Warning: The following story contains some adult material and a few bad words…
I completed both police academies in NH in June of 1991. After that, I went to Ft. Jackson S.C. for three miserable weeks working as a Drill Sergeant. Some time in July of that year I returned from military duty and entered the Field Training Officer (FTO) period of my training. It would be the first time I worked on the street as a police officer. I always thought I was very fortunate to be one of only two academy classmates to be assigned to the 6PM to 230AM shift that summer. It was the busiest 8 hour shift in terms of calls for service, and that suited me just fine. We had 7 shifts in Patrol at that time (two days shifts, two night shifts and two midnight shifts) and I loved the 6-230AM shift. Didn’t help my social or family life, but what the hell, I thought. Those things are often unimportant to cops when they first start out in their careers.
As long as I can remember I wanted to be a cop. I often dreamed about it. So, I hit the street for the first time during the very hot summer of 1991. I was 35 years old, certainly the oldest rookie at MPD. It turned out to be a wild and crazy summer in Manchester that year, and when in September I was assigned to day shift, I came to hate it, and I had to wait for several years before I had enough seniority to bid for and get back on the 6-230AM shift.
It was the first week of my street training, and for some reason, I was assigned to a wagon much of my FTO period. This was fine with me. When I was a kid I listened to the Boston Police calls on my scanner and each district had one or two wagons, and I always pictured myself ripping around District 4 or the old District 9 in a wagon, going from call to call. Life had certainly come full circle for me in many ways!
On this night, I was driving and my FTO was the passenger. Back in those days, when we had a prisoner or prisoners in the wagon, they had to be seat belted in, and the cop who wasn’t driving had to ride in the back with the prisoners. That night was the exception. I drove, in order to get to know the city, but when we had a prisoner, my partner made me ride in the back because I was a trainee, also junior to him, but that was good enough for me. Normally, whoever was senior in a two officer assignment usually called the shots anyway. Riding in back always sucked, but that was the way it was.
There were two wooden benches in the wagon, and they were hard. There was a cushion, for the cop, who sat on the right side of the rear, by the door. Prisoners would be seat belted in starting up front on the left, as far as possible from the where the cop sat. Often prisoners stunk. It wasn’t unusual to transport people who were bloody from fighting, or who had vomited, urinated or defecated themselves. I never saw this on Adam-12, nor did I ever see this in any recruitment brochures or videos.
It was not unusual, on a busy night, to have multiple prisoners from different arrests as we went from call to call around the city providing a sort of Uber or taxi service as cops made arrests, often simultaneously. It could be a dangerous job, as often times the prisoners we transported were intoxicated and / or violent.
This night, after getting my assignment during roll call, I met with my training officer and we signed out our wagon. I was still brand new on the job, and not having grown up or lived in Manchester, I had no idea what to expect as far as crime or how busy the city was. I came from Boston, so I wasn’t expecting too much. That summer proved just how wrong I was.
So we hit the street. My Field Training Officer (FTO) gave me a few ground rules, the first of which was to head to the Dunkin Donuts at Valley and Elm Sts. before we called into service. We might not get another chance to grab a coffee, he explained.
It was still light, but probably close to 8 PM when we got this call. “Valley and Elm. 20X is off with an arrest and has one to go.” (meaning a prisoner to transport back to MPD). I missed both the original call for 20X as well as 20X calling for a wagon, but I didn’t miss the call for us. My partner copied the call and I headed there. A few minutes later, 20X called us directly and told us to “step it up!” That meant he was requesting a code three-blue lights and siren response from us. When he called us, I could hear tension in his voice and people yelling and screaming in the background. My partner hit the blues and siren and told me to step on it. I did.
Valley and Elm was a busy intersection several blocks south of downtown. Elm Street’s notoriety came from the fact that it was listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the longest street in the country that dead ended at both ends. It ran from a housing project on it’s south end, through a busy downtown up to the North End of Manchester where the old Notre Dame College was once located. It was also an upscale neighborhood . Driving from Valley and Elm to Manchester’s northern end was like going to the moon. The difference was remarkable.
We arrived. There was a large crowd of on lookers, and they were taunting Jimmy C. Jimmy had a black female in custody. She was barefoot, and screaming obscenities at Jimmy, and trying to break away. Jimmy was a salty veteran cop, had a dry sense of humor and could be funny as hell to ride with but I didn’t know him at that point. I had learned that this female, I’ll call her Holly, not her real name, had a pile of rocks and bricks and was throwing them at passing cars. Since this was a busy intersection, this was a problem requiring a police response. Jimmy was sent to the call, and the situation deteriorated the moment he arrived. I looked about and saw rocks and bricks strewn around the sidewalk and street. I remember wondering where the hell she got all those rocks from.
Anyway, Holly was handcuffed, hands behind her back as per SOP, and Jimmy sort of flung her at me and said “Welcome to the Jungle”. I grabbed her while Jimmy went back and got her two shoes that somehow had come off during his struggle with her. He tossed her two shoes into the back of the wagon. I seated her up in the front corner, and I reached out my right arm across her front to grab the seatbelt. She bit me, on the forearm, just below the spot where one usually has blood drawn from them. However, she didn’t just bite me, she clamped her teeth down hard, and wouldn’t let go. She bit down into my arm, harder and harder, as though she was trying to rip a piece of my arm off. It seemed like she was trying to take a bite out of a turkey leg.
I let out a yell, and I tried to pull my arm away from her, but she wouldn’t let go. I must have looked like a cartoon character whose arm was in the mouth of a bulldog and couldn’t shake it loose. I waved my arm up and down, to no effect.
Suddenly, my partner / training officer appeared in the back of the wagon. “Marty!” he exclaimed. “What the fuck are you doing? We have calls waiting”. I must have glanced back at him over my shoulder with a stupid look on my face. He immediately sized up the situation, as she was still attached to my forearm by her teeth. Without skipping a beat, he threw a fist at her, striking Holly in the face. She flew back, and her head bounced off the inside of the wagon. I was in a lot of pain. I was afraid she had taken a large piece of meat out of my arm. When I looked there was blood, but thankfully, my arm was more or less intact. However, I was bleeding from the open wound she caused.
My partner, if he had any sympathy for me certainly didn’t show it. In fact, he went on to chastise me, asking me why I was fooling around when we had calls piling up. I think he thought that I should have whacked her right away, instead of waiting for him to do it. The truth was, I didn’t know what to do. I was a probationary officer, just starting my FTO period, and we never covered something like this at either police academy. Also, since Holly was a female, the idea of punching her in the face was kind of abhorrent to me. In the end, I had no problem with my partner punching her, and I should have done it myself. She did enough damage to me and could have done a lot more. Still though, I figured an excessive force complaint during my first week wouldn’t have boded well for me. Eventually, over time, I realized that it was more important to go home at the end of the shift in the same condition I left the house, and worrying about complaints became a secondary concern working the street. You did what you had to do to survive. But, I wasn’t there yet.
I took my seat in the back of the wagon, my partner closed the door and we were off to another call, siren wailing. On the way, Holly started in on me. Chowing down on my arm like a dog with a bone wasn’t enough for her. It was just the beginning. She started to taunt me. Without going into details here, she went on to question my manhood and my anatomy. She talked about my sexual ability, and how white blue eyed devils could never match a black man’s sexual prowess. Of course, that wasn’t the language she used. I was dumbfounded, no one had ever talked to me in such a manner. I said nothing to her. She put together a string of obscene insults the like of which I had never heard before in my life, and certainly never directed towards me! She would intermittently take breath and spit at me. I had to dodge her spittle as she “hucked” lungee after lungee towards me. After a few minutes they were dripping down the wall behind and all around my head. I had to keep moving to avoid the things she spat at me the entire ride. It was like playing Dodge Ball without the ball. And I certainly didn’t want to become “it’ in this game. The more she cursed me, the louder she got and the worse she sounded.
Mercifully, the wagon came to a stop, but Holly did not. Her tirade continued. The wagon doors opened and there was a cop I had never met before. He had a middle aged white woman in handcuffs. He started to put her in the wagon, but Holly was still carrying on. The new prisoner had been stopped in her car, and I think her license was suspended. She looked at Holly with horror, and started begging us NOT to put her in the wagon with her. Someone thought better of it, removed the woman. My partner told me to hang on. The doors closed, and thankfully, we were off hurtling towards the station with blue lights and siren.
By the time we arrived, I had already had more than a day’s worth of exercise while I rode in back with Holly. Holly had quieted down as we backed into the sally port. Thank God, I thought. When we came to a stop I CAREFULLY removed her seatbelt, fearing she would spit on me, but she did not. We got her into booking. She was brought to the booking window and the arresting officer Jimmy carefully removed her handcuffs. Suddenly she went off once again. Several of us wrestled with her, and we all fell together to the floor.
Suddenly, as we struggled with her, someone appeared with a straight jacket. Yup, an honest to goodness straight jacket that up until now I had never seen except in the movies. Guy (pronounce GEE, as in Guy LaFluer) was a traffic cop with a pronounced French Canadian accent. Guy happened to be nearby and came to our aid. I have no idea how many of us were fighting with Holly on the floor at that point. There were other prisoners within the cell block who were cheering her on. Guy grabbed a handful of disposable gloves, and as we wrestled, we each stuck up one hand at a time while he placed a glove on each outstretched hand.
My problem was that I had no idea how to put this thing onto our prisoner. They never taught us how to do that at the police academy. We were involved in a long, protracted knock down drag out battle on the floor with Holly. In addition to punching and kicking, Holly was spitting and trying to bite anyone close to her. At one point, Jimmy, who had left the room for a moment came back, stood looking at us wrestle with his prisoner, and then said “Hey Marty, how do you like your new fucking job so far ?” I was unable to answer. Guy, kinda the senior cop present told Jimmy to get out and slammed the door. Eventually, we did get the straight jacket on her, and she was put in a cell. I’m not sure what happened to her after that. I was filthy, uniform ripped, out of breath and covered with spit. Not to mention, my arm, where she bit me was a mixture of fresh and dried blood.
When we were done, I finished my shift in the emergency room of one of the local hospitals. It was my second trip there as a patient since I had started this new career. I made many more trips to the ER as a patient before the year was up. All relatively minor injuries, but never the less, I got tired of calling my wife at night, telling her I was going to be late coming home because I was in the hospital. She didn’t care to receive those calls very much either.
Fortunately, I didn’t need stitches. Doc told me that because the wound was where it was, stitches wouldn’t do any good anyway. So they patched me up, gave me a tetanus shot and eventually released me. However, the staff was VERY concerned about the human bite. In the end, I had to be tested for all kinds of diseases I could have contracted, and in the following weeks I had to endure a series of painful injections to immunize and protect me against who knew what. It was not the last time I was bitten at work, and sadly, not the last time I had to endure this series of nasty injections.
As for Holly, she had already been designated by the courts as being unfit to stand trial, so nothing ever happened to her for that day or any of her future arrests. My first meeting with her, was the first time I had shed blood on the job and may have well have been the first time I was assaulted on the job. Such a great milepost for my career. Unfortunately, it was certainly not the last.
Several years later, I was working a quiet midnight shift on the West Side when I stopped a car for blowing a red light. The driver pulled into the driveway of her house, which was the only reason she stopped. I walked up to the car, already determining that I was going to summons the driver for the red light. I made contact with the driver, who was a black female. I asked her for her license and registration and an explanation as to why she ran the red light. She gave no explanation. I went back to my car. I pulled out my clipboard and a blank summons and started to write. Date, time ,location…then I looked at her license. Yup, you guessed it. It was non other than Holly. I immediately went back to her. I noted that several adult members of her family had come outside to see what was up, even though it was about 2AM. I handed her license and registration back to her, gave her a brief oral warning, went back to my cruiser and couldn’t get away from her fast enough. I got the hell out! I tore up the summons. I cleared the stop with a warning, wrote the contact in my notebook.
For many years, every so often I would hear her name over the radio, called in for a stop, and occasionally she would be arrested for whatever. I always chuckled to myself and silently wished good luck to whichever cop had the misfortune to have stopped her. As for me, I wanted no part of her, ever again.
