By Joe Harrison
This is a story I felt the need to share for several reasons, perhaps it’ll help everyone in some small way understand the life of a cop.
This goes back some 25 years or so.
I was working on assignment to a drug task force but had been recalled to work uniform for a couple of days. We were already short handed, had a guy on vacation and a couple more had called in sick.
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We usually worked in 4-6 man squads but for this week, it was just me and my buddy, Don, working the nightshift for the entire town by ourselves.
It didn’t take long before we were both tied up on calls at the same time. Don was in the middle of a tough domestic call and needed back up, before I could get to him I got a fight call so we were both on our own.
We made it through those calls, even though I had to take one of my prisoners to the hospital instead of jail; he came after me and I had to put him on the ground.
It was after that when we decided to park one of the cars and ride together, that way we wouldn’t be completely alone and would know whatever back up was available would be standing next to us. We didn’t know it at the time, but one of the drug task force agents from the Sheriff’s Department was in our office listening to taped wire taps. Without me working, there wasn’t much for him to do by himself. His name was Ricky.
Around 1:00am things had gotten quiet so we stopped in one of the 24 hr grocery stores to grab something to drink and just check in with them to make sure everything was OK. As we were walking back to the car, we heard what sounded like several gunshots from the other side of town.
It was just then we got the radio call that someone was being shot in the parking lot of another grocery store so we took off with lights and siren blaring.
When we pulled into the parking lot, we could see a body and a great deal of blood by the front door of the store, as we got closer I could see the body moving so I called for an ambulance. I was also a certified first responder so I could usually keep injured people alive until the ambulance arrived, I was in for a bit of a shock with this one.
As I ran up to the body I could see it was a young female, she was flopping around like a fish. I could see several bullet wounds on her body, but it was when I looked at her face that the shock came in.
She had been shot so many times in the face that it was nothing but mush, her mouth and nose were completely gone and she was desperately gurgling for air. I was completely helpless, I couldn’t clear her airway because there was nothing left, I couldn’t apply pressure to stop the bleeding…nothing. All I could do was stand there and watch her flop around.
The only part of her face that was untouched was her eyes. I’ll never forget looking into those eyes, begging for help, desperate and helpless. Those eyes are burned into my memory forever, I still see them sometimes in my sleep.
Don and I just stood there and watched the life leave them.
It was about that time Ricky came tearing into the parking lot to see if we needed any help, I waved him back so he wouldn’t drive onto the crime scene and contaminate it. Don was taking a statement from one of the witnesses and broadcasting a description of the shooter’s car.
Just then, an officer in the next town said he had just seen a car matching the description pass by. Ricky told me he was going after him and I told him to hold on, I would go with him. I ran to tell Don I was going with Rick when I heard his tires screech off behind me, Rick had gone alone.
As Ricky came into the next town, he was probably doing around 100 mph, he hit the main intersection, just as a semi truck was crossing in front of him. Rick crashed into the trailer, decapitating him.
This is the rest of the story of what went down that night prior to the shooting:
The girl was engaged to the manager of the grocery store. The store was closed that late, but he was working all night restocking along with a couple of other employees. The girl had gone there to bring him some dinner. She didn’t know that she was being followed. It seems this guy had been stalking her for some time.
He approached her in the parking lot and tried to force her into his car. This was a Southern girl so she put up a fight and got away from him. As she was running to the store, he shot her one time in the thigh and she fell down but didn’t stay down. She got up and kept running. Meanwhile her fiancé had heard the shot and ran to front door but it was locked and one of the other employees had the keys so all he could do was to stand and watch.
As she got to the door, looking into her fiancé’s eyes, the guy shot her in the back, this time she went down. As he was walking up to her, he shot her two more times in the body. As her fiancé pounded on the door, the guy walked up, stood straddle over her and shot her five more times point blank in the face.
Due to some evidence I had found at the scene, we knew just who the guy was. The next day, the day shift arrested him at his home without incident. Before I came in to work that night he was moved to another town, they wouldn’t tell us where. I had a bit of a reputation for taking care of things like that and they didn’t want me to know where he was.
Eventually, he was brought back to town to be arraigned and plead guilty to two counts of murder. He was given life in prison.
That night he was in our county jail. They had put him on suicide watch so he would be in a cell with a camera on him at all times. I don’t know what went wrong, but for some reason that camera failed some time during the night.
When the jailer went to check on him the next morning, there he was hanging from the bars with a rolled up sheet, his neck broken. “Life in prison” was about 12 hours for him.
You see, it’s not the physical dangers that are the problem for cops.
I can’t think of a single one I worked with who ever showed any fear of that. If they did, they didn’t last long. That part of it just becomes normal. Hardly a shift goes by when you aren’t engaged in at least one, usually more, physical altercations.
No, what really wears a cop out, weighs them down, burns them out…is dealing with the victims.
It never ends, one call after another, day in, day out, year after year. You have no idea what people are capable of doing to each other until you wear that badge for a while.
Yes, of all the death and destruction I’ve seen, the people I’ve shot, the times I’ve been stabbed and shot by others myself…it’s still those eyes that haunt me.
Think about that the next time you’re complaining about cops. Think about that the next time you see a cop.
And by the way, you’d be surprised how far a simple “thank you” goes with cops, it really does mean a great deal to them, especially in today’s environment.
First published at Irish Joe Harrison
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