C and tomato soup through a straw for the next several months wasn’t very appealing. 

Soon wagon departed with my prisoner (they were clearly annoyed that I arrested this guy and now they have to deal with him) but I had to stay around for a few minutes to get info from any witnesses as well as the person who called the police, and the reasons why. Because I was still at the VA, I found out later that the wagon guys had tried to book him in my absence, but he fought the entire time. Before I could get back to the station, and then to the hospital, the shift commander called me in. I cleared the hospital and the radio then answered with the following message dreaded message “See the OIC!” I knew that was trouble. The OIC never called you in to say hello. When I arrived, the captain was apparently not very impressed with my injuries. I mean, I expected at least a little sympathy. Not likely. 


Imagine, I thought, a prisoner thrown out of jail by being assaultive and acting like a shit bag. That was a new one on me. I was angry but I kept my cool and tried to explain, respectfully, what had happened and why I arrested him and the guy wouldn’t go anywhere, not to mention he assaulted me. The Captain didn’t seem to care. All he cared about was getting rid of this jerk. At one point the captain declared that the guy is a mental case and needed a hospital, not our cell block. My mouth and jaw ached as I started to loose my patience with my the Shift Commander. 

I pointed out that he was already ready at a hospital and they threw him out! As I got angrier I asked him why the hell did he think I was up there (at the VA) in the first place? I didn’t go up there on my own. I didn’t snatch the guy off the street. I reminded him that the VA called the police and requested our presence. I was sent up there on a call. The Captain was nonplussed, and continued to chew me out. He ordered me to write a summons. I had charged the guy with criminal trespass, resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, and disorderly conduct. Normally, at least back then, one would have to post bail to get released from jail. Not this guy. All the captain cared about was he wanted this guy out, and he was pissed at me for bringing him in, in the first place. He didn’t want any liability or problems. As my police career went on, I came to believe that many of the higher ranking administrators and senior ranking officers had been away from working the street for such a long time they forget what it’s like, and the decisions you have to make. Many (not all) lose appreciation for what goes on out on the street as their careers progress. 

At the end of my ass chewing, the Captain asked me what I did with the wheelchair. What did I do with the wheelchair? Now I knew damned well what had happened to the wheelchair. I thought a moment. I really didn’t want to say that officer so and so threw it into the woods. On the other hand, I certainly wasn’t going to lie to my boss. Not for that officer or for any other cop. I simply told the captain that if I were him, I’d ask the Wagon guys. He growled something at me as he threw me out of his office. I went over to start writing my summons. 

A few minutes later I heard dispatch calling in the wagon, telling them to see the OIC (Officer in Charge, or Shift commander) I shook my head sadly, with a little empathy for the wagon cops, I figured they were in for an ass chewing or more. I left my summons with the booking officer and headed to the hospital to get checked out. I went to the ER at Catholic Medical Center that night I had to go  through all the red tape when a cop gets hurt on the job. That would include questions like “What could you have done to avoid this injury?” or “ What could you have done to de-escalate the situation?” I suppose I could have stopped at Dunkins on the way to the call for a donut and hope that the problem had been solved before I arrived, but the bosses really didn’t care for my sarcasm. Nevertheless, I was still pretty angry at that point, but all I did was get on the air and tell Dispatch I was going to the ER to get checked out. A sergeant did show up to check on me (Yay!) but there was a ton of paperwork that needed to get filled out. Plus my normal police report and the use of force report still had to be competed. Turned out I needed neither stitches nor was my jaw broken. But I looked a mess! Lips swollen like balloons, blood all over my dark uniform and white T-Shirt, and my jaw ached and it clacked whenever I tried to speak. I think my wife was pretty surprised at my appearance when I showed up at home that morning. For my part, I was afraid that everyone who saw me ( cops, civilians and family) would assume I got my ass kicked at work. 

Later I found out that when the wagon guys tried to get the guy out of the wagon, he continued to kick and resist, and they sprayed him again in the process, so there were other charges on this guy as well. That would be the fourth time he got sprayed with OC that night. Eventually, after they did whatever they did with him at the station, the put him in his wheelchair, served him my summons (after the OIC sent the wagon back to get the wheel chair telling them they’d better find it and not bother to come back without it) opened the sally port and half wheeled and half shoved the guy out onto Manchester St. They said few not very nice good byes which included telling him to go F himself. He was last seen wheeling himself down the middle of Manchester Street into the darkness to who knows where. I never went to court on him. I figured his lawyer must have pled the case to something insignificant and I never heard of him or about him again. It was probably better that I never had to testify in open court about being beaten up by a guy in a wheelchair and all that followed. 

As for me, all I managed to accomplish was that I pissed off just about everyone I had contact with that night. The cop who backed me up, the staff at the VA hospital, the wagon guys, the inside guys at the station, and not to mention the Captain. What the hell? All I did was my job. And, I got rid of the guy for the VA which was what they called for in the first place. In the end all I got out of it was a shitload of crap, maybe a sick day to nurse my wounds (after all who wants a cop to show up at their house who looks like he got the crap kicked out of him by the last person he dealt with) and a trip to a different emergency room. I didn’t even get the court time…

OFF Duty

By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko Manchester, NH PD

A recent discussion that I had on a FaceBook group chat got me thinking about the issue of off duty arrests and reminded me about several events that I had become involved with over the years when I was off duty.

The topic of getting involved with off duty incidents when you make the decision to identify yourself as a police officer and then use your police authority when you are not on duty was never a simple decision to make for many reasons. The more obvious rationale for this include the fact that you are usually in civilian clothes, people may not recognize you to be a cop even if you identify yourself as one, and you have no back up and may be unarmed. 

When I was still working, the police department I worked for had a written policy about using your police powers when you are off duty. Basically, they discouraged it. The stated policy as I recall it said that unless the incident you get involved with was serious, we should not get involved and gave some options available to us if we happen to see a minor crime or incident occur while we are not on duty. During my time as a union rep, I saw more than a few cops I worked with who, for whatever reason, got involved with an off duty arrest or confrontation, and the department went after them and tried to discipline them for their trouble. I called bullshit on that and the official discouragement by the PD to prevent cops from acting appropriately off duty when the need arose. Beyond that, there are reasons why police officers powers of arrest are not limited to the time they are officially on duty. Those reasons include personal safety of the officer, that officer’s family, as well as overall public safety. I lost track of the number of times I’ve been threatened by the people I’ve arrested, the number of threats made against my family. I also know that my both I and my family have been stalked and placed under the surveillance by members of a drug distribution organization and who knows how many times that has happened throughout my career that I don’t know about.

As time went on during my career, I made the decision to start carrying my weapon off duty more and more often. One reason that did that involved an off duty Manchester detective who, on his way home from the day shift, stopped at the Cumberland Farms on Webster St. and found himself interrupting a robbery. I also decided that after seeing the guy on the Long Island Railroad walking up and down the train car shooting innocent people, stopping to reload while passengers and their loves ones cowered and quivered waiting for their turn to be executed. When I was with my family in places like Boston or New York, on the subway, wherever, I was not going to allow myself or me family to be slaughtered like sheep if I could help it.

One problem was, as cool as it may sound to some people to be able to carry a gun whenever you want, it was often uncomfortable and not always practical to do so. That was especially true in the hot weather when you may not be wearing a jacket or long pants. I remember going to a Mets game at the old Shea Stadium in Queens, and when I approached the entrance before I was searched I found a cop, identified myself and told him I was an out of town cop and carrying my pistol. I was kind of taken aback when the cop asked me with a straight face why I felt the need to be carrying at all. I asked him if he carried a gun off duty, he told me he always did so I just responded by saying “well, there you go.” He didn’t say anything else and just let me go in with my pistol, which of course was concealed. 

I found NYPD cops in particular to be very friendly when it came to out of town cops being armed when visiting their city off duty. One time I was in Battery Park with my then 14 year old daughter, along with a friend and his 14 year old son. I wanted to go up to the Bronx Zoo and asked a cop if it was safe to take the subway with the kids up to the Bronx. He asked me if I was carrying (a pistol). I told him I was, and he told me then it was safe. He did caution me to get out of the Bronx before dark. 

I was also involved in an arrest in Cleveland, Ohio. I was at a bar where I had to intercede and assist a Cleveland cop trying to quell a fight and was trying to make an arrest. I ended up taking his combative prisoner out of the building and holding her down on the street while the officer called for help and my brother helped him hold off the crown that surrounded him. More arrests were made. The first cop to show up was a sergeant, and as he saw me wrestling with the combative prisoner, he asked me who I was. I told him I was an off duty cop and his officer was inside and needed help. Finally, when the dust settled and I put my prisoner in the back of a cruiser, my brother and I identified ourselves as Manchester NH Police Officers. They were pretty surprised and told us they figured we were cops from one of the surrounding districts or towns. I offered to do paperwork for them for these arrests, but they declined my kind offer telling me I had done more than enough and they were thankful for our help.  

As far as Manchester PD goes, the only restriction placed upon us about carrying a gun off duty was that we had to carry a gun that we had qualified with on their range. Fair enough, I always thought. However there were many off duty incidents and arrests that I was involved with over the years at times when I wasn’t carrying a gun, or handcuffs or even a radio to call for help with.     

As time went on, I learned to stay away from certain places in Manchester when I was off duty because I just didn’t want to get involved. Also, I didn’t want to take the chance of getting injured nor did I look forward to the possible inquisition that I may be subjected to by the PD.  Two of those places included the old Wal-Mart and the Market Basket on Elm St. here in town. It was bad enough that I was regularly responding to the Wal-Mart when on duty collecting video and other evidence of credit card and check fraud, robberies and so forth. Going into that store, which was kind of dingy and dirty, I never knew what I was going to see. 

One day, I was walking down the aisle  behind two guys who were having a discussion about committing a theft or thefts. One was trying to talk the other into stealing a few things that they could either sell right away or return for cash at the customer service counter. The other guy was trying to talk him out of it because he was on parole and he didn’t want get pinched and end up back in prison. I followed along and listened while looking at my watch, and I was happy when the guy on parole talked his buddy out of grabbing anything that day. Between that, domestic disputes and hit and run accidents in the parking lot, I decided to stay out of that Wal-Mart and frequent the one the next town over in Bedford. The Bedford Wal-Mart was bigger, cleaner, and besides, the customers were better looking. But, even there one day, an on duty Bedford cop came across a domestic dispute in the parking lot and when he approached the couple, the male drew down on the cop and the cop ended up shooting the male subject dead. So you never know. 

As far as the Market Basket went, I was responding to that store almost daily at one point with lights and sirens to assist the store detectives who were getting assaulted regularly while trying to apprehend the heroin addicts who were stealing steaks and baby formula. Many of the suspects detained there, after fighting with the store personnel admitted to me when I questioned them that they were HIV positive or had HEP C. If that shit wasn’t bad enough, I went in there a few times off duty and one guy tried to fight me in the men’s room for no reason that I could discern, and someone stole my brother in law’s cane off his shopping cart when he turned away to grab something off the shelf. So, I placed the Market Basket in Manchester on my stay away off duty list along with many of the bars and restaurants in the city.  

There was a time when Stop and Shop had two stores in Manchester, and one of them was on Lincoln St. That store was having multiple strong arm robberies occur weekly. Most times, when their store detectives tried to apprehend a shoplifter, it turned into an assault escalating a misdemeanor shoplifting pinch into a felony level strong arm or forcible robbery. The store found themselves hiring police details to keep the peace. It was the only Stop and Shop in New Hampshire that had to hire police details most afternoons and evening. I also stayed away from that supermarket when I wasn’t working, even though it was across the street from the then new police headquarters.  

One day, I was working night shift in Detectives, and I decided to stop into my credit union on my way to work. I was in civilian clothes, and after parking I then headed to the front door. As you approach the door, there are two handicapped parking spots on either side of the entrance. As I walked towards the door, I saw a car pull into one of the HC spots. After you’ve been on the job for a while, you notice everything going on around you, quite often subconsciously, on duty or not. In this case, I saw the car was driven by a woman and a man got out of the passenger seat and headed into the credit union in front of me. I saw that the car did not have either a HC plate of HC placard. I let it slide. The last thing I wanted to do was get involved in an off duty incident over a parking violation. It just wasn’t worth it.  

As we entered the bank, a middle aged woman told the guy, who appeared to be in his twenties, politely but sternly that he should not be parking in a HC spot. The guy looked at the woman and told her to go fuck herself. That was too much for me. I then tinned the guy (showed him my tin or badge, identifying myself as a police officer) and asked him to step outside with me. I decided I didn’t want to confront or chew him out in front of everyone in the bank. The guy came outside with me, and I told him to get back into the car and move it out of the spot. At that point the woman in the car, who was the guy’s girlfriend, started in on me. 

She started yelling and giving me crap about how they were only there for a minute and he was going to run in and run out quickly and they would have already been done and gone if I hadn’t  started harassing him etc. etc. They guy, who was pretty loud mouthed and brave to the other woman, was quiet around me and tried to persuade his girlfriend to just drive away. But she was having none of it, and kept at me. I was actually starting to feel bad fo the guy who started this all based on his girlfriend’s behavior. Finally, I had enough. I then told them “now you can’t leave” and ordered them to stay put. I walked over to my car and grabbed the police radio I had in my gym bag. I called in, and asked dispatch if they could send a nearby unit that was free with a book of parking tickets. About five minutes later, who pulls up but the Chief of Detectives in an unmarked cruiser.

I was a bit embarrassed that the Chief responded for something so minor. I apologized to him, but he just waved me off saying it was no trouble and handed me a book of parking tickets. I explained the situation to him, a little timidly, but he told me to hell with them and that he’d hang around while I wrote a $240 ticket out. 

Now I always considered myself a reasonable cop, and I was always judicious before I’d hang a $240 ticket on anyone, especially a working person. Often times when I caught someone committing a minor violation or some other bad behavior, I’d make them stop, and after a verbal warning send them on their way. That wasn’t happening this day. I gave the woman the ticket. She was still pissed at me. I didn’t care. The guy wasn’t happy because the car was registered to him. “Oh well” I said. “Get in the car and go. Now.”  I then threatened to arrest the female for disorderly conduct if she didn’t leave immediately. She finally got the message (I think) and left. 

Now I was late for work. Fortunately, the Chief commanded the division I worked in and he just chuckled and told me not to worry about it. Later that night I got myself a ticket book and placed it into the glove compartment of my personal car. Just in case…

Another memorable off duty confrontation happened one quiet Sunday night some time later. I was driving and my wife was with me and we found ourselves downtown. I decided to pull into the BP station located at Bridge and Chestnut Streets. While I was pumping gas, this guy worked his way over from across the street towards me. I kept an eye on him while at the same time I tried to ignore him hoping he would just continue on his way and leave me alone. No such luck. The guy started to give me this long sob story about his living in Rhode Island, and his car ran out of gas and he asked me for $20 for so he could get home. This was a common ploy, and these cretans had come along way from asking me for a quarter for a cup of coffee. No, this guy wanted a double sawbuck. I saw that he did not have a gas can with him, and asked him where his car was. He said it was some distance away and kept pushing me for the 20 bucks. I told the guy to take a hike. He kept at me, and finally I told him to fuck off. He got really surly and finally walked away from me. 

However, during this time another guy pulled up at the gas pumps across from me, and when the driver of that car got out to pump gas, this guy went right over to him and started. He tried to convince him to give him money, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Unlike me, this poor guy tried to ignore him which only emboldened the pan handler. I could sense the citizen was feeling intimidated while the vagrant kept pressing him. Finally I thought to myself, “Here we go. I’m going to have to get involved in this”. Reluctantly, I walked over to the guy, pulled out my badge and identified myself as a police officer. I then told him to screw, and I wasn’t going to tell him again. The guy stood there, and I immediately knew he was sizing me up. I could feel his eyes bore into me as he “Eye Fucked” me, then looked me over from top to bottom. I knew instinctively he was trying to decide whether to continue to challenge me, take off or attack me. I stood there and finally walked towards him. After what seemed an eternity, he decided to walk away and keep his mouth shut. I went back to my car. My wife was sitting in the front seat of our car and had been watching the whole episode unfold. 

The citizen who had been accosted then came over to me to thank me. He said he felt intimidated by this guy and was afraid the guy was going to rob him. “Thank you so much, Officer” he said. I went on to tell him it was not a problem andI sympathized with him and said it was getting harder and harder go downtown without being accosted by these jerks. They walk a very fine line where they act in a threatening manner, but don’t actually come out and openly threaten the people they beg from, but they do intimidate them. As time went on, the courts in this state ruled that begging for money, unless they utter a clear threat that violated the Criminal Threatening law, or use force, is not a crime. In fact, it is protected speech under the First Amendment. 

I walked back to my car. I had been ready for a physical confrontation, but as I told me wife, I had no handcuffs, no radio and no way to subdue this guy and hold him if I had tried to arrest him or if he assaulted me. The next day, I put a pair of handcuffs into the glove compartment of my car next to my book of parking tickets and never went anywhere without them. And oh yeah, I also stuck my pistol in an off duty holster and stuffed into in my waist band more and more often when I was off duty.

Two More DWI Cases…

By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko

Manchester, NH Police Department

I always considered a DWI arrest a good arrest. In Manchester, you didn’t have to look too hard to make DWIs. Often they found you. And most of the drunk driving arrests I made were not of ladies who had a couple of glasses of wine at lunch or a guy who stopped for a couple of beers on his way home from hanging dry wall or working construction all day. Not to preach, but the fact is that many of the drunk drivers I encountered were falling highly intoxicated, and barely able to function or form a coherent sentence. Many of those had already lost their licenses after DWI arrests but they just kept driving after they drank. Many were alcoholics, which meant they drank every day, and most likely drove when they did drink. These drivers were truly a danger to themselves and the community. I rarely had to look too hard for them or lay in wait outside of a bar, like I’ve seen cops do in some places. Drunk drivers often  attracted my attention by how they were driving. I also knew that getting arrested for DWI was no little thing, especially when that person was an otherwise law abiding citizen. 

When you consider a DWI First Offense conviction, the monetary penalties added up to be significant and other impacts socially, as well as professionally on day to day life for that operator were significant. So I always made sure I had solid probable cause which I could articulate before I arrested and subjected someone to for drunk driving. That sounds elementary and straightforward on the face of it, but I was very careful before I made that charge. 

There were many times when I knew a driver I had stopped was under the influence, but because I couldn’t clearly articulate how I knew this, that I opted not to arrest that person. In those cases I instead made some other arraignment for getting that driver off the road and ensured he or she did not get out and drive later that night. There were times when a driver I believed to be drunk passed two of three roadside sobriety tests and I made to make the decision not arrest. Still, in those cases I always made sure that driver never drove away from the scene.

