By Duane Preimsberger
Taking people to jail was part of the day in and day out aspects of being a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff assigned to Firestone Station in South Central Los Angeles. Generally, it wasn’t too difficult to get the people who were being arrested to submit voluntarily to being handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a patrol car. You’d simply explain the charges that were facing them and let them know that it was going to be necessary to arrest them and to handcuff them for their protection and yours. Even though it wasn’t the favorite thing to do most people cooperated nicely. However, ever once in a while you’d meet up with somebody who made the process amazingly difficult. Quiet conversation wouldn’t work; threats wouldn’t work and often times the use of force to overcome their reluctance to submit the arrest process was met with meaningful and strenuous objections that were often very physical.
Taking these folks to jail could mean using force that could range from a firm grip on the arms to smacking them with a nightstick. It could also involve wrestling around in the street and banging into cars or breaking the furniture inside of a home. It was not a task that anyone really looked forward to accomplishing, it was a part of the job that nobody really liked or enjoyed. Fortunately, it was the exception rather than the rule.
Working in an area for a while allowed a Deputy Sheriff to become familiar with the geography of his beat as well as learning about the people living and working there. Sometimes this knowledge allowed a Deputy to forecast whether or not an arrest of a certain individual would result in a fight. Phillip Comeskilling was one of the most pleasant of people living in the Walnut Park area of Firestone Station’s area when he was sober and that was most of the time. He had a lovely wife and a couple of lovely kids and they lived in a lovely little house that they maintained almost perfectly.
Unfortunately, about every two months or so Phillip would join some of his buddies from the steel fabricating plant where he was employed for a beer or two after work. If Phillip could stop after a couple of beers, everybody would be happy but he couldn’t do that. He’d come home drunk, get out an Indian drum, and then go sit on the front lawn and drum and sing Indian songs until the wee hours of the morning. One of the neighbors would call the Sheriff’s Station and report a disturbance that would result in two patrol cars and four Deputies being sent to the Comeskilling front yard.
Phillip was never glad to see Deputies after he’d been drinking and we knew as soon as we saw him take off his shirt that we were in for a problem encounter with him. Beer made him lose his pleasant demeanor and changed him into a charging bull. As soon as the Deputies would get out of the car, Phillip would take off his shirt, crouch at the waist, put his head down and charge, full speed ahead, at whoever was closest to him. His objective was to butt you into the next yard and on rare occasions he’d connect and the resulting blow could knock you off your feet. Usually, the Deputies would sidestep him like matadors and Phillip would whiz on by until he collided with something, the side of the house, a patrol car, a fence or shrubbery. After a few passes, he’d tire out and then collapse on the ground where, invariably it would take two Deputies to get him handcuffed. By then his head would be bleeding from self- inflicted contact with immovable objects or thorns and a trip to the Emergency Room would be required before we could book him for creating a disturbance.
Day’s later Phillip would have no recollection of his behavior and was astonished by the testimony of his family and neighbors about what he’d done while in their company. Invariably, he’d apologize to everyone involved and everything would be fine for about two months. Then it would be back to the Comeskilling bullring for another Corrida.
SEEING RED & LIGHTS
Drugs and alcohol seem to be the ingredients that cause people to become combative and sometimes bizarre. PCP or phencyclidine is a mind-altering concoction that can make people almost impervious to pain as well as making them act crazy. One evening, just after dark, a Firestone patrol car was southbound on Compton Ave. approaching Firestone Blvd. They were more than a little bit surprised to find a large, naked, 20 year old male appear in their head lights as he strolled northbound in their traffic lane.
The comments from both partners’ mouths at the same time were the words that could be expected from seasoned law enforcement officers who confront such a vision. “Holy shit! This guys gotta be a duster!” (Slang for PCP user)
They stopped the patrol car, turned on the red lights, asked for one additional Firestone unit to assist with the confrontation and then got out to talk to Mr.
He surprised them a little bit more when he bounded past them and onto the hood of their patrol car and then to the roof where he began stomping around. He began caving in the top of the car and kicking at the red lights with his bare feet until he managed to break the heavy plastic lenses and several of his toes and other miscellaneous bones in his feet. Neither the Deputies instruction to stop and come down or the injuries and pain had any effect on his behavior.
When the second unit arrived, the four Deputies stood in the street in disbelief as Mr. Naked continued to destroy the red lights and roof of the patrol car while continuing his Chippendales dancer routine. He was completely oblivious to the crowd of spectators who had stopped to watch the evening’s entertainment.
A Sergeant with a Taser gun was called to the scene and the supervisor utilized the weapon to deliver a disabling charge of electricity to the duster. After being shocked into a prone position on the roof, the Deputies were able to remove him from the top of the damaged car and get him controlled with handcuffs. It took all five of them to do it, one for each limb and the Sergeant holding onto his head. Then they called for an ambulance, secured him to a gurney and took him to be booked at the jail ward at the County Medical Center.