I was once given a pretty good beating by an elderly woman. She was well into her 60’s, probably close to 70. Yes, it’s true, but I have an alibi. It was one of the first really warm spring nights up here in whatever year this occurred, kind of early in my career. That evening, I was called into the station, where I was met by a sergeant. He filled me in, informing me we were going to a particular address to pick up an older woman, bring her back to MPD where she would then be picked up and transported to the State Hospital by the Sheriff’s Department. Once brought to the state hospital, she would receive an involuntary mental health evaluation.
This woman’s family had successfully obtained this order, or mental health “Prayer” as it is called in NH. She would not be under arrest, that is, she committed no crime, however we were required by the order to pick up and bring her in, even if we had to do it forcibly, against her will. This was not an uncommon assignment in Patrol.
The sergeant and I arrived at the house a short time later. When we entered, we found the woman’s husband and daughter were seated at the kitchen table and told us simply “she’s in there” pointing to a bedroom near the front of the apartment.
Beyond that, the family members didn’t seemed to be very concerned one way or another that we were there. They appeared and sounded very laconic as we spoke with them. I figured they had just had enough of this woman. We went to the bedroom, and there we found a large woman, and her most notable feature appeared to me (in addition to her size) was the dark and rather thick mustache that was growing on her upper lip. She was wearing only a house coat and I would soon discover that she wore nothing else underneath her housecoat. She was walking in circles, talking or praying rather loudly to Jesus in a mixture of English and Spanish asking him for help and who knows what else. In my friendliest and most persuasive manner I could, I introduced myself and tried to talk with her. I explained that she was going to the hospital for an examination, and we were there to give her a ride, which of course was true.
She immediately became even more distraught, which was understandable, and then asked for her bible. Soon the requests turned into angry demands and she was quickly becoming incoherent. After trying to find her bible, without either success or help from her family who sat impassively at the kitchen table, it was becoming more and more obvious she was not going to with us voluntarily. It was beginning to look as though we would have to handcuff her, forcibly escort, or drag her out of her room, never mind the apartment. This type of thing never ends well. To complicate matters her family was present, and even though they initiated this action, my experience had already taught me that when we had to get physical with someone and other family members are present, it often gets even more violent and rarely ends well. I found that to often be the case even when the other family had summoned the police for help in the first place, which was the case here. I had been around long enough to get that feeling that not only was this not going well, I rapidly assessed that we may have a real problem here on our hands. It was important that we get some kind of control over her immediately lest she get her hands on a knife or gun, or any nearby dangerous weapon and use it on us, or the other people in the house. The sergeant gave me the high sign, and I grabbed my handcuffs.
In the Police Academy, and many other types of Use of Force Training I had received, it was always pointed out that when you confront someone who is potentially an assaultive subject, whether its someone encountered on the street or someone you decide to arrest, there are certain physical stances you should take to prevent a sudden attack from seriously injuring you or leading to the loss of your weapon. Without going into the specifics of this training and best practices, suffice it to say I did not exercise prudent caution that day.
Whether it was her age, or the fact the she was a woman, both I guess, I chose to try to be friendly, talk to her in what thought was an affable manner. I didn’t take up a guarded position. As bad as this situation was becoming, I still didn’t recognize that I was in real danger and as result left myself open for the assault that was to follow. I reached for my handcuffs in a casual manner I grasped one of her wrists. Now the prudent thing to do was for each one of us to grab a wrist simultaneously and get the cuffs on both wrists before she could resist. That way we could maintain some sort of control over her if she started to struggle. But no, instead I acted as though I was handcuffing a compliant subject who was being arrested for some relatively minor infraction.
Within a microsecond, she swung around, freeing her wrist from my grip. Simultaneously, she delivered a devastating blow to my groin with her (shod) foot. This blow caused me to immediately collapse onto the floor, like a house of cards when a card is suddenly pulled out from the bottom. I found myself crawling around on all fours, like a puppy dog, in extreme pain I can’t even begin to describe. I remember eventually glancing around from my position on the floor and seeing the Sergeant rolling around the floor with, and trying to get control of this woman. I was, at the time useless as the sergeant wrestled with her. I couldn’t even call for help. (I never would have lived that down!) By this point, her housecoat was open and in tatters, and for the most part she was completely naked, with the exception of her housecoat wrapped around her head and shoulders. It wasn’t a pretty sight and I’m sure the scene looked more than absurd.
While this debacle was playing out, the family remained in the kitchen, apparently deciding not to intercede on either side. Eventually, the sergeant was able to handcuff the woman, with very little, if any, help from me and he was getting her somewhat under control. He called for a wagon. Meanwhile, I was slowly able to get off the floor, and I started to slowly recover.
Eventually, the wagon shows up, and she comes along as the three of us exit the house. I must have looked like hell, I certainly felt like it. Like I said earlier, it was a warm spring evening, in an inner city neighborhood, and like most warm evenings in the early spring, the neighbors were sitting around on their front steps and porches, the daily drinking ritual having begun much earlier due to the nice weather. We had already figured during roll call that we would be in for a long and busy night.
Suddenly, as we left the house, our prisoner started to act up again. We burst out of the house pulling and dragging, pushing and pulling this poor woman who coincidently got her second wind when she saw the neighbors were looking on. We struggled with her as we forcibly assisted her to the wagon. Add to this that the lady was still mostly naked. The sergeant had tried to cover her with a blanket, but she was having none of it. She was yelling and screaming, asking for help, the police were beating her, kidnapping her, etc. I learned early on during my police career that when someone does not want to go with you, there is never a nice way to take that person into custody. No matter how nice and professional we tried to be, the sight of the three of us must have looked terrible to any onlookers who never had police experience.
In a moment’s time, the neighborhood turned on us. They started to move closer, near the cruiser and wagon. They taunted us, screamed, demanding that we let her go. They shouted things I wouldn’t repeat here. They had no idea what brought us there not would they have cared even if they knew what had transpired minutes before inside the house. I can only imagine how bad and ridiculous the scene was that unfolded in the middle of the street and how we must have looked as we dragged and tried to stuff the older woman into the wagon while she pleaded for help. I was beginning to fear for our safety, and I was in no condition to fight. There were four of us there now, the two wagon cops and the Sergeant and I. We were outnumbered by a large crowd, many of whom had been drinking. The situation was starting to get out of hand.
Before you feel too sorry for her, I do have to say she got her licks in. She didn’t go without a fight. And, as far as I can tell, the only one that got hurt that night was me. We eventually got her into and seat belted in the wagon, but not without an ongoing battle. The fact that none of us wanted to hurt her in the process just made things more difficult. We did not have OC spray at the time, so it was wrestle and drag, and no one wanted to us a fist, stick or a baton. The situation that unfolded on the street got uglier by the minute. People started to throw stuff at us.
I figured we were going to get attacked en masse at any moment. The wagon was behind our cruiser, so it couldn’t leave with her until we did. The sergeant yelled for us to get the EFF out, we ran up to the cruiser, and along with the wagon we fired up the blue lights and hit the gas, effecting a close escape along with our reluctant passenger. We didn’t wait for back up to arrive, nor did we bother to locate and obtain witnesses to what had occurred. By this time, I was still in a lot of pain, nauseous, if somewhat functional.
But, that was the night I figuratively and literally got the crap kicked out of me by a senior citizen, who happened to be a woman. I’m sure my previous defensive tactics instructors would have been appalled. None of this helped my ego either. It was a very painful lesson I learned the hard way. There were other lessons as well. Such a large part of our job in the Patrol function was to deal with persons who suffer from an assortment of mental illnesses. Back then the police in this country referred to such persons as MDPs, meaning mentally disturbed persons. They were always unpredictable, and you never knew who or what you were facing when you had contact with them.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time I took a good pasting from someone unusual during my police career. I laugh about them now, but they weren’t funny at the time.
I think many of us have heard stories or seen movies about our fighting men and women spending Christmas so far away from their family and loved ones during wartime. Different conflicts, different circumstances. The one constant was the threat of violent, sudden death weighing on everyone’s mind. When death did visit, it often did so suddenly, often unannounced and with a ferocity which can never be imagined if one had never been exposed it. Death often struck arbitrarily, with a random unpredictability that causes survivors to ponder their continued existence and ask the question “why not me? ” for many, many years. I’ve heard this dynamic referred to as survivors guilt, and I can assure you is does exist.
In December of 2005 I found myself in a combat zone on Christmas Day. My advisory team had been assigned to and working off of a FORWARD OPERATIONS BASE (known as a FOB) called Rustamiyah. Rusty, pronounced Roosty, as we sometime called it, was located in South Bahgdad. It was originally called Camp Cuervo, named after a US soldier killed during the 2003 invasion.
Rustamiyah was a bleak place, very close to another hell hole called Sadr City. We did have a good mess hall, and we were fed well when we were on the FOB and not involved in combat operations. No one came to Rustamiyah unless they were forced to do so. It was an outpost not unlike some of the Army outposts in the 1800’s out west, isolated and surrounded by hostile forces. Like those calvary soldiers of old we often referred to everything outside the wire as Indian County, with apologies for using the term to all my Native Americans friends out there.
My mental state wasn’t very good as Thanksgiving came and went and Christmas approached. In the fall we had lost our Commander, LTC Leon James, along with MSG Tulsa Tuliau and SFC Casey Howe during combat operations. Several soldiers stationed on our FOB had been killed on or nearby and we lost dozens of the Iraqis we served with up until that point. I didn’t think it was possible, but those losses would dramatically increase in January of 2006 after a Shia Mosque was attacked and blown up by Sunni terrorists, and dozens of innocent worshipers were slaughtered.
It seemed as though we were surrounded by carnage, day in and day out, and I came to the conclusion that I was living on borrowed time. I just couldn’t convince myself that I was going to avoid the fate of others while I was participating in combat operations day in and day out, sometimes multiple operations a day. Additionally, the FOB itself was coming under mortar and rocket attack more frequently with increasing accuracy. No one was allowed to walk around the FOB without being armed and weapon fully locked and loaded. A soldier, or for that matter, any bystander could be standing nearby one minute and gone forever the next. And that my friend, is not over dramatization.
The command cell of the FOB did their best to cheer the soldiers up. There was a large inflatable Santa Clause outside the PX, yet at the same time there were small bunkers strewn around the FOB for personnel to duck into for protection when the enemy, somewhere outside started lobbing mortar rounds into the FOB. I always thought the Santa, near one of those sandbag bunkers looked ridiculous and out of place. There were plenty of phones with which to call home, assuming you had a valid AT&T phone card with money on it. There was also an internet cafe operated by some enterprising local Iraqis, some of whom moonlighted as enemy agents. Maybe it was the other way around.
But no matter what the command staff did, the fact that we all had to walk past the Mortuary Affairs building to get to the mess hall certainly reminded us that people were dying here and what fate may await us before we were done. At night, when the light was on inside that building, I knew there was one or more dead American Soldiers being prepared for the beginning of their last, long trip home. Daily, sometimes hourly, the medivac helicopters, always two at a time landed. The crews quickly offloaded their wounded, dying and dead to the Battalion Aid station, which we lived above. Those birds also took out the deceased soldiers that either couldn’t be saved, or had been prepared by the FOB Mortuary Affairs Team. I learned to hate the sound of those Blackhawks coming and going. Even today I shudder when I hear them flying past. I can say the only thing that kept me going day to day was the fact that I found myself in a leadership position, and when one mission ended, I had to help plan and prepare my soldiers for the next one. That didn’t leave very much time for me to mope around.
As Christmas Day approached, my brother and I, who shared a room together on the FOB tried to cheer up our windowless room by putting up some decorations. I think we had three little Christmas trees sent to us by various people, and an endless pile of snacks that were sent to by both family, and many people who we never met. My wife sent us a Christmas CD, and we often played it when we were in our room together. Unfortunately, the more we tried to make it seem like Christmas, the more it made me miss home and my family.
Unlike Thanksgiving, when we got a couple of days to stand down, our operational tempo remained high (it did throughout my tour there) and it became obvious to me that we would get no such break for Christmas. Sure enough, we conducted a combat patrol on Christmas Eve, and another one early the day after Christmas. Fortunately, someone cut us some slack, and my team did not have to go outside the wire Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve arrived, we went out on a mission, I don’t recall what it was, but we made it back to the FOB safely. I let loose a sigh of relief, as I took my sweat soaked gear off, layer by layer. I knew that at least I probably wouldn’t die on Christmas Day. After taking care of necessary business, I went to the internet cafe room to email my wife, let her know I was safe, at least for the moment, and relieved that unless something bad happened, we would spend Christmas Day on the FOB.
