Monday, December 26, 2011

My two cents, and it may not be worth that

Top Gear is a car show from Britain on the BBC and is in my opinion the best imported TV show from jolly old England ever.  My mother would have argued Rosemary and Thyme was better, but I wouldn’t agree.  Top Gear is for car lovers pure car porn.  Some of the most amazing and exotic cars in the world driven on some of the most amazing roads in the world.  I have enjoyed the show for years and over the years I chose to over look the blatant pejorative political and cultural jabs at Americans.  I still maintained my fanship with Top Gear because the show is so sensory and pleasing to me.  With the jabs at politics and culture we Americans spawn came the complete and total castigation of American Cars.  Let’s face it, we Americans at times give them some of fodder for ridicule.  And when it comes to cars, for the most part I have to agree with them, I have only owned a few American cars since my driving career stared in the mid 1980’s, a 1968 Cadillac Coupe Deville, given to me any my brothers by our grandparents.  This was a truly fantastic car a 1989 Chevy S-10 and a 1992 Ford Ranger pickup truck.  I prefer European and Japanese cars to American cars, what can I say. 
Where my sensibilities got offended by the Top Gear clan was when Jeremy Clarkson one of the three hosts said the following regarding public sector workers striking in Great Brittain.  “I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?”  Now this was specific to those public sector workers in Great Britain but I feel a need to stand Lockstep with my brothers and sisters across the pond in public works.  I take offense that he says we should have to work for a living like the rest of us.  Rest of us?  Driving around in exotic sports cars and blowing hard in absurd levels of douchebagary (see the urban dictionary for definition) is work?  I want that job and what he makes for doing it.  Oh wait, that’s what everyone else is saying to us.  They think we don’t work and we make too much for doing what we do?  A bit of the pot calling the kettle black, I would say.

Now this attack on the public workers is just a mirror of what is taking place across the Atlantic here in America.  Here the Jeremy Clarkson figure head is captured in those that call themselves “Tea Party” (I know it’s ironic right) and they use the Gadsden flag as their moniker.  As a former Navy man who served on the USS Constitution which bore this flag in anger many years ago, I take offense to their using this flag, but that’s just my own opinion.  Most people have no idea what it represents or its history.  I am certain  many would be shocked that the don't tread on me motto and flag was used by the south when the north was trying to infringe on their rights to slavery.  (, the attack on the so called “Gilt edged pensions” has been going full swing here in America and spear headed by the "Tea Party"(not to the same kind of tea party I had with my daughter and her dolls and miniature tea cup set).  I often hear that I am over paid and over compensated for my job.   I am told I do not deserve such a “generous pension”.  Most times I bite my tongue and hold my opinion to myself.  But Now, I will not hold my opinion back. 
First off, if you have not been a police officer (or any public safety personnel) you have no idea what I do or deserve for what I do.  I do not know how to be a plumber and I would not try to assume that I do.  I do know it costs over $100K to train me to do what I do (you can go to law or medical school cheaper).  Most days I would do the job for free if I could afford it, because I love doing it so much.  Some days you could not pay me enough to do over.  Many people try to compare what we do to any other job.  It’s not any other job.  I was having a conversation with a fellow officer about how our job gets treated like it’s any other job.  He told me, “I had a guy who was shooting at me, the first few shots I fired into his torso didn’t stop him.  I finally shot him in the face.  I walked over and watched part of his brain oozing out like pulp into the street.  Another time I had to step over big chunks of human brain and skull of a parent who had just murdered their two children with head shots from a shotgun before turning the gun on themselves.  Do people have any idea of the images that go through my mind when I am falling asleep.  Horrible things I have had to see and do.  Putting myself at risk, to make others safe, then they bitch and moan that my benefits are too good.” 
Back when everyone was fat and happy making dot com gobs of money nobody gave two craps about those of us in public sector work making less than them for long term stability and a pension.  However, now that those that made obscene amounts of money in real estate and technology and other fields aren’t making as they used to; I am now the bad guy.  I get “too much”.   Now common sense would tell you it a clear case of sour grapes.  But now factor in elected officials getting on the Tea Party Band wagon like the infamous Russell Pearce, Kirk Adams and now Andy Biggs who bow to the wishes of the Tea Party and Goldwater agenda.  They recently changed police officer retirements in Arizona from 20 years to 25 years and the contribution from my check to my pension is going up from $400 a month can go up to $800 a month. Senator Biggs is authoring anti police union legislation.  That crackling sounds you hear is the sound of the republican party burning the bridges with police and fire unions that have supported them in the past.  You will see a shift of police organizations that have for decades supported republicans switching parties.  Why? Because these elected officials try to treat police and fire like any other job.  Its not!

This is all happening at a time where the agency I work for is charging me $504 a month for medical coverage $114 for dental and $20 for vision plus another $40 in disability and life insurance since the Cities “Gilt Edged” benefits include one year’s salary paid to my family for life insurance if I get killed.  So let’s do the math.  For these awesome benefits I actually have to pay $1076.00 a month then, I have to pay taxes (just like everyone else that claims that they are a tax payer and pay my salary) about $450 month and you get a grand total of $1473 that I am paying each and every month for my “gilt edge pension” and “Golden benefits”.  Most people assume that “they” the tax payer are paying for my benefits.  Spare me a little more math, so after deductions, I risk my life as a police officer for $3301 a month take home.   With this I am to raise a family, make a mortgage and car payment.  Not to mention the several thousands of dollars I have spent on my own equipment for the job (averages between 2-4k a year of my own money I spend on equipment).
I know many may ask why I would do this job for that amount of money.  The reality is because I love it, but part of me does it for the stability.  Even though the pay is not terribly good especially for the risk, in the end after 20 years I will get a pension as a retirement.  Clearly they don’t pay me enough to put millions away by the time I retire, but they promise me that If I will do my job, Save lives when needed, take bad guys lives when needed, deal with all of the filth that society does not want to; after 20 years we will give you a pension. 
Let’s take a look at what many propose, doing away with pensions all together for public safety.  Is it possible?  Sure.  But you will have to pay significantly more money up front for the employees to fund their own retirements.  Fine.  Instead starting cops out at $50K you will need to start them more like $70K and then keep jacking it up to keep them. So you can attract good people who are going to be a) good at it b) willing to do it and c) willing to do it for a long time.   At about 3-5 years all officers take a look in the mirror and decide if the scars on their soul and the damage that has been done to them is worth it and if they should keep going.  I can tell you that the money is not worth it, not even close.  Having to step over brain and skull and hair on the ground over a parent who used a shotgun to commit suicide then going in and finding the two children who are now practically headless due to the 12 gauge shotgun wounds to the head, not even $10,000 dollars pay for just that day is enough.  Not to have those images or the images of a brutal child abuse that you had to in vivid detail investigate and document.  No the money is not even close to worth it.  But knowing that at 20 years I can retire and still make a modest income and care for my family is why I and other continue to stay for the 20 years. 