After my last story about losing a DWI case in court, someone gave me the idea to write about the other DWI arrest I made that went nowhere. As I thought about it, I recalled an additional case where the driver was not convicted. So, I’ll write about these cases two here.

One case was, I thought at the time, pretty simple. In that case, I was working midnights in Patrol and I was sitting in the parking lot of the old Richdale Grocery Store at the corner of Bridge and Chestnut Streets just off of downtown. It was probably about 1 AM, and I was watching traffic as well as the late night shit show that often occurred in that neighborhood as the local bars started to empty out and added to the normal assortment of debauchery and unsavory characters that were out and about wandering that neighborhood.  I was assigned to a busy car, so I was just “showing the flag” so to speak and waiting on the next call. 

As I sat there, I heard this distant, metallic, grinding noise, that kind of sounded to me like a tank or some kind of armored military vehicle closing in on me. The clatter was faint at first, but as it got closer to me, the grinding noise got louder and louder as whatever was causing it got closer. Finally, after I short time I saw what was making the noise. Imagine my surprise when I saw a car, driving westerly on Bridge St. cross in front of me with sparks and flames coming from where it’s two right side tires should have been. The car kept going, past me, through the intersection, across Elm St and onto the bridge. I figured the car to be going at close to 25-30 MPH. The noise was almost deafening as it passed me without slowing. 

Naturally, I pulled out behind it, hit my blue lights and was able to stop it on the west side of the bridge. When I approached the driver, I found it to be a very intoxicated young woman who was pretty irate and immediately became argumentative. She lectured me in no uncertain terms that I had better things to do than bother people driving home when there are so many real criminals out there running the streets unhindered by the police who are hanging out at Dunkin Donuts when not harassing innocent people.  Furthermore, she went on to enlighten me, she lived just on the other side of the bridge and insisted that I allow her to continue since she was so close to home. 

I walked around the car and a quick examination of the two right wheels confirmed there was no sign of rubber or any tires on either of the rims. Since my initial observations and exchange with the driver led me to believe she was very intoxicated, I made a guess that she had probably drove over a curb or some other barrier at a high enough speed that she blew out both tires. I further deduced that in her haste to leave the scene she continued to drive until there was no sign of either tire that must have been on each rim at some point. Of course, this was simply conjecture on my part, and the driver wasn’t very cooperative or responsive to my questions. Actually, she was pretty nonchalant about driving on her rims, as though it was an everyday thing. I believe she eventually told me she must have run over a curb, and anyway  she declared “what’s the difference” In any case, she asserted that there was no law against driving without tires. Besides, she only had two beers earlier. I did not concur with her analysis of the situation she was in and told her so.   

After a contentious on scene investigation I formed the opinion that she was in fact under the influence and I placed her under arrest. I don’t recall if she blew on the intoxylizer or not, but she was in my opinion “really shitfaced’. The car had left a long trail of ruts and scuffs on the asphalt street, too long to photograph the length of without a drone to fly over. I towed and photographed the car, some of the marks, and completed my on-scene investigation. 

Several months later, we went to trial. I was pretty confident on this one. I won’t bore anyone with details of the trial itself. I’ll just tell you that the judge in this case found the driver not guilty. He reasoned that I did not have probable or reasonable cause to stop her. He said she violated no traffic or criminal law by driving on a public way on rims, despite leaving fiery, smoky grooves gouged within the roadway of a city street (my description, not his). We argued that I had an obligation to stop and check on her condition, the reasonable conclusion after watching her drive by that she’d been involved in an accident of some kind. Furthermore, please correct me if I am wrong, but I was and still am pretty sure that in the state of New Hampshire (or any other state) a car would not pass inspection without tires on it, making it unfit and therefore illegal to drive on a public way. Furthermore, I’m pretty confident that if I drove a car on the Everett Turnpike, I-93 or for that matter the Massachusetts Turnpike I would get stopped by the State Police of either state and no where else would that stop be declared unlawful. But the judge would have none of it. He ruled the stop unconstitutional, therefore any evidence of drunk driving I obtained after I detained her illegally (his description) could not be used at trial against her.  A resounding “Not Guilty” was the ruling from the bench. The judge and the defendant both had had a good days for themselves.  For me, that particular court appearance was a miserable start to my day. To say I was slack jawed as I listened to the judge’s reasoning and decision at the time would be an understatement. That my friends, is a true story! 

The next account I offer for your consideration involves a two car collision I was sent to late one afternoon. My memory of this case is as follows: 

A man was driving southerly on Union St, minding his own business, following the roadway when a woman who was driving her car easterly on Merrimack St. blew the stop sign on Merrimack St. striking or T-Boning the driver’s car on Union St. by plowing into the right side of that car, finally coming to a stop. Upon arriving at the scene, the first thing I did was make the scene safe, then checked on the drivers. I requested another unit to direct traffic at this busy intersection. I learned the driver of the car that apparently ran the stop sign had a broken thigh bone, a visible compound fracture which had broken the skin. I then called for an ambulance and after telling the other driver to wait for me, I stayed with that driver until the fire department and ambulance arrived. As far as I could determine, the other driver who was hit was not injured.  

Due to the fact that this injury is considered serious bodily injury under NH law, I requested a traffic unit respond to take the crash. The traffic division declined to take the call since although serious, the injury was most likely not life threatening so I got the news I owned it. 

I surveyed the scene, and one thing that stood out to me was there were no visible tire marks or skid marks visible from the car that ran the stop sign. I did however observe scuff marks and yaw marks form the tires of the car that was struck. This indicated to me that it was probable that the injured driver who ran the stop sign never hit the brakes and her car was only stopped after it collided with the other car, and the speed and force of the collision pushed the other car sideways to it’s left while it’s wheels were still spinning forward simultaneously. Additionally, to me, the fact that the driver that had the broken thigh bone as a result of the collision, indicated that the collision must have happened while she was driving at a considerable speed. 

Well, I did my job, took my measurements and my photographs and made my notes for the diagram of the collision that I’d have to make later. The driver with the broken leg was transported to the hospital for treatment, and I continued with my investigation. When all was said and done, I came to the obvious conclusion that the driver with the broken leg was at fault, and due to the fact that there was serious bodily injury (her) and a likely high amount of property damage I later cited her for failing to yield at a stop sign. I’m sure she didn’t stop or slow for the stop sign, but I had no witnesses to prove that, so I cited her for failing to yield, accident resulting. 

Meanwhile, I had a had a discussion with the driver of the other car that was struck. I noted a slight odor of alcohol on his breath, and during my questioning he had told me he had been working construction all day, and when he was done, he had a couple of beers at the site with some co-workers before he left. On the floor of his car in front of the passenger seat, I located several empty beers cans and inside a six-pack type of cooler a couple of more unopened beer cans. I also thought his speech was a bit thick-tongued, so based on this information, I thought it prudent to perform a roadside sobriety test, especially since there was personal injury in this case. I determined that he passed one sobriety test, but despite the fact that he wasn’t “falling down drunk” I graded the other two as failures and ultimately arrested him for DWI. “It sucks to be him” I thought as I handcuffed him and called for the wagon. After the scene was cleared, I went back to the station to process my prisoner.

In New Hampshire, a DWI arrest becomes a felony if there is bodily injury involved, as there was in this case. Also, at the time, the PER SE level of blood alcohol content to prove drunk driving was .10%. Not much later, that standard was reduced to .08%, like it is now in most of the country.

The driver signed off on his implied consent rights, and told me he did not believe he was intoxicated, so he agreed to give a breath sample. I called in an INTOX operator (I was never one and never had the desire to become one) and my suspect blew, and the result was .10. He was obviously very disappointed, but that wasn’t the end of it.

In the State of New Hampshire, an arresting officer has the right to obtain either a urine, blood or breath sample if he arrests someone for DWI. Normally, for many reasons, we stick with breath sample. But, it’s our choice. On top that the intoxylizer we used at the time (It was NOT the earlier breathalyzer which is known to be inferior and less accurate that the INTOX machine), for evidentiary purposes had a .01 tolerance. That meant that with the .10 % breath sample, the court could assume the defendant really had either a .09, which would probably result in a dismissal, or up to a .11, resulting in conviction. Naturally any court would err on the .09 to protect the defendant. So that left me one choice. I now had to take him to the hospital for a blood draw. According to NH law at the time, he had no right to refuse, and in any case he was agreeable. He was going to co-operate and do anything and all to prove he wasn’t legally drunk. I certainly had no problem with that regardless of the outcome. 

We got to the ER at Catholic Medical Center, and I set up for the blood draw. The hospital had my prisoner sign several release documents agreeing to the blood draw. While waiting, I sat with him and we just chatted for a while. I learned he was originally from Boston and had recently driven a taxi in Cambridge Mass. until he got construction he was working earlier in the day. Naturally, having driven a taxi for several years myself in Boston, we spent some time talking about our experiences doing so. The suspect was under arrest, and I had read him his rights earlier, and I was not going to solicit any more incriminating statements from him while he was handcuffed to a chair despite the fact he had initially waived his rights. Still though the guy seemed like a decent guy to me, he had worked all day and he was minding his own business following the roadway after having a few beers when out of nowhere he gets slammed by this other woman who ran the stop sign. When the blood draw was complete, I was given two tubes of blood for evidence (one for me and one for him to use and have analyzed and I was told that the initial result from their lab showed a .11 BAC (Blood Alcohol Content).

So that was that. Back to MPD where I finally started on a mountain of paperwork, putting my case together. I charged the suspect with Felony DWI, and once he bailed out I escorted from the cell bock to the lobby. I shook his hand, and I wished him well, and I meant it. With the exception of the probable cause hearing a few weeks later, that was the last time I saw that defendant. 

At that time, in Hillsborough County NH, it took about a year for a typical felony charge to work it’s way thought the system to resolution, even longer if the case went to trial. So, life went on and I didn’t think too much about the case after that night. I thought it was a solid DWI arrest. 

Several months later I ended up being called into the County Attorney’s Office (In NH the District Attorney is referred to as the County Attorney, and the ADAs are called Assistant County Attorneys) I went over and met with the ADA that was prosecuting this case. The ADA went on to tell me that the State has decided to drop / dismiss the case. I was puzzled to say the least, but before I could inquire or argue about it, he told me that there was no problem with the case or how I handled it. He went on to say that since I cited and believed and would testify to the fact that I believed the driver who hit the defendant blew a stop sign and therefore caused the accident, the defendant would not be charged even thought there was evidence of drunk driving on his part. The prosecutor went on to say that because there was no “causation” on the part of the defendant it was unlikely he’d be indicted by a grand jury. He said that in order to charge a drunk driver with a felony, in this case serious bodily injury, one of the elements present would have to be “causation”. 

Now this was really surprising to me. I think I had about five or six years of patrol experience in a pretty busy city under my belt by this time. I’d made many DWI arrests as you can probably imagine, and I had never, ever heard of this legal principle before that conversation. During the time I made that arrest, no supervisor or boss ever questioned my felony charge. Nor was it questioned when the judge in District Court found probable cause on the case at the PC hearing and he sent the case to Superior Court as a felony.

I asked if he would consider prosecuting the case as a misdemeanor as an option, just charging him the straight DWI, not the felony for the bodily injury, and he told me that was always a possibility, but he believed that if the defendant opted for a jury trial, it was possible, even likely that a jury wold feel sympathetic towards the defendant because there was no “causation”. He was just driving along after a long day of work minding his own business when this maniac hit him and destroyed his car. As I thought about it, I knew the ADA was probably correct.

Now, we arrest drunk drivers on a regular basis, and often they are not involved in an accident, so certainly there is never an issue of causation in those cases, or so I reasoned.  

I did debate a bit, saying that maybe the fact that the defendant was legally drunk would have caused the defendant to be just a bit slow on his reactions, and how do we know if he hadn’t consumed those beers he might have been able to avoid the accident altogether. The ADA told me I may have been correct, we don’t know that, and in any case, we certainly could never prove that. He closed by telling me they would not pursue a DWI case when an accident occurred if there was no evidence of causation on the part of the driver charged with DWI. So, eventually I accepted his arguments at face value and went back to work. In the end, I guess it worked out for the guy I arrested, and I felt no animosity towards him for getting off.  

I spent half of my police career working as a detective, and I’ve been retired for 4 1/2 years now, so I really don’t know how case law in this state for DWI cases have evolved, therefore I don’t know if that dismissal would fly today in court. 

I guess there really aren’t any lessons in these stories, they are just stories that are true and demonstrate how difficult it can be to navigate the Byzantine labyrinth which we refer to as the Criminal Justice System. 

Well…maybe there is one lesson. That would be, be careful and think really hard before you get behind the wheel of your car after having a few drinks. You could be driving ok and minding your own business and get creamed by some maniac or a drunk driver who just doesn’t care. You might find yourself at the side of the road performing field sobriety tests. Be smart and safe out there!     

Learning the Job 

By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko

Manchester NH Police Department

I never thought that being a good cop required a high degree of formal education beyond high school and certainly not a college degree. Looking back at my career, I came to the conclusion that the most important characteristics needed were common sense and experience. Both cannot be overstated. Much of what you learn about police work and the law in general comes with experience, which equates directly to time on the job. Naturally, as you go through your career you are constantly going to school to learn updated technical skills and current court decisions regarding things like search and seizure, the use of force, ever-changing duties and standards of care and conduct. You must how to apply those updates to what you do on the street daily. It goes without saying that integrity is paramount, and we could certainly delve into other attributes that are necessary for any cop to succeed and have a meaningful police career.  

However, no matter how much education and training you may have, there are just somethings you learn by trial and error, and you hope that at the end of each shift, you can look yourself in the mirror and know that whatever decisions you made during that shift, you did so in good faith, and that you made what you believed at the time was the correct decision. And when we make these decisions, often without a lot of time or information available at the time, we do not only look at legal aspects, but also have to insure your decision was ethically and morally correct.

Stated another way, you not only have to learn the law, but you must also develop the ability to apply the law in each an every situation in the way it was intended by the legislature. And I can assure you that there are times when a law may be applied to a specific situation, but when that law was applied, it was not what the legislative intent or spirit of the law intended. But mistakes in judgement are unavoidable, and when you consider the number of decisions that a patrol officer makes during his or her eight hour shift, these mistakes are inevitable. At times, the best we can hope for is that any mistake we made didn’t cause any unintended problems or consequences for those who were affected by the mistake, whether a victim, perpetrator or bystander. Finally, once you are aware of a mistake you must learn from that mistake and never repeat it. So, my story today is about mistakes I made during an arrest early in my career. As you continue to read, please understand that the mistakes made in this case were honest mistakes and in no way intended to take a short cut or otherwise circumvent any law or constitutional protection just to make a case against the suspect we ultimately arrested. 

I had probably been on the job for about two years or so (in my world  a cop isn’t considered a veteran policeman until he or she has at least 5 years on) so however salty I may have felt at the time, I still had a lot to learn. 

On this particular day I was working in Patrol on a route that was just north of downtown Manchester, NH. I was working 330 PM-Midnight, and I found it to be a typically busy weekday afternoon after I got out of roll call and called into service. 

I hadn’t been out very long when I overheard a BOLO (Be On The Lookout) for a particular car that had been involved in a hit and run collision on the Amoskeag Traffic Rotary which was on the west side of the city. Someone at the scene had obtained an accurate plate number (highly unusual) and description of the suspect vehicle which had fled the scene a short time earlier. The address and name of the registered owner was also broadcast along with where the damage to the hit and run vehicle would most likely be. Well, the address where both suspect and car lived was on my route.  

The address was, I believe, on  Pearl St, only a few blocks east off of Elm St. For anyone who doesn’t knows the area, those streets are separated by back alleys that run in between and in rear of the houses on adjacent streets. Often, and it was in this case, there were older garages in the alleys that belong to the houses nearby and residents could park their cars in these garages rather than on the city streets in front of their buildings. So, I headed for that address in the hope I could intercept the driver and car if it had headed home from the crash site after it fled. 

When I arrived, I cruised the neighborhood looking for the suspect car. No luck, initially. As I cruised the alley behind the house that the car was registered to, I saw a row of attached garages directly across the rear alley where the suspect lived. I got out on foot, and I found most of the garage doors had windows in them which allowed me to peek inside form the alley. 

Bingo! The suspect car was parked in one of the garages, facing inward, so I was only able to see the back of the car. I do not recall if I could read the rear license plate on the car from outside or not, but thinking about it, I don’t think it mattered in the end. Despite that, I was pretty sure I had the correct vehicle. The driver made it home without being stopped by the police and hid the car. I radioed to the investigating officer at the crash scene and told him that I had found his car. I stood by and waited for him to clear the collision scene and head over to my location. 

The officer who was handling the call was an older, more experienced cop who I had a lot of respect for. He arrived, and when I took him to the garage, he tried the door and I was surprised it was unlocked. Without hesitating, he then raised the door entered the garage and inspected the car further. 

Now initially, my instinct was that perhaps we needed a search warrant to enter that garage. But he went into the garage immediately with no time for discussion and I followed him in if for no other reason than to cover his back incase our suspect or someone else happened to be hiding there.

There was no one in the garage, but we could confirm from the plate and description, and the damage on the front end of the car, that this in fact was the suspect vehicle. We also noted that the windshield was “spiderwebbed’ on the drivers side (something that we couldn’t have observed from outside the garage) and that kinda changed the complexion of the investigation because we now had reason to believe the driver had been injured, possible seriously. I believe there was hair and a bit of blood on the windshield as well. We also noted a couple of beer bottles in the front on the floor, some open and empty, others unopened. This was certainly evidence of DUI. Also, we found the car was unlocked. We went on to take various photos of what we had found (the car, damage and beer bottles) then removed the bottles from the car for evidence. I did have a brief discussion with him at one point, and he felt that because we could see the car from outside of the garage, in other words, because we were lawfully present when we discovered the evidence inside, we could seize the evidence with a search warrant. I knew that what he was saying was true on it’s face, so I relied on his judgement and experience and we continued to note our observations and take evidence from the scene. 

Now just a word now about Search and Seizure law. Evidence of a crime can be seized by police without a search warrant if 1) The evidence is in plain view and is obvious at the time it is evidence of a crime and 2) If the officer who observes the evidence is lawfully at the location when he or she first observed the evidence. There are exceptions to that rule based on exigency and other issues, but generally speaking, those two points I make here allows police to seize evidence without a search warrant. When a cop seizes evidence without a warrant (or occasionally with a warrant) and that seizure is later ruled by the courts to be unlawful, the standard remedy (as long as the cop did so in good faith) is applying the “exclusionary rule” and the evidence is thrown out and not allowed to be presented in court. 