STRIKE TWO, DOWN AND OUT
Stopping drunk drivers can be a different kind of experience as one Firestone patrol unit learned early one morning. After activating their red lights and siren the drunk driver pulled to the curb and stopped. The two Deputies exited the patrol car and were startled by the cries, grunts and screams they heard coming from the suspected drunk driver. He continued to startle them as he rapidly got out of his car and began screaming Asian words and performing Karate type kicks and punches in their general direction.
“You’ll never be able to take me, I’m a black belt in Karate and I’ll kick both your asses before your very eyes. hi, Hi, HI!” He advanced slowly toward the two Deputies while continuing to yell, and perform Karate moves.
“”Oh Jeez, this guy’s a wacko, I don’t know Karate but I do know hard and heavy, black, PR-24 plastic nightstick,” said the patrol car driver to his partner as he pulled the stick from the ring and wound up like a big league batter. He smacked the Karate expert very smartly across the shin and that ended the confrontation with little injury. The drunk driver blew a .30, over three times the legal minimum for driving while intoxicated. He pled guilty to that charge after the District Attorney agreed to drop the Challenging to Fight offense from the complaint.
PLUM AWFUL CALL
Three O’clock in the morning brought two unusual individuals to the attention of Firestone Deputies as they created a small disturbance on Piru Street just west of Willowbrook Avenue. The two black and white patrol cars and their occupants blacked out as they turned the corner and observed a male in his early 20’s standing on a front lawn holding a garden hose with the water running while another male, who was apparently part Kangaroo, bounced up and down on the sidewalk travelling to and fro past the hose holder.
The second individual was holding a waterfilled quart jar in his hands and was attempting to drink from it as he performed his jumps. Periodically, the hose holder would refill the jar and the jumper would continue on his path.
The four Deputies got out of the two black and whites and approached the guy standing on the lawn as they kept a wary eye on the leaper. The sidewalk, lawn and the jumping jack were soaked in water as the contents of the jar sloshed over them.
“What are you guys up to?”
It became readily apparent that a considerable amount of alcohol was involved in the activities that were being viewed by the Deputies and in time the story came out. The two individuals, who lived in the neighborhood, had recently returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam and were two of the remaining three of their squad who had not been killed or wounded. Much earlier, they decided to drink to the memory of those with whom they had served and had gone to the neighborhood store to get something to drink. They got four bottles of plum wine and a several large bottles of 50% alcohol, vanilla extract to add to boost the wines octane rating, making a drink they called Plum Awful, learned in Vietnam.
It apparently went down very well until about two o’clock when Kangaroo-man noticed that his throat was somehow closing up on him and he also determined that the only way to keep it open was to drink plenty of liquid and to bounce up and down. The Deputies figured that trying to arrest him for being drunk in public besides being unpatriotic was going to get everyone involved soaking wet and probably muddy so they figured out an alternative. One of the neighbors who knew the leaper had a pick-up truck and agreed to help put him and his pal in the bed and slowly drive him around the corner to his home where he lived with his folks. The Deputies decided that he could jump up and down to his hearts content on his own sidewalk or until he wound down and fell asleep. As the truck slowly drove away the Deputies were serenaded by the sounds of Boiing.Boiing, Boiing, Boiing.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH
There are some really tough guys in any Police jurisdiction and Dr. Death was one of those guys in the Firestone area. He was a huge, massively muscled man, over six and a half feet tall and weighing in excess of 300 pounds. He’d worked on fishing boats in Alaska, chopped down trees in Northern California and finally hit the big time as a professional wrestler and wrestling instructor in Southern California. Dr. Death was his pro wrestler ring name.
Dr. Death was really Willie Adams and he was an individual with some psychological difficulties that were generally controlled by medication and confinement to the Norwalk Psychiatric Hospital.
Willie had decided that the hospital staff wasn’t being nice to him so he ripped open a window and tore off it’s metal grating and went home. When he got there and said hello to his wife and kids they exited the house through the back door. Then, they ran down the street to a neighbor’s house and called the Hospital to let them know that Willie was on the loose. The Hospital called Firestone Station and asked them to send a car to bring Willie back. The nurse calling failed to talk about Willie’s size and background so that the two Deputies who responded thought they were after one of the characters from One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest.
Willie was lying on the couch watching the Flintstones on TV, singing “yabba dabba do,” when the Deputies arrived. The front door was open and they could see him through the screen door and after taking his size and physique into consideration they did a smart thing and quietly removed themselves from the porch. They went back to the patrol car and asked the radio dispatcher to send two units to assist in taking Willie into custody. Since it was a fairly slow evening the two units assigned to assist showed up as well as another unit that happened to be in the immediate area.