Soon cities will be hiring people who are only there for the money and getting the problems that brings.  Then when money is the only benefit, at 3-5 years most will look in the mirror and leave for better options elsewhere or they are just sick of doing it.  Now the $150K you spent training them to be cop and years of experience are gone and what are you left with?  A force of 3 year officers who are in it for the money.  Don’t get me wrong you will still have some good cops who do it for the love of the job and they will stick it out but cities will pay millions more for the mistakes of money hungry cops with little street experience.  There is nothing that makes you a good cop except years of doing it.  Nothing can but doing it can fully prepare you for this job.  So turnover will be overwhelming, lack of experience will create a decay in the system.  All the while the Bible thumping Tea Party will watch the Biblical prophecies that of continued wickedness and destruction of society as the world gets more evil.  I wonder if they will ever draw the conclusion that their personal attack and destruction of public safeties benefits and thusly the public safety system is part of the evil?  I doubt it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

November 12th 1913

November 12th 1913 Started like any other day for Marshal Hyrum Peterson.  He was the first law enforcement officer in the dusty western town of Mesa Arizona.  At the time Mesa was a small suburb of Phoenix with just a few hundred people.  The state of Arizona was merely a year old at this time, and Arizona was still very much the “wild west” with towns such as Bisbee and Tombstone and Arizona Lawmen such as Virgil and Wyatt Earp to bolster its legend.   At 53 years of age Peterson had spent most of his years working as a farmer on ranches.  But for the last five years he was the person tasked with enforcing law and order.   He went on about his daily duty of patrolling the town on his bicycle.  But this day, November 12, 1913 would end very different for Marshal Peterson. 

On this day he witnessed two subjects attempting to steal a bicycle.  He pursued them on his own bicycle and when they got to what was then the edge of town near Broadway and Country Club, the subjects fired upon him striking Marshal Peterson five times.  Twice in the arm, twice in the leg and a fatal chest wound that struck him in the heart.  He died moments later.  Marshal Hyrum Smith Peterson was the first Mesa Law Enforcement officer to die in the line of duty.   While not the official Mesa Police Department of today, Marshal Peterson was still a Mesa Arizona law enforcement officer, and all of the Mesa officers since regard him as a brother. 

It would be another 81 years almost to the day when Mesa would lose the next officer killed in the line of duty.  I will get into the tragedy of Officer Steven Pollard at a later time.  Today I choose to focus on Marshal Peterson.  His murderers were caught and tired in a court of law.  They were sentenced to death by hanging, but justice never came for Marshal Peterson.  Seven years later both killers were pardoned by then Governor Thomas Edward Campbell.  Apparently he felt that the murder of a police officer was not a crime worthy of death and seven years of incarceration was enough and they were set free.  Some speculate the Governors decision was based in religious bias, others a political stunt, but nobody really knows for sure.  One thing is true, thousands of worthy souls have stepped up to the cause and carried the torch that metaphorically dropped to the ground when Marshal Peterson fell dead.  Tens of thousands of times since then men and women all around this country have stepped up and taken on the risk of dying an inglorious death to carry that torch.  One hundred and forty times this year so far men and women have stepped up to carry on where their fallen brothers fell.  I challenge you to attend the funeral of the next officer in your area that gets killed in the line of duty.  You will be welcomed, room will be made for you.  Watch their brothers and sisters grieve as the last radio call is put out and the fallen officer never responds back.  Watch the family members shutter as the tears roll down their face during the twenty one gun salute.  That my friends is the price that some pay to keep you safe.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I am often asked by people who know that I am a police officer how I deal with the danger and the horrid things the real world has to bring.  It’s hard to explain how you can watch a stranger die in pain and anguish or deal first hand with the ills of society that nobody else wants to.  You just do it, partly because, it needs to be done and partly because you have become used to it.   Somehow, you learn to switch off concern for danger and get on with the task at hand. 

One of the best examples I have ever seen of this was displayed on September 28, 1990. Martin Donnelly was driving the Louts 102 Formula 1 car at the racetrack in Jerez, Spain.  As he approached turn 11 (Curva Alex Crivalli) at nearly 170 miles per hour his car left the track and in a violent manner collided with the wall causing the car to disintegrate.  Car parts and debris were strewn around the track.  At first it was hard to make out, but in the middle of the track was Martin’s limp body, still strapped to the seat portion of the car.  His legs were clearly broken and twisted in grotesque angles.  The track marshals kept their distance at first because he appeared obviously dead.  Fortunately, he wasn’t dead.  His legs were however mangled and he never raced Formula 1 again, but he was alive, barely. 

The famous Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna who was in the pits getting ready to go out on track ran to the crash location.  They were not great friends, however Senna felt a need to go provide whatever help was needed.  When he arrived, he helped Dr. Sid Walkins and the rest of the medical staff attend to Martin.  Senna was seen kneeling talking to the medical staff holding Martins helmet as they performed an emergency tracheotomy right there in the middle of the track.  As soon as Martin was stabilized he was flown by helicopter in Seville, Spain for further evaluation and treatment.  Ahead of him was the painfully long road of rehabilitation.

As Senna returned to the pits, ahead of him was the qualifying session for the race.  Barely an hour after Martin’s crash Senna was putting his helmet back on, disregarding his own questions of mortality and pressed on.   Not only pressing on, but on that day, an hour after helping medical staff rescue Martin Donnelly, Senna set the track record for the fastest lap ever recorded on that track.  At the very point where Donnelly had his horrific crash, Senna at 170+ MPH was in a four wheel drift making multiple steering corrections per second over the very spot Donnelly laid apparently lifeless in the track.  If you ever choose to look up the video of that lap on YouTube, its, well, I can’t think of any words to accurately describe how amazing that lap is.  But it is worth seeing.

However, whenever I think of Senna, I think of mind boggling feats of driving at places like Monaco, or Suzuka.  But I can’t help but think back to May 1, 1994. For those that don’t know who Ayrton Senna was.  He was by most accounts the most naturally talented racing driver of all time.   To the people of Brazil who lived in the depths of poverty he was the symbol of hope he was nothing short of a national hero.  To the racing world he was a three time world drivers champion who raced with a veracity and passion like nobody else.  On that day in May so long ago, he was the penultimate blow to the most devastating race weekend in Formula 1 History.  The San Marino Grand Prix held at the Imola racetrack in Italy was the darkest day in F1 history.  A horrific crash in practice left fellow Brazilian Rubens Barichello, alive, but too bruised up to race.  The next day in qualifying Austrian Driver Roland Ratenberger crashed at nearly 200 miles per hour and was killed.  Looking death in the face once again, Senna wrestled what was considered by all an inferior car onto pole position. 