The search and documentation of the car and it’s contents then being complete, we had the task of trying to locate the owner of the car, who was the suspect. We went to his apartment, and not only did we find the rear entrance to his kitchen unlocked, it was partially open. We announced ourselves before we entered the apartment, but there was no response. Since we had reason to believe the suspect may have been injured and possibly in need of medical attention, we decided to search the apartment for him. I had no issue entering his apartment at this point based on the fresh information we had and the circumstances present. I believed then that the entry was lawful, and still do. Once inside, we found the suspect passed out in his bed. We roused him from what I believed at the time was an alcohol induced slumber and got him out of bed. 

The first thing we noticed was a bump and small bruise on his forehead. This generally appeared to me to match up with the damage to his windshield and directly tied him to the collision he fled. The second thing we noted was that he appeared to be very drunk. We asked the suspect if he was alright and offered to call an ambulance to have him checked out. He said he was fine and declined our offer. The officer I was then started to question him about the collision, fleeing the scene, then conducted a field sobriety test inside the bedroom. The suspect failed the field sobriety test miserably. 

Once completed, the officer placed the suspect under arrest and charged him with DUI and fleeing the scene of an accident (known under NH law as Conduct After and Accident) We got the keys to the apartment, locked it up for the suspect, and called for a wagon. It was the other cop’s call and arrest, so he went into the PD to process the prisoner and do the paperwork. In my mind, we certainly developed enough evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy was the culprit who fled the scene. In fact, the reason he fled the scene was most probably because he knew he was drunk. I thought it was a good arrest. As the case made it’s way through the system, I learned the suspect would not take a plea, and so several months later the case went to trial. 

The day of the trial came, and I noted that a particular judge who wasn’t assigned to Manchester District Court but often filled in there was hearing this case. I had been before her many times in the past and found her to be a very polite judge to all parties involved and very respectful. However, I had come to judge her as defendant’s judge and therefore soft on criminals for many reasons I won’t go into here. Therefore, based on my previous experience and observations I wasn’t confident that our case would be as “Open and Shut” as I thought it would be. 

What normally happens during trials is that the witnesses that are to testify to the crime are sequestered on the day of the trial, in this case that meant that once the trial began the other cop and I could not talk to each other about the trial, the case, or the testimony we gave or heard. It also means and we can’t be in the courtroom during the trial other than when we were actually giving testimony. Once being sequestered, I, along with other cops involved always scrupulously followed those rules. So it was that when it was my turn to testify later in the day, I had no idea what had transpired before I got on the stand.  

Once I was sworn in, the prosecutor took me through my involvement and observations that day, and when he finished with me, the defense attorney started to question me. He took me through the whole thing, step by step, questioning me about everything I did, everything I saw and why I did what I did. I’m sure he was probing for inconsistencies between my partner’s and my testimony as well as my reports. Finally, after about an hour , maybe more, of answering his questions, the defense attorney asked me if I believed at the time that I was conducting a lawful search when I entered the garage without a search warrant. 

I thought for a brief moment. I realized what the attorney was fishing for as he questioned me, and what his defense was for his client. I figured I was in a tight spot, and the case was on the line. I then answered with the following statement:  “WELL, IF I HAD TO DO IT OVER AGAIN, I WOULD HAVE OBTAINED A SERACH WARRANT BEFORE ENTERING THE GARAGE”. Which was certainly true, especially after I realized this arrest and case would be based on the legality of the search we made when we entered the garage which was private property.  

My answer appeared to surprise and take the defense attorney aback for just an instant. It was apparent to me that he wasn’t expecting that answer. I think he was hoping to make me appear incompetent and at worse, paint my actions in a nefarious light. After a pause, the defense attorney changed his demeanor. The seconds ticked by as I waiting for this attorney to pounce on me and really sink his teeth into me and my actions. After giving some thought, he then made the following statement to me: “WELL, THAT’S FAIR ENOUGH.” He then told the judge that he had nothing further for me. It was apparent that he felt he got what he needed from me and I was always thankful he didn’t turn my testimony into a real shit show. The prosecutor and defense attorney made their closing arguments and the judge came to a rapid decision, but took some time and trouble to explain her reasoning on each issue presented at the trial. 

Ultimately, the judge found the defendant not guilty of all the charges. The reasons she gave for doing so went a long way to guide me through similar circumstances and cases for the rest of my career. 

The judge ruled that once I observed the car through the window of the garage, I should have then stopped, and obtained a search warrant (or permission form the suspect) to enter the garage. Furthermore, she ruled that once in the garage, we should have obtained a further search warrant (or permission from the suspect) to enter his car. I’m not sure I agree with that second ruling, since the items we saw in the car were in plain view and could be recognized immediately as evidence of a crime. In any case, she disallowed any evidence or observations we made once we entered the garage without a warrant. 

Furthermore, the judge then went on to invoke the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine of constitutional law. This legal principle states that ANY and all evidence or information obtained / gained from an unlawful search cannot, under any circumstances be introduced as evidence in a trial. Therefore, when we relied on that evidence to then continue our investigation and use it for probable cause or even use it in developing probable cause for arrest, anything we gained from the suspect could not be used against him because it was fruit of the poisonous tree, the unlawful search. 

The judge went on to say that even if the search of the garage and car were carried out legally, our observations of the suspect, his condition or behavior were not evidence enough to convict him of DWI in this case. 

The judge noted there was compelling evidence to believe the suspect hit his head, therefore his behavior during the field sobriety test could reasonably be attributed to head trauma, and we certainly did not provide any evidence to dispel that possibly. The burden was upon us to prove that wasn’t the case, not on the defendant to prove it was.

Furthermore, regarding the strong smell of alcohol on the suspects breath at the time we made contact with him, we had to prove that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, and enough time had passed that unless we could prove he didn’t consume alcohol after he arrived home, there was no proof he was actually under the influence when he drove his car into the garage, never mind the accident he was alleged to have caused. 

Finally, the judge noted that regardless of the issues mentioned, and even if we assume his car was involved in the hit and run, we presented no evidence that he was driving the car at the time of the accident and he was the one who fled. There was no ID made by the victims or any other witness, and not that it would have been admissible in this case, the suspect himself did not admit to us that he drove the car or even was involved in the accident. 

You may be able to imagine how disheartened I was as the judge just went down the list and ticked off the reasons we screwed this case up. However, there was one bright spot as I sat in the courtroom and felt publicly humiliated.

The judge called me out by name, saying that, in spite of the outcome of the case, in her opinion Officer Swirko would have been derelict of duty, knowing what I knew, regardless of whether or not I had obtained a search warrant, had I not entered the suspect’s apartment and insured that the suspect was not injured or in need of immediate medical care. She emphasized (possibly for the defense attorney, and possibly for the other cops present) that we have a duty to follow up and ensure that members of the pubic are not injured or need care, even if we enter or force entry into an abode without permission under certain circumstances, and this was certainly on of those cases.

In the end, I walked out of the courtroom well chastised but feeling a little better about the day. It was obviously important to the judge to make that final statement, for whatever reason, and it certainly made me feel less of a heel after getting my you know what whacked for executing a search and arrest that the judge deemed unconstitutional. 

I made many DUI arrests during my career, but the lessons I learned that day were invaluable to me and I applied them to every case I became involved with. I never made those mistakes again. The judge’s assertion that I had a duty to enter and check on the well being of the suspect guided me throughout my career when confronting those situations. Many times I found it prudent to force entry into apartments to check on the occupants well being when I had a valid reason to do so. Appellate court decisions throughout the years that followed only bolstered that judges assertions during that trial. 

Today, when I think about it, that court case really educated me on many levels and immediately had an effect on how I did my job from that day forward. That is one reason I choose to write about and share this experience. With one exception, that case turned to be the only DWI case I ever lost during my career, and as I think about it, this really wasn’t my case or arrest in the first place. I eventually came to the conclusion that if the arresting officer did his or her job correctly when making a any DWI arrest, the case would always end in a conviction and very difficult for any defense attorney, no matter how experienced or high priced that attorney may be. I certainly never held any anger or hard feelings towards that attorney, he did his job and did it well, unlike my partner and I did that afternoon. 

As for me, I am just happy that I made those mistakes in a case where no one was seriously injured and the charges were misdemeanors. No one’s life was negatively impacted. Of course the suspect had been arrested and needed to hire a lawyer so he was certainly inconvenienced.  Other than minor damage to her car, and whatever hoops her insurance company put her through, the victim was OK in the long run. But hey, in the end, we all knew, including the judge, that the suspect did what he was accused of doing, so I don’t feel overly sympathetic to him. I hope he thought better of drinking and driving after that experience. And, if I had done my job better, we would have obtained a conviction. 

Memorial Day 2022

By First Sergeant (Retired) Martin Swirko, United States Army

As this Memorial Day weekend has approached, I find myself thinking about, sometimes brooding, over the loss of those I knew, and especially those whom I had the honor to serve with that made the ultimate sacrifice. I also think about their families, some of whom have honored me by staying in touch with me over the years. I always feel as though I should sit down and write about Memorial Day, write something meaningful, but in the end, there isn’t anything I can write or add that I or anyone else hasn’t said or written. As I scroll through Facebook, I see endless posts admonishing us all that Memorial Day isn’t about celebrating a weekend off, and it isn’t about Veterans, it’s about those who gave their lives fighting for this country. True enough. So, this year, I thought I’d pay tribute to three great men by re-posting something I wrote and shared a few years back. Maybe someone will come across it that hasn’t seen it previously. Well, here goes…


Well, here it is, another Memorial Day weekend. I envisioned myself writing and posting some meaningful tribute to those we honor at this time each year, but I can see now that it’s not to be. Don’t get me wrong, I made an attempt, several attempts. But, in each case I failed to get beyond certain platitudes that somehow ring hollow to me. Maybe, I’ll just settle for writing a brief explanation about what Memorial Day means to me, which really comes down to how it affects me. Then perhaps I can coherently weave some thoughts together and actually construct some meaningful sentences and then combine them into a few paragraphs that might, just might, capture the spirit and meaning of Memorial Day. At least as I have come to view it. 

I will start with my alibi first. Memorial Day is about those who gave their lives in the service of our country. And, in my mind, it’s also about the families and loved ones who were left behind.

Memorial Day is not supposed to be about the rest of us. To me, however, it sometimes feels as though I carry a heavy weight. A heavy burden borne by those of us who served amongst those heroes who never made it home.

Ever since I returned from Iraq, no matter how many years have passed, each and every Memorial Day the same thing happens to me. As the weekend comes upon us, I get very introspective. I think, probably too much, and, at least on one of those days I drink a bit. Truth is I usually drink too much as Memorial Day approaches.  

I usually make it through Memorial Day, more or less intact, and go back to living my life. Something, those we honor never had the opportunity to do. Therefore, I’d like to share some of my memories, and honor a few soldiers that I had the privilege to serve with. Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

My memories leading up to that dark day began three days earlier in the fall of 2005. We were in Iraq. Prior to that, in July, my brother and I arrived in Iraq and were assigned as embedded advisors to an Iraqi Battalion. We had four small teams. One was the HQ Team, who advised the Iraqi Brigade we were part of, and then there were three other teams. One was assigned to each Iraqi Battalion we advised. My brother Frank, at the time an E-7 was assigned to the 2nd BN, and I was assigned to the 3rd. 

Our Commander was LTC Leon James, a Regular Army Officer, and he commanded all four teams. I liked LTC James immediately when I met him, and I remember telling him that I was looking forward to working for him over the next year or so. I do remember that he gave me kind of a weird look when I said that, didn’t respond but shook my hand when I offered it. LTC James was originally from Springfield Ma, and last I knew his mother was still living there. 

Master Sergeant Tulsa Tuliau was the Senior Non Commissioned Officer in charge of the four teams. Tulsa was a huge guy, with a physically intimidating presence. Tulsa was from American Samoa and was what we in the Army would call a “Hard Charger”. Shortly after my brother and I arrived, he held an NCO meeting where the topic was TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) regarding whether standing UP in the gun turret of our HUMVEEs was preferable to sitting on the strap and therefore being DOWN, or a lesser target. The discussion involved dealing with snipers vs dealing with roadside and suicide vehicle borne bombs. The discussion ended when Tulsa stood up, took a shooting stance while leaning forward and declared gunners should be UP always, show an aggressive stance and appear intimidating to those who contemplated attacking us. We agreed. To me, it was a sad irony that, Tulsa was soon after killed in the UP position, and several other soldiers in the unit we were attached to were also killed in the UP position. But Master Sergeant Tuliau died as he lived, a Hard Charger all the way. As time went on, I realized that there were times when it was prudent for the gunner to be up, and others when it wasn’t. 

Sergeant First Class Casey Howe, had just joined our unit a short time before he was killed. He was from Michigan. The day I met Howe, I liked him immediately. I thought he’d be a great asset to our team and mission. Casey was on his third tour in Iraq when he was killed. Casey had lied to his wife, telling her that he had a safe job in “The Rear” because he didn’t want her to worry. The reality was that he was in one of the most dangerous assignments in Iraq at the time. We rolled outside the wire daily, deep in hostile territory with rarely a break. In fact, his wife later told me that on the morning after Casey was killed, when the Chaplain and others knocked on her door, she believed they had mistakenly come to her residence because she knew her husband couldn’t have been killed because he had a “safe” job. But there were no “Safe” jobs where we were. Only jobs that were less dangerous than others. All three were married, and all three had multiple daughters waiting at home, at FT. Drum. 

On the Saturday before that tragic day, I was in the motor pool, pulling maintenance for our HUMVEE and crew served weapons. Tuliau had just returned from spending time with his family on leave. He stopped by to talk to me about a few issues, and then we all went about our business. Later on, a few of us met LTC James out side of the building we were living in. He smoked, (funny for a marathon runner!). Some amongst us enjoyed a cigar and all us were sipping either cold Gatorade or Near Beer. It was hot as hell, but the NCOs enjoyed kibitzing with LTC James, and it was apparent to me that LTC James enjoyed being around his NCOs. 

The next day was Sunday. I don’t remember what we did that day, however, I was going to be able to sleep in a bit late the next morning. My brother and I obtained a portable radio, and a few of cans of Alcohol Free Beer from the mess hall. That evening Frank and I sat on a stone picnic table near “the house” and stayed up a little longer than normal. We enjoyed our frosty near beer, listened to the sporadic gunfire on the other side of the concrete barriers, and occasional explosion off in the distance. We talked about whatever, but we could find nothing but Arabic music on the radio. Eventually we went back to our room and called it a night. I never went near that stone picnic table after that night. 

Sometime early the next morning, LTC James, Tuliau and Howe went out with their team on a mission. Frank was also going out with his team on a mission. Frank grabbed the .50 Cal machine gun that belonged on his gun truck. He hefted it up onto his shoulder and walked over to his truck in order to set it up. As he walked across the gravel, he twisted his ankle, and fell to his knees under the weight of the machine gun. Sergeant Tuliau, saw this and ran over to help. Tuliau grabbed the gun, telling Frank “Hey big Sarge, let me get that for you”. Tuliau took the machine gun from my brother, and brought it to Frank’s truck. That was the last time Frank ever talked to Tuliau or saw him alive. 

Colonel James’ team went out first. Tuliau was the gunner inside the turret of James’ HUMVEE, Howe was the driver, and James was obviously both the Truck commander and Patrol Commander.

A short distance outside the wire, the Colonel’s truck was ambushed, hit by an EFP (Electrically Fired Projectile). It was devastatingly accurate. It was set off by an infrared detector on the side of the road. Once his vehicle (in this case the targeted vehicle) was detected by the infrared  device it triggered the EFP.  His vehicle was hit by five separate projectiles. It was the first US Vehicle in country that was hit by a five projectile EFP. 

As far as I can tell, Tuliau and Howe were killed instantly. LTC James was hit by shrapnel in the neck and throat area. The medic on scene was able to keep the Colonel alive. He was brought back to the Aid Station at our FOB by ground EVAC, and he was alive but unconscious when I saw him a short time later. After this patrol was hit, my brother’s team rolled out to the site, and he and a few of his team tried to take care of Tuliau and Howe, both of whom were still at the scene, but had died of their injuries. 

I was in my rack. At one point a Major, who was part of the Colonel’s patrol burst through the doors. He was yelling my name, over and over again, and when I finally awoke from a deep  sleep, I saw the Major and I noted his uniform was splattered with blood. I’ll never forget what he said next:


I’ll never forget how those words hit me, and never be able to describe that feeling. It was worse than any gut punch.

I pulled on my Desert uniform, boots, grabbed my pistol and went to work. Suddenly I was the Senior Enlisted Man on the ground. I found myself the temporary NCOIC of the team, taking Tuliau’s place. The major thrusted a broken and blood stained M-4 rifle at me, along with a bloody set of ID (dog tags) Tags. I think he had the need to get rid of them, and fast. I took custody of them, and eventually cleaned them up. 

Many things happened that terrible day and the week that followed. However, as bad as it was, I had a job to do, and I didn’t have the luxury of grieving. I remember the interim commander, telling me that he needed me to advise him, and if he did anything I thought was stupid, not to be afraid to kick him in his ass with my size 12 boots. 

Later that morning, I was present when Colonel James was loaded into a Blackhawk, heading to the CASH. I looked on while several of his soldiers who were present, openly and unashamedly wept for him as he was carried away. My brother, was  also very helpful to me during those days. Without him, I don’t know how I would have accomplished the tasks that suddenly fell upon me to complete.

I also remember, later, being present and helping load Sergeants Tuliau and Howe into a Blackhawk helicopter. I remember the pilot of the helicopter getting out of the bird, facing us, coming to attention and then saluting us. He executed an about face and the two Blackhawks, with their door gunners at the ready gracefully lifted up, up high into the sky. I watched as Tulsa Tuliau and Casey Howe started their long journey home. It was my turn to cry, and I wept as hard as I can ever remember weeping. I stood and watched as the two Blackhawks disappeared off into the distant clear blue sky. Sadly, Leon James succumbed to his wounds a short time later after arriving at Walter Reed Hospital. 

Our mission continued. In time, our team personnel were moved around, replacements arrived, and after helping to deal with our dead, and all that went with that, we got a new commander, and I was sent back to the 3rd Battalion Team. However, I went back to that team as it’s NCOIC. I found myself in a leadership position. I had troops to care for, and combat missions  to carry out. Suddenly there were soldiers, some of them new arrivals looking to ME for guidance and assurance. ME, a citizen soldier, far away from my roots in Massachusetts and my home in NH. I now understood there was no slack for me. I did not have the luxury of feeling sorry for myself. The unit and our mission, in part, largely depended on me in my new role.  