Eight Deputies then confronted Willie in his living room and as he got up off the couch he did a surprising thing. He began to point at each Deputy and count out loud as he did. “One, Two, …Four…Seven, Eight. OK, you got me by one. I know I can whip seven of you punks, I did that a few months back at the men’s jail, but I don’t know if I can do eight and besides you got them guns and sticks so I’ll go back with ya, this time.”
Willie was so massive that it was impossible to get his wrists behind his back and handcuff him with a single set of handcuffs. The deputies had to link two pair together and then cinch them securely with a single ratchet click. Willie complained how uncomfortable the cuffs were all the way back to the hospital and to show his displeasure he put his feet against the back of the front passenger seat, pushed and popped it loose from its mounting bolts.
Dr. Stephen Goldberg who, at 5’ 6” and 140 pounds, was less than half the size of Willie met the Deputies at the Hospital door and with one withering look and a few words he turned Willie into a sobbing, big, milk toast eating, baby lamb. Something the eight Deputy Sheriff’s had trouble doing.
TOO MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN
Frank Barnes was not a very nice human being when he was sober and getting drunk just brought more of the meanness out of him. He’d been drunk for three days when Firestone Sheriff’s Station received a call of a woman screaming at the Barnes home. When Deputies arrived they found Mrs. Barnes with a brand new broken nose and two black eyes. She was holding an infant and standing on the sidewalk in front of her home, tears and blood dripped from her broken face and pooled on the sidewalk where she stood.
“Frank beat the other kids with his belt and when I tried to stop him he did this to me.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s in the house with the three boys, he’s crazy drunk and I’m afraid he’ll hurt them some more, please, please make him stop!”
“Can we go inside and check on the kids and talk to your husband?”
“Of course, please hurry!”
The two Deputies opened the front door and carefully entered. Frank was standing about twelve feet from the front door in the open passage way separating the combination living room- dining room from the kitchen and behind him with their backs up against a kitchen counter were three small, terrified boys, ranging in age from five to nine.
Frank had one of his hands behind his back and as soon as he saw the Deputies he unleashed a storm of profanities and obscenities at them and ordered them out of his house. An instant later, he withdrew his concealed hand and displayed a large kitchen knife and threatened to kill the two of them. With the kids behind him using firearms was not a viable option for the Deputies so one of them drew his nightstick while his partner removed a can of Pepper Spray from a belt carrier.
The nightstick-wielding Deputy made the first move as Frank advanced on them, moving the knife in his right hand back and forth at waist height. In the blink of an eye, the nightstick hit Frank’s hand and the knife went flying. At the same instant, the Pepper Spray holder hit the release button and the blast hit his partner squarely on the side of the head between his left ear and eye.
The semi-blinded Deputy managed to grab Frank before he collapsed to the floor and with that his partner managed to get handcuffs on the wife beating, child abuser.
Moments later the neighbors who’d come out to see what was going on at the Barnes house were surprised to see a coughing and wheezing Deputy Sheriff standing in the Barnes front yard with a garden hose in his hand and water splashing onto his face.
It took several minutes before the sprayed Deputy could talk without constantly coughing and when he could he told his partner, the sprayer, exactly what he thought of his decision making abilities, aerosol marksmanship and illegitimate family history. Then, after taking a deep breath and coughing a couple of times, he continued on for several moments with a laundry list other very unkind remarks. It took him almost the entire shift to get his sense of humor back.
Frank went to jail, booked for a long string of felonies. Mom and the kids went to the hospital and after being treated the Deputies took them to a shelter for abused women and kids where they’d be safe and be able to obtain help and counseling.
Occasionally, after arresting and handcuffing a prisoner, the real trick is to get them into the backseat of the patrol car. Perhaps to this point they’d been passive and even co-operative but then, something about being put into a cage like rear seat of a car can flip them out and they can became human expandomatic devices. Their body parts become capable of assuming positions that any exercise physiologist would tell you are impossible to attain. They can somehow inflate portions of their anatomy to a size larger than the opening to the back door and if they can grab something outside the car it will become almost impossible to break the vise grip they have on that object. This can be particularly painful if that object is attached to the remainder of a Deputy Sheriff.
Even more of a dilemma can occur if the reverse effect occurs and the arrested person decides that he or she has found a new and permanent home in the rear seat of the car and grows a strong magnetic field attachment to the back seat. Coaxing these people out can take a while and the alternative is to get into the tiny confines of the backseat and face a kicking, screaming, spitting and biting fury. This is an area in which no Deputy Sheriff likes to play.
Taking tough guys and tough girls into custody is a never ending and challenging part of being a Deputy Sheriff. It can call for innovation and originality, super-human strength, patience and a sense of humor. Time, technology and inventiveness are bringing new tools to aid in the task but so far none of them work every time.
Deputies are still looking for that magic can of spray that will instantly and easily shrink-wrap difficult arrestees into a tidy package that makes it really easy to take them to jail. But we’re not there yet. The tough guys are still out on our streets and so are the Deputy Sheriff’s.