For the race Senna was deeply troubled by the loss of fellow driver the day before.  He questioned if he should even race.  His own team manager didn’t expect him to start the race.  The Williams FW16 he was driving was very difficult to drive.  He struggled with learning to tame the 1500 pound car with 800 horsepower that had challenging handling characteristics.  But, even though he was concerned, he got into the car that day and on lap 7 entered the turn known as Tamburello, a high speed curve.  Suddenly his car darted off track and crashed at nearly 190 miles per hour into a concrete wall killing the legend Ayrton Senna.  In his cockpit they found a furled up Austrian flag that he apparently intended to fly out of his cockpit in memory of the fallen driver Roland Ratenberger.  You see it was customary for Senna to fly a Brazilin flag when he won.  That is one thing that really connected him to the people of Brazil.  In the poorest Favalas of Brazil they felt connected with Senna when he flew the Brazilian flag on a victory.   It’s hard to imagine but it’s rumored that dozens of Senna fans committed suicide when he was killed s because they could not imagine a world without Senna.  His body was laid in state for three days in his home town of Sao Palo where millions of mourners came to pay respects.

But this day, even after all of the drama of the weekend, Senna put aside his concerns and not only went out to race, but went out to win.  I know I can never have the driving skills that Senna had.  But, I hope that I can do my job as a police officer with the same focus and dedication as Senna.  Looking the risks in the face and continuing on regardless of said risk, is heroic.  I am in awe of people like Senna and a personal friend I work with.  Senna did it on the track, But my friend was shot and injured by a suspect.  After two years of painful rehabilitation he returned to the mean streets that once tried to take his life.  It’s hard to comprehend the level of dedication it takes to keep coming back after such circumstances. I  don’t care to be a hero by anyone’s definition.  But I do hope to be counted as brave and committed as those that I have written about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stranger than Fiction

It’s an old cliché that truth is stranger than fiction.  No place is this truer than law enforcement.  Even after 5 years, I still get amazed by things I see, things people say and do.  I suppose it’s because we get called to handle the strange and unique situations that most people do not want to deal with.   I remember one situation in particular that was in fact strange.

I was called to investigate a guy pooping in the backyard of a vacant home that transients frequented.  I was actually quite interested to find the guy, not just because it would be funny or entertaining; but it’s a serious degradation of the quality of life to look out the window and see someone planting sewer pickles in the backyard of the house next to you or in the alley behind your house.  I mean really, nobody wants to see that.   I check the backyard, of the vacant home.  I am careful to avoid lawn sausages.  I was there a while back and one of the other officers stepped in a sewer pickle and it was a major hassle to get it off his boots, so I am looking to avoid that inconvenience.   The backyard was negative so I check the alley. 

I find a guy hiding in an old sofa.  It was one of the pull out sleeper kind but, it was just the frame with nothing inside except a partly nude guy.  I will call him Sammy (not his real name) is ducked down inside the sofa laying down.  I see a tube of lotion next to him and can’t see his hands.  I advise him that if he is rubbing one out we are going to have a significant problem.  I get him out as my back up is arriving.  I ask  “are you the one droppin a duce in the vacant house yard?”  he denies any felony or misdemeanor pooping.  At this point I am not inclined to use more probative investigative techniques to determine if he is in fact the pooper I am looking for.  I am more concerned with him reaching his hand down his pants and touching himself as he talks to me.  I advise him that it is offending my sensibilities that he is touching himself as he talks to me and I explain how it’s in his best interest to cease this activity. (It didn’t really sound like that, it may have had some colorful adjectives and metaphors and  possibly some veiled and not so veiled threats about what might happen to him if he didn’t stop, but that was the point I got across.)  My problem at this point is that his activity is public sexual indecency, but in this state I need a victim.  I as an officer am not allowed to be a victim of disorderly conduct and such.  It has to be an active crime against me like someone assaulting me or something like this.  So I am looking around to see if someone, anyone has seen him roughing up the suspect.  I contact the caller who called about his pooping and she didn’t actually see him she assumed what he was doing.  I don’t blame her, I would not watch for the gritty details either, but it doesn’t help my quest to put him in jail. 

So with no luck on taking him to jail we document the contact and the suspicious nature of his behavior; his outfit should have been the tell tale sign of things to come.  A white guy, (besides me, the only one in a mile any direction) wearing a derby hat, a vest from a three piece suit no shirt, snake skin vinyl pants and cowboy boots. (rule of thumb, never trust a guy in snakeskin pants and a derby hat)  We release him because he has denied us a consent search for drugs and I have no probable cause to search him and to be truthful I am not willing to find any evidence that may link him to the sewer pickle planting incident.  So after he is warned about trespassing and loitering and public sexual indecency, on his way he goes. 

The next day I was checking the ally much later in the shift to see if Sammy is back.  I stop and talk to the original caller and she tells me his is hiding in an irrigation junction box.  In this alley is a concrete bunker of sorts.  It’s like a giant T to send water in different direction, it’s about 4 feet deep, 3 feet wide and shapped like a giant T.  I leave my car on the street and quietly make my way back to this concrete box.  I shine my light inside and sure enough, Sammy is in there, surrounded by porn on ever side of the inside of this concrete junction box.  But now there is the fact that he is wearing woman’s yoga pants with the crotch cut out so the twig and berries are out and about and he is taking care of business.  I ask him what the hell he is doing.  His left hand shoots into one of the pipes that makes this den of iniquity a T.  Not knowing what he is reaching for, I draw my gun and tell him not to move.  I advise him that if his hand comes out of the pipe and into visibility with a weapon, I will in fact shoot him.  He slowly pulls his hand out with and drops a baggy of what looks like meth.  I keep him at gunpoint until I have the units I requested to meet me in the back are with me.  I get him out and realize that his tight whites are around his neck, yep, neck through one of the leg holes and the waistband and yes, his junk is in fact out and about for the world to see.  This because he chose to cut the crotch out of these woman’s pants.  I cuff him up and the female officer that was backing me up asks him why his underwear was around his neck and not covering his goodies.   His response “Pffft” with a look like “duh, why wouldn’t you”.  

The bad part of this incident, I know your thinking, what?  The other stuff wasn’t the bad part.   Nope, I had to climb down into his den of iniquity to retrieve his meth bag and meth pipe.  I asked him to tell me where his “DNA” would be found in this little pit so that I could avoid it.  I assured him that he would be rather displeased with my reaction to getting his DNA on me down there.  I took off my vest and shimmied my not so slender frame down into this hell hole and got the evidence I needed.  I will leave it at that.  I took him to jail for the drug possession.  He admitted that he was in fact the sewer pickle planter so the caper was solved and ended well.  And really, how strange is it to take a guy to jail wearing women’s yoga pants with the crotch cut out exposing his junk, wearing a derby hat with tightie whities around his neck.  Not quite as strange as the double horse rape report I took, or when the guy jumped out of the house wearing a Mexican wrestling mask and nothing else but it was a still something I could never have made up. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Where the blame belongs?

I have not been one to jump on an blog about political or social issues.  A recent event near where I grew up in Southern California had brought me out of the wood work so to speak.  On July 5th a subject that was apparently being arrested ended up in a physical struggle with members of the Fullerton Police Department and subsequently died.  I don’t have very many of the details, only what I have read in the media and in comments of blogs.  The only videos I have seen show very little if any of the actual incident but rather all of the spectators reactions.  I know many of you that know me will assume that since I am a cop I will side with the cops.  Well the simple fact is I have not seen enough information, I have not interviewed any witnesses, I have not reviewed the evidence, i.e. video, and audio recordings;  to side with anyone about anything.  Do I have concerns with what I have seen (only part of the picture)?  Yes I do.  Do I think it warrants an investigation?  Yes I do.  It’s hard to tell what is fluff and what is fact in this case because there is so much emotion attached to it. 