As soon as I sat down, the dreaded communications blackout went into effect. Anytime an American Soldier from the FOB was killed in action, a commo blackout would occur, and all forms of communications with the outside world was cut. The blackout remained in effect until after, on the other side of the world, the wife, husband or parents of the newly deceased soldier was notified in person by officials of the death. Often that took between 12-24 hours, and during that time no one could contact anyone lest word of the death get to the family before the official notification.
Needless to say, these all too regular commo blackouts were very nerve wracking to me and depressing. I remember going to eat on those evenings, the lights were always on inside of that ghastly building. After leaving the internet cafe rather frustrated with not being able to email or call home, I walked up the stairs with the knowledge that somewhere at home, a family doesn’t yet know it, but their loved one is dead, and the mechanism the Army used to notify the family was already triggered, and the dreadful news was on the way.
As I climbed the stairs I was approached by a Chaplin who I’d never seen before. I don’t know why he chose me, maybe because I was a senior NCO, perhaps I just looked harmless.
“Master Sergeant” he called out to me. “What’s going on? Whats happening?” he implored, hoping I could enlighten him. It was obvious to me that he was referring to the announcement of the commo blackout that had just gone into effect, and he was also reacting to the behavior of some of the troops who knew what that meant.
I sized him up momentarily, and I saw the 4th Infantry Division Patch on his shoulder. A unit from the 4th Infantry Division had just arrived on the FOB, relieving a unit from the 3rd Infantry Division which had rotated home earlier that week. ‘He just got here’ I thought to myself, which explained his ignorance on the matter. I stopped, respectfully explained the situation, and although he was Black, I swear his face turned a pale shade of white. He answered me by exclaiming “Dear God help us!” I explained further that it was the third blackout of the week. I tried to be a bit reassuring to him while at the same time not feed him any BS. He was in the middle of it, and I wasn’t going to downplay life at Rustamiyah. The sooner he learned that, the easier it would be for him to adjust and do his job. I knew he was going to be a busy, overworked Chaplin during his time here, but he didn’t know that yet. We parted company, and he walked away from me obviously shaken by what I had told him.
Later on Christmas Eve, my brother and I decided to get some rice and soup at a little Iraqi shop on the FOB. While we were sitting, a female Major walked in, with another female. I had never seen either before, but they wore 101 Airborne Division patches, so I figured they had also just arrived. While Frank and I silently nibbled on our rice and goat meat, the Major, I discovered later, was a Physician’s Assistant new in-country and assigned to the Battalion Aid station on the FOB. I overheard the Major tell her companion about all her plans for her time here, the clinics she was going to set up in and around Rustamiyah and Sadr City, how she was planning to tour the area, and spend much her free time amongst the Iraqi people.
By this time, my brother and I were pretty salty veterans. We had seen, survived and learned a lot. The more I overheard of the Major’s conversation, the more silly she sounded, and the more irritated I became. She was apparently very naive. That was understandable. We all were at one point. But I thought that her ignorance may cost some soldiers their lives if she actually tried to do some of the things she ticked off her list. My brother and I exchanged knowing glances and as we left the shop, I stopped and candidly told the Major to forget all that. I told her that here in Rustamiyah, the number one rule was that you never went outside the wire unless you had to. Not unless you were ordered to do so. She was apparently annoyed by my intrusion, showed it, and acted as though I didn’t know what I was talking about. I could tell she was thinking I had a hell of a nerve to address her in such a fashion. After all, I was an NCO (albeit a senior NCO) and she was a field grade officer. My approaching her in this fashion clearly violated the etiquette that exists within the U.S. Army. However, by that time I didn’t worry about those niceties that work OK back in garrison during peace time.
I shrugged my shoulders and we walked away. We both commented that she had a lot to learn. I figured she’d learn soon enough. Eventually, back in our windowless room Frank put on our sole Christmas CD. I changed into my P/T gear (the only clothes you could wear outside your room if not in complete uniform). I was certain we would get mortared that night. Hell if I was the enemy, that’s the least I would do to the American Infidels on this night. I put my shoulder holster on, made sure my pistol was loaded in case I had to defend myself during the night. I also had my M-4 locked and loaded nearby my bunk. My brother had a hand grenade next to his bed.
I sat down on my folding chair while Frank tried to make a video to send home. At one point, tears welled up in my eyes, and I had a hard time talking on camera. I missed my family, friends and home, but I was also convinced I would never see them again.
Eventually, I hit my rack and slept fitfully. I listened to the tanks and Bradley’s line up in the darkness outside of my window. The engines were growling like inanimate beasts. The crews and ground troops shouted and cursed as they got ready to go outside the wire. They would conduct various missions and patrols on this early Christmas morning before daylight came. I was thankful that for the moment, I wasn’t going with them. I was also happy that I could sleep in when morning came. I pulled my poncho liner up over my shoulder and I drifted off to sleep.
It seemed as though I had just closed my eyes, when I was jolted out of my sleep by someone pounding on our door. For a minute I didn’t know where I was. It was my Team Chief. He told me to get the troops up and dressed because the Commanding General was coming to see us. He wanted to spend Christmas morning with our advisory team. The General, having met him before, was, I thought a good man. I immediately liked him, which was more than I could say about many of the other general officers I had interacted with during my tour. However, now I was highly pissed about his intrusion into my one day off. I was up late, thought I was going to catch up on my sleep and may never have left my room that day if left alone. It was 7 AM or so.
Now I had to shower, shave, get fully dressed and also find my troops and get them ready. I was really unhappy, to say the least. As it turned out, I was up and about just in time to learn of a KIA being brought into the Battalion Aid Station. He was the driver of an M-1 tank that had left the FOB earlier and it was struck by an EFP (Electronically Fired Projectile), which was the same deadly device that killed our team members back in September. The driver was dead on arrival, I won’t describe his condition, but I’ll never forget it. To this date, this device was the only device or weapon to ever penetrate the crew compartment of an M-1 Abrams Tank. One of the projectiles penetrated between the tank’s front and second road wheel, going through the drivers compartment, killing the driver instantly. Was it possible that his was one of the tanks I listened to while I tried to sleep just a couple of hours earlier? In any case, this is what I awoke to on Christmas morning.
Eventually, all four teams met in our Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and awaited the arrival of the General. Suddenly, there was a loud boom. The building shook. We knew what it was, and we instinctively knew it was bad. We went to check, and we found that a HUMVEE that was leaving the FOB was hit by an EFP as it left the wire. There was one dead, two seriously wounded, one of which would die shortly thereafter. We watched as the wounded and dead soldiers, after having been pulled out of the mangled, smoking wreck that until a minute ago was their HUMMVEE and rushed to the Battalion Aid station. They hadn’t been here a week. So now the tally for the day (the devil’s arithmetic, if I may borrow the term) is three dead and one seriously wounded on our FOB, and here it was not yet 10 O’Clock on Christmas Day. We had lost several troops earlier in the week, and of course one more on Christmas Eve.
As it turned out, the General never did make it to Rustamiyah. It seems that our FOB was declared unsecure, and the General was advised not to risk going there. Of course this place wasn’t secure, I thought disgustedly. They didn’t know that up there? Was the steady flow of dead and wounded from this place not enough to tip them off yet? While we existed day to day, fought and many died here, some staff NCO or Officer, safe in one of Saddam’s many former palaces finally got the idea Rustamiyah really was a dangerous place and decreed that Rusty was too dangerous to travel to. My contempt for certain elements within our higher command was never higher than it was that day, but the day continued.
While speaking with my brother in the TOC, waiting for the General, he told the following story.
After being rudely awakened, he got his shower and shaving stuff and headed across the little street to the shower trailers (hoping as always he didn’t get picked off by a sniper or vaporized by a random mortar round). There was no plumbing or water in the building we lived in when on the FOB. He walked by the Battalion Aid Station, and he came upon the Major that he and I had briefly spoke with on Christmas Eve, She was dressed in hospital scrubs, and they and she were covered with blood. She seemed very distraught, and my brother being the professional NCO that he was walked up to her and asked if she was OK.
The gulf between Officer and NCO suddenly disappeared. She told him she was not OK. At 6AM she reported to the Aid Station for her first tour on duty there. There was no doctor assigned there, certainly no surgeon, so the Major was the highest level of medical professional on duty. It was her job to triage and patch up wounded soldiers who, if still alive would be flown to the near Combat Army Surgical Hospital for life saving care.
She went on to explain that the first casualty of the day was the tank driver who I saw being brought in a short time earlier. She said she could do nothing for that young soldier, and she further declared that after seeing his condition, if she had her pistol with her, she would have gone outside and killed the first Iraqi she came across. My brother said she was serious.
Well, she talked to my brother for a bit, and being a cop, Frank kinda knew how to talk to her and she eventually went back to work, not knowing the worst was yet to come that day.
As time went on there was a small group of NCOs that would get together and eat evening chow at the dining facility together whenever we could. The Major often joined Frank and I in that group (there were also one or two other officers) and we all became fairly good friends and she became a member of our little Supper Club, which is what we called ourselves. In the months that followed, she often talked at length about her first duty day on Christmas at Rustamiyah. It didn’t take her too long to get the picture and become a combat veteran herself.
Going back to Christmas Day, after we got word the General was not coming (he came a week later on New Years Day) since we were all up and dressed, Frank and I went to the mess hall and ate a good meal. I was so distraught at what I had seen that day, I don’t remember what I ate.
I don’t know if I ever did call home that day due to the commo blackouts which were most likely still in effect. I went back to the room, very depressed and I sulked for a bit. I had lost count of how many troops we lost the week of Christmas. We lost too many, that’s for sure. How could I possibly believe I would be lucky enough to make it out of there in one piece? I was in a tough spot there, assigned to a dangerous mission. We all were.
Fortunately, I wasn’t able to feel sorry for myself for very long. Before the evening was over, I was called to meet with my Team Chief. He had received a new warning order regarding our combat mission the next morning. He briefed me, we made a tentative plan and I went back to work. Christmas, if it ever did come to Rustamiyah, was for all practical purposes over. That was Christmas Day at FOB Rustamiyah, 2005.
Nightshift in the Taxi
Recently, I read a book written by a retired Boston Detective, William C. Dwyer, titled “ON THE STROLL”. He devoted a chapter to the Charles Stuart murder which took place, I think in the late 80s. As it turned out, Charles had staged the murder of his pregnant wife one night in Roxbury after attending birthing classes, shooting his wife, and then himself. The Boston Police initially were led to believe Stuart and his wife were the victim of a robbery / murder, and developed a suspect named Willie Bennett. Stuart also picked Bennett out of a photo array and more or less pinned the phony robbery on Bennett. Bennet had a significant criminal history, and after arresting Bennet for unrelated crimes, the murder case fell apart. Stuart himself became the murder suspect and ultimately committed suicide.
However, that brutal murder caused a ton of racial tensions in the city between the black community and the Boston Police. You see, Stuart and his wife were white suburbanites, and Bennet was black. Many in the black community thought that the BPD acted with a heavy hand in that black neighborhood, and did so because the victims were white. I won’t get into those dynamics now, other than to say that I believe the Boston Police Investigators acted in good faith. Many disagree. Suffice it to say that the case became one of the more notorious murder cases in Boston’s recent history. Late one night, several years before he was a suspect in the Charles Stuart case, I crossed paths with Willie Bennet. Or, maybe I should say I crossed his path and came upon the bloody carnage he left behind.
I may have mentioned somewhere along the way, that I once drove a taxi in Boston. I did so off and on, both part time and full time starting in 1974 and I gave it up for good around 1983. I got my hackney license from the Boston Police in 1974. At that time, to drive a taxi in Boston, you had to pass a background check and pass a written test in order to get the license. A friend of mine was driving a taxi in Boston at that time, and he kind of talked me into it. Since I am originally from Boston and very familiar with several Boston neighborhoods, I decided to give it a try.