The months dragged on, day after day, week after week, mission after mission. Some missions lasted a few hours. Others took several days. Every mission was a combat mission and therefore dangerous. I did my best. I know in my heart that my troops deserved better. However, we accomplished all our assigned missions from that day on. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the day to go home finally arrived, and in the spring of 2006, we all got our orders to go home. My brother and I flew to Ft. Carson Colorado where, in three days, Uncle Sam, sent us packing. Back to the Guard, USAR or wherever our citizens soldiers originally came from. Uncle Sam had no further use for us, at least not at the time. Many of the other soldiers we served with in Iraq retuned to their duty station at Ft. Drum NY. 

My brother and I, after leaving Ft. Carson flew to Chicago, and then to Manchester. We were both traveling in our desert camouflage uniforms (DCU) which was authorized wear for travel at the time. The flight crew was great to me, they brought me back to the galley with them, and when they found I was returning home from Iraq, they all took turns chatting with me. I went back to my seat, put on my earphones, turned on my MP3 player. I thought about James, Tuliau and Howe, that they were not coming home with us. I thought about their families. How much it must hurt knowing the rest of us were going home, but without James, Tuliau and Howe. And then I cried. The tears flowed uncontrollably as though a faucet had been opened. I couldn’t help myself. I hid my face. I don’t think my brother knew. But, I cried for a very long time. 

Well, Frank and I made it home. Our closest family members were waiting to embrace us at the airport. No fanfare, didn’t want any. Very quiet and low key. I just wanted to be home with my family and friends. It felt so good, not wearing a helmet and body armor. Not carrying a rifle with extra ammunition felt almost luxurious. Not having to scan my surroundings like I’d had to do for so long, looking for snipers and listening for incoming rounds the way I learned in order to survive. Mostly though, it just felt good to be alive. It was then that my not so easy adjustment that all combat vets have to make, began. Just like I had no idea what I would face when I headed to Iraq the first time, I had no idea what lay in store for me and my family in the year to come.  

Sometime later that year, Frank and I traveled to Ft. Drum where we had the honor to meet the families, wives and children of LTC James, MSG Tuliau and SFC Howe. Each wife reacted differently to us. I won’t share those moments publicly, except to say how it made me feel: I felt like a piece of shit, embarrassed that I was in one piece to meet those families, while their loved one was gone. Please don’t misunderstand me. None of them said or did anything to make me feel that way. It’s just how I felt. At times, survivor’s guilt is a real thing. 

In the years that have passed since, much of those feelings have not been blunted by time. I have visited Colonel James and Sergeant Tuliau’s gravesites at Arlington several times. I can confess to you that I know that my soldiers deserved a better leader than me. I know that the soldiers we lost were better soldiers and leaders then I could ever have hoped to be. I also know they were better men. Yet, here I sit. 

Like each Memorial Day weekend since that time I struggle with the losses we have suffered as a nation throughout our history. Yet, despite the fact I know Memorial Day is not for those of us who survived, it is through my grief, my sense of loss, my pain, and, at time my tears, this is the only way I can pay my personal respect and deep thanks to James, Tuliau, Howe and all the others that have unselfishly given their lives. I owe it to them to remember and share their memories as often as I can. My future has been inexorably intertwined with the loss or absence of their own. 

And, since they all died so abruptly and before their time, I feel I owe it to them to live my life, which, up until now has still been gifted to me, the best way I can. I promise guys, I won’t let them forget and I will not waste what time I have left. 

Happy Birthday. It’s a Girl!

Happy Birthday, It’s a Girl!

By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko

It was during the early morning of my birthday during the spring of 2005 that I found myself working midnights in the Patrol Division. At that point, the nearly two year old oddity and fall from grace which landed me back in Patrol at that time was both sudden as it was  unremarkable yet predictable. It was also somewhat perplexing to me at the time that it happened. By the time that spring had arrived I had more or less made peace with the fact that I would most probably spend the rest of what was left of my career pushing a black and white around town. I had no problem with that in principle. I was not the kind of cop that thought I  was too good to work Patrol, however I came to know many cops who had been removed from specialty divisions for whatever reason who really did feel they were above working Patrol and would do almost anything to either get out of Patrol or, once out, remain out of Patrol. In the end, by the middle of 2003, after almost six mostly great years in the Domestic Violence Unit, I finally demanded to be transferred back to Patrol. Looking back on that tumultuous time, tumultuous as far as my career was concerned, it was most likely the goal of the multiple bosses I answered to that I finally raise the white flag and gave it up. If that was what they wanted, they finally succeeded by May of 2003. 

Within the Patrol Division, we bid for shifts during shift change which occurred every four months. After a long hard fought battle by our Patrolman’s Union, we finally got the Chief to agree to assign Patrol shifts by seniority, which the administration had fought against, long and hard. Prior to Shift by Seniority, shift assignments were used to reward cops that the administration wanted to take care of, and it was also used to punish whichever cops they had a case of the ass for, often times due to no fault of the cop him or herself. I had seen it so often. However, by the time I landed back in Uniform Patrol I had enough seniority to choose whichever shift I wanted. So, since I was angry, I decided “screw them” I was going to work Day Shift from September though April. After working from 6PM to 230 AM for almost six years, which pretty much guarantied my family life would always be second behind work, I thought it was time to give my wife and family a break. I figured I’d be home most nights, I’d be able to actually assist my wife with bringing up our kids for a change. But, I still had the bug, and despite the fact that working day shift returned me to a bit of normalcy in life (aside of the fact that I would still work weekends and holidays) I missed being out on the street after dark. So, for those couple of years I was back in Patrol, each May though August shift, I chose to work midnights. I loved being on the street over night. It was a love I developed many years before when I drove a taxi in Boston. I loved being part of the nightlife back then, and I still craved that nocturnal thrill, especially in police work. 

For the one and only time in my police career, the shift commander in May of 2004, offered me my choice of assignments on midnights that summer. He said I was a hard working cop, and he thought I deserved to select my assignment. Without hesitation, I told him I wanted sector car 1-4. This car covered downtown, much of the Millyard that abutted the Merrimack River and a slice of the inner-city neighborhoods adjacent to downtown Manchester. It was a busy car, and the surrounding route cars were also busy. The shift commander who was a captain that I held in high esteem, was surprised I asked for that assignment. He was ready to assign me to a quiet car in the outlying part of the city, or even an inside assignment working for him at the station, if I so desired. No way, I was a working cop, and I wanted to work, even after 16 years on the job. So, I got what I asked for and had a great summer. 

Midnight shifts that year started out busy most nights, and stayed busy until all the night clubs downtown plus the dive bars in and near that sector (I always called them local stab and jabs) around the city closed, and even then it didn’t quiet down most nights until the few all night greasy spoons around the city emptied out and the drunks headed off to home with full bellies or to wherever it was that they retreated before the sun came up. It was at that point, sometime between 3 and 4 AM, when dispatch started giving us calls that had been hanging from the 4-12 shift, all low priority past-tense calls for service. Things like past tense thefts, neighbor disputes and loud party calls were low priority during those busy evenings.  We didn’t ingratiate ourselves any with those callers who had called at 10 or 11 the previous night and we came knocking at their door at 3:30 or 4AM, long after the problem they called for was resolved and they had gone to sleep. The steady stream of more serious “in progress” calls usually kept the 3-11:30 PM shifts from getting to those less urgent calls for service before the Midnight shifts came on duty. A regular routine developed for me on those busy nights. The only exception would be if I caught a particularly hot call out of the barn, like a shooting, stabbing, arrest at the first call or a serious car collision. In those cases, I’d be tied up for the busier part of the shift.  

Not every night was like this, but by the summer of 2004, I found there were more nights like this than not. In the early 90s, we had two of three busy midnight shifts a week. By 2004, it was the opposite, depending on what part of the city you were working. And, when we did have a quiet midnight shift, I got to the point where I actually appreciated it. So, many mornings after the radio calls slowed down, I would go inside around 4 or 4:30 AM and catch up with the reports and paperwork I had accrued, at least up until that point. Sometime around 6 AM, if I was clear, I would head over to one of the better downtown hotels and hang out there and complete my Daily Shift Report. I’d just chat with whomever was around the lobby. They usually had coffee in the lobby for whomever, and most hotel personnel liked having the police presence. Often, I was able to talk with the flight crews that were up and checking out of the hotels for their morning flights out of Manchester Airport. I really got into a good groove working those midnights during the summer, and as busy as it got, I think I handled the grind pretty well and actually enjoyed it to the point that when September came, and it was time to switch to days, I was always just a bit regretful. However some of that passed after I started enjoying a bit of a normal life with my family. There would always be next May. 

In the spring of 2005, I was still a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. The insurgency in Iraq was starting to heat up. My unit hadn’t been called up for Iraq or Afghanistan  and I became both tired and embarrassed watching soldiers I trained go off to war and return (some of them wounded in combat) while I occupied a rather safe slot in the Guard at home. I was a career infantryman, albeit a mostly weekend warrior, but I felt I had something to prove to myself. So, when the US Army sent out an RFF (Request for Forces) for a certain mission in Iraq, after talking it over with my wife, who supported me (which I know was very difficult for her) I decided to volunteer for it. When I told my brother about it, he told me that I wasn’t going anywhere without him. That was the kind of relationship we had with each other since my childhood. My brother was also a Manchester cop at the time, and a member of the Army’s IRR (Inactive Ready Reserve). 16 years earlier I had followed him to MPD and now he was determined to follow and accompany me into combat. 

After going through all the bureaucratic minutia, and believe me there was plenty, I got my orders for active duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, first stop for me being Ft. Carson, Colorado. By the time my birthday had arrived, I was finishing off my last week or two at the PD, and getting ready to take military leave from the department.

On a Saturday night in May, the night before my birthday, I reported to early roll call at 11PM. We had two midnight shifts then one at 11 PM and a second that went out at 1130 PM. I had a downtown car that night, and at midnight it became my birthday. I didn’t’t think much about it at the time, I was just doing another midnight shift. I was looking forward to my day off the next morning and night because my wife always did something special for me for my birthday, so as always, I had that to look forward to. 

I don’t remember anything specific about that night, although the night was pretty steady with calls until after the bars let out and the drunks finished eating at whatever places were still open. Eventually it got light, and quiet as did most (but not all) early Sunday mornings. 

I remember joking early in my career after working midnights that the reason most Sunday mornings seemed so peaceful when just an hour or two earlier mayhem was occurring throughout the city was that most people were either sleeping it off at home, in the hospital or in jail. Only the folks headed to church were stirring or early risers who could be found sweeping the sidewalks off in front of their homes were up and out. This Sunday morning was no different. 

I believe that it was sometime around 6:30 when I was sent to a call for an unknown medical problem. I don’t recall the exact address I was sent to, so for purposes of this story I’ll use a fictional address, that being 22 Skye St. which was just north of downtown. The address sounded a bit strange to me. Didn’t sound quite right. That section of Skye St. was a mostly residential area with multiple old wooden three and six family apartment buildings. It was a neighborhood I got to know quite well because we were often responding to that area for various calls for service. But, I didn’t recall a 22 Skye St. I was also told that EMS was on the way. So, I grabbed my mike, copied the call, repeating the address in case the dispatcher made a mistake, and they reconfirmed it. I then jotted it and the time onto my notebook, and headed over. There was no need for either blue lights or siren on this peaceful spring morning.  

I did find 22 Skye Street. The reason I didn’t recognize the number when I was first given the call was that 22 Skye St. turned out to be a small law office squeezed rather innocuously between two large tenement buildings. I had never been to that building, so the number 22 didn’t stick out in my memory. I called off at the scene and found the building to be, not surprisingly, dark and locked. The surrounding area was also quiet and no one was around. I informed dispatch of what I had found and asked them if they had any further information on the caller or where the caller may be. They said they had nothing further so I told them to cancel EMS since they hadn’t arrived yet. I cleared the call as “unfounded”. 

I got back into my cruiser, and as I made my notes on the call, it occurred to me that there was a 22 WEST Skye St. I was very familiar with that location. 22 West Skye Street was close to 22 Skye Street. West Skye Street was the portion of Skye Street that continued west on the other side of Elm St. 22 West Sky St. This was a four story apartment building, kind of a long , narrow old wooden type of tenement that was probably built to house workers from the nearby mill yard early in the 1900s. This building was usually occupied by the most recent wave of refugees that had been brought and settled in Manchester. Manchester had been designated a destination city by the Federal Government for political refugees for sometime and this contributed to the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity that made up Manchester. In the early 90s one could find many Asian families living in this building. Later, as different wars raged at different places around the world, the newest groups of settled refugees reflected those conflicts. After the influx of Asian refugees, the building was often filled with families from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and that part of the world where “Ethnic Cleansing” and other war crimes were being committed. Over the years I had the occasion to respond to that building for various problems and issues which often arose among people new to our country and our ways. I also knew that at that time in 2005, the residents were mostly refugees from various parts of Africa.  

I thought, since the call was supposed to be for an unknown medical problem, I’d go over and check out 22 West Skye St., just to be on the safe side. Besides, there was nothing else going on that quiet Sunday morning and I still had about 45 minutes left on my shift. 

I let dispatch know that I was going to check 22 West Skye St. I pulled up to the east side of the building, and much to my surprise I found the main door to be open and unlocked. Once I entered the building I realized I was looking for a needle in a hay stack. However, I just decided to walk the corridors to see if I could detect something out of the ordinary. As soon as I entered the hallway, my senses were overcome by various acrid and unpleasant odors. The smells were familiar to me, and they emanated from a mixture of garbage bags left in the common hall in front of individual apartments. Also, many residents were up and cooking, and the not so familiar culinary odors from whatever they were cooking inside didn’t mix to well with the garbage smell and just general stale odors that flow from common areas that aren’t kept especially clean. I walked each corridor, going upstairs, one floor at a time without coming across anything unusual. I had pretty much given up on finding anything until I was half way up the stairwell to the top floor. As I approached the door to that hallway, I could hear some type of a disturbance, although it was muffled. I stopped at the door to the hallway to try to listen and figure out what I was walking into, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on. 

I entered the hallway, and when I did I saw several young kids running in and out of an apartment in an excited way. When they saw me, they ran towards me and grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the apartment. None of them spoke English, and eventually I found out that everyone I was dealing with were from Somalia. I told dispatch that I was checking out a disturbance on the fourth floor, and they asked if I wanted a unit for back up. The old salty cop that I was, I told them no, (probably a tactical mistake, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of something that was probably more drama than trauma) so I told them I’d let them know once I figured out what was happening.

When I entered the rather bare apartment (there wasn’t not much in the way of furnishings) I observed at least a dozen youngsters running around in a tizzy, along with three very agitated female adults. To make matters even more confusing, they were all yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand. Finally, they led me to a room, and in the room I found what I thought was a young teenage girl laying under a blanket on top of a mat which was on the floor. To start with, in order to regain some semblance of sanity, I was able convince one of the adults at the scene to take all the kids out of the apartment, and amazingly she did exactly that. So, now at least I have a somewhat calmer scene, although the other women in the apartment continued to shriek at me and point to the woman lying on the mat. There were no beds in the apartment that I could see, and I have no idea to this day who or how many people were living in that rather sparse dwelling. 

I knelt by the girl laying on the mat, and it was obvious that she was in pain and very scared. She did not speak English so that was a problem. Finally, I decided to remove the blanket that covered the young woman. What I saw was a girl I estimated to be about 15 years old, naked from the waist down, and imagine my surprise when I saw the head of an infant baby crowning from her vagina! Now, I had been present during the birth of all three of my kids, and had some rudimentary First Responder training for delivering a baby, but this sight astounded me. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. But, being the veteran cop I was at the time, I immediately shook that feeling off, knowing I had to act at once, without making the situation any worse.  

First thing I did was get on the radio and advise them of the situation and pleaded to them to send EMS, and I told them to have them step on it! In the meantime, the baby was coming. Somehow I was able to get the women present to get some clean towels and sheets, water as well. As the minutes ticked by, I realized that I may have to actually deliver this baby. This, was a first for me! In the old days, cops routinely delivered babies. But now, with sophisticated EMS systems in place, it was rare that a cop found him or herself in that position. 

I learned a long time ago that outward calmness and confidence was infectious and somehow I succeeded in calming everyone present. Now they were all looking to me to make everything OK. I can only imagine what they were thinking. I got back down on my knees and continued to try calming the new mother and reassure her. As I did, the baby’s head slowly, bit by bit came forth. I was careful and ready to grab the baby’s head as it came out, with what I hoped was a clean towel, but it was a slow process and I wasn’t going to push or force it. I tried to encourage the mother, despite the fact that I knew she didn’t understand a damned thing I was saying. Sometimes, somethings, like body language and bearing are in themselves a universal language. 

At one point, dispatch called me and asked for my location because the fire department had arrived on the scene and they couldn’t find anything or anyone. I was a bit appalled, repeated where I was, and said the baby is coming. I was then advised that both the Fire Department and EMS were at 22 Skye Street! By this time, I was trying to protect the newborn’s head with one hand and talk on my radio with the other. “Stay Calm”I had to tell myself, and I slowly repeated, without a single obscenity, where I was and pled with them to tell FD to hurry. 

After what seemed like an eternity, several firefighters entered the apartment along with two paramedics. The baby still hadn’t completely emerged, but it’s head had mostly appeared, and I wasn’t about to do anything except to try to calm the mother and protect the head and wait to grab the rest of the new baby and protect it. 

Thankfully for all concerned the paramedics took over. I got out of the way and let them handle the baby. I backed away, relieved and exhausted. The medical folks were finally on scene. After a short time, they rushed mother and baby to the Elliot Hospital. I led the ambulance with blue lights and siren wailing, and into the emergency room we all went. Even thought my shift was over, I waited around in the hospital to learn of the outcome. I was still a bit shaky, and the adrenaline rush was subsiding and I found myself experiencing a kind of an energy drain so I sat down. 