The subject that died was a local homeless transient named Kelly Thomas.  I did not know him and I am not a mental health professional.  Most say he suffered from sczchophreina.  Most say he was homeless because of his SMI (serious mental illness) for nearly 20 years.  I have read just about everywhere that he was a kind and gentle person.  I have also read that his mother had a restraining order against him because he had choked her and stripped naked then urinated on her front porch.  Again, I don’t know exactly what happened that night, I wasn’t there, I haven’t reviewed all of the facts so it would be irresponsible for me to comment as to guilt or innocence.  Like I said before, there are concerns that should be investigated.

Just about everything I have read has morally convicted the officers.   And let’s face it that is the easy path.  Our proxy guilt seeps in on situations like this and takes over.  We are outraged that a mentally ill homeless person gets beat up by cops and dies.  The second easiest place to assign blame is on the family.  Why let their child live on the street to be cared for by nobody?  That’s an easy place to point the finger too.  I am of the opinion that the real blame resides with all of us, you me and everyone we know.  I will get to the specific reasons for that claim in a bit.  But first I need to explain a few things.

We as society have assigned police officers to deal with the things and people that we don’t want to.   We have them deal with the problems that we don’t want to take care of deal with ourselves.  If the neighbor is playing his music too loud, we call the police and want them to tell the neighbor to turn down their music.  We have the police deal with the criminal element of society because again, we don’t want to.  We have officers deal with suicidal persons because we don’t want to.  We want officers to take bad guys to jail when they break the rules we make.  We also have them deal with our mentally ill.  Law enforcement is the gateway to the mental health industry more often than not.  You may not like this or agree with it, but it is a fact and you have tasked officers to deal with your mentally ill.  Many of you have even called to have them moved along from the bus bench or from the park.  You get offended when they pull down their pants in public and defecate behind the 7-11 and want them “dealt with”.  You, me and everyone else does not want to deal with them.  We want them out of sight.  We don’t want to smell them as we walk into a convenience store and they ask us for money.  In essence we have asked police officers to be our garbage men.  To deal with the refuse of society is the task we all have given them.  Yet we harbor utter distain when officers acting as garbage men smell (figuratively) like garbage men.

In the 80’s the US Supreme Court decided that we could not keep people locked away in mental institutions against their will any longer.  In order for a person to be seized against their will taken to a mental institution they must present a danger to self (DTS) or danger to others (DTO) and be mentally ill and refusing treatment.  Well, they can only be kept there for a limited time without a court order to do so.

So why is this all of our faults.  Because you, me and everyone else has turned our back on the mentally ill, we chose to pay our CEO’s Billions of dollars a year.  We chose to pay our sports stars billions of dollars a year all the while our mental health system is underfunded by millions.  We as a society have placed more value on our entertainment than treating our mentally ill.  Look at our country compared to other countries.  In Japan, CEO’s make 11 times what the average worker makes compared to the US were the Average CEO pay is 200 times what the average worker makes.  How much do professional athletes in other countries make compared to the US?  How many mentally ill live on the streets compared to the US?  Yet we all sleep just fine in blissful denial of our massive problem of how we have turned our back on the mentally ill in this country.  We as US citizens have decided that we want the state (government) to care for our mentally ill.  We have also decided to cut funding to the programs that help treat these people.  You can point your finger at the officers involved for this incident, but the root cause for this happening is our collective denial of taking care of our mentally ill.  The officers will be held accountable for their actions here.  But it is your guilt for how you have treated the mentally ill that fuels the fire of outrage over this incident.  And if the officers are found guilty of a crime, what will change?  You will still be sitting on your ass watching your flat screen TV super duper NFL game day package and expect police officers “deal” with the homeless mentally ill.  So it will happen again, and you will shove the dirty secret into a corner until your guilt overcomes you again and you will voice your outrage, but we will still be standing in the same place asking the same questions.  So if you want someone to blame for this incident and the thousands just like them.  Look in the mirror.

As with all in death incidents, it would have been investigated.  With in custody deaths they are treated like a homicide from the onset.  The important thing to look for with an in custody death is cause and manner, which in this case the medical examiner was not able to determine.  The most common “cause” of in custody deaths is MI (Myocardial Infarction or heart attack) this would be indicative of a subject struggling so intensely that his heart gives out.  The second you would expect in a case like this is BFT (Blunt Force Trauma) from intrusive impacts delivered  by the officers.  Once the cause is determined they can move to the manner.  Which is Homicide (death caused by another) suicide, natural or other.  So until the professionals can definitively determine what caused his death everyone is just speculating. 

I have seen many comments about how people can’t understand why they just couldn’t restrain him.  When I see that I see a comment from a person who has never attempted to restrain a person in a full blown psychosis (SMI or drug induced).  As with most things it’s not as easy as it seems.  In fact the last person in a psychosis I was restraining was a 105 pound female.  I weight 215 and with 33 lbs of equipment on makes 248 lbs.  And she threw me off of her (and two paramedics) like we were rag dolls.  She literally sent me flying.  All the while she was biting big chunks meat out of her cheeks and spitting  the bloody chunks out.  You see she was in a psychosis and thought we were devils and were trying to destroy her.  She thought by destroying her mouth she could keep us from defeating her.  When dealing with SMI people in crisis or worse a full blown psychosis it is not as easy as people make it seem.   Have you ever seen the orderlies at a mental facility?  The look like pro football linemen.   So when I hear people say how they can’t understand how it takes so many officers and tasers and such, I think the person is ignorant to the facts of life.  Not ignorant as in not smart, just no experience in dealing with mentally ill persons in crisis.

As to if the officers or Kelly Thomas were right or wrong in this situation, I do not have enough information to make an educated statement.  I think it needs to be investigated.  I think the video needs to be reviewed as well as audio recordings and witnesses interviewed.  What bothers me about the whole situation is many of the people outraged and protesting are the same people that have called the police to move along smelly SMI transients from in front of their business or from the park.  I hope the guilt that drives their rage is not misplaced and they look into the root cause of this situation.  I hope they have the courage to make the hard choice to finally look at how we treat our mentally ill in this country.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Friday

A few months back I opened my mouth and made a suggestion on some new technology I stumbled into on a traffic stop.  I was asked by my commander to write a proposal about my suggestion.  Like a sucker I did in fact write a proposal.  I expected that my boss would present the idea.  Nope, six months later first thing in the morning I am standing in front of the chief of operations and all of the division commanders “pitching” my idea.  The idea was well received and the meeting went well but caused me to rearrange my normal work schedule.  Because of said schedule rearrangement I was home much earlier than expected.  To celebrate my being home early I was sittin on the sofa chilling watching “The Wire”.  The Wire is not for everyone, but it’s without a doubt the closest look into the game (Cops and robbers) that I have ever seen.  My wife cannot stand even five minutes of it because the language and content is so offensive and she is right, it is; but so is life and the word I work in.