The first owner I drove for owned about 20 taxicabs and ran them out of his garage located on West Second St. in South Boston. He belonged to the Independent Taxi Operators Association (ITOA or to most drivers, simply the TO) which consisted of about 700 taxis at the time. As a member, he painted his cabs in the association colors and we answered radio calls all over the city and did various package and charge work for numerous companies.
One thing I liked about the TO was, no matter where in the city I dropped a fare off, I did not have to go back to where I came from “deadhead” or without a passenger. If, for example, I picked up a job in Dorchester and took it to Brighton, I could just stay in Brighton and answer radio calls. I think that was the only company that was truly city wide. All the other companies worked in certain neighborhoods within the city, none being city wide.
A couple of other details about driving a cab in Boston in the 70s and 80s. There were two shifts, 4 to 4. That is you either drove from 4AM until 4PM, or 4PM till 4AM. Initially, I worked days on weekends, while working my jobs at Cumberland Farms and occasionally as a security guard at the Boston Globe.
The first day I ever drove a taxi, I showed up at the garage on W 2nd Street at about 330 AM. It was a Saturday morning, and I was told that not all night drivers worked till 4, so if I came in early and the night guy in the Taxi I was assigned to “put up”early, there was a chance I could get out earlier and get a jump start on my day shift.
So, the guy who had my taxi that Friday night, rolls into the garage about 345 AM. I notice right away that there are two bullet holes in the windshield. The garage man asked the driver what happened, and the driver nonchalantly answers by saying “they were sniping again last night in Columbia Point”. The garage man nodded sympathetically, as if this was no big deal. The driver goes on to explain that he knew he never should have taken that last job into Columbia Point, but he made the mistake of thinking, well, one more job before I turn in.
Now for those of you not familiar, Columbia Point was a section of land that juts out into the bay between Dorchester and South Boston. Some time in the 1950s, a pretty big public housing project was built there, and by the mid 70s it had become a crime infested, filthy neighborhood consisting of a deadly maze of pathways, roof tops and passageways connecting numerous five or six story buildings.
Making matters worse, there was only one way in and one way out of those projects from Morrissey Blvd, and the Columbia Rd Traffic Circle. Most cab drivers, both black and white, tried desperately to avoid those projects. Cab drivers were often shot at randomly (as well as the police) and drivers were often robbed and beaten at gun point. I personally knew one female driver that was raped when she was pulled out of her cab there by a mob.
The TO had some great accounts nearby, and they included the Boston Globe, Channel 56 and Boston College High School. However, the TO sent all those calls off the cab stand located at the “A building” or Administrative building of the projects. Some of the black drivers were brave enough to sit at the A building hoping to get a call or package run from one of those businesses. But most of us avoided going into Columbia Point like I tried to avoid Sadr City when I was in Iraq.
That first morning, I had to wait for a different taxi for my day shift, as the one that I was scheduled to drive had to be taken out of service to repair the windshield. But, that morning, I got the idea that driving a Taxi in Boston could be a dicey proposition.
Eventually, as time went on, I experimented, working different parts of the city, learning my way around certain neighborhoods that I wasn’t familiar with such as Jamaica Plain, Allston and Brighton. That first morning I was listening to the taxi radio, and the busiest cab stand where the majority of calls were being dispatched from was at the corner of Morton St. and Blue Hill Ave, in Mattapan, in front of a bar called the Old Brown Jug. So, I headed there. It was in a black neighborhood, and I certainly got many strange looks from both the black cab drivers that played that stand, and, whenever a black customer got into my cab, when they realized I was white. They were certainly startled and sometimes dismayed. But, I didn’t care. Money is money, right?
Eventually, I found that I enjoyed working nights much more that I did working days. For one thing, it was easier to navigate the city at night. Plus, I liked being part of what I’ll call the “pulse” of the city or the street scene at night. Of course, working nights had some drawbacks, mainly crime. During my time roaming the nocturnal streets of Boston I have had many close calls, saw many weird things. Over the years I knew taxi drivers who were shot, stabbed and murdered while driving a cab.
Sometime around 1980, I can’t remember for sure exactly what year it was, I found myself, by choice, working a 4PM to 4 AM, which was pretty common for me those days. I was driving for a cab association called Red and White Taxi. I remember it was probably a Monday night, very quiet, both on the street and on the taxi radio. I was cruising around the Back Bay, near the Prudential Center hoping to pick off a radio call or possibly get flagged down by someone.
Suddenly, the quiet of the radio was broken by a scream, a sound almost animal like in nature. I slowed down, as the dispatcher tried to interpret who was yelling, what he was yelling, and where that driver was. As it turned out, a driver in the 812 cab, if I remember correctly, was screaming, begging really, for help. As far as I could figure, he had been robbed and shot. The driver was calling from around Parker St, possibly Terrace St. near the projects off of Roxbury Crossing. I wasn’t too far away, so I headed there at a high speed, not stopping for red lights as the streets were pretty much deserted. I found the taxi in the middle of the street, stopped at a wierd angle, and I saw several doors open, including the front passenger seat door. I pulled up behind the cab, got out and looked cautiously around. No Police yet. No other taxis. No one at all in the area. Needless to say, the scene was quite eerie, especially in light of the call for help I had just heard over the radio.
I carefully approached the cab and the open passenger door. What I saw shocked me. In fact, up until this week, when I read Dwyer’s book, I thought I had been wrong about what I first saw that night in that cab. However this book I was reading confirmed my initial observations. To add to my initial shock, this was before I became a police officer, and before I had joined the Army, so I hadn’t seen too much carnage in my lifetime up to that point.
I looked inside the cab, and I saw the driver trying to exit the cab across the front seat through the passenger door. He cried to me, and I’ll never forget his plea, he begged “Please take me out of here. I’m dying and I don’t want to die here.” As he made his plea to me, in what really amounted to a dying declaration and last wish, I recoiled in horror. The driver seemed to be cut in two pieces! His torso was crawling across the front seat, while his legs were still under the steering wheel with, with his pants unbuckled as though some unworldly entity consisting of only legs inside of pants had been driving the taxi.
As the driver tried to pull himself out of the taxi using only his arms, and after I got over my initial shock, I knelt down by the front seat and tried to calm the driver, whom I had never met before. I could hear sirens off in the distance finally, and as they got closer and closer I tried to comfort the driver by telling him to stay put, help would be here in a few minutes. As I examined the drivers torso, I saw he was bleeding from what I thought were two bullet holes in his stomach. Reddish yellow fluid oozed from the two newly man made orifices. The driver explained through his pain as he believed he was dying, that the guy who robbed him shot him for no reason. The driver told me he did as instructed but the guy shot him anyway.
After what seemed an eternity, the ambulance arrived and many police cars. I stood back and let the professionals do their work. The driver was transported to nearby Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and he actually did survive. The investigation continued and a guy name Willie Bennett was ultimately arrested and convicted for this robbery / shooting. He spent six years in prison. However, the details of the robbery were pretty grisly. Since I was also a taxi driver, and I was pretty friendly with the owner of that taxi I soon learned the following details:
The driver / victim picked up his assailant near by and was instructed to drop him at the nearby projects, on a quiet, deserted street. I should note that during that time, the rules and regulations for all Boston Taxicabs included, among other things, each had to contain a bullet proof plastic screen that separated the driver from the passengers and each had to be approved by the Boston Police Hackney Carriage Division, which was the licensing entity for the Boston taxi industry. Mine was made of Lexan, and it had a slot to do business through without opening. However, the driver could leave the partition open, as I often did in order to have more pleasant interactions with my customers, which obviously defeats the purpose of the shield in the first place.
In this drivers case, he was working bad neighborhoods, and he always kept his shield closed and locked. The flaw in the concept, as my new friend discovered, was that the shield was only from the top of the front seat to the roof. The back of the drivers seat had a metal plate on the back, as the driver discovered, that was not bullet proof.
After being directed to this deserted location, the passenger pulled a pistol and ordered the driver to give him all his money. The driver, understandably fearing for his life, complied, handing over his nights earnings right away. But then, the robber added a demand. He ordered the driver to remove his running shoes and hand them over. Since the driver was a double amputee, (which the author confirmed in the book I was reading) you may well imagine that removing his footwear was a problem, while sitting in the drivers seat, never mind while having a gun pointed at him. When the driver was unable to comply fast enough, the shooter fired three rounds at the driver. The bullets penetrated the seat and the two bullet holes I thought I was looking at in the drivers stomach were actually exit wounds. Later, during my police career, I learned to be able to discern entrance wounds from exit bullet wounds.
The driver himself was an immigrant trying to scratch out a living for his family driving a taxi at night. The bullets caused massive internal damage, and during a long recovery, with no job benefits, his family was in a bad way.
The owner of that taxi, eventually set up a garage at the corner of Gallivan Blvd and Washington Street in Dorchester. His name was Frank, and he was from somewhere in the Caribbean. If memory serves me correct, his brother was murdered shortly thereafter, also during a robbery, but that may not have happened in Boston. As time went on, they all left the States with their families because their attempts at chasing the American dream were literally destroyed and wrought with tragedy.
For me, it became one of several memorable nights. Nights when I tried not to become a victim myself, and nights when I witnessed some of the violence that occurred regularly in the Taxi business in the City of Boston, back in the late 70s and early 80s.
Michael Briggs was a friend of mine. I worked with him on the Manchester NH Police Department. Normally, I don’t write and post things publicly if there is even a small chance that seeing what I have written would cause someone some pain. However, since 13 years have passed, coupled with the fact that, at least initially, there was so much publicity about Mike’s murder, I feel that I can write about it without causing pain to either his family or anyone else that was touched by losing Mike. Also, by sharing my memories of the murder of Mike and the week that followed his death, I can share, at least a small piece, my piece, of what went on behind the scenes after Mike’s murder. I normally don’t use real or full names in my stories, but here I will make an exception. However, I will never publicly refer to the name of Mike’s killer. I will not give him that notoriety. Suffice it to say, he murdered Mike in cold blood, while Mike was performing his duty as a police officer.
During the months leading up to Mike’s murder, I often worked the police detail at Milly’s tavern on Wednesday nights, 10PM-2AM. Wednesday night was hip-hop night at Milly’s back then. Mike and his partners were assigned to Bicycle Patrol working 6PM-230AM. When he was working, he always made time to stop by Milly’s to check on the detail officer there, which more often than not was me. He would hang around for a bit, and we’d chat about whatever. Mike and his partner would often show up at bar break to help me deal with the unruly crowds that never wanted to leave. We made some arrests and fought a few battles together on those nights.
My last summer in the Patrol Division, I worked midnights downtown, by choice, so I had a lot of interaction with Mike those nights. We backed each other up and went to many calls together. One ironic part of this story is that a few years before Mike’s murder, Mike responded to a drive by shooting, gang related, if I remember correctly. Mike found the injured party bleeding on the ground after being shot, and he immediately performed first aid on the victim after summoning an ambulance. The Paramedics who responded, and the ER staff at the hospital all agreed that the treatment Mike gave to that person upon arrival saved that persons life. That individual, whose life was saved by Mike, was the same person who shot and killed Mike a few years later.
In 2006, my Brother and I came home on leave from Iraq. My wife had a surprise party for us. Mike came to my house that night to welcome us home along with so many other members of MPD. Who would have thought we’d lose Mike before the year was out?
Mike and his partner were working on bicycle patrol that terrible Sunday night in October of 2006. They were working 6PM until 230AM. Two men were involved in a domestic dispute and on the way out of the apartment, one of the men fired a pistol inside the apartment. This was a short time after 2AM, and the call for the domestic with shots fired came over the air shortly thereafter. During that time, Mike and his partner had bicycled to the station. There they would compete their daily report, check in and go home. Mike and John were, in every sense of the word, done with their shift.
The call came over the air, as well as a description of the two males involved, and several sector cars were responding. But Mike, hearing the call and also aware that the call wasn’t too far away, decided, instead of going out of service and into the station, to also respond. They immediately started searching for the two suspects, and it was known that at least one of them was armed.