After a short time, a nurse came out and told me that the woman had given birth to a healthy eight pound girl. I also learned that the mother was twenty-six years old, not fifteen like I first guessed. The nurse then congratulated me telling me I earned an official “assist” in the delivery of the baby, whatever that meant. In the end, I think my entry for my daily report was simply that I assisted EMS with the delivery of a baby. Exhausted after a long midnight shift, I headed back to the station. I still had a report to write. Everyone else from the midnight shift was long gone, and only the day shift bosses were around. I turned in a card for my overtime, (the call caused me to work a couple of extra hours) and the supervisor that morning looked at me suspiciously as though I was trying to put something over on him. Finally, after questioning me, appearing reluctant, he signed off on it without further comment. Maybe I was overtired, but his attitude went right up my ass. This just reaffirmed how much the worm had turned for me. When I was working in the Domestic Violence Unit, I was allowed to determine, on my own, when I would stay late on a case and when not to.The bosses up there never questioned me when I did. Now, back in Patrol things were very different. The boss here was treating like I was new on the job, yet I had more time on the job than he did. Regardless, I was tired, and finally headed home. I got there around 10 AM and I plopped on the couch. As tired as I was, I was too wound up to sleep. 

I was actually pretty ecstatic about the new baby, even more so that this young lady was born on my birthday. It really did make that birthday very special for me. Eventually, I told my wife the story and she prepared a wonderful birthday / hero breakfast for me. I thought a lot about what may have happened if I had just cleared the call at 22 Skye St. and not gone to follow up at 22 West Skye St. I suppose it still would have turned out OK. If it had been a busier night, I may not have done that. However, I learned early on to follow my instincts, and doing so paid off for sure that morning. 

A few days later, the Day Shift commander approached me and told me how grateful he was that I took the extra step to go to 22 West Skye St. and found that family. He told me that he hated to think of what may have happened had I not done so. In a profession when pats on the back are rare and formal recognition even more so, I was happy that Captain Tracey sought me out and congratulated me, especially since I didn’t even work for at the time. 

About a week later, my son, who was and still is a Manchester Firefighter, told me that an FD Lieutenant who was apparently at the scene told him about the incident. He told Tim that his old man (meaning me) was calm, cool and dealt with a crazy situation and did a really good job.  I didn’t say a lot to Tim when he told me that, but deep down inside, I was satisfied and proud that someone at the Fire Department told my son about what I good job I did. 

I never came to know whatever happened to that newborn and her family, nor did I ever learn what her name was. I sincerely hope that today she is a healthy 16 year old high school student, and her family has prospered and found a peaceful, safe and rewarding life here in the United States. I like to think my presence there that morning made a difference to that family. As for me, I can truthfully boast that I once assisted in the delivery of a baby on the job. Or, if I brag that I once delivered a baby, I’d only be exaggerating a little bit. My birthday that year turned out to be a very special one. Not long after that, I put away my blue uniform for the next year, replaced it with an OD green uniform, and headed to Fort Carson, which was the first step in a journey that I was fortunate to return intact from. But, before I left, I had the opportunity to do something meaningful, and I still smile about it to this day. 

Holiday Cheer

By Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko, Manchester NH Police Department


December 31, 2021

Some time ago, I wrote and posted a story about the Christmas I experienced in 2005 in Iraq. As I look back on it now, I am amazed that at age 50, I experienced what many generations which came before my own have experienced, that is finding themselves in a war zone on Christmas Day. I think many of us have seen movies or heard accounts of what it was like for soldiers who found themselves so far away from home and / or in combat during the holiday season. Although my experience pales to those of older veterans who spent Christmas, for example in places like Bastogne, the frigid mountains of Korea or steamy jungles of Vietnam, it was for me a life altering experience and those memories almost all bad, have been seared into my memory. 

In as much as it is Christmas Eve, 2021 (16 years later) I thought I’d share a few of my experiences around the holidays during my police career. I probably won’t get this finalized posted until after Christmas, but hopefully I’ll have it up soon after.

I knew from personal experience that the holiday season can be melancholy for many people, and it certainly has been for me, since my dad died suddenly when I was young on the day after Christmas. When I add to that that my now deceased sister Jean Marie was born on December 26th, the Christmas season has always been a mixed bag for me, emotionally speaking. Having my own family and children and now grandchildren helps to take my mind off of that terrible Christmas and the ones that followed, but still, I have my moments.

Early in my career at the Manchester Police Department we had an unwritten rule. The week before and after Christmas, we tried to take it easy on the public. We didn’t look to write traffic summonses or search too hard for reasons to make minor arrests. If we did stop someone, we would usually not write them unless we felt we had to. We went to our calls, made arrests when we had to, but we kinda felt that we didn’t want to play the role of the Grinch so close to Christmas. Some times we had no choice. The usual routine for many of us was to get our coffee, park somewhere and drink it, drive around and show the colors, then alternately park in a place where the public could see you and try to take it easy. In any case, try as we might, the radio calls still came, police work went on, and although we tried to take it a bit easy, the things that drove crime and other things that necessitated a police response in our society such as drug addiction, (including alcohol abuse) violence, mental illness and the dynamics which drive family and domestic violence still continued and none of these dynamics took a break during the holiday season. Still though, I think it’s fair to say that most of us who worked Street Patrol didn’t want to jam citizens up with fines for things like parking tickets, non-inspection, motor vehicle equipment violations and even speeding infractions as the working public ran around trying to make ends meet both financially and otherwise to provide a nice holiday for their families. 

Of course tragedies continued to occur like any other time of the year. Things like auto accidents with serious or fatal injuries, sudden deaths, and naturally many people continued to drive drunk and we had to deal with them. To me, nothing was sadder than going to someone’s home, decorated with Christmas tree and other gay regalia, because a spouse or child or parent had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. The holiday season only served to make the survivors pain and suffering cut even deeper. When we were sent to calls such as these, of course we had a job to do, yet it was important to show compassion to the family, and sometimes it was hard to do both at the same time. 

Personally, as I logged some time on the job, especially on midnight shifts, if I wasn’t busy I’d dispatch myself to sudden death calls that were given to a unit nearby just to help out. This type of call was normally a one officer call for service, but I found if there was a second officer present, one could help the family with notifications and other things, while the cop who “owned” the call did his or her on-scene death investigation relatively unimpeded.    

One thing I learned early during my police career was that the holidays, Christmas in particular, brought out the worst behavior in many people and their families for any number of reasons. I remember working day shift during the first Thanksgiving I was on the job. I didn’t know what to expect that day. As, it turned out, I got and answered only five calls that dayshift. Each one was a domestic or some type of family dispute. The first call of the morning, when I arrived, I was greeted by the sight of furniture and various home appliances and clothing strewn down and along the stairs from a second floor apartment and into the rear alley. It seems someone caught someone cheating and they reacted by throwing the furnishings of that apartment out and down the stairs, the message sent being clear. When the guy came home, he was greeted with this surprise. 

Legally, we could have charged the woman with criminal mischief by damaging property that both parties had a “legal equitable interest” in (such as a TV that belong to them both) but, for better or worse, we decided not to charge the woman. The man didn’t want her charged in any case, so we sent him on his way, advising him it would be possible to seek charge for damage to his property if he changed his mind and I then completed a police report. Was that the right decision? At the time, we thought so. Five or six years later, we might have absolutely made that arrest without question as the philosophy for police response to domestic violence evolved and changed.

As the five calls were spread throughout the day, I spent my downtime just parked and watching traffic go by downtown. I didn’t do much, but I was visible to the public and a few people actually walked up to me and thanked me for working on Thanksgiving. I might have stopped one vehicle for being uninspected, just to show some activity on my Daily, but I gave the offender a not too stern warning and then wished him a happy Thanksgiving and sent him on his way with a smile. I hope he was appreciative. 

I never did have to arrest anyone that day, but the disputes I went to were loud, very intense and often involved several family members who got together for the holiday. There were long festering family issues that ran deep and there was no way we were going to help resolve any of those issues. As those get togethers went on during the day, the accusations mounted and it was obvious they all hated each other. I found myself wondering why these folks bothered to get together in the first place knowing the day would come to no better than it did. 

I went to each call, patiently listened to each complaint, tried to council those that were involved, but none of these calls rose to criminal activity (yet) so all we could do was try to calm folks down, facilitate some temporary solution and move on, knowing none of these lingering problems would be solved that day or maybe ever. Finally, thankfully, 4PM came and I went home to have Thanksgiving Dinner with my family. I felt very fortunate indeed in many ways being with my family that day.  

Working Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Easter Sunday was always tough, especially for your family. I always thought Day shift was probably best, assuming you didn’t get held over for one of many reasons, and the worst case scenario was that you’d get home in time to have Christmas dinner with your family and spend the evening with your kids as they showed you what Santa had left them that morning. Working 4-12 or 6PM – 2PM wasn’t great. You could share an early dinner, but it got really old having to leave the house, your family and guests at 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon, or 5 in the evening, knowing that everyone would either be gone or asleep by the time you got home. 

To me, worst of all choices was working Midnights on those holidays. You would get home around 8 or 8:30AM on the holiday, try to get one or two hours sleep (if you had kids on Christmas morning you couldn’t get that) then get up for all the festivities. You’d be up all day, and just never get around to taking a short nap before it was time to shower, get dressed then head in for 11PM Roll call. Those shifts were miserable. One Christmas night, after being up all day, I caught an accident with personal Injury right out of the barn, and of course one driver was DWI, so not only did I have to do the accident, I also arrested and processed the DWI. That took most of the night. By the time I got home on the 26th, I was like a zombie.  

I remember working 6-2:30 one Thanksgiving night. I had foolishly hoped to spend a quiet night, maybe even be able to stop in and visit a few relatives and friends during my shift. That was not in the cards for me. The Shift Commander grabbed me out of roll call and sent me up to the Elliot Hospital I.C.U to guard a prisoner. I reluctantly grabbed my stuff and another unit dropped me at the hospital. I learned that earlier in the day, a women was driving to her Mom’s house for Thanksgiving dinner along Front St. and some drunk crossed the center line and plowed into her head on. They were both seriously hurt, and both in the ICU. Normally when we arrested someone that required hospitalization, we owned that prisoner until he or she was arraigned bedside by a judge, and at that point they became the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Department. 

The good thing about that night was that the nurses and staff that were working made me comfortable and everyone had brought food and desserts in and I feasted like a king. I was warm and dry inside, and my prisoner wasn’t going anywhere as he was unconscious and hooked up to all kind of machines. 

However, the night did take kind of a nasty turn as the families of both the victim and the drunk driver showed up at the same time, and throughout the night and I had to keep them separated and break up arguments and near fist fights that broke out between the two contingents. I came to wish I was out on the street instead of stuck in the ICU dealing with traumatized and angry family members. I even had one family member of the victim yell at me telling me that I and the rest of the cops are lazy and don’t do enough to arrest drunk drivers and as a result of our indifference their loved one was lying near death. What can you say to that? Nothing I said to them would have mattered, so I kept my composure, extended my condolences when appropriate and tried to lay low until 2AM when I would thankfully be relieved.  

I never did work during the Christmas Season my first year on the job because I was injured and nearly killed on duty during a bar brawl at the old Salty Dog, in what was once a legendary incident within MPD lore. The next year, I went into work at Midnight on December 23, and was assigned inside as a 911 operator. Since it was technically Christmas Eve and the shift commander was off the next night, he planned on buying Chinese food that night for all the inside personnel. 

Early in my shift that particular night I took a call. The caller yelled into the phone that he heard a gunshot up stairs and heard a body hit the floor. He gave the address and offered nothing beyond repeating what he initially told me. He also refused to identify himself, which I knew was a problem. Here was a witness to what turned out to be a murder and I felt it was imperative to identify him. After notifying Dispatch 1 of the potential “hot” call, I kept the caller on the phone and eventually was able to convince him to identify himself and talk to the police when they arrived. I thought I did a pretty good job identifying a significant witness in a homicide and took some satisfaction for it.

What I remember about that call as the events unfolded was that there was a bunch of juveniles in an apartment and the story was that two of them got into an argument over a sub sandwich. So, one pulled out a gun and shot the other dead. I was not involved in the case other than to have taken the initial 911 call and writing a report about it. However, that call also put an end to the shift commander’s plan to treat us with Chinese Food that night as we went on to make all necessary notifications, manned and designated a separate channel devoted to the units at the scene and so on. For the rest of the night those of us assigned to communications ran plate numbers, searched for contacts for various persons of interest and aided the murder investigation in any way required as well as keep up with the normal ongoing communication functions.  

About 22 years later, I was working a paid detail in the emergency room at Catholic Medical Center. Usually, when I wasn’t actively helping out (like help holding down a combative patient while nurses involuntarily inserted a catheter into that patient) or walking around being seen by staff, patients and visitors, I sat near the check in desk. I normally only listened enough in case the patient signing in would use the words suicidal or homicidal. If I heard those words it caught my attention for sure and I hovered nearby. Otherwise I tried to let the patient believe I wasn’t listening so they had some privacy. That was particularly true for patients signing in for drug related issues, or sexual or domestic assaults. In those cases I would normally get up and walk around so the patient would feel more at ease explaining their problem knowing I wasn’t listening. On this night, I overheard the patient’s name, and I remembered it from that Christmas Eve all those years before. 

I immediately recognized the patient’s name as the same as that homicide victim so many years ago. When the gentleman went to the waiting room I approached him, (after having a short debate with myself) I introduced myself to him and politely asked him if he was related to the victim I remembered from that night those years ago. Yes, he told me, It was his brother who was murdered that night. He was pleasantly surprised that I remembered that event, his brother, and his family so many years later. I’m sure that the cops and detectives who worked that case were long retired by then. He talked with me about it for a while, until he got called out back. He told me about the pain and loss his family suffered that day before Christmas, and how tough that time of year still was for him and his family. He thanked me for chatting with him about it and I walked away glad I took the time to inquire. 

Sometimes the saddest stories weren’t always the most dramatic ones. I remember working midnights one Christmas morning. At about 1AM I was sent to a domestic dispute at a six family house on Maple St. near Merrimack and Manchester Streets. As I climbed the staircase to the third floor, I found a Christmas tree with all its lights and ornaments lying halfway down the stairs, broken glass and several wrapped gifts which had also been thrown down the stairs. After I climbed over the tree and remainder of the holiday detritus, I entered the apartment. 

Inside I found a nearly hysterical women, several young children who were cowering and afraid, probably as much of me as the guy who threw their tree and presents down the stairs, and the victim’s boyfriend. The kids were very distraught and seeing them cry about the Christmas tree which had been thrown down the stairs broke my heart. Yes, I still had a heart back then. My own kids were at home tucked away safely in their beds dreaming about Santa Claus and Christmas Day, like all kids should be doing. Not so for these children that Christmas Eve.. 

As soon as I entered the apartment, I remembered the family. I had been there some time ago, and had arrested the same guy for assaulting this woman. The case never went anywhere because the victim refused to go to court and testify. “Oh, well” I thought back when the case was dismissed, and back then most domestic assaults ended up being dismissed for lack of prosecution by the vicim. “I did my job”.  

This victim who was very distraught, ran up to me and started angrily dressing me down because whenever she calls the Manchester Police they do nothing for her, but her boyfriend (who was calmly sitting in the corner of the living room as though nothing unusual was happening) was always beating her and she wondered if it would take her murder before the police would help her. Of course this wasn’t true, and I had personal knowledge in her case the her gripe about us was far from true. To make matters worse her loud allegations against the police didn’t sit well with me. The terrified children also made me angry as I started to interrogate her about the previous arrest I had made in that very apartment. I went on to make a common mistake that many cops make: I chastised her for not following through when I did arrest him, and laid some of the blame for that nights events at her feet. That certainly didn’t help the situation any. A few years later, when I served in the Domestic Violence Unit I learned that the best thing to do was tell an uncooperative victim that I was worried about her and her children’s safety and when she was ready to come to us, we’ll be there.  Always leave that door open for the day that victim decided to seek help I later learned and placed into practice. I often got positive results from that approach.

Instead, I took it personal that she basically dropped charges when I arrested this guy last time and went on to scold her for it. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about her. I was frustrated that she didn’t help me help her and I took it personally, which is also a common and big mistake for cops who work with domestic violence victims.  Eventually, I got the story of the nights events clear and I arrested this guy once again. I walked him down the stairs to the wagon, stepping over the obstacles and leaving the broken Christmas tree, it’s ornaments and the presents behind me. I held on to his wrists that were handcuffed behind him so he wouldn’t fall, although it wouldn’t have bothered me too much if he took a tumble and cracked his head. I remember being angry at the victim, but more so I felt so very badly for those kids who’s Christmas had been ruined by this jerk.

A few years later, when I was assigned to the DV unit, I went to a disturbance in a different neighborhood. When I arrived, I found the family I remembered from that Christmas Eve, minus the guy I arrested. The caller recognized me right off the bat, and she was noticeably disturbed and embarrassed by my presence. I knew immediately her recollection of her previous contacts with me were less than positive, despite the fact that I did arrest her batterer multiple times. I realized at that point how much damage I did that night when I admonished her in front of her kids and blamed her for not following through on my first arrest. On this occasion, I took the time to have a long talk with her, and thankfully, after helping to resolve whatever the problem was that night, I think we both felt better. I know I did. 

There was one year when I was in Detectives when we caught a homicide the night after Christmas. In this case, the victim got into an argument at a nightclub and after he left, the people he argued with chased him in a car and ended up shooting and killing him during a blizzard. What a crime scene that was, out on a street during a storm. I was fortunate that I had Christmas off, because that next night I didn’t I didn’t get home for a couple of days. That autopsy was the first homicide autopsy I attended by myself. I’d been to other autopsies, but this was the first homicide I was sent to cover by myself and because it was a homicide, I didn’t want to screw it up. The Medical Examiner, who knew me from other autopsies told me not to worry. 

“When you see me pick up my camera, that’s your cue to get your camera out and take the same photos. I’ll let you know anything else you have to do if you miss it”. So I snapped away, made my notes, recovered evidence, to include the bullet that killed him, which was still lodged in his skull. I also talked to the couple of medical students that were present and observing, trying to come across as the confident, professional, big city (big for New Hampshire) detective playing my role in the investigation. The M.E. was gracious enough to describe his reason for everything he did (both for me and the medical students, without being obvious) and reminded me what was important enough to make notes of. He also reassured me that if the case ever got to trial, he’d be the one to testify about the autopsy itself, and all I’d have to testify to was that I took the photos, I was on hand when the seal was broken on the pouch that the victim had been placed within, and another items that I took into custody at the autopsy and placed into evidence. I guess I did OK, because after that and the few years that followed, I was one of only a few of detectives who were regularly assigned to attended autopsies for murder victims. I was also asked to have younger detectives accompany me in order to train them for this macabre yet vital final examination of the victim.

Although there are other stories I could share I think I’ll end on a positive note. I was working midnights, and one year at about 1AM on Christmas morning a call came over the radio for a baby not breathing. Any time a child was in distress, every cop in the area would fire up the blue lights, put the siren on “Yelp” or “Wail” and race to the scene, hoping he or she would be first there to help. This call was no different. 