Anyway, Chillin I was, getting my Wire on, then I heard some racing motors and skidding tires and the ghetto bird on a very low orbit.  At first I thought to myself, screw it.  “I’m done with work for the day, it was my Friday, I’m going to ignore it”  But then I heard some more cars zoom by my house and realize the air unit is on a very tight low orbit right above me.  In the event any bad guys had run into my yard, I put my Rottweiler Zoe into the backyard.  (she likes watching The Wire with me even if my wife doesn’t)  I figure, if bad guy does have the misfortune of running into my yard it would be much better to let her enjoy a new chew toy.  In reality it would make it much less likely for bad guy to stay in my yard.  He would most likely will jump right back out as soon as he sees the dog.  So after sending Zoe out back I grab my radio and switch it to “hot” but it’s not the radio traffic I am looking for. 

I peak out of the blinds and see a patrol car in front of my house and from experience I can tell it’s the south end of a perimeter.   I head out my front door and walk north as I see my neighbor two houses up being escorted (not in cuffs) out of his back yard in swim trunks and a towel.   I recognize the officer by name and he recognizes me.  (I know most of you are wondering why I wouldn’t recognize the officer since we work for the same agency, but with nearly 800 officers, the truth is I don’t know them all.)  he tells me they chased a suspect into his yard and asks if I can stand by with the neighbor at a safe distance so they can search for the bad guy.   He tells me the radio channel it’s on (the gang units own channel) so I switch over, turns out my neighbor was cleaning his pool while swimming in it.  A suspect had run from a traffic stop and ran into his yard but he was underwater and didn’t see him.  He did see the cops with guns.  Since his back door was open and he was certain it was closed when he got into the pool, it needs to be treated like he is in the house.  I see the sergeant on scene is a bro of mine and was my last sergeant when I left patrol.  Over the radio he asks me for information about the house to ask my neighbor.  Bing! I’m on the clock for overtime now!  I ask and relay the info.  Back and forth several times with info and if he is willing to press charges for trespassing and such,  I relay that he is just fine with the landshark (K9) being let loose and finding said chew toy (suspect) in his house or yard.  A few of the SWAT guys arrive and they recognize me and we engage in some playful verbal banter about how they are bringing down my property value and such.  The SWAT guys ask me to take my neighbor and the crowd of neighbors from in front of my house to across the street since we would be within the field of fire if the suspect came out shooting. 

So we saunter across the street.  At this point I know who the suspect is and why they are looking for him.  As the intel officer I put his name on our target list of criminals to track down since he had a felony warrant and was wanted for questioning on multiple vehicle and residential burglaries in my work area.  So I start calling the detective that needs to interview him to let him know the a-hole he is looking for is barricaded up in MY NEIGHBORS HOUSE!!.  As I am on the phone, I have to answer some questions over the radio and my personal cell starts ringing.  It’s my wife who is out of state but is getting calls from all over the neighborhood about whisky tango foxtrot (WTF) is going on in our neighborhood.  I give her a brief run down and tell her I will call back.  I get back onto the mix.  I hear over the radio they are going to deploy a “DD” (Diversionary Devise otherwise known as a “flash bang”).  I tell my neighbors to plug their ears.  I should point out that I have the crowd of neighbors positioned behind my neighbors car in the event anything goes bad.  But this teenage couple did not heed my warning when I said they probably shouldn’t stand so close to the police perimeter.  So they were as close as you could get.  And when I told my neighbors to plug their ears they looked at me like I was insane.  So when I hear “Stand By for a report” over the radio, experience tells me in about 2 seconds a very loud BOOOOM will go off.  So instead of watching the flash bang go off I watch the teenage couple nearly jump out of their skin.  The girl was so scared she started crying and sobbing instantly.  I chuckled, I know I am twisted but that is funny. 

In the end, they found the bad guy and dragged him out to cart him off to jail.  I chit chatted with some of my cop buddies and neighbors before they left.   Before going back into my house one of my neighbors was telling me how crazy this whole thing was to her.  I told her this is everyday stuff for me and she was just puzzled when I said.  Isn’t it fun?  She didn’t think so.   I must say, this Friday ended better than it started. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Freak out!

The other day I had a bit of a freak out at work.  With my new assignment my car choice for work changes on a daily basis.  Some days I drive a normal patrol car.  Most days I drive a plain wrap unmarked Crown Victoria with hidden lights so I can still pull traffic.  Sometimes I drive an undercover (UC) car depending on what I am doing.  (I know most people refer to the unmarked crown vics as UC cars but the reality a true UC car you would not be able to pick out, it’s not going to be a crown vic).   Anyway, On Monday I picked a plain wrap pickup truck.  I loaded up my normal kit of stuff in the back of the cab.  Patrol bag with forms, extra gloves, extra pens, extra batteries and such.  My Kevlar helmet and gas mask and binoculars.  My “Go” bag  a man purse with 4 extra 30 round AR-15 Mags, 4 extra handgun mags, a shooting trauma kit, extra radio battery, small binoculars, some energy bars and a bottle of water.  My rifle A (10.5” Barreled Noveske AR-15 with aimpoint Micro sight and weapon light system).  My 870 shotgun with Surefire flashlight forend I use for a Less Lethal (Bean bag) gun. I also had my ballistic (Bust) vest with, taser, OC spray, flashlight and 30 round AR mag mounted on the front.    

I went out and checked a few target locations for my targets for the day and came back to the station and parked it in front (not behind the security gate).  I went in and did some more research on my computer for about 20 minutes .  I came back out and the truck was gone.  I had to think about if I parked it out front or in back.  I checked the back lot quickly, not luck.  Damn!  I went back out front to check down the block a bit to see of someone had moved it passed the library.  I had just been telling someone at work how pissed I was when someone moved my patrol car at the hospital one day.  My buddy heard me ask permission of the dispatcher to eat lunch at the hospital.  He got the spare key from the station and moved my car.  So I assumed that since I told people at work about this I was again the butt of someone’s joke.  So I scoured the lot.  I even checked inside the fire station that is adjoined to our police substation for my truck.  Nothing.  I was starting to get a little stressed at this point.  I called dispatch to see if anyone else was logged onto the car.  She told me no.  I called some of the other specialty units to see if they had it. Nope.  Now I am really starting to stress out.  I mean really stressed out.  I am getting to the point where I need to call a supervisor and tell him a city vehicle with guns and a vest was just stolen.  I check one last place.  Some of the detectives from my station were at a murder scene executing a search warrant.  I called them on their cell phones.  No answer.  I tried to raise them on the radio.  No answer. 

At this point I am taking deep breaths to try to calm down.  It’s not so much the money thing, because I had my rifle insured for its appraised value of $2975.00, but it’s a NFA registered item.  Those that know guns know what Class III weapons are.  It means I have to apply with the ATF to have the right to possess a rifle with a barrel with less than 16 inches and pay a $200 tax.  With it being gone I have to report it to the ATF and if I am found to have not acted properly I can get up to 10 years and prison and a $100,000 fine.  This is on top of the internal affairs investigation and everything else. 