Mike and John rolled up behind two male subjects matching the description walking in the area down a dark alley. They dumped their bikes behind the two suspects. Mike and John ran up behind the two, identified themselves as police officers and ordered them to stop. The subject that John approached, from behind, stopped as ordered. John grabbed him, however the other subject continued to walk away at a fast pace, ignoring Mike’s orders to stop. When Mike caught up with him, also from behind, this subject suddenly turned and fired at Mike, striking Mike in the head. Mike did not die immediately, but succumbed to his injury some time later, and I believe that he never did regain consciousness. Meanwhile two other officers returned fire and chased the shooter, but the shooter got away.
I got the word about Mike early Monday morning. I was scheduled for dayshift anyway. I quickly dressed, kissed my Wife good-bye and told her I won’t be home until we find Mike’s killer.
The morning Mike was shot, I found myself part of one of many 3 man search teams rolling throughout the city looking for Mike’s murderer. I was with my brother Frank and Brian Riel. The three of us were veteran detectives by that point in our careers. Frank was working in our Special Investigation Unit, which investigated Narcotics, Vice and other Organized Crime types of activity. Brian was a Detective assigned to Juvenile, and investigated the physical and sexual abuse of children. I was assigned to Financial crimes at the time, but had previously served six years as a detective in the Domestic Violence Unit, specializing in the investigation of Sexual Assaults of adult victims as well as stalking cases and had some solid homicide training and experience as well.
We aggressively followed every lead that was assigned or we developed. Helicopters buzzing overhead, SWAT trucks with armor clad, rifle toting cops hanging on to the outside of trucks as they rushed around like firemen of old. My brother looked at me and we felt like we were back in Baghdad, not Manchester. Unbeknownst to us, Mike’s murderer had already fled not only the city, but the state. He would be arrested later that afternoon by the Boston Police inside of his Grandmother’s Dorchester apartment.
Late the night before Mike died, my brother and I showed up at the Elliot Hospital. There were many other cops there. Most, were inconsolable. I talked to Mike. He was not conscious, and not expected to survive. I remember trying to hold his hand while I talked. I touched his face. I whispered I loved him. I told him how sorry I was. I told him we were going to take care of him.
That night, Frank and I, together took a shift standing watch over Mike and his family outside of his room. Another of many bittersweet moments Frank and I shared throughout our lives and careers.
I brought a bottle of Jameson Irish whisky to the hospital along with paper cups and ginger ale. The hospital made a large room available for cops to gather in. I pulled out the Jameson and poured the shots. A tearful toast to Mike followed and I suspect he would have loved it.
The next morning, in Dorchester District Court, many of us attended the arraignment of Mike’s murderer. A woman in the lobby of the courthouse, seeing all the Manchester and Boston cops gathered together, remarked with obvious disdain “Boy you cops all stick together!” I turned to her and said with a bit of disdain myself, “You better believe it”. Mike’s murderer refused to leave the holding cell and face us in court. The coward who just 32 hours before had knowingly shot Mike in the head as Mike tried to apprehend him, was arraigned while he drew back inside the darkness of his cell.
Upon arriving back at MPD, Nick Willard, who was in charge of what was now the murder investigation of an on duty Police Officer, assigned to me my piece of this investigation. He said he had no one to spare to work with me, so I was on my own.
Jake Tyler, was a young cop and fairly new on the job. He had worked all night in patrol. That morning he offered to help me. No pay needed and not on the books. I drove him home, told him to put on a jacket and tie, and away we went to Methuen, Roxbury and Dorchester. Jake didn’t sleep for almost two days.
During my investigation, I learned that after shooting Mike, and while the biggest manhunt in the history of Manchester was taking place, the killer left NH with a couple of female friends. While we were kicking in doors, he calmly drove to Metheun Ma, where he ate lunch at McDonalds, then hit a few stores looking for cell phone accessories. He then drove to Boston. After picking up his Grandmother, this killer drove her to the bank, then to Western Union where he paid a few bills, just like any other day. A short time later he was located and after a brief standoff, arrested at his Grandmother’s apartment. When the cop killer was apprehended, the Arresting Officer called Detective Willard in NH, told him the sound he was about to hear was his handcuffs being applied Mike’s killer, then put his phone down to the Killer’s hands so Nick could hear the cuffs being applied. During that week, I was able to obtain clear video and photographic evidence that Mike’s murderer visited all those places I mentioned. Apparently, the fact that he had just shot a cop didn’t bother him too much.
The first night I was in Boston, I took Jake to the No Name for a quick dinner. When we arrived, there was a Mass State Trooper near the door. I chatted him up a bit, let him know what we were doing in Boston. We ate. Instead of the check, the owner personally came to us, told us the trooper went to him, told him about us. The owner refused to take money from us, and told us how sorry he was about Michael Briggs murder.
Our last stop late that night was to Boston Police Station Eleven, Dorchester. There, a BPD detective turned over a pair of sneakers worn by the murderer when he shot Mike. BPD seized those sneakers from the murderer.
I remember a meeting that week that took place between the lead prosecutor (and later United States Senator Kelly Ayotte) and the detectives assigned to work this case. She told us that none of us could retire until after the case was completed. She expected the case to take up to two years to wind its way through the court system, and appeals for years.
She also told us that our job was to neither grieve for Mike or comfort his family. She said our ONLY job was to work this case until completion. She said other cops in the department will take care of Mike and his family. We’d have plenty of time to grieve later. She was right about that.
MPD placed a cop at the funeral home with Mike around the clock. I stopped in to hang out for a bit with whoever that cop was at the end of each night, usually around midnight or so. Then I headed home for three hours of tossing and turning. Up before five, quick shower and shave, bleary eyed, in dire need of sleep and a decent meal, but laser focused, I went back at it. Like all the other detectives that worked the case, I quickly became physically exhausted. I would grabbed whatever unmarked car that was available, and head back to Roxbury and Dorchester until I finished, usually late in the night. My biggest fear was falling asleep at the wheel coming back from Boston those late nights.
Five days and nights for all of us, very little sleep, the case continued. I spent most of that time working with Boston Police Detectives tracking and getting video and witness statements following the murderers timeline beginning when he shot Mike until the BPD arrested him in Dorchester.
Meanwhile, other MPD detectives arrived at Boston PD HQ in order to conduct various search warrants. Upon arrival, the Commander of Boston PD Homicide Unit, told the Manchester Detective Sergeant that he was placing his entire unit under the command of the MPD sergeant as long as needed. Ernie Goodno declined, but so, starting with Boston’s arrest of Mike’s killer, a special bond developed between the Boston and Manchester Police Departments that still exists today.
I also remember, and my family was there, standing outside in the pouring rain during Mike’s wake.
The day of the funeral arrived. I was proud that both my sons marched, in uniform, with five thousand other cops from all over the country. They got to experience their first police funeral. Tragically, it was for a Manchester Cop. Wouldn’t be the last police funeral for either of them. I never imagined we would have such a funeral in Manchester, never mind taking part in the investigation of the murder of one of our own. Unfortunately, Mike was not the last Manchester cop to be shot in the line of duty. There have been several since, and thankfully, despite serious wounds, all have survived.
The day of the funeral came, after a long, long week. I finally broke down and I cried. There is a photo of me, standing next to Scott Fuller, and I’m covering my face. It may not be obvious, I was covering my face with a gloved hand, but I was crying. I finally broke down and cried for Mike. That photo shows up from time to time.
The Hooksett NH Police came into the city that day (as MPD had always done at other police funerals in New England) and took over many police duties so we could bury Mike and grieve. I’m sure there were other agencies present as well. But, I saw Hooksett cruisers around downtown Manchester that day.
My wife and daughter needed a ride from the stadium were the service for Mike was held, to their car, which was parked in another part of the city. I grabbed a bunch of cops, who just happened to be Weymouth Mass. cops. They eagerly agreed to take care of Mary and Katrina. No questions asked. Later, I got a lift from a bunch of Chelsea Mass. cops back downtown. Sadly, I was able to repay the Weymouth cops hospitality to my family that day. Last year, I attended the funeral of one of their own.
I went home at about 8 PM the night of the funeral. I was pretty drunk, and it rained again, so my uniform was soaked. I sat down next to my bed, let the events of that week sink in. My last thought, which I said out loud, before I fell into an exhaustive deep sleep was “what a fuckin nightmare”. I never did look at police work the same after that.
As a post script, I, like many of the other detectives who worked Mike’s case, refused to put in for and accept any overtime pay. However, we were ordered to do so. We protested, but the order stood. So, what all of us did who spent so many hours working this case, once we got paid, we took every dollar we received, put it in an envelope and gave it to Mike’s wife. I know it didn’t help very much, but it was important to us.
It goes without saying, that there is much more to this story than what I have written, what I recollect. And, suffice it to say, that there was and is more to Michael Brigg’s life than the circumstances that surround his death. Mike was also a Former Marine who served in Somalia. His father is a Vietnam Veteran. Mike’s legacy, at least part of it is that his sons have grown up, and one of them has chosen to follow Mike into law enforcement.
We all miss you Mike. We will never forget you. And, we will make sure that even after we are gone, you and your family won’t be forgotten.
This week I read about a cop in Massachusetts who was responding to a call with his blue lights on, and on the way to the call he struck a 70 year old man. The story read that the guy that was stuck was in a crosswalk. The last I heard, the pedestrian was in critical condition. Naturally, that got me to thinking about the subject of lights, sirens and pursuits.
Every cop, well, maybe many cops, learn hard lessons early in their careers about racing around the city in their cruisers with their lights flashing and sirens wailing. Police vehicles have lights and sirens for a reason, however the use of them can be very dangerous to both the officers involved and the law abiding public.
I learned my lesson in the second or third year of my police career. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt in my case, and actually, I learned two lessons.
I can’t talk about these lessons separately, therefore, I have to tell you the whole story in order to provide context and insight.
If I haven’t lost you yet, I’ll start by telling this incident happened during what I would describe as a really bad week at work. It was during the summer, and I was working my favorite shift, 6PM to 230 AM. I liked that shift for several reasons, one of them being that those 8 hours were normally the busiest 8 hours during the 24 hour day in terms of calls for service. We usually kept busy on that shift, and that was fine with me and the other officers who bid for that shift.
We worked 4 days on and 2 days off, which was a day off schedule I enjoyed. First night on, this particular week, I got involved with a foot chase, standoff and apprehension of a patient at one of the Emergency Rooms in the city. This Eddie Murphy / Beverly Hills Cop type of chase took place inside, outside and around the hospital. Ultimately it ended with a trip for myself to the Emergency Room, followed by a series of somewhat painful injections to ward off any number of communicable diseases I may have contracted during the final melee.This was the end result as I tried to take this wayward patient back into custody.
I figured I was in line for some type of attaboy for my role in this rather violent event. Instead of a “well done” from my supervisor, when I reported for duty the following afternoon, my shift commander informs me he was bringing me up on charges for losing my prisoner, conduct unbecoming and whatever else. I didn’t mention it was not my prisoner that escaped, but that of an officer from a neighboring department. Needless to say I went right to my Union Rep, who told me not to worry, and those charges never materialized.
My last night on duty that week ended when I went to a house to take a past tense burglary report, and being so hot, and being that we had manual roll up windows at the time, I left my front windows open because I was in a pretty decent neighborhood. When I came out, I found a puddle of urine on my seat and floor. To add insult to injury, my brief case which contained a two year collection of various cheatsheets and other reference material to help me out when I was in the street was gone. Along with that brief case, my subpoenas, court dates, my case notes were also missing. This was a problem on many levels, beyond the stink and wetness of urine that permeated the cruiser. I quickly received a formal, written reprimand for that Charlie Foxtrot. Thats how my week ended. It was not a good week for my monthly evaluation or my personnel file, or, maybe more important, my ego.
This night, was the night after the hospital incident, and as I mentioned, when I came in, the shift commander read me the riot act and said he was bringing me up on charges. I don’t remember much else about that evening.
I do remember that I had just pulled my cruiser into the Lincoln Street Plaza, and pulled up in a spot where I could watch whatever activity was going on. Suddenly, a yell, really a scream for help crackled over the radio. A two man walking post was yelling for help outside of one of the local drinking dives. They were trying to arrest someone for something, and I guess they found themselves in the middle of a shit show (yes, shit show is actually in my thesaurus!) and they needed help. I was in striking distance, so I immediately picked up my mike, informed dispatch I was responding. Somehow, the dispatcher was able to pick out my transmission from about twenty other units that yelled they were responding. The dispatcher confirmed I was responding, then told me, needlessly, to respond Code Three. This meant blue lights and siren. As it turned out, that fact that they did assign me as primary unit responding and ordered a code three response didn’t hurt me at all during the internal investigation that followed what was about to happen.