The call was from a Black family who lived in the old brick, residential mill buildings between Canal and Commercial Streets. I raced over to the address from the nearby West Side (well off my route) and when I got there, I saw several cops had beat me to it. By the time I got inside, the child was breathing on his own. The mother was weeping with joy as she held her baby close to her. EMS and the fire department arrived, and it seemed there were dozens of cops on the scene. 

The Paramedics checked out the baby and advised the parents to let them take the child to the hospital just to be on the safe side. They would let Mom ride in back with the baby, and Dad would drive with a police escort, leading the ambulance with blue lights, siren and all to the hospital. As I walked out to the ambulance, I noted a street full of Manchester Police cars, haphazardly parked, some doors left open and blue lights still flashing. The parents were stunned and grateful. They could not believe the response. So many cops dropped everything to help their child. Mom wept some more. Dad was teary eyed, and by the time the baby was in the ambulance, Mom hugged each and every one of us and thanked us. We shyly accepted her embraces and kisses on the cheek as she went from cop to cop (and firefighters) as the Paramedics nervously but patiently waited to roll. Never have I experienced a more heart warming response. The scene turned almost joyous and festive as we all wished each other a heartfelt Merry Christmas as we went on our wayback to where we were supposed to be.  

I only mention the fact that the family was Black because of all the racial tension that sometimes exists between cops and the Black community in our society today. I want to stress that none of us cared who that child was. It didn’t matter if the family was Black, White, Latino or Asian. It didn’t matter if the father was a well known convicted felon or local shithead. We were going to get there and save that child’s life, any way we could. We didn’t assume that the cop assigned to the call or any another cop was closer. We dropped everything and went. No one had to send us. I think those parents didn’t see skin color that night.  What they saw was a swarm of blue uniforms and a sea of flashing blue lights, all who had one thing in mind. To help. At 1AM on Christmas Day, we came. And we came in force. I was proud to wear that badge that night. 

As the ambulance pulled away, I went back to my car and I really felt in the Christmas spirit. I felt good, even thought I did nothing meaningful to help. I think we all had smiles on our faces (this time) and almost jubilant that this potential Christmas Day tragedy ended on a happy note. Thankfully, the rest of the night passed rather uneventfully. I remember sitting in my cruiser later that morning as the sun came up and a cold but beautiful Christmas Day dawned. 8 AM came and I headed home to my family, wide awake and in a good mood. Santa had visited my house and for the moment, like the man said in the movie, all was right with the world. 

Happy New Year and may 2022 be a great year for you all!    

Two Convictions for the Price of One

Two Convictions for the Price of One 

Written by Detective (Retired) Martin Swirko 


As I mentioned in one of my older stories, my new education began pretty swiftly after I left the police academy and started working on the mean streets of Manchester. Before you roll your eyes at my mean streets comment, I soon found that the streets within several Manchester neighborhoods truly were mean

After a few years of working Uniform Patrol, and, after interacting with cops from not only around Manchester but from around the country, I came to the conclusion that if a cop did a solid year in patrol in this city, he or she should have become a pretty well rounded and experienced cop by that time. A year on the streets here certainly wouldn’t make anyone a veteran cop, but in this city, despite it not being as big as Boston or Providence, spending a year on the street here would expose a new cop to many, many facets of basic patrol functions. In fact, a year on the street here would give a cop what it might take several years for cops in some communities to experience and learn from.

I graduated from the NH Police Academy in late June of 1991. I know this dates me, but it is what it is, and although times change, I believe basic police work never changes. After completion, I then spent three hellacious weeks in steamy hot Ft. Jackson South Carolina performing my active duty military obligation for that summer. Sometime in July, I returned home ready to start my new career at MPD. I was 35 years old, and at the time I was told that I was the oldest rookie cop ever hired by MPD. I’m sure that’s not true anymore, but that’s what I was told at the time. 

I was assigned to what was then the old 6PM-230 AM patrol shift. I was happy as hell to get that shift. At the time, it was the busiest eight hours of the 24 hour day in terms of calls for service. The shift was known as the “jeep shift” and as far as I could determine, years ago the department did not have enough cruisers to put out a full shift during those hours which overlapped the 3PM -1130PM and midnight shifts, so they obtained several three wheeled Cushman carts for the 6-230AM officers to patrol with. So, somehow, using Cushmans evolved into that shift becoming known as the Jeep Shift. 

By the time I got assigned to it, thankfully there were no more Cushmans in use. However, at 6PM every night MPD put a full shift consisting of 7 or 8 cars (referred to them in calls signs as X cars) a roving wagon, a plainclothes Street Crime (Anti Crime) Unit and at least one additional Patrol Sergeant on the street. These X car routes or beats overlapped the regular patrol car routes on the other shifts and therefore provided more and quicker back up for the other patrol units as well as more cops to handle the increased number of calls for service during those eight hours. At the time, I was thrilled that this was my first assignment during my first summer on the job. Today, I still feel fortunate to have started my career working that shift, and my hasty introduction to the intensities and dangers of police work.

At the time, Manchester Police Officers were considered Probationary Officers during their first year on the job. This meant that, in accordance with New Hampshire labor laws, we could be terminated without cause at anytime during that first year. We were not allowed to join the union while we were on Probation (although we were not a closed union shop, most of us payed union dues) and it was not until the last day of our probationary employment would we officially learn if we would remain employed with the department.

During that first year, 2 of my 18 classmates with whom I got on the job with and went through the academy with were terminated before finishing probation. For anyone terminated during their probationary period, even if they didn’t do anything wrong, that termination usually meant that they would never do police work again. The end of probation was the last time the department could look at a cop, and if they thought he or she wasn’t cut out for police work for whatever reason (or they just didn’t like him or her) they could just cut that cop loose without cause, explanation and without union protection.

After completing ten weeks at the Manchester Academy, we then did ten more weeks at the state academy. The state academy, in Concord was the entity that would provide our certification as police officers allowing us to work in NH. Just about every other state in the country accepted New Hampshire Police Accreditation for officers who left NH to work in other states and locations. The ten weeks at the State Academy required we lived there from Monday through Friday, and we went home on weekends.

The next step for a new cop in Manchester was to complete eight weeks as a trainee, with an assigned Field Training Officer. During the time you were on and assigned to an FTO, even though you were fully certified as a police officer, you were not allowed to work planned overtime or any paid details, or alone in any circumstance. Only when your FTO signed off on you as a trainee, and you completed your FTO period satisfactorily, would you be allowed to work by yourself or with another officer who wasn’t training you. 

The FTO period was basically three phases. Then first was you rode with your FTO, watched everything, did as told and kept your mouth shut, other than to ask questions. For out of towners like me, it was also the time where we had to learn our way around the city. Any FTO who had a trainee with him or her was considered to be alone in a one officer car. If a call for service required a back up, (Crime in progress, domestic disturbances, or other unknown problem calls) even though the FTO had a fully certified police officer in the car, for dispatch purposes the FTO was considered to be riding alone and another unit would always be sent as back up when appropriate and available. 

So it was that during my first week I found myself riding with Billy C. who was a great cop. That year Bill was one of several officers assigned to the city schools as Officer Friendly, part of the old D.A.R.E. program. Since school was out for the summer, he spent the summer in patrol on the Jeep Shift. 

One typically hot humid New England summer night, I’m not sure what time it was, but it was still light, Bill decided to stop into one of the local grocery stores at the corner of Lake Av and Union St. Lake and Union, if it wasn’t then, in time became recognized as the highest crime location / intersection within the State of New Hampshire and quite possibly anywhere north of Boston. It didn’t take long for me to learn why. On any given day or time one could come across any level of odious behavior, from someone squatting at the intersection with their pants at their ankles taking a dump, drinking in public, gang activity, prostitution, openly selling drugs up to and including gun play. 

Bill, who was a really friendly and outgoing guy was always a pleasure to work with, and he seemed to know everyone on the street. Citizens, victims, soon to be victims and habitual criminals alike, he knew them all and always stopped to chat them up. And, what impressed me most was that almost to a person, to include the shitheads, they always responded in a friendly manner and treated him with respect. It wasn’t unusual for him to stop and talk to someone he had arrested recently to ask how they are doing, ask if they are behaving, what did they do when they got out of jail, etc. In addition to being the friendly and approachable face of law enforcement, he was a master of gathering intelligence out on the street. I learned a lot watching and working with Billy on and off for many years. 

As instructed, I pulled up in front of the local convenience store (sadly, the owner and his brother were murdered during a home invasion in Manchester in the early 2000’s) and Billy told me to stay put, asked me if I wanted anything and said he’d be right out. I got out of the cruiser to stretch my legs and get a better view of the circus that played out nightly in and around that parking lot. That was the first time I met Jim Smot (not his real name). Smot came stumbling around the corner, bleeding from what turned out to be several slash type knife wounds. The first thing that I noticed was that his cheek had been sliced in such a fashion that it was actually hanging down and on top of his jaw bone, only remaining attached to his face by a small piece of flesh. It was like someone sliced a turkey from the top, but didn’t completely remove the piece of meat he just cut into. I also saw the telltale oval shaped holes and lacerations that characterized stabbing types of knife wounds.  In short, he was a bloody a mess. Smot saw me, stumbled over towards me and sort of pawed at me while collapsing to the ground. He lay on the ground, rolling around and crying out, pleading with me to help him. I yelled for Billy, and started to assess Smots injuries, just like we were taught, figuring I would have to provide some type of medical care or at least stop the bleeding. The problem was, he had been slashed and stabbed in numerous places on his body, and I didn’t think we had enough pressure bandages to cover all of them. 

Billy ran out, made some comment about how he can’t turn his back on me for a minute and he went to work. Smot was still babbling and literally crying like a baby. An ambulance and the Fire Department arrived quickly, along with other police units. The medics did their job and loaded Smot into the ambulance. Billy grabbed, me ordered me to get into the ambulance with him, told me not to leave his side until I was relieved by a Detective or a Sergeant. He told me try to find out what happened, and above all write down everything Smot said. So I climbed into the back of the rig, and tried calm and talk with Smot while the medics worked. 

The siren wailed and my radio crackled. The ambulance bumped and zig-zagged around corners negotiating it’s way though traffic and worn down city streets. I bounced around trying to focus while keeping my balance and composure at the same time. The paramedics were deadly serious. They worked while calling ahead to the hospital letting them know what they were coming in with. It felt as thought I was in a movie, but the man who oozed blood from a dozen knife woulds was real enough. It had taken 35 years to get here, but I had arrived.

During the time I rode with Smot, he kept crying and begging me not to let him die. He told me several times he knew he was going to die and he didn’t want to. I tried to reassure him throughout the ride, and continued to do so even after he was wheeled into the trauma unit at the Elliot Hospital. During this time, between the sobs and his pleading for his life, I got the following information from him, although not necessarily in this order:

Smot, who was unknown to me at the time, was what we in Manchester referred to as a “Frequent Flyer’. He and other members of his family were basically habitual criminals who the PD often had contact with, and had arrested many times. They were regularly involved in petty and miscellaneous crimes, as well as the occasional felony. To put it bluntly, they were a pain in the neck to deal with on a regular basis. In the next few years I went on to arrest one of his brothers several times, and they always seemed to be out on the street between jail sentences causing some degree of havoc. Jim Smot explained to me between his wails and cries to keep him alive, that he had ripped off or robbed a particular street drug dealer a few weeks prior to this night. It seems he had been arrested and charged with Armed Robbery for that robbery, and was currently out on bail for it. While talking to me, he admitted to me that he did in fact commit the robbery he was on bail for. Something I’m sure he came to regret for sometime

Mr. Smot went on to tell me, that earlier that evening, a woman approached him and offered to have sex on him. Apparently, this offer seemingly out of the blue was too good to pass up. He said that this woman led him to a tenement nearby on Pine Street, and into the corner of the first floor stairwell. When this women who he claimed not to know started to paw at him he began to unzip his pants. It was at that time that someone appeared from the shadows and started to slice and dice him with a very big, very sharp knife. His assailant, apparently used the woman to set Smot up and lure him into the hallway. It became apparent to me, based on the wounds that I saw, that Smot’s attacker did not want to kill him, he just wanted to teach him a good lesson that Smot would not soon forget. Smot identified his assailant as the man that he himself had robbed and had been arrested for. All during this time, he told me and anyone else within earshot that he knew he was dying and he didn’t want to die. 

My “new education” continued as I remained by Smot’s side, as ordered, while the trauma team went to work. The cheek that hung down onto his face was bad enough to have to look at. I found myself subconsciously touching my own cheeks, I guess to reassure myself they were still intact. Soon the docs started to probe each stab wound with rods to determine how deep they were, as well as where they went. I would not soon forget the yellowish, gelatinous material that the docs were excavating from those woulds. They actually pulled the material out and placed it to the side. I asked the Docs what they were removing, and they told me it was body fat. Over the years, I would see this ritual performed many times while stabbing victims were being treated, and I certainly saw a lot of human fatty tissue during the many autopsies I would later attend. But that evening, this sight really grossed me out. However, I was professional enough to force myself to remain calm and collected. Eventually, we took custody of Smot’s clothes, and as the detectives took over the case, we processed and placed them into evidence. Billy and I went back into MPD so that I could type our reports on the incident. Billy typed his own reports, and then looked over all my work to insure it was accurate and contained all relevant information. When I was done, Billy told me I did a good job at the scene and later at the hospital, and we eventually back to work, on to the next adventure. That was the last I heard of or from Smot, who would survive. Subsequently, I learned that the name of the person who cut Smot up that night was one Pedro Gomet (Not his real name, and I apologize to any authentic Jim Smots or Pedro Gomets that may be out there).

Sometime later, I received a subpoena for a Superior Court case which apparently was going to trial. This particular trial was for Gomet who sliced and diced Smot the night I found him. Or, I should say, he found me. The problem for the prosecutor was that Smot, being a street guy and somewhat career criminal (although he didn’t appear to be an overly tough hooligan in the ambulance) refused to testify in the trial against his assailant. The prosecutor had one question for me: Did Smot believe he was going to die when he made the statements he made to me during the ambulance ride? Certainly, it’s always difficult to know with any certainty what is in anyone’s mind at any given time. My answer was that he surely did act as thought he believed he was dying. Smot wept openly, told me several times he knew he was going to die, and begged me several times not to let him die. He clearly acted as thought he was not ready face his maker. I opined that, based on his behavior and statements at the time, I believed that he was convinced he was dying. The prosecutor asked me if I felt comfortable repeating this while under oath during the trial. I told him of course I would because everything I put in my report was true, and even more importantly, I truly believed that he believed he was going to die. In fact, I wasn’t sure myself at the time that he wasn’t going to die. 

Then the prosecutor laid this gem on me. He went on to explain that we should be able to convict Gomet at the trail of attacking Smot with the knife (deadly weapon) on my testimony alone, even if Smot refuses to co-operate. The reason? Smot had given me a Dying Declaration. It turns out that a person doesn’t have to die after making a dying declaration in order for it to be admissible in court. The statement is considered to be truthful on it’s face, as long as the person who made it believed he or she was dying at the time the statement was made. I was shocked, to say the least. I had known about dying declarations, I probably seen them on old episodes of Perry Mason or other whodunits on TV. However, I always assumed that one had to die for a statement to be considered a dying declaration. I’m pretty sure they never covered that subject at the police academy.

So, almost a year later we went to trial on the stabbing case. I testified as to Smot’s dying declaration. The judge threatened to find Smot in contempt of court for refusing to testify, despite that Shot did not testify as a witness. The Defense tried to disallow my testimony. I was grilled as to what I testified Smot had told me, how and why I believed that Smot was dying, and how I knew that Smot believed himself to be dying. Furthermore, once it was established that Smot’s statements to me met the legal criteria to be considered a Dying Declaration, it was established that the Dying Declaration was one of the Hearsay Evidence exceptions that exists in the law. Hearsay is when someone testifies to what someone else said or saw, without that person being present to testify him or herself. Normally, with very few exceptions, so called “hearsay evidence” is not allowed at criminal trials. Not only was the Dying Declaration ruled admissible, but unlike most other testimony, it is assumed to be true on its face, per se, because the person believed he was dying at the time he made it. 

Apparently my testimony held up to scrutiny because the motions to suppress both my testimony and the declaration itself were denied, and in the end, the jury convicted Gomet and as a result he got a significant state prison sentence for the assault. It tuned out to be a satisfactory outcome to me because Smot’s assailant, who apparently was a murderous, street level or higher drug dealer, was off the streets for a few years. Certainly Mr. Smot was neither a boy scout or an innocent victim in the strictest meaning of the phrase, nevertheless, sending Mr. Gomet away for a few years was a good thing. However the case got better and took on an even stranger twist.

Now that the case for the stabbing was resolved, it was time for Smot to go to trial for robbing Gomet previously. Once again I received a subpoena for this case, and once again I sat with the prosecutor to prep for my testimony. 

In this case, not unexpectedly, Gomet, who was then in State Prison, refused to testify against Smot for robbing him. Any threats to hold Gomet in contempt of court were meaningless because he was already locked up in Concord. Normally, like most criminal cases (except for homicides) that case would just die and go away without the testimony of the victim. Not this time, however.

Since Smot’s statements to me had already been adjudicated and declared a valid and admissible Dying Declaration in the case against Gomet, it could now be used against Smot, because Smot, believing he was dying made several statements that night telling me that he did rob Gomet, and that’s how he identified Gomet as his assailant and as a bonus Shot provided Gomet’s reason or motive for stabbing him! 

So, once again against the protests of Gomet’s attorneys, I was able to testify to the statements Smot made to me during his ambulance ride. Smot was convicted of the armed robbery of Gomet, and he also got a significant state prison sentence.

As I look back at that case, even thought I cannot claim to have arrested either one of the two, I did get to play a significant, probably the biggest role in both convictions. Mostly because I did what Billy C. told me to do, and even more importantly, the judges and jury members who listened to my testimony believed I was truthful. What I learned that night was never lost to me.

Many years later, I showed up at the scene of a murder / suicide. There was one victim dead, a second victim who had also been shot and severely injured, but survived. My partner and I both rolled on the call immediately, and since I was the first detective on the scene, and being senior to my partner, I took charge of the scene in accordance with MPD SOP. As I spoke to the shooting victim who survived, I thought at the time there was a good chance he was going to die. The victim tried to explain to me who shot him as well the deceased victim. He told me his assailant had also shot his daughter and pleaded with me to find and help her. I tried to reassure that man, and when the ambulance pulled up, I instructed one of the patrol officers present to go with the victim to the hospital and not leave his side until relieved. Most importantly, I told him to write down everything the victim would say. My thought at the time was that in case the victim did die, we may have needed a dying declaration to use in the case. Fortunately, this victim survived. Sadly, the second victim was deceased by the time I got to her, and the man that killed her went on to kill himself. There would be no arrest or trial for that murderer who killed his wife and shot her father.