So call the patrol sergeant and brief him.  His speech gets rapid as he is feeling the same pucker inducing stress I was feeling.  I doubt as much as I was, but he too didn’t want this to take a bad turn.  I told him my last place to check was the murder scene to see if the dick’s (nick name for detectives, I know I am a detective too so yes that makes me a dick too) have the truck.  He told me to call dispatch and send someone over there.  I told him there were no 10-8 (available or ready to go) units.  He said “grab a patrol car and get your ass over there now, and call me as soon as you know one way or another”.  As he was hanging up I heard him voice a few colorful adjectives, expressing his displeasure with the fact that he may have to call up the chain of command and report that a city vehicle had been stolen and it was filled with expensive stuff that we don’t want in the hands of criminals. 

I hopped into my old steed 1531D my very first black and white patrol car, (I called her Deloris back when she was mine) and sped (I mean obeyed all traffic laws) off to the murder scene.  When I arrived I saw the pickup.  I relaxed and released the small bundle of vinyl that had been puckered up, well you know where.  I got out and smelled the decomposition of a decaying body.  I don’t understand why when bodies look like beef jerky they don’t smell like it.  Anyway, the dicks needed to take something large from the murder scene as evidence so they needed the truck and used a back up set of keys.  And not being very good observers didn’t seem to notice my vest sitting on the passenger side and all of my equipment in the back seat.  I think the Detective Sgt, saw the panic on my face and it clicked when he saw all of the stuff in the back seat.  He apologized and all was well.  I called the patrol sergeant and told him he was off the hook.  I loaded up my stuff into Deloris and drove off.  Now they played it like they didn’t know it was my stuff and it was all a big mistake.  Now is it a coincidence that it happened the same day I told people about being the butt of a joke by moving my car the same thing happens?  I think not.  I believe payback in order.  Since revenge is a dish best served cold, one day down the road when the dicks hop into their car and find a stray dog in the back seat and it scares the poop out of them.  I will get the last laugh.     

My first Black and White

Here at our department we switched from white cars with a blue stripe to the traditional black and white patrol car.  We still have a lot of the white ones in the system getting used up before they are replaced.  The way it works is the senior people get the better cars.  I know what you’re thinking.  I am nearly a senior citizen so he should have an awesome car.  Wrong.  It goes by seniority not age, too bad for me.  After the last shift change I was assigned my first black and white.  She is a Crown Victoria with 34K on the odometer, which as far as cop cars go is brand new.  1531D is what she was known by to everyone else, but I call her Deloris.  It’s so much cooler to be driving one of the black and white cars than the white ones.  Everyone knows you’re a rookie when you pull up in an old white car. Plus the white cars are CNG fueled and are very slow.  I mean very, very slow.  It feels like your driving a centrifugal clutch go kart or autopia car at Disneyland.  So when you get a black and white assigned to you, it’s a status change and you have made it.

Now, Crown Vic’s are a big giant car and under normal circumstances is about as un cool as a car can get.  However a little black paint and a light bar makes it much cooler.  With all of the crap that is crammed into them, it’s still pretty small inside for such a giant car.  Compared to the other women in my life Deloris is quite a big car.  My normal everyday car that I drive to work is a Red 2002 Volkswagen GTi, I call her Gina.  She is a great little car, dainty but with lots of junk in the trunk and a turbo to spice things up.  She gets great mileage, which makes her very practical, but compared to Deloris, Gina is tiny.  But With Gina’s heated leather sport seats and turbocharged engine she keeps things lively.  Gina is very stable and smooth with pleasant curves and lines.  My other car that I drive to work on special occasions is my 1966 Porsche 911, I call her Claudia.  Now Claudia has a body like a supermodel with tight gentle curves in the back and heaving headlight cleavage.  She wears her silver paint like a Versace cocktail dress.  However, she is very high maintenance and like a supermodel with a few drinks in her, you never know what will happen.  If you’re not careful with her 40/60 weight bias she will throw you off the road if not handled correctly; but with proper attention she provides the most pleasure filled driving experience.

Now you might think that Deloris gets jealous of the other woman in my life.  She sees me stroll into the parking lot everyday with one of the other women, drive her for 10 hours then leave with one of the other women. But she’s not jealous.  She knows that I am going to come back to her every time.  Deloris knows that she’s the one that provides more fun any skinny supermodel.  With Deloris, I can flip a switch and make every one move out of my way. She is given right of way at every stop sign.  She knows the real fun I have is with her.   It’s Deloris that I am going to drive fast in with lights and sirens.  I know her every characteristic.  On a regular basis I push her to her limits.  When I push her through a turn in a drift, I know exactly how she will react.  She is supremely stable and she is the quickest patrol car I have ever driven.  She knows she may not have the sound and looks of Claudia or the creature comforts of Gina.  She may not ware her black paint like a cocktail dress, but she will always be my first black and white.

Sadly, I lost Deloris last week.  I am still dealing with the loss.  One of my friends took her to a call and Deloris got shot by a suspect, she took a bullet to protect officers.  I knew she was faithful to the job and she proved it.  I was not there so I don’t know the details of the incident. I don’t know if the bullet was fatal.  I do know that because of the circumstances, she will not be released for some time, probably not until after the next shift bid.  So I am sad and have to scrounge up a patrol car every night.  However, I will always have fond memories of my first black and white. 

I wrote this a few years ago.  I drove Deloris the other day and it was fantastic.  She now has 152,000 miles but she was eager to show her quick throttle response.  In part because all of the newer patrol cars have level III ballistic doors so it adds a significant amount of weight.  It was nice to have a nice little fling with Deloris again.

Weird stuff

I seem have the unique opportunity to a front row seat to the weirdness of the world.  At work I get to handle all sorts of strange things.  I think back to a warrant arrest I helped out on in when I was first on the street.  I was still under the supervision of a field training officer.  The subject was a pre op transsexual and I wasn’t sure if she was pre op or post op male or female.  So I had to ask, “So, uh.. are you a male or female?”  I needed to ask because male officers don’t search female prisoners the way that we search males.  So my next question was “Uh.., are those breasts uh, real?”  So now is where the weirdness begins.  My FTO tells me you need to get those out.  “What if he has drugs or a weapon hidden in there?”  My response “Are you kidding me?  I have to go into his bra?”  My FTO thought it was good times.  I didn’t.  I had him handcuffed so I had to reach in his bra and pull out the doubled up, rubber/silicon bra inserts.  He told me he got them at Fredrick’s of Hollywood.  They looked like little breasts with nipples and all. He had them stuffed two per side to get the size and shape he desired.  So, now I know where to get bra inserts if I want to start cross dressing.  The best part of the whole encounter was when I had to put his purse and fake boobies into property so he could get them out when he got out of jail.  I had them in a plastic bag sitting next to me on the desk in the report writing area.  Several officers were so amazed at his boobies they were passing the bag of boobs around poking and squeezing away at the imitation boobies.  At the time I was new and thought it was weird to see dudes passing around a bag of boobies.  Now it’s just funny.