I turned on my blues and siren, and turned northerly on Lincoln St. and stepped on the gas. Lincoln St. is a two way street in a very densely populated area of the city. The neighborhood was a high crime area, and made up of various wood framed box-like three and six family dilapidated tenements which were spaced very closely together.
The problem was, that there was a stop sign at every intersection. As I approached each stop sign, I would tap the brakes and if it looked safe, I rolled through the intersection. That worked out fine until I reached the corner of Spruce St. On the S/W corner of Spruce and Lincoln was a market. The market was actually on my left, which made the intersection a blind intersection for anyone traveling north on Lincoln or east on Spruce. I slowed down again, as I did at the other stop signs, then suddenly, there was a pick up truck immediately in front of me. I had no time to react, and I don’t even remember if I had time to hit my brakes. What I do remember is that last minute feeling deep in my stomach a fraction of a second before I collided with that truck. If you’ve ever had a traffic accident where you knew only at the last moment that you were going to collide with something but couldn’t do anything about it, you know how that feels. It doesn’t feel too good.
I remember T-boning the truck with my cruiser. That means I drove into it’s side at a perpendicular or right angle. The force of the collision pushed the truck out of the intersection onto the sidewalk on the opposite corner (off to the right) of the intersection. I was terrified. I was really afraid I killed or seriously hurt someone. I ran to the pick up truck (which was pretty much totaled from the collision) to check on the occupants. I found there were two, a male and female, and to my immense relief, neither was hurt seriously, although very shaken up as you could imagine.
I immediately called in the accident, asking for both a supervisor and an ambulance. Looked at my cruiser, at the time it was a Chevy police package, I forget the model, and although it needed to be towed from the scene, it wasn’t too bad. Like I say, the truck was a different story. I felt really bad, and, although I was using lights and siren, responding to an authorized Code Three call, I knew I was at fault in the accident for rolling the stop sign at this blind intersection, at least under NH M/V law. The law allowed me to violate the rules of the road, but it did not protect me if I was reckless in doing so. I knew the fact that I had this collision while rolling the stop sign which caused a significant amount of property damage as well as personal injury could be considered reckless by anyone who reviewed it.
Seconds, maybe a few minutes had passed, and being a warm summer night, the inevitable crowd started to gather. I had to protect the scene, beyond that, I had to wait.
During this time, a guy, maybe around 30, came up to me and told me he had seen the accident, and wanted to make a formal statement. I immediately figured this guy was not my friend, but I told him that a supervisor should be on the scene momentarily and I asked him to wait and speak only to that supervisor. Eventually, other cops, a patrol sergeant, ambulance and the FD showed up. Both occupants were transported to the nearest hospital for evaluation and the on scene accident investigation began. Because I was both a cop and city employee, SOP dictated a thorough investigation be conducted. So there was both the accident investigation, and a separate internal investigation into my conduct leading up to the accident. I had to give separate statements for both that night.
In the end, I was found at fault in the accident by my own police department. I knew I would be. However the department decided not to summons me to court for a stop sign violation, which they often did in these cases. I did however, receive a formal written reprimand for not coming to a complete stop at the stop sign. If you are wondering, the answer is no, the PD didn’t whitewash or cover up my or the city’s liability for the accident. I am just thankful, to this day, I didn’t kill or hurt anyone seriously in this event. So now to the lessons I learned.
The first one was that no matter what kind of call I ever responded to after that time, I decided nothing would ever be worth hurting or killing an innocent person responding with lights and siren. From that day on, I ALWAYS came to a complete stop at intersections, red lights and stop signs. Sometimes, when going to a “Hot Call” if there is such a thing, there were cops behind me also running with lights and siren, and my cautious approach drove them crazy. But, I didn’t care. I’ve also been in my share of motor vehicle pursuits, but I wasn’t big on them and often glad when the OIC called one off, and often made that decision on my own.
The second lesson I learned was, if you are going to a hot call, like an officer yelling for help or a baby not breathing, just two examples, you aren’t going to help anyone if you don’t get there! And that’s exactly what happened that night. I may or may not have been the closest unit to where these cops were yelling for help, but, if their safety and survival depended on me, they were in a lot of trouble. Due to my accident, I never got there. Fortunately, other officers did. It wouldn’t be an entirely inaccurate analysis if someone (like me) came to the conclusion that I had this accident for no compelling reason. It didn’t matter that night that I never got there. Someone else did. The situation was dealt with on a timely basis even though I never arrived to help. What if I killed someone…
As the accident investigation went on, I later learned that the witness told the sergeant that he was traveling a few blocks behind me. He saw me pullout with lights and siren, and he said that he couldn’t tell if I stopped at each stop sign or not, but he did see my brake lights go on at each intersection and it appeared I slowed down before going through each one. He wanted us to know that. His statement, most likely saved me from more severe punishment. It showed I was proceeding with a degree of caution and not just blowing one stop sign after another. More importantly, he certainly did not have to stop and offer his observations.
Maybe that was a third lesson. I didn’t have a lot of time on the job, but I was starting to develop the often inevitable “us against them” paranoia cops sometimes develop. I think it kind of creeps up unnoticed in many younger cops. It comes by dealing with the criminal element within our society day in and day out, hour to hour. In fact, an early observation I made in my career was that a large portion of crime victims I was dealing with were themselves criminals who were victimized by other criminals. Many people who came to the police for help did so because we were their last resort for help. Many other victims became victims because of poor decisions they may have made, which is frustrating to cops. Most cops come on the job to help victims of crime and apprehend criminals and hold them responsible for their behavior. It doesn’t take long for those seemingly perverse dynamics to start coloring a cop’s values, and his or her previous idea of what our society looks like and how the system works, and for whose benefit that system actually works for.
Add to that when the police are summoned to a situation, criminal or not, the people who call the police often expect that officer to solve whatever problem they are called for, no matter how complex, no matter how long it had gone on. Whether the problem was a long running neighbor dispute, burglary or theft with no leads, the discovery of sexual abuse of a child by another member of the family or trusted friend, or a serious assault. Often, the responding officer cannot resolve those problems in the time he or she are at the call. This causes many members of the public, who often have unrealistic expectations of the police (and the system) to turn on the very officers that are trying to assist them. And, of course, if a cop uses bad judgment, makes an honest mistake, there are plenty of members of the law abiding public that will pounce upon that cop, or the profession as a whole in a public and boisterous manner. So it was that I automatically assumed this person, who I knew nothing about other than he was a civilian, was going to try to hurt me in a legal or professional way.
So, I think that type of paranoia was starting to build inside of me, and after I found out that this witness wanted to help, rather than try to bury me, it caused me to conduct a serious self evaluation of my self and my career. I didn’t want to turn into one of those cops who developed a poor attitude or a general distrust of the public on its entirety.
I went on to work to become more approachable to all segments of the community I served. I think this has always been a problem in general with cops. Many people in the community don’t look at cops as being approachable. Not always the cops fault, but I always thought we never did enough to erase this perception. I tried to become less judgmental towards the folks I dealt with, and tried to look at things from other peoples point of view before I made decisions. Its why during my career, at different times, I was involved in outreach to underserved populations within my city. Those populations included the Gay, Black, Latino, poor and immigrant populations, which traditionally do not trust cops.
I came to believe that no matter how heinous the crimes committed by the persons I arrested or built cases on, I tried not to take it personal. After all, they didn’t do anything to me. I even tried to treat suspects who committed the most abhorrent crimes with a high degree of civility and dignity, no matter what I personally thought of that criminal. Doing so had benefits. Not the least of which was, treating people with respect made me a better and more effective detective later in my career.
The job went on, the years flew by. There were more than enough people out there who considered me a PIG, and told me as much to my face. Black and white, male and female. Not much I can do about that. But I always tried to rise above those problems. I tried to correct those negative impressions whenever and wherever I could. I was surprised how easy it was to develop these types of prejudices and cynicisms on this job. It was way too easy, and it was happening to me and I never even knew it! Maybe that is the scariest part of all. I think and hope I became a better police officer for it all.
Oh by the way, after the investigator went to the hospital to interview the occupants of the truck I hit, a supervisor was called to the scene and he arrested the driver of the pick up truck for DUI, because she was DUI. Didn’t help me at all, as it turned out. And I’m sure the City paid out a pretty penny to the owner of the truck, and it’s occupants. Oh, did I mention that this wasn’t the first or last reprimand I received that week? It wasn’t.
I was fairly new on the job during the summer of 1991. I was 36 years old, and had kicked around in life before coming onto the job. I wasn’t exactly young and impressionable, but still, I had a lot to learn about both life and police work. I had attended and completed two Police Academies, and completed my Field Training (FTO) period, but I was still a probationary patrol officer that summer. I was working a sector car by my lonesome, and one evening I was sent to a “check condition” call of a person who was suicidal. Pretty common call in police work.
The cop that was sent with me was an old timer who had several years on the job. He was definitely a salty veteran. When I came on the job, the culture of MPD, for the most part was, if you had no or little time on the job, you kept your eyes open and your mouth shut. Not everyone subscribed to this theory, and it was more a generational thing that the older cops subscribed to, not so much the younger cops. That unwritten rule slowly went away as the cops that had come on the job in the 60’’s and 70’s also went away, into retirement or on to other careers.
The cop that was sent with me was one of those old timers named Charlie. He worked the same shift as I did, 6PM to 230 AM. The man would never talk to me. I’d ride up the elevator with him to roll call and I’d say “HI” and he’d either ignore me or tell me where to go. I got it, and accepted it. I will add that once I had some time on the job, I never treated a rookie or young officer this way.
Once, he was working a traffic detail and I stopped and offered to get him a coffee or cold drink and he started cursing in colorful language, telling me to get away. Such was the culture of police work where I worked in 1991. So to hell with him, I thought, and I never talked to him again, unless there was a work related necessity.
So, Charlie backs me up on this call. Of course, upon arrival he refused to talk to me, same as always, and we find the suicidal subject. She was seated in a sofa chair in her living room, was very distraught and we tried to talk with her. We attempted to establish a rapport with her, then tried to convince her to go to the hospital voluntarily. We were able to learn that she took a large amount of her prescription meds, so this was a serious suicide attempt. If we didn’t get to a hospital, she surely would have died.
While we are trying to talk with her, (at the time, since she was awake, the law prevented us from forcing her to get medical care, as amazing as that sounds) Charlie, the crusty old timer who refuses to talk with younger police officers, is on his knees, at her chair trying to convince her that she has much to live for, she is loved because someone cared enough to call for her and so on. Initially, I was shocked to see this display of compassion Charlie showed for this young woman he had never met before. I learned a lot about Charlie that day. He actually demonstrated what compassion meant for a police officer, and because of that, I never looked at him the same again.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we prevailed, the young lady reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital, so we transported her to a hospital in Manchester. Again, back in the day, we could transport in our cruisers, if we decided it was prudent. So, finally after a lot of persuasion, she agrees to go to the hospital with us. We drive her, go in with her and talk to the ER personnel. She is admitted, and we go on our way.
Back in those years, if someone OD’d on meds, the medical treatment was to give the patient Liquid Charcoal. The patient could either voluntarily drink it, or have it force fed to her in a tube against her will, followed by a stomach pumping. I saw the procedure numerous times after that night, and it certainly wasn’t pleasant. Aside of that, when I left the hospital, I was very proud and happy that I was able to help this woman get the help she needed, and possibly saved her life. It’s all about helping people, right? I knew I had chosen the right profession.
I went about my business and at one point I had a lull during the shift. When it slowed down, I went back to the ER to check on her. The staff said she was doing better, and said I could go back to see her. I wanted to say HI and tell her I was worried about her and happy she decided to go to the hospital. I was glad she was feeling better.