Apparently, I did learn my lesson well during that hot July evening way back when. That case turned out to be a twofor, because that dying declaration I took (I had no idea at the time it would later be ruled as such) resulted in the removal of two common thugs off the streets for more than a few years. In that respect, it was very unusual in that one statement was used in two separate cases to convict two thugs that committed serious crimes against each other. Like I said earlier, it didn’t take too long working the streets of Manchester to gain invaluable insight and experience, and not to mention, see the worst behavior of that members of our society has to offer.

Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah

Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah

By First Sergeant (Retired) Martin Swirko

*Note; In 2005, I responded to a US Army Request for Forces for Senior NCOs that possessed certain qualifications. The mission itself was to serve as an embedded advisor in an Iraqi military or police battalion. After doing so I soon found myself entering that pipeline which started, for me, at the Massachusetts Army National Guard Headquarters, then located in Milford, Massachusetts. After negotiating that pipeline (which was no simple task) referred to at the time as MOBILIZATION, I came out at the other end at a God forsaken place in South Baghdad called Rustamiyah. By 2007, FOB Rustamiyah was turned over to the Iraqi Army. The places I am writing about may not exist today. Also, I’d like to say here that despite the conditions that existed at and around Rustamiyah at the time, the U.S. Army did it’s best to provide some level of comfort for the troops that found themselves in the middle of this urban outpost. Unfortunately none of those efforts supplanted or diminished the carnage we experienced.    

The first and most notable characteristic I noticed about Rustamiyah both when I arrived and during my time there was the smell. Actually that was after scanning the landscape as we traveled on the ground between Camp Victory and Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah looking for threats. The smell, I found later, didn’t emanate from the FOB itself. There was a sewerage plant nearby, and like most things Iraqi, the plant wasn’t functioning. The scent itself is hard to describe but to me, it seemed a very unpleasant aroma of foul rotting sewerage. In other words, it smelled exactly as what it was. During my time there, as we returned to the relative safety of Rustamiyah from whatever combat mission we accomplished, the nasty smell signaled we would soon be having a hot meal, then hit the fuel point, and after an After Action Review, possibly a bit of downtime with a nap in an air-conditioned bunk.

The next most notable feature on the FOB was the smokey, sooty haze that shrouded the FOB on most days. Whenever I walked out of the building we lived in and operated from, we walked into that nasty, smoggy atmosphere. I soon learned that there were several “burn pits” located outside of Rustamiyah. I found as time went on that there were basically two ways trash was handled by the civilian population of Iraq-toss it aside and let it accumulate perpetually or burn it in large pits. They tried to burn everything. There was no agency in existence like the EPA to regulate this practice. The smoke filled atmosphere could be seen as well as smelled once you were within it. Over the years I can only imagine what types of poisonous carcinogens I inhaled during my time there. As time went on I was to learn that certain soldiers in rear areas (if there was such a thing in Iraq) referred to Rustamiyah as “the butcher shop” but I had leaned why long before I ever heard that phrase. 

The base was surrounded and protected by various aprons of concertina wire, cement barriers and sandbag bunkers within which soldiers stood guard 24/7. It would be tough for the enemy to fight their way into. They had other means of infiltration. 

There are, or were, two chapels located on FOB Rustamiyah, pronounced by the G.I.s as ROOSTEE, or Rusty for short. Well, two chapels and a mosque. The Mosque and one chapel was located just outside of the abandoned hospital that now served several purposes. Located In the basement was the Battalion Aid Station. This was a facility whose function I did not completely understand or fully appreciate upon my arrival at Rusty. Apparently, neither did the command staff of the medical unit which rotated into that station on Rusty in December of 2005. 

As our tour progressed, we, meaning my brother and I (Then Sergeant First Class Frank Swirko) put together a kind of supper club of sorts. When some or all members of this “club” were on the FOB at the same time, we tried to meet up and dine together at the mess hall. Even this could be a dangerous event. Despite that, this was one of the few recurring events that was mostly social in nature. The club, as my brother and I started to refer to it, consisted of myself, Frank, VQ (SFC Villa- Quinnones) Captain Paul McCullough and Major Alumbaugh, who was a Physicians Assistant assigned to the Battalion Aid Station. Frank and I were at Rusty first, and as the year went by, we were joined by VQ, Major Alumbaugh and Captain McCullough. Occasionally, Major Brown, who was with us from the beginning at Ft, Carson would join us up until the time he was transferred away from Rusty. I never did learn where Major Brown went to from there, but it had to be a better place. 

Major A explained to us during one of our dinners together, when she and her unit were staging and training in Kuwait on the way to Iraq, she was told that there was no need to train on handling trauma cases. She was told that they would be only be running sick call for soldiers when they arrived at their destination, which, unfortunately for them turned out to be Rustamiyah. They would not be handling trauma cases or treating combat wounded soldiers.  

So, just like many of the units which rotated into Rusty during December of 2005, they were not briefed accurately, nor did they have an appreciation as to what kind of environment they would function in. As a result, they were not prepared for what they would actually see and do. Conversations with other units that arrived in December verified this fact. As it happened, Major A’s first day on duty at Rusty was Christmas Day, 2005. She found out almost as soon she came on duty for her first shift in Iraq how wrong everyone in Kuwait was. 

Also located in the basement at Rusty were the quarters in which the medical personnel assigned to the aid station lived, as well as rooms where some of the Titan Corporation civilian interpreters resided. There was also a large room which was used to bed down American troops who weren’t assigned to Rusty, but where there overnight for one reason or another. This room, which was jam packed with cheap Iraqi style bunk beds had been the morgue when the building was a real functioning hospital. I doubt if any of the transient troops who slept there knew this, and it was probably best that they didn’t. 

Also in the basement was a barber shop with Iraqi barbers, an internet cafe and a little coffee shop, all run by Iraqi nationals. I would soon discover the basement was a good place to be whenever mortars and missiles came crashing in. 

On the first floor, one would find several what were known as “HAJJI” shops. The term Hajji shop, at least as used by the troops, referred to any shop owned and run by Iraqi Nationals. The term wasn’t meant or in itself derogatory. However, when I was completing mobilization training at Ft, Carson, the bad guys, that is the enemy, was regularly referred to as Hajji. In this context the term was derogatory, and I believe meant to be so. I thought perhaps it may have even been racist. I pondered the names given to our enemies during previous wars, with apologies to all who read this here: Huns, Krauts, Gerries, Nips, Reds, Chinks, Gooks and Slopeheads, to name a few. I suppose the combat soldier doesn’t have the desire or luxury to be politically correct about who he / she might offend when they are referring to the enemy and those that would destroy them. So, for better or worse, our enemies in Iraq were also referred to as Hajji. Of course nothing in that war was simple, and determining just who or what comprised our enemies was certainly not simple. But for better of worse the bad guys were simply Hajji, no matter where they came from. 

However, Hajji shop owners would normally never be confused with Hajji the enemy. Of course, it goes without saying that it was possible that any or all Hajji shop owners could have been enemy agents. Or, they could be risking their lives to make a living for themselves and their families while providing a service to American soldiers. Despite that possibility, American soldiers at Rusty would gather, sometime socialize and befriend these shop owners during their time there. 

There were two restaurants, a store of sorts, a sewing shop and a shop that sold DVDs. They were cheap DVDs, and often bootlegged. Despite the fact that these shop owners may have been feeding information on us to our enemies, these shops made life at Rusty and the ever present threat of unannounced savage death a bit more bearable. They made what came to be a perverse existence just a little less perverse. Also, it was also better to be inside those shops on the first floor when the enemy lobbed mortars at us, than out in the open, but not as safe as the basement. 

On the second and third floor of the “hospital” US troops, their interpreters and other local nationals lived. This arrangement was not without it’s security problems. We lived there when we were on the FOB and not “down range” pulling combat operations or patrols. 

The hospital, or the “house” as we called it had no plumbing, and so, no running water or latrines (toilet facilities). The latrines and shower facilities were located in trailers parked across the street, outside of the hospital, but within the barricades and walls. For those who had the misfortune of getting sick, whether due to food poisoning or whatever micro organisms penetrated our intestines, the location of those latrines was a special form of torment during the night. The urgent trip every 40 minutes or so from the third floor down to and across the street turned the night into several hours of sleepless misery. It didn’t help knowing that in a few hours you would have to prepare for another of what came to seem like a never ending number of combat operations outside the wire.      

If you didn’t understand it at first, (and I didn’t) after seeing and experiencing the death and destruction which seemed to surround us and our movements on a daily basis, it wasn’t long before I did come to understand that any one of these patrols or forays outside the wire could be the last. In fact, for me personally, I came to accept this. For several months I operated under my own personal theory that I was a dead man who was still walking. 

This outlook was certainly not something I learned form all my years of life, nor was it a state of mind that was advocated for during any military training I had been exposed to. In fact, the Army always taught that it was most important to always maintain a Positive Mental Attitude. However, for whatever it’s worth, (and it may not be worth anything) the fact was that after we were hit and lost LTC James, MSG Tuliau and SFC Howe, I came to feel that I was living on borrowed time. I soon came to the realization that at any moment I, or one of my soldiers could be vaporized or have our shit scattered in the wind without warning. My life and outlook changed on that awful day in late September 2005. I became convinced that it was highly unlikely that I would live to see 2006.

Another thing happened to me during this personal transformation. As a result of the death of Sergeant Tuliau, I became the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of my team. It was similar to the battlefield commission one may have seen in movies or read about. Certainly, not so dramatic, but very real because I became the senior NCO standing in terms of rank and time in grade of all four teams. I took those responsibilities seriously. I became the enlisted leader of a team of professional, or at least Regular Army solders who weren’t very happy that I was there in the first place. Suddenly the fortunes of war had placed a reservist, a national guardsman at that, in a leadership position within a Regular Army unit. This was the Total Army Concept in action. 

I would say that no one was very happy about this, except that wouldn’t be exactly accurate. There were a couple of officers who believed I was the right NCO for the job.However, by and large the sergeants that now found themselves with me as their NCIOC were not happy about it. I guess I can’t fault them for that.   

These and other things were often on my mind whenever I lay in my bunk at Rustamiyah in the dark, often staring at the ceiling. So, on those occasions when I or others living in the “hospital” got sick we had to run back and forth, downstairs and across the street to the latrines throughout the night until it was time to get ready. Each time we did so we risked being dissipated by an incoming mortar round, picked off by a sniper or taking a bullet in the back of the head from an enemy agent posing as an employee on the FOB. This set up made an already bad situation downright wretched. 

It didn’t take many nights before empty 32 once bottles of Gatorade adorned the floor of my room, next to or underneath the bed. Frank and I crudely referred to these bottles as our waste management system. The large gatorade bottle was perfect. Of course, we couldn’t defecate in them, but the neck was wide, so you didn’t have to worry about missing or squirting urine down the outside of the bottle as you held it in your hand. The cap could then be screwed tight, therefore it was somewhat sanitary. 

Empty gatorade bottles were also part of our “battle rattle”when I gunned in the turret of my truck. After all, I couldn’t climb down out of the turret during a patrol or when pulling security to urinate on the landscape. And, due to the extreme high temperatures, we had to drink a lot of fluids to keep going. Therefore Gatorade bottles were plentiful and a must, both on patrol and at “the house”. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how one might do his business while standing in the turret of a gun truck while manning a machine gun, often in public while at his post. Of course female soldiers didn’t even have that luxury. But for me, I say “Thank you, Gatorade!”

On the other hand, the fact that the building we lived in when not in the field, did have electricity meant that we all had good A/C. The Army made sure that we all had working air conditioners in the shithole where we lived. To me, that was most important. Being able to move back onto Rusty after surviving another mission dodging suicide bombers, snipers, IEDs and RPGs to sleep in an air conditioned room was one of the things that kept me going. It made an otherwise miserable existence somewhat more tolerable. But it never completely erased the specter that sudden, violent death always stalking us and could strike us down at any time. 

My brother and I shared a room on Rusty. In the hospital. In the room we each had a locker and a bed. We also had a small bar sized refrigerator which we were able to keep stocked with cold soda, gatorade and water, as well as an occasional can of near beer. We also had a TV with a built in DVD player. Our room soon became our escape from the war zone and safe place, at least until mortar rounds peppered the FOB. 

Located immediately outside of the hospital was what the Army referred to benignly as the  Mortuary Affairs Building. It had a large sign on it proclaiming it’s function. Parked outside of this building were two trucks. One was an ambulance, however this ambulance was without the normal red cross affixed to it identifying itself as an ambulance. The second truck appeared to be some kind of cargo or utility truck, which also had no markings. This truck was somewhat  peculiar in that it had, attached to its bed metal sides which concealed whatever cargo it was carrying. I learned soon enough that those trucks were used to transport deceased soldiers from the Mortuary Affairs Building to the Landing Pad where helicopters would then take the deceased soldiers away for the start of their long, final journey home.

There was also a sign on the front door proclaiming that that unauthorized persons were not to enter. It also announced that all personnel who did enter must remove their head gear. I never knew who exactly was allowed to enter that place, but two months after my arrival at Rusty I learned just who was allowed to enter, and one awful day, I found that I was allowed entry. At least for that day. I hoped never to enter again. When one left the entrance to the hospital the Mortuary Affairs Building loomed and at least to me, seemed to actually leer at you. It seemed to be saying ‘Don’t get comfortable. You may well end up here’. 

It spooked me the first time I saw it. I had to go by it when I went to the mess hall. Therefore I solved that problem by giving the building a wide birth as I moved around the FOB whenever possible. I walked as far around it as I could. Late at night, when the lights were on inside, I knew what that meant. It meant something terrible. It meant that a dead American soldier or what was left was inside and being prepared for his or her long, trip home. It also meant that the deceased soldier’s family at that moment was about to learn the terrible, tragic, life altering news, if they hadn’t done so already. It meant that another American soldier had made the ultimate sacrifice. Most probably, a soldier here at Rusty. Possibly someone I saw daily who I may or may to have known personally. The lights during night always meant something bad. The lights were on far too often during my time at Rusty. To avoid the place, I walked around the chapel and the mosque. 

I was never inside the mosque. I was a non-believer, so that would have been an immeasurable affront to Islam and the Muslim workers here on the FOB. As for the chapel near the house, I was inside of it just twice. The first time was the afternoon when Tuliau and Howe were killed. The second and final time was for a chaplain’s briefing as we prepared to go home. All I remember from that briefing was the warning not to beat our wives when we got home. In fairness, there was much more to the briefing, but the chaplain lost me after that warning that whatever happens, please don’t beat your wife. “Is this what my time here has come down to?” I thought to myself as the chaplain droned on. Don’t beat your wife and children. Sage advice and sadly for some, necessary.

The second chapel was usually referred to as the MP Chapel. This chapel was located on the opposite side of Rusty from where we lived and operated. There were numerous Army Military Police units located near this chapel, and since many of the MPs stationed there frequented it, we referred to it as the MP Chapel. 

The MP units located there were a mix of Regular Army, National Guard and Reserve units. In that sense, the make up of those units pretty much mirrored the composition of the American Army units operating and fighting in Iraq. Unlike recent wars and conflicts, the Guard and Reserves were all in. These MP units were also Corps assets. What that meant was although we operated in some of the same areas these units did, we never worked or operated together. These units were hit hard during my time at Rusty, and they suffered many losses. 

On the night of December 18, 2005, sometime around 8PM, I made what felt to me like an escape from that chapel. My heart was pounding, I was sweating and breathing hard at the time, and looking back on it, I believe I may have been suffering from my first ever panic attack. The walls seemed to be closing in on me and I broke free just in time. Tears flowed endlessly down my face. I wept openly yet at the same time tried not to let anyone see me. I was crying and I remember hyperventilating. I was done. At least with this chapel. No more memorial services for me. 

I stood outside and struggled to catch my breath as the firing party let loose their volleys and Taps was played. Other tunes wafted upon the breeze. Amazing Grace, American Soldier, and Proud to be an American, I don’t remember what else. 

If you entered the MP Chapel at that exact time, you would have found yourself among a standing room only crowd of desert clad uniformed soldiers. You would have seen small groups of young soldiers weeping openly and inconsolably, without shame or embarrassment. They were trying their best to console each other knowing the same fate may await anyone of them at any time. At the front of the chapel was a pair of combat boots, an inverted M-4 rifle with a helmet affixed over the butt of the weapon, along with a set of ID tags and a photo of the soldier to which those items once belonged. 

The soldier being honored and mourned was Sergeant Julia Atkins. Atkins was an MP who was killed outside of Rusty during a combat patrol. I speak of her here because we must never forget Sergeant Atkins, her family or the other families of those who gave their lives here.

I knew who Sergeant Atkins was. I may never have talked to her, but I do remember her. I remember seeing her around the FOB. Probably in the mess hall. Maybe at the laundry point or PX. I remember the name, if not her face.

I heard the MP Battalion Sergeant Major do the ceremonial roll call, and when he called Sergeant Atkin’s name, and she didn’t answer, he called her twice more, and when she still did not answer, her Sergeant Major loudly ordered that Sergeant Atkin’s name be struck from the battalion roster. Then Taps sounded.

This was the fifth memorial service I had attended for soldiers killed in this “Low Intensity Combat Operation” referred to as an insurgency. I was done with it. I could not attend another one. Not if I was going to continue to function as the NCOIC of my team. Not if I was going to keep it together. I couldn’t bear to attend another one. And there was another one, and several more. The next night in fact. The very next night another service was planned for another soldier. This was for a different Rutamiyah soldier from 3/7 CAV who was killed the same week. 

What I remember about that time, what I remember about that night, was that I truly believed that I was a dead man. I had been operating as a dead man since the end of September. I was convinced that I wasn’t going to make it, and soon enough the same service would be held for me there, except it would be my rifle, dog tags and boots on display. If any of those were recovered.     

It may be that this was a sign of my own personal weakness. Perhaps seasoned combat veterans, soldiers who are expected to lead and care for their troops, don’t  have or allow themselves the time or luxury to wallow in self pity. Soon, I found myself writing my name in big black block letters on each boot, leg, undershirt and other parts of my uniform so that when that day came those who found those parts would know who they belonged and they would make the final trip home with the rest of me. I didn’t want to leave anything behind there. 