By far the weirdest thing that happened to me occurred several years back.  My wife and I were headed to Linda’s Doll Hut in Anaheim to see my buddy Jeff’s band Piggyback play.  I would love to hear “love letter” live again.  That song kicked ass, but they split up so no joy.  If you have never been to the Doll Hut, it’s a hut, not really, but it is a very small house in the middle of a  industrial part of Anaheim. And I know by the name you were thinking strip club but it’s not.  I hesitate to use the word dump to describe the place because it has so much character.  But it had to be a 1000 Sq feet or less for the whole bar.  In order to make room for the band to play the pool table had to be pushed back out of the way.

When my wife and I arrived there was a crowd of 20-30 punk rock types milling around the front of the joint.  I made my way to the entrance and after getting carded to get in, Yep I used to look young enough to get carded, anyway we entered.  Keep in mind the bar is about 5 feet from the door, and then you have your choice of going left or right.  I think left used to be a bedroom and right used to be a living room, but it’s just a guess.  In the midst of the stink of cigarette smoke and booze was a small bar with three trashy older bar flies that did not appear to be there to hear the band, as they looked like characters out of the movie Bar fly.  I notice an older white guy with a fro.  Instantly it struck me at how much he looked like my father.  Yup my dad had a fro.  Growing up I wished I had a fro like my dad because we all know the saying Fros=chicks is true, and when I was younger I needed all the help I could get.  I still scored a hot wife but the fro would have been cool and who knows, maybe pushed me to male super model status.  My good looks and a fro, shoot.., nuff said.

 But as soon as I saw this man, like a bolt of lightning it struck me.  Now, my father died 13 years before this, when I was 10 years old.  But I couldn’t help but think how much this guy looked just like my dad would look if he was still alive.  It was like all of the ambient noise was gone and suddenly the guy looked over his left shoulder at me and it sounded like he said “Hey Aaron, how’s it going?”  I freaked out.  My heart skipped a beat and started to race, I instantly turned the other way to go around the left side of the bar by the KISS pinball machine (very cool).  As we rounded the corner out of sight from what was ‘cool, looks like my dad dude’ to ‘holy crap freakiest moment in life, mind reading, back from the dead dude’.  My wife tugs at my hand (we still held hands back then) and says “do you know that guy at the bar who was calling you?”  I just about pooped my pants.  I was thinking that I misheard the guy.  But now it was turning into a full blown weird out.  I asked her if she heard him say my name, she confirmed she did.  I played it cool like it was no big deal.  We had only been married months so I didn’t want her to think I was a sissy and freaked out by creepy fro guy so I passed it off like we misheard it. 

So by the time we got around to the other side again, dude was gone.  I was glad.  Piggyback played and kicked ass.  Jeff got up on the bar in the same spot where the possessed incarnation of my dad had been sitting and while singing one of the songs, feeling the moment, stuck his head into the moving ceiling fan to stop the blades with his head, which was awesome.  As if him stopping the fan blades with his forehead wasn’t awesome enough, he finished the set with blood running down his forehead.  Bonus.

At work I see weird things all the time, like two weeks ago when I went to a call.  I went into the kitchen of this dumpy little trailer and I saw blood covering the floor, fridge, all over the walls, ceiling, and dude with a bloody pumpkin head with a wooden chair on top of him with the leg looking like it was stuck into his forehead.  Then the dude says “I’m good, I’m ok” Holy crap I just about shot him.  I thought he was dead; he shouldn’t be freaking me out talking.  We start moving crap away and it turns out that the leg was not stuck in his face, but his face was swelling around the leg of the chair from the savage beating he had just endured.  But the three 40’s of Steel Reserve malt liquor had him feeling no pain.  So I start talking to dude to figure out who he is and what happened, but he is very hard to understand because his face is swelling shut, even though his cheek is ripped open.  He says, “I’m ok, you guys can split... hey, can I bum a loosie (single cigarette)?”  I tell him “dude you don’t need a smoke you need medical help”.  He responds “I’m good” So I take the opportunity to pull a line from Pulp Fiction.  “Dude, you are pretty freaking far from good.”  After I got the gist of what happened, I broke the bad news to him that his stack of vintage porn VHS tapes was covered in blood.   He was bummed.  Well the dialog ended as he was being moved out of the trailer on the gurney.  His head had swelled to the point he went unconscious.  He is still unconscious and may not make it.  As weird as it was to have a guy with his face splayed open ask me for a cigarette, it’s still not as strange as the weird out at the Doll Hut.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Favorite Watch

One of my many hobbies is collecting watches.  My favorite isn’t the nicest looking or the most expensive or even the oldest in my collection.  My favorite watch is my favorite because it has sentimental value.  It’s made by one of the oldest watch companies in America.  Hamilton pocket watches were considered to be the “finest watches made in America” in the mid 1890’s.  Their quality was so high and they were so accurate at keeping time they were classified as “railroad watches”.  They were called this because these were the devices that the railroad companies used  to run the railroad schedules.  Aside from the quality workmanship of the watches, the 17 jewel movement has played a large part in their accuracy.  You see, in mechanical watches the bushings or bearings that the moving parts move on, are in fact jewels.  Garnet and quartz were common in lower cost watches and sapphire, ruby and diamonds were used in higher quality watches.  The low resistance and hard surface make them work exceptionally well as a bearing.  Hamilton transitioned to wrist watches in 1917 to appeal to troops going to WWI.  Pocket watches had seen the end of their functional era and the manual wind wrist watch was here to stay.  Well, until the automatic wind watch came into play.  In this, a simple counter weight moves and rotates around the rotor winding up a spring mechanism.  So, in effect, your natural movements wind the watch instead of having to twist the crown to wind it.  In the ‘60s  Hamilton was purchased by a few different Swiss watch companies and since the early ‘90’s has been owned by the Swatch Company.

I have always liked automatic watches because they are just dang cool.  All of those tiny little cogs and springs moving around and the red glint of the ruby jewels sparkling from within the movement.  This watch in particular I purchased at a watch shop in the Brea Mall.  At the time, I was in the Arizona National Guard and on drill weekends I was going through OCS (Officer Candidate School).  Back then I got a $2000 bonus for referring persons who enlisted so I had my National Guard Charge card on hand.  I was looking for a good quality field watch that would not be affected by EMP (a pulse bomb that destroys electronics) and had a 12 and 24 hour reading on the face.  I settled on the Khaki Field Automatic with a black face and a glass back so you can see the movement. It’s a 25 jewel movement so you get to see the little sparkles from the jewels.  I upgraded the band to a leather /carbon fiber clasp band and it was done.  I happened to be in Brea for the weekend because my mother was back in the hospital.  As soon as I purchased it I went directly to St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton where she was.  I knew the hospital well, as I had watched my first two children be born there, and had been there many times for my mother. 