She gave me a very cold stare, then after I spoke to her for a few minutes, she told me life is too painful for her to continue. She said all she wanted to do was go to sleep peacefully, never have to wake up and not have to feel the pain anymore. She asked me why I didn’t let her do that. She then made the following statement to me, which I have never forgotten: “I hate you for what you did to me. Get away from me.” I was stunned, to say the least. I was speechless. I certainly had no answer for her. She clearly wanted nothing to do with me, and I believed at the time she truly hated us for what we had done. I awkwardly backed away from her, turned away went back to my cruiser. It certainly was an eye opener for me, at least as far as dealing with what used to be called, MDPs or Mentally Disturbed Persons. I was shocked at her behavior, but in the months to come, I would be shocked even more when I regularly saw the capacity humans had for harming themselves or others.
I sat for a bit, and after a few minutes I informed communications I was back in service. I was immediately sent to my next call. The rhythm of the job continued on that night. During the weeks that followed I answered all types of calls and the seemingly never ending steady cadence of the job continued. There were other problems and crisis’ to solve. I found out early, that instead of spending most of my time chasing bad guys around the streets, I spent more time dealing with people in crisis and trying to solve problems that often were unsolvable for a police patrol officer. Things that were never in the brochure.
Still though, until this day, that call and her comments to me remain seared in my memory. That call was kind of a milestone in my new job. So began my new education in police work.
I think that the role of Drill Sergeants, in the Army anyway, is misunderstood by most civilians and often soldiers themselves. Just to clarify, Army Drill Sergeants are not called Drill Instructors, or DIs, at least not officially. Army basic training is not called bootcamp. It is called IET (Initial Entry Training) and is broken down into three types. They are, BCT (Basic Combat Training) AIT (Advanced Individual Training for whatever job skill they will have) and OSUT (One Stop Unit Training) where the soldiers stay at the same unit, with the same drill sergeants and go through both their BCT and AIT is combined together into one longer cycle.
The role of the Drill Sergeant is similar in each. But there are some subtle yet significant differences in each environment. I won’t go into those differences here. But I will make a disclaimer, and that is that the information I will provide is from my own experience having served as a Drill both in a BCT environment and later as a Drill Sergeant at an Army Drill Sergeant School. That would cover the late 80’s up to the mid 90’s. I transferred into the Inactive Ready Reserve in 2011, so I am sure there are many changes that have occurred since.
A few statistics. In 1988, the Army claimed that only the top 5% of the NCO Corps ever got to become Drill Sergeants or serve as Drill Sergeants. The Army always claimed that those soldiers who wear a Drill Sergeant Badge were unique among Army NCOs and as a result, highly trained leaders. I’m sure many who never served or were selected for Drill Sergeant duty would argue that. However, that was how the ARMY felt about it.
Back in those days, the Army gave you promotion points for having served as Drill Sergeant. The promotion points ended during the mid 90’s for Drill Sergeants. During the time I was a Drill, the Army had to select and force 70% of its Drill Sergeants to attend school and complete a tour as a Drill. When it came to female Drills, that number was 95%. That was because Drill Sergeant duty was never considered desirable. Becoming a Drill Sergeant was not a career path in the Army, but a stop during an Army NCO’s career. Once a tour as a Drill Sergeant was complete, he or she went back to their MOS (military occupational specialty) within which they usually, but not always remained for the rest of their career.
The unwilling Sergeant who was selected for drill sergeant duty, if he wished to remain in the Army, had to suck it up, attend and complete Drill Sergeant School satisfactorily, and finish his tour as a Drill without any significant disciplinary incidents. If he or she failed to do so, it was effectively a career ender. So, once selected, they packed their bags, went to school, and upon graduation, move himself and his family to whatever post within the Army where he or she was sent.
A word about Drill Sergeant School (DSS). This was a school for E-5 through E-7, and the instructors were Drill Sergeant Leaders (DSL) that had completed their tour at the IET level, and then were selected to teach at the school. It was a total control environment, in which the students were treated like privates. Called Drill Sergeant Candidates, they had repeated pretty much each subject they had when in basic training. The difference was that after being re-taught each subject by the DSL, the students then had to teach that subject flawlessly to complete that module and go on to the next. There are dozens of written and performance tests, and you could only fail a certain amount of these tests, and if you did, you got one chance to re-test. If you failed that, you were out.
Unlike the Basic Trainee, along with all of this, you were expected to keep your boots highly shined and uniform perfectly pressed at all times. You also pulled extra duty at the school appropriate for your rank. You stood inspections, and had better passed them. Graduating Drill Sergeant School was certainly one of the highlights of my military career.
Some time around 1989 and 1990, I worked at Ft. Dix, NJ as a DS. Dix was still an Army IET Post conducting BCT and AIT for soldiers who were mostly in support MOSs. By 1990, Dix had been downgraded by the Army, and no longer an Army Training Center. New soldiers would only be sent to Forts Jackson, Benning, Sill or Leonard Wood for BCT. Ft. Dix function as an Army Training Center would be almost eliminated, and remain open as a training area for reserve units. It turned out I was assigned, for a time, as a Drill to the last Basic Training cycle that ever went through there, and we cased those unit colors and they were sent to the other bases.
It was probably 1990 when I was working at Ft. Dix, and I had a platoon which was in their first week of Basic Training. It was their first week in the Army, trying to adjust to the new world that they chose to enter. My platoon was made up of new soldiers from the National Guard, Army Reserve and the Regular Army. Many people don’t know this, but if you join one of those components, you are placed on active duty and sent to an Army training center for your IET. The training is the same for all three components. Once successfully completed, those soldiers are sent back to the unit they will then serve in. At that point the gaining unit receives a disciplined, physically fit soldier who has started to make the difficult transition to Army life.
Drill Sergeants, I truly believe, have one of the toughest jobs in the Army. The days are long, and you must be in top form at all times. When you are near troops and wearing the campaign or DS hat, you can’t lean against a wall, you can’t slouch, talk trash, curse, drink anything other than water or coffee, eat candy or snacks, chew gum or smoke. The troops are not allowed these luxuries, therefore neither are you. You are also 100% responsible for their safety and overall wellbeing.
You do have to be ready to jump on and forcefully correct the smallest breach of uniform, safety, training or any other regulations. You must lead these trainees through physical training and do every task you teach them better than they can. You must be more physically fit than every soldier in your platoon and company. You must appear fearless and omnipotent, an expert in all things military.
From the minute you step onto the company street, at 0430 or whenever, until the time you put them to bed, it’s game on. And when you do get to bed after prepping for the next day, you might get three, at most four hours sleep. And after a week or so, it’s easy to get burned out, make mistakes or just not be at the top of your form. You must, at all times, provide an environment where soldiers learn to react to orders and instructions immediately and without hesitation.
It’s not unusual during your time as a DS to encounter some unusual situations, and you have to be prepared to deal with these situations as they pop up. You have to think on your feet, act immediately, and you’d better be right. Many situations are covered by Army Regulations, and Unit Standard Operating Procedures, all of which you have to be intimately familiar with. Many other situations require imagination and the old “adapt and overcome” type of philosophy. Like being a cop, it’s very easy for a DS to get into serious trouble by actions he or she may take, or, perhaps even more often, actions he or she failed to take.
Going back to 1990, it was about the fourth day my platoon had been in the Army and it’s training had begun. I was the “early man” that day, meaning I would be the DS to wake them up for another wonderful day in the US Army. I got up at around 0330 (yes, kiddies, thats AM) dressed, and got ready for the first part of my day. It was only training day 4, and I was already exhausted. I was hungry and knew it would be several hours before I would be able to have breakfast. I decided I had time to drive into Wrightstown to a 7-Eleven which was open all nite. After checking my appearance in the six foot mirror provided by the Army for just that purpose, I yawned a few times, then finally determined I was ready to show myself in public.
I decided to get a snack, which ended up being composed of a lousy cup of hot convenience store coffee (who knows how long it sat there) and a Drake’s Ring Ding to help jump start me. The bleary eyed clerk mumbled his thanks to the bleary eyed Drill Sergeant, as he put both items into a paper bag. This turned out to be fortuitous. I drove back to the company area. It was about 0415, and all was quiet. First call this day was at 0430, so while the minutes silently ticked away and it started to get light, I sipped my nasty coffee and swallowed my ring-ding as I sat in my car.
I then walked to the entrance of the barracks, where, with the exception of the fire guard who was already awake, the trainees were fast asleep. I slipped into my Drill Sergeant beast mode, and I noisily thrust the door open. Simultaneously, I screamed “GET UP” picking up the metal trash can (which was supposed to be emptied the night before but was not) and threw it as hard and as far as I could down the middle of the aisle. This startled the youngsters from their deep sleep and sweet dreams. After throwing the trash can I raced down the bay and admonished the platoon that they were moving so slow that if it had been an actual ambush, most of them would be dead.
After everyone was “toeing the (yellow) line” at attention on each side of the aisle, I ran up and down, acting like I was enraged at their performance. Which I might add was pretty bleak. But that was to be expected at this point. Finally, I quieted down and ordered the troops to carry on, make their bunks and get dressed for Physical Training. PT was a necessity that would turn into another hour long torture session for all but the best conditioned privates.
Eventually, my brother, who was also a Drill Sergeant showed up to begin his duty day. He had a different platoon in the company, which was in the same building, but he stopped by to visit and say HI. He immediately went to work on my platoon, which was acceptable protocol. The unwritten rule was that his interference with my platoon acceptable as long as he was in the same company as my platoon. I had 1st Platoon and he had 3rd.
Frank happened to be in a bit of a foul mood because he was running late (as per usual) and got stopped driving to the company area by the MPs for speeding. The post speed limit was 20 MPH, a speed which he protested at the time as being impossible for a normal person to adhere for more then a few minutes. He was doing a little over 30 MPH and sure enough, the MPs stopped him and an unpleasant exchange with those MPs followed. The MPs weren’t impressed by Frank’s DS hat (since Ft. Dix was loaded with DSs) we were nothing special. Nor were they impressed by his claim that he was late for first call .
So now all this (mostly) silent activity was going on, I patrolled the bay back and forth, occasionally stopping to question or comment to individual soldiers about whatever. Usually it was to say something encouraging, like telling them I couldn’t believe how screwed up they were and there was no way I was going to let any of them serve in my Army.
Now I had a private, I’ll call him Private Tom (not his real name) who displayed an unusual behavioral trait which began the first time he laid eyes on me. You see Private Tom, anytime I looked in his direction, approached him or spoke to him, would begin to hyperventilate. It always caused quite a stir, and he would eventually fall onto the floor panting, trying and failing to catch his breath. Before that day, each time he had an attack, he was sent to sick call, where he was examined, promptly returned to the platoon, the doctor declaring he was fully fit for duty. Tom only acted like this when I was around. He did not act like this when any of the other Drill Sergeants were around. Only near me.
As I walked over to Tom to give him some of my special encouragement, before I had a chance to chat with him, he started to hyperventilate. He created quite the scene, and it was starting to wear thin with the other privates, who at that point had no sympathy for anyone other than themselves. It was also starting to annoy me as well.
But, I had to take action! I had always heard that breathing into a paper bag would restore normal breathing for a person who was hyperventilating. I suddenly remembered I had the paper bag from my morning snack out in my car. I sent for it and gave it to Tom. I had him breathe into it, while I placed it and held it over his mouth and nose. Eventually, his breathing returned to normal, and after I was sure he was OK, I had a little conversation with him. At that point I figured this guy would have to keep a paper bag with him at all times, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to carry one for him.
While sitting on a bunk, I ordered him to pay close attention to me. I then folded the bag in a certain precise manner. I then asked him to demonstrate to me that he knew the correct way to fold it, and he did so to my satisfaction. I instructed him to have the bag with him at all times, and that he would carry the folded bag in a certain pocket. I told him that this bag would, going forward, be known as the M-294 anti-hyperventilation device. I told him that he must make it available for inspection, if requested by any of the Drill Sergeants or his platoon and squad leaders. I called both over, and instructed them to insure that Private Tom had his M-294 Anti Hyper ventilation device with him at all times, folded properly.
After I was satisfied he understood my instructions, I sent him on sick call again. He was of course sent back to the platoon again. But I started a chain of paperwork, in which I tried to convince the Company and Battalion Commanders he should be discharged from the Army due to his inability to adapt to military life.