Don’t misunderstand stand me. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I never at any time thought I made a mistake coming to Iraq. I thought I was going to die and I decided that I didn’t want to die. I wanted to go home to my family, to those that I love. The idea that I never go back to see or be with those that I care about, those that care for and love me, that possibility was difficult to swallow. In fact, the fear of not going home to those who cared for me was greater than the idea of death itself. The reality was I had come to accept my mortality, and I didn’t like it. Silently and often (and, as it turned out prematurely and unnecessarily) I found myself mourning not for myself, but for those that loved and cared about me.  

What kept me going those days were my responsibilities to my team, not to mention my brother. I guess I wasn’t a very good NCOIC, certainly not at first. I do think I grew into the position, but looking back, maybe I didn’t grow into it fast enough.

That night, as I stood outside the MP Chapel, for what I had hoped was the last time, I was suddenly set upon by the FOB Command Sergeant Major who snapped me out of my miniature breakdown. The CSM, droned on and on about the fact that not all my soldiers had shoulder patches on their uniforms, the fact that we had our names embroidered on our uniforms in Arabic, and so on and so on. He questioned my leadership of my team and the fact that I wasn’t enforcing Army uniform regulations. He decided to verbally counsel me before the ceremony was even complete. Which leadership course had he learned that form of performance counseling from, I couldn’t imagine. 

I looked at the CSM, and If it weren’t for my own self control and military discipline, I actually would have spat in his face. That’s the level contempt I had at that moment for that man. Looking back, I guess the good thing was that he snapped me out of my funk. His BS brought me slowly out of what had become one of my lowest moments in Iraq, a moment when I came close to losing control. At that minute, I directed all my hatred and frustration directly towards him, and only him. I barely heard what he was saying to me. When he was done, I said “Yes Sergeant Major” turned and stepped off, carrying myself with indignity but also with in new found confident military manner. I dug each heel noisily into the gravel placing one foot inn front of the other, as I otherwise silently made my way to our head shed. I suddenly remembered I had received a Warning Order from Major Cureton before I went to the memorial. Dead soldiers our not, I had to continue planning for the next day’s mission.

Several months later, as a heavily armed Blackhawk helicopter lifted my brother and I off the hot sand at Rustamiyah for the final time, I found myself feeling numb and emotionally drained. I did survive after all. As the helicopter banked turning away from Rusty, and the gunners scanned the rooftops of nearby Sadr City, I suddenly leaned out of the open door which tilted partially down toward the ground I gave the finger to FOB Rustamiyah. I remember holding my finger out there in the hot breeze for a bit while thrusting it forward as to place an exclamation mark on my farewell. I felt a mixture of hatred and relief. Mostly, I felt tired and old. I had nothing else to say. That’s all I had left as we departed, leaving it’s smoky haze, burn pits, still broken sewer plant and the Mortuary Affairs building behind. I learned soon enough that Rustamiyah had left me with invisible but, very real scars. I think my gesture was a fitting tribute to a place that may no longer even exist, but 16 years later I still dream about along with and those we lost there. 

Rookie Mistakes and Close Calls

After reading over my most recent story about shotguns etc., I came to the conclusion that I may have been a little tough on the bosses and administration of the Manchester Police Department who were running the PD during my early days. It was not my intent to criticize anyone in particular, or to paint the agency in a bad light. When I arrived in Manchester I found it was largely a blue collar, rough and tumble type of town that was going through some changes, many of which were not for the better. I was a bit surprised and taken aback by some of the attitudes I found and experienced here. However, I stand by the things I said in that story and others I have written about the climate I found myself working in particularly during my first couple of years. 

All this being said, I was fortunate enough to work for some great supervisors in those days, and many of them encouraged me to work hard on the street as well as apply for as much in-service training whenever the opportunity presented itself. In my case, it would be almost seven years before I was allowed to attend an in-service training course which I had applied for. However, even that first in-service training class I had been approved for, I had been initially  denied entry into. When I re-applied for that training, I was told by a certain shift commander that if I wanted to attend this training, I would have to agree not to endorse or participate in certain union actions in the future. ‘Oh, I get it now’ I thought at the time. I grieved that condition to our union, and that condition was quickly dropped and I attended that training in the end. Needless to say my push back in this case did not ingratiate me with some of the bosses at MPD. One even went so far as to tell a third party that as long as he had any say on the matter, neither my brother or I would ever work in a division or specialty assignment (other than patrol). Thankfully, we both eventually went on to work in detectives in various capacities later and had good careers. 

I also came to feel that the reason I had been denied both training opportunities and certain assignments during those years was directly due to my union affiliation and strong support for my union brothers and sisters. But, all this is a story for another time. 

Some of the better supervisors I was fortunate to work for in those early years included guys and gals like Bobby M., Anita L. Tony F, Dick T, Joe D and the late Gary T and Tony L. I went on to work for many great supervisors later during my career, but I also worked for a few who didn’t give a damn about me, or the job I did. Some thought that a good cop was a cop that never “rocked the boat”. What can you do? That’s police work.   

Despite all those things, some of the best lessons and guidance I received in those early years came from watching and listening to other cops on the street. When I arrived at MPD I had the good fortune to work with some great street cops that were already on the job there. They included Kevin K.  Al M, Glen K, Walter F, John B, Biily C, Rob M, Rob “Duke” H, Kevin A, Brain L, Ken P, Tony S and Chris G, just to name a few. There were many others, but I especially learned a lot form these guys in particular. They worked hard, treated victims, street people and even the bad guys out there with both firmness and respect. As I said, I watched and learned. I picked and chose carefully which traits I took from all the cops I worked with, and used them along with my own personality, personal and work ethics to form the foundation of the cop I became as I grew into the job.  

Despite all this, I still made “rookie” mistakes, and fortunately, as far as I knew, no one ever got hurt when I did make a mistake. One of my earliest rookie mistakes occurred after I had finished my Field Training period and was working on my own pushing a one man “X” car, during the old 6PM-230 AM shift the summer of 1991. I was still a probationary patrol officer at the time. It was a busy night, like many nights on that shift, and I was sent to a call where I was told a citizen had seen a man pointing a gun at a woman and trying to drag her down the street at gunpoint. The location I was sent to was the corner of Norris and Somerville Streets. As it happened, I was just a block away and assigned to then 26X car, and I arrived just seconds after receiving the call. 

Norris and Somerville Streets were just at the periphery of what we called an inner city neighborhood. Although many three decker and four floor older tenements were in the area, they were mostly well kept up and it was a relatively quiet neighborhood, compared to what lay four or five blocks to the west. 

As I arrived, I noted one male subject only, and he was walking away from that intersection. I pulled over, picked up my mic and informed dispatch that I was off at the scene with one male subject walking westerly on Somerville St. I didn’t stay in the car long enough to insure that my transmission was heard by dispatch or the unit that was assigned to back me up on the call. It was a busy night, and I learned a short time later that no one ever heard me call off with the fact I was with a suspect. There were too many units trying to call and communicate with dispatch and other cruisers at the same time. An all too common occurrence. My transmission, had been drowned out by cruisers with stronger radios, and as a result, no one else knew I had arrived at the scene 

In any case, assuming that everyone else who was listening knew I had made contact with a possibly armed suspect, I jumped out of the cruiser and decided to stop and question this person to see if he had seen or heard anything. I walked towards him so that he was facing me, I ordered him to stop. He complied, I questioned him for a moment or two, then decided to check him for warrants and possibly complete a field card on him. I dutifully took out paper and pen and started to take notes for my “Box Score” to be tallied on my “Daily” at the end of the night. I had no idea just how much danger I was in at that very moment. I was treating this individual as though he was harmless, and I quickly came to the decision that this was not the guy I was looking for! 

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a cruiser, my back up, pulled up behind the suspect I was questioning. It came rolling to a stop in this otherwise quiet, dark neighborhood. My back up jumped out of his cruiser, walked up behind my suspect and broke the quiet by yelling “GUN, PARTNER!” (just like we were trained to yell in the police academy). Then, to my amazement, he removed a fully loaded large caliber semi-automatic pistol from the belt in the small of my suspect’s back. The cop held it up in the air for me to see, and ordered me to handcuff the subject while he drew down on and and covered my guy at gunpoint. I sheepishly put my paper and pen away and did as directed. I then understood that I was with the armed suspect that we got the call original call on. At the time, I was more embarrassed than fearful. I was never able to locate either the witness, who was an anonymous caller, or the reported female victim. To make things worse, my backup told me he never heard me call off at the scene and didn’t know until he arrived that I actually had someone stopped.  

That cop, who I truly believe saved my life that night was John Breckinridge. I believe that if I tried to take that guy into custody before John arrived, he may very well have shot or killed me. He certainly had the ability to do just that, as I had my sidearm securely locked into my holster, little use to me at the time.

Ironically, 15 years later in 2006, John’s bicycle patrol partner was shot killed early one morning in a dark back alley as they attempted to stop and question two subjects in relation to a shots fired / domestic violence call. John and Mike tried to stop two suspects for questioning. When they ordered the two to stop, one did, and John grabbed on to him, the other ignored their orders and continued on. While John dealt with one of the suspects, his partner, Mike Briggs tried to grab the other guy who suddenly turned and fatally shot Mike in the head. We just never know, no matter how routine things get, and how often we do the same things over and over again without incident during our careers, when responding to a call can take a quick and deadly turn. 

What I learned that night on Somerville St. was that considering the information I was given, and my immediate proximity to the call, I should have stopped this suspect at gun point, held him there until back up arrived and then searched him. It was a mistake I had vowed never to make again. As it turned out that night, my prisoner, who had no permit to carry that pistol also had a criminal record. 

Later in his career, John was nearly dragged to his death trying to apprehend a wanted subject while off duty. That incident set off a police vehicle pursuit which started in Manchester when John tried to make that arrest, and ended in Lawrence Massachusetts when that suspect rammed both Massachusetts State Police and Lawrence Ma. police cruisers. Another simple situation which immediately turned deadly.

Although John was always coy and dismissive about the incident with me any time I brought it up in the years to follow, I truly believe that John may very well have saved my life that night, which was only a week or two after I had completed my Field Training period. Once again, Thank you John for having my back that night. I’ll always owe you for that. 

On another night right around that time, I stopped a guy around Spruce and Union who was driving a beat up old station wagon. The reason I stopped him was that he was driving around the area aimlessly, and I came to believe he was looking to either pick up a prostitute or score some drugs. In any case, I believed I had “articulable suspicion” the legal standard needed for a brief stop and investigation as to whether this subject was committing or about to commit a crime. 

I hit the blues and pulled him over. I questioned him accordingly, checked his license and registration and him for warrants, but all was in order. I questioned him a bit, but under the law I felt I couldn’t detain him much longer unless I developed a further reason to do so. I did note a pile of something in the back of the wagon, but whatever it was, it was covered with a tarp. I thought it may have been construction material or perhaps tools, but I never asked. My instincts told me something was amiss, however, being so new on the job, I hadn’t learned trust my street instincts yet, and I eventually cut him loose since I didn’t feel as though I had enough information to search him or the car, or even detain him any further. 

A very short time later, a drive by shooting came over the air. The shooting was nearby, and a description of the shooter’s car was given by witnesses. No one was hit, but several bullets struck a nearby tenement, and by some stroke of luck no one was hurt. 

About five minutes later Walter, (Another Quincy / Milton, Massachusetts  Kid) radioed in that he stopped a car matching the description from the shooting. I immediately went to his location and backed him up. Much to my surprise, he had the same station wagon and driver stopped that I had stopped a short time earlier. As I recall, Walter (one of the best street cops I had ever worked with) had the driver out of the car was holding him at gunpoint. Walter certainly didn’t make the same mistake I made back on Sommerville Street.

During a search of the station wagon, under the tarp, the same tarp I had previously observed, we found several firearms. We, or I should say Walter, found a firearm that we believed the driver used during the drive by shooting. This was another wake up call for me. When I had stopped him, he seemed harmless enough, at worst some dubba trying to pick up a prostitute but who knew? Would he have shot me if I had him exit the car in order to prevent me from finding all the weapons he had in possession? As I reflect on it now, so many years later, I think it is a valid question. Even more disturbing to me was what if when I cut him loose he actually killed someone during that drive by, after I had him stopped and released him.

All indications were that he tried to do just that. What if he had shot Walter? After my stopping him and cutting him loose still in possession of all those weapons…another hard lesson I am still embarrassed about, but I think it illustrates the kind of split second decisions which cops have to make on a daily basis when they work the streets. Instinct itself, although very useful, doesn’t substitute for the probable cause needed to stop and detain someone on the street. But an experienced cop could always listen to his or her instinct, and then find lawful ways to further question or search someone they felt was up to no good. I hadn’t developed that ability yet. This suspect and his weapons were taken into custody, but we never learned why this guy shot up that house. Another of an endless stream of quality arrests that Walter made on a regular basis.

One day shift while working early in my career I was sent to back up another officer on a domestic dispute. The Officer I was sent to back up was then and still is respectfully known as the Duke. Duke was another hard working cop. He was a motor cycle cop when they let him ride and later spent many years in our Traffic Division working Traffic Enforcement. He was regularly honored at the NH Police Academy, often receiving the annual “Looking Beyond the Traffic Stop” award for his regular numerous high quality arrests he made while enforcing traffic laws. He was always among the first to back us up, and even though he didn’t have to, he went to many, many patrol calls while working traffic. He was a hard working street cop, and someone who you wanted with you when the shit hit the fan. 

This day, Duke had the route car adjacent to me, and he arrived quickly at the domestic, which was on the first floor of a three decker.  I always said nothing ever happens on the first floor, stealing the line from a book about by a former Boston Police Officer called “A Cop’s Cop” and I found it to be true. You could always count on your call to be located on the top floor of whatever two or three family dwelling you were sent to. Except for this day.

I arrived shortly after the Duke did because I wasn’t that close, but I was the closest free unit. When I did arrive, I noted Duke’s cruiser was already there, and apparently he was inside. I got out of my car, and I was immediately approached by that rare and wonderful phenomena, a living, talking, cooperative witness! 

He told me he lived upstairs, and that he called the police. He said the couple on the first floor were arguing all night, he hadn’t been able to sleep, but now he heard banging and screaming and he was fearful for the safety of the woman who lived there. I made a note of his name and date of birth, in case I needed it, along with a mental note of what he told me. I then found the door to the apartment closed but unlocked. Since I knew Duke was already inside, I just walked in.

Imagine how I felt when I saw Duke rolling around the ground grappling with the guy who lived there, each trying to exchange blows with each other. I jumped right into the fray, and after a short scrum, we had the guy handcuffed. Duke brushed himself off, looked at me with a curious expression on his face, then asked me “What Kept Ya”? Needless to say I was embarrassed that I stayed outside for several minutes and let this guy chat me up while my partner, at least for this call, was inside fighting with someone he was trying to arrest. Another mistake I never repeated. But at the time, the chance to actually get a statement from a cooperative witness was just too much for me to ignore. I came to understand that I had those priorities mixed up that afternoon. My first concern should have been my partners safety. 

I’ll close with one more bit of foolishness on my part. One afternoon I was sent to a shoplifting call at the Rite Aid, I think it was, which used to be in the old shopping plaza at Lake and Elm. When I arrived, the manager was detaining a rather down on his luck looking gent who had allegedly stolen a bottle of Vicks Cough Syrup. Cost $5.00. The guy had no money to pay for it, and I asked the manager if he wanted to press charges. He said he did because his store was getting hit hard by shoplifters and as a result the company wished to press charges for any theft, regardless of value. 

Having worked in the retail business for so long, I got it and once I found the suspect possessed no form of ID, that allowed me to arrest without a warrant even though it was a misdemeanor not committed in my presence. I searched him and called for the wagon. The wagon had a few pick ups to make before it got to me, so I was told it would be along shortly. MPD Standard Operating Procedures normally forbid us to transport arrests in cruisers, and that was fine by me. 

Normally, unlike we see on TV often, I always placed handcuffs on a suspect that I was going to arrest before I searched him or her. None of this “put your hands on your head” holding their hands with one hand and searching with the other. Handcuffs go on first. But on this day, I deviated from the normal procedure I was trained to perform and normally followed. 

The guy seemed harmless enough and cooperative, certainly no desperado (or was he?)so walked him out of the store to wait for the wagon. I didn’t feel threatened and didn’t want to make a big deal in the store over a $5 pinch. 

The suspect was polite and asked me if he could smoke a cigarette, and knowing it would be a while before he got to smoke once the wagon arrived, I felt bad and agreed. I told him that once the wagon arrived he’d have to put out the cigarette and I’d have to handcuff him. He seemed agreeable enough. He had his smoke, the wagon arrived so I cuffed him, he was placed inside and off he went to MPD. I followed them there, and when it was his turn, I took him up to the booking officer and booked him in. Violation of RSA 6-whatever, the defendant did, with purpose to deprive…etc…shoplifting-To Wit: a bottle of cough syrup retail value $5, is how the complaint read.  

After I booked him and placed him into a cell, I began what I hoped would be a brief affidavit and report. Meanwhile, the booking officer performed a record check on my shoplifter. Turns out he was wanted in some other part of the country for escaping from custody, and attempted murder. He’d been on the run for a while, and apparently had been on the run for a few years. He was a violent fugitive.

Meanwhile I’m just chatting with this guy while waiting for the wagon while he smoked his cigarette. Why he didn’t attack me and try to kill me to flee, I’ll never know. Maybe he was tired of being a fugitive, and fortunately for me, he went quietly. Maybe it just wasn’t my day to die. Despite it all, bottle of cough syrup aside, it turned out to be a good solid arrest. Yet here was another hard lesson learned. As my career went on, some people I dealt with that I had arrested may have thought I was a hard ass, handcuffing them and taking certain safety precautions for a minor offense and being inflexible about it. Please believe me when I behaved like that I had my reasons.  

I made some other mistakes over time, but I like to think I’ve learned from each one. Maybe I’ll write about those as well. I will say that working the street, you can’t alienate and treat every person you stop or have contact with as though they are about to assault or kill you. Not everyone out there is John Dillinger. You have to find some middle ground when you deal with the public, remaining approachable and courteous, while at the same time taking enough precautions so that you don’t become a victim yourself. 

Suffice it to say that these types of decisions that are faced by cops on the street daily will always be critiqued and criticized ad nauseam by the bosses, other cops and often by judges and attorneys after months and sometimes years of deliberation and second guessing. One lesson I took from my early mistakes was to never underestimate the criminal I have contact I have with on the street because it may well result in my own death, or the death of another cop or innocent civilian. After all, the guy I had stopped at Norris and Somerville, may well have panicked and spun around and shot John Breckinridge as John walked up behind him. If that had happened, whose fault would that have been? The answer is obvious.