This was nothing new.  She had been in the hospital so many times I had lost count.  I remember the first time she was hospitalized 26 years prior with vivid detail.  I was in sixth grade and I had just got home from school.  I sat down to watch TV and my sister Kimberly was sitting there in the family room.  I remember thinking it was odd for her to be sitting watching TV since she was in high school and always had better things to do.  She told me that Mom was in the hospital.  She said she had collapsed at work and was taken by ambulance to the hospital and it didn’t look good.  I remember feeling very scared and alone at the time.  My father had passed away the year before when I was in 5th grade and I was so scared of where I would end up if she died. 

It turns out that my mother did in fact collapse at work.  She was working as a cashier at Lucky's supermarket.  When she collapsed, her manager stepped over her and finished checking out the customer.  In the meantime my mother was in full respiratory arrest.  By the time the paramedics got her to the hospital she was a full code and was not responding to CPR.  At the hospital they did CPR for an additional ten minutes before she began to respond.  Ultimately she was diagnosed with something very similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease called Myasthenia gravis.  They gave her a year to live back then.

 However, those that knew my mother knew that the rules of logic and medicine did not apply to her.  She lived for another 26 years getting her Bachelors, Masters and a two PhD’s (one minus dissertation) and taught high school English for 18 years and even taught at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.  She seemed to always beat the odds; most of that could be due to her stubborn nature.   I remember just a month or so before she passed a surgeon was walking new resident physicians thru and stopped by to see my mother.  He gave the new doctors a brief case history and then said.  “Apparently the rules of medicine do not apply to her.  The books said she should have died a long time ago, but here she is breaking the rules, I suppose she will tell us when she is done because it’s up to her.”

The months leading up to her death were filled with severe deterioration of her health.  The years of medication that kept her alive had destroyed her organs.  Her liver, kidneys and heart were all failing nearly simultaneously.  She was in and out of the hospital.  I was back and forth to California several times thinking each time was the time she would pass.  I think the years of her always beating the odds tainted my expectations.  It was good to see her each time because  she was living in California and I in Arizona, so I made it a point to spend as much time as I could afford.  My brain was telling me the end was near but my heart would not listen. 

In  the end, her liver was failing and causing what they were calling “third staging” I don’t know what that means but what was happening was her liver was causing her kidneys to fail and in turn causing all fluid to be trapped in the lower half of her body.  Her upper body appeared emaciated but the lower half was swollen like a marshmallow.  It was hard to see her in such a manner. 

I was always somewhat bitter that my mother had to suffer in life the way she did.  The last few years she suffered from sever rheumatoid arthritis which caused her fingers and toes to protrude off at a 45 degree angle from her hands and feet.  This was incredibly painful as the bones were forced out of position into the new locations.  I can’t remember her not being in pain.  It bothered me because this was a woman who dedicated her life to raising her 5 children alone then teaching high school students.  I always felt like she deserved a peaceful end to her life.  What made it more frustrating for her was that she was never able to hold my daughter Sophie.  She was present at her birth but she was so scared that the weakness of her hands from RA was too much.  It pained her to not be able to hold her grandchildren.  When Sophie was old enough she would climb up into my mother’s hospital bed that she had in her room and watch “Monsters Inc.”   However, she always regretted not being able to hold her grandchildren but she never complained about it.  But I feel she was robbed of that.

We met with the hospital staff at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton, California,  to discuss the options on medical treatment.  We were led into a small lounge that was clearly modeled in the 70’s with its vintage furniture that was so past its prime it was again fashionable.  It was positioned at the end of the ICU and its purpose was clear.  This was the bad news room.  It was a small room with no windows and I felt depressed just walking in there because I knew what was going to be discussed and what the room’s sole purpose was.  The doctor was a tall slender man in his late 40’s, but still clinging to his youth with his long fluffy hair.  He sat down with me, my three brothers, and my sister.  The social worker came in and introduced herself to us.  I knew what was going to happen.  I had thought about what my answer would be many times over the last 20 or so years.  The doctor told us that she was suffering multiple organ failure and there was no survival expectation.  He proposed that they put her on a morphine drip then stop giving her the medications that were forcing her body to function.  After the morphine drip kicked in they would remove the ventilator and she would basically fall asleep as her cardiovascular system and her respiratory systems shut down.  I remember thinking, “Well that sounds kind of peaceful, that has to be a good thing.”  The doctor went around the room and asked each of us what we wanted to do.  It seemed a very democratic way to decide if someone lives or dies.  As soon as I had cast my vote, my mind raced as the gravity of what was happening hit me like a freight train.  My mind was spinning as to what my motivation for sentencing my mother to death?  “Why did I vote that way?”  We all voted the same way and we had all discussed it before hand.  But it still seemed so surreal, like there was no way we were really voting someone, especially my mother to death. 

Shortly after the meeting, all of us went back to the room where my mom had been in a coma like state for the last 18 hours or so.  We watched as preparations were being made.  We tried our best to stay out of the way so the hospital staff could do their job.  The Doctor briefed the nurse and she started doing stuff with machines that I have no idea what they are called or what they do.  But I do know that they haven’t hooked up the morphine drip yet.  It appears that the nurse misunderstood the proper sequence or was just in a hurry to get the show on the road and get my mom out of there.  Regardless, she turned off the ventilator which, as I understand it, is what was breathing for my mom.  Suddenly my mother, who had been in a coma like state, sat up gasping for air.  Her eyes had what appeared to be a puzzled look as she looked around the room at each of us as she gasped for air.  It was like I was struck by a bolt of lightning.  I could not speak or move.  My feet felt like they were hundreds of pounds.  I heard my sister yell at the nurse to do something.  In my mother’s eyes it felt like she was asking me “WHY?”  A flash of guilt and pain flowed over my body it was a hot flash and happened suddenly.  It felt like I was personally killing my mother and she was asking me why.  The gravity of the moment was paralyzing.  The ringing in my ears was so loud it was like everything else was muted.  I was frozen in place as my brother and sister moved up and held her by the hand to comfort her.  I couldn’t move,  tears streamed down my face as I felt the guilt of voting my mother to death and now I was watching it.  Under my breath, silently inside I was pleading “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry” but the words were trapped inside me and I could not free them.

The Doctor yelled at the nurse, “I said no visible signs of discomfort!”  The nurse had in fact gone out of the prescribed order.  You see, if she had hooked up the morphine drip and loaded her up out of her mind on the morphine before she unhooked the respirator ,she wouldn’t have had the traumatic response to the air being cut off.  The nurse scrambled to inject morphine into her IV.  Moments later my mother started to lay back and her eyes glassed over as the effects of morphine consumed her.  Her eyes closed a few moments later to never open again.  After several hours the effects of all of the other medications that were chemically tricking her body to resist the multiple organ failure wore off; I watched her breath her last breath.  She was gone.  I looked down to my brand new Hamilton watch, and it was just a few minutes after midnight.  I said a silent good bye and left. 
I wear this watch when I am feeling sentimental and try not to remember the horrible events of that day but the countless fond memories.  I will keep this watch until I die or pass it on to Myles but it will forever be my favorite watch.