Tom was with us for another week or so, but this behavior continued. I thought perhaps it would cease after he got used to the routine, and used to me, but he never did. The bag I made him carry was actually used again, and various Drill Sergeants within the company did stop him at random times and make him present the brown bag for inspection. He did get discharged a short time later, due to his inability to overcome this issue. He was a good kid, but he didn’t belong in the Army. He was certainly holding the platoon back because of his behavior. Can you imagine what could have happened when he was faced with a really stressful situation? I don’t even have to think about combat, where he could get himself or his buddies killed.
Sadly, Private Tom had to go. I don’t know whatever became of him after he was discharged from the Army, but I wished him the best when I left him to the hold over platoon, from where he would out process from the Army and head home. I sincerely meant it. None of us ever heard from him again.
By the way, even though the M-294 Anti-Hyperventilation device turned out to be an excellent field expedient method to deal with hyperventilation, don’t bother to Google it or check Army acquisition records for that device. It doesn’t exist. But, I guess you already knew that.
I don’t recall where I first heard the expression “murder police”. I may have read it somewhere in the past, but it kinda stuck with me. Eventually it came to the point in my career when I started to refer to the detectives who got called out at all hours of the day and night to investigate homicides, assaults where the victim may die, and suicides that may have a suspicious component as the Murder Police. These suspicious circumstances may have been noted or observed by the patrol officer who was sent to the scene (Lord knows we all went to so many of them) or possibly by the Assistant Medical Examiner who also responded to the scene. Additionally, fatal drug overdoses may fall into the suspicious category depending on the circumstances of the death.
The theory behind these responses is that, in police work, you only get one chance to process a hopefully undisturbed / uncontaminated homicide scene. If by some chance you or your supervisor make a mistake and DO NOT seal off a possible crime scene at the time the victim is found, it will be too late to do so if later the victim dies, and you hadn’t preserved it. The chance to gather information and evidence from that scene would be lost forever.
As far as suicides go, most suicides turn out to be exactly what they appear. But you still have to process the scene of the suicide for two reasons: 1) It helps the Medical Examiner to determine cause and manner of death, and 2), in someways just as important, it helps the family learn without a doubt how their loved one met their death. Heaven forbid, sometime later, perhaps years, a person comes forward with credible information that a death that had perviously been determined a suicide involved some foul play. As long as we processed the scene when the victim was first found and collected evidence, we will always have the ability to go back and re-examine the original investigation. One thing that I have found over the years is that sometimes family members refuse to accept that the sudden death of a loved one is suicide, no matter what tale is told at the scene.
I spent my police career split between patrol and detectives. Over the years, like most cops, I got more than my bellyful of responding to sudden or violent death scenes. Often, in cases of sudden death, family members and other loved ones are present. I decided when I established this website I wouldn’t get too dark or too graphic about the things I’ve seen, either on the job or in the military. However, I do reserve the right to change my mind, but for now, I’ll talk about some of this stuff that may be interesting without getting overly graphic about it.
My time as a Manchester Police Detective may not qualify me as a homicide expert, but certainly over the years I have been involved in many homicide investigations, so I have gathered some extensive experience. The last several years of my career I was one of a group of detectives who got called out on a 24 hour basis to death / murder scenes. When that happened, when I arrived for duty, I was given information and assignments regarding that case.
Manchester PD always had an “A Team” so to speak, of investigators and supervisors who were called in to process potential and actual homicide scenes, and to work the case. I was not one of the folks who processed homicide scenes. Beyond crime scene, detectives would identify, locate and interview potential witnesses, family members, go house to house casing the neighborhood, and when it was time, find and apprehend the suspect. Another assignment would be to investigate and create the victimology of the victim. Attending the autopsy of the victim was another necessary task.
I was trained extensively in most aspects of crime scene collection, including photography, locating and lifting latent finger prints, DNA and NH and US Supreme Court rulings regarding the admissibility of any evidence developed during a criminal case. Earlier in my investigative career, my partner and I would process our own crime scenes for serious assaults to include sexual assaults, sudden or untimely deaths, suicides and later in my career, electronic devices. But I never processed murder scenes, and that was fine with me.
All this being said, I guess I’ll get into today’s story. I’ve been asked over the years about my most satisfying moments working as a cop. If you’ve read many of my stories about police work previously, I may have given the impression that there are not very many such moments. Certainly, they can be few and far between, but it does happen. I’ve been blessed with many such moments. It may be surprising to most folks, some of my most satisfying moments didn’t come during murder investigations. Certainly having been on the team that investigated and helped convict the murderer of Officer Mike Briggs, and the shooter of Officer Dan Doherty were certainly the most satisfying points of my career. Many other satisfying moments came during lesser criminal investigations. Sometimes I was even able to help people out with day to day problems. Many are not dramatic or very noteworthy. Perhaps they would only be noteworthy to the person or persons I tried to help. But today, I’ll tell you about a murder case where I played a small role, but that role eventually led to identification and the conviction of the murderer in a case which frustrated many of us who worked on the case for several months.
This murder happened right after Christmas a few years ago. In fact, it may have been the night after Christmas. The shortened story is that the victim was at a local nightclub, and near closing time, he got into a beef with a few other guys at the club. He left, with a friend, they got into a car and headed home. It started to snow , and by the time we had detectives at the murder scene (which was outside in the street) we had a pretty good blizzard blowing and dumping snow and covering the scene.
The guys who were beefing with our victim got into a car and gave chase while it was snowing. While following the victim’s car, one of the occupants of the chase car leaned out the window and fired a pistol at the victim. In what I can only describe as a once in a lifetime improbable shot, the bullet went through the back window of the victim’s car, striking the victim in the back of the head, killing him, most likely instantly.
I was called in to work that case. At that point in my career, I was handling many of the autopsies for murders and other suspicious deaths for the PD. I was also taking younger and lesser experienced detectives with me, so that eventually they would be able to attend and function at these types of post mortem procedures.
I’d like to say a word here about the Medical Examiner (M.E.) and his / her office. The M.Es are not “partners” with police investigators as is often depicted on various TV dramas these days. Their job, as described to me by the Medical Examiner himself, is solely to determine the cause of death and the manner for death. The cause could be as simple as a bullet to the heart, an overdose or a heart attack. The manner of death could be homicide, suicide, natural, accidental or undetermined.
I’ll talk a little more about the M.E.’s Office in a future story or stories. The M.E. during one of our unsolved homicides I worked told me, when I was pressing him for certain records or to help me attain them in no uncertain terms that his job ended once his office determined the cause and manner of death. It was my job, not his or his office’s job to conduct the actual investigation. At least, thats how things are in NH, but I assume thats true in most Medical Examiner’s Offices throughout the country.
Don’t misunderstand me. One of the functions of an autopsy is to collect evidence from the decedent, analyze it and try to determine how, if at all, evidence collected contributed to the decedents death. That is why a police officer is always present, so as not to break the chain of custody of evidence. That detective would take custody of any items collected, document it, safeguard it and enter it into evidence so it can be of value to that investigation. Also, the evidence must be handled in way so it will be admissible in any criminal or civil trial that may come about.
The other job of the detective who catches the ‘post’ or autopsy is to photograph the victim before, during and after the autopsy. In some cases, you take finger prints from the decedent after the post is complete. A gruesome task to be sure, but sometimes necessary. But those things are topics for another day.
During this autopsy, the M.E. was able to locate the bullet that killed our victim. It was important that I was present when he located it, and was able to take custody of it. The bullet itself was in the victim’s brain and stopped just inside and behind his forehead. During the autopsy, the M.E. was able to form some opinions about that bullet (he is considered an expert and as such he can testify to his opinions later at trial) The M.E used rods to show the path of the bullet, and, combined with other evidence led us to believe the bullet was most likely fired by someone in the pursuing vehicle. We already had information from a witness telling us this was so. But his opinion would bolster that testimony.
The M.E. theorized that when the bullet went through the rear window of the victim’s car, it expended or lost some of its kinetic energy as it passed through. Therefore it didn’t have enough energy to go completely through and exit the front of the victim’s head. This was a fortunate break for our investigation, although certainly not for the victim. Otherwise the bullet, if it exited the victim’s forehead could have continued through the windshield and may never have been found. And, if it was found, it may have been damaged enough so as to be useless as evidence. This fact that the bullet was recovered in pristine condition was key, as I will explain. I took my photos, the M.E. had X-rays taken with and without the bullet. I took, X-ray CDs back for evidence along with the bullet and whatever else we collected.
We worked this case hard for about 72 hours, around the clock, as we always did with homicides. Often we identify the suspect in a murder case in less time than that. In this case we hit a wall. We knew who was in the car, we thought we knew who actually fired that bullet, thereby killing that young man. However, we just couldn’t prove who fired that pistol. No one was talking. We had the bullet, but no gun. Without the gun, the bullet which was recovered intact and therefore suitable for analysis, was no good to us. Of course, we held on to the bullet.
Well, as I say, the investigation slowly ground to a halt . We knew the players. We knew, for the most part what happened. Wasn’t exactly a whodunit, but we just couldn’t make that leap to make an arrest. So, the case eventually got assigned to another detective, a very good detective, I might add, and his job was to keep the case open, work on it in between his other assigned cases.
Many months passed. During that time,I was getting feedback from sources I had on the street that the victim’s father was not happy with our progress in the investigation of his son’s murder.
The information I was receiving was that the victims father, who has had brushes with the law and MPD over the years, is getting impatient and there is concern by some he may go out and track these guys down and kill them. Dad was a genuine tough guy earlier in life, may still have been, but was older. I hadn’t crossed paths with him for several years. But I did take that street talk seriously.
Anyway, the detective who was eventually assigned to this murder which was getting colder every passing week and month, kept at it. To make a long story short, many months later, his hard work paid off. He turned up the murder weapon, among other new information. His investigation was able to put that gun, in the hands of the shooter. And guess what? The final nail in the suspect’s case was that the bullet we successfully recovered and stored in evidence, during the autopsy that cold snowy morning after the murder, was proven to have been fired from that gun, therefore by that murderer.
I didn’t do any thing special during that autopsy. Any experienced detective who went to that autopsy would have done the same exact thing that I did. I worked several homicides, but this one stands out because the bullet that I helped recover and preserve played such a vital role in holding this murderer accountable for what he did. I did a lot of other work on this case, but I’ll always remember that bullet, that victim and that conviction.
Manchester Detectives had a tradition that I believe still continues. On the day the verdict comes in on a homicide case, and the day the perpetrator is sentenced, all the detectives who worked that case, if available, go to court. We wear our raid jackets or pin our badges outside our jackets. We are there to show support for any of the victim’s family who may be present. Usually silent support, to be sure. We don’t often get to talk with family members during a murder investigation, other than in an investigative function, which is never pleasant. This is our opportunity to lend the victim’s family support, and also let them know that the victim, no matter who it was, mattered to us.
Also, maybe just as important, we, or at least I, let everyone who sees us know that we are the Murder Police. I take special pride in that. We caught him. We helped convict him. If you kill someone, we are coming after you. I always like to believe that in some small, but meaningful way we help the victim’s loved ones heal, if just a bit, perhaps supply some closure for their loss, if that is even possible. I was always proud to show up. For several years, I was one of the Murder Police.
Nothing about this is glamorous. I’ve seen and learned things that perhaps regular folks should never know or see. Sometimes, I got to participate in the actual chase or manhunt. Sometimes even out of state. I made a few arrests during my career of murder suspects. I contributed to the arrest of many more murder suspects, even if I wasn’t personally present when the cuffs went on.
The work itself was always physically and mentally exhausting. Usually, I didn’t see my wife or kids for days. Went without sleep. When I did sleep I often had bad dreams. I think back about the steaming hot days searching roof tops and highways for a murder weapon. Digging up yards and cellars. Executing search warrants in the nastiest, filthiest tenements where it was hard to believe someone actually lived. Sifting through garbage, dumpsters, whatever it took. All of it had to be done in a lawful fashion, which made those tasks much more complicated and arduous. The slightest misstep could result in a vital piece of evidence being excluded as evidence forever. It was hard work. Today, when I see the cops working crimes scene here in town on TV news, I tip my hat to them but I feel like I’m glad it isn’t me anymore. I don’t miss those phone calls in the middle of the night.
But whenever the subject does comes up, I am always proud to say ”Yes, I was once a Murder Police”.