Various encounters with law enforcement over the years: good and bad

5 Feb

Renee Pickup, my favorite pod-caster (Books and Booze) posted a YouTube video on FB today showing some rough behavior by a police officer. This got me thinking, which got me blogging. Here you go:

About 1977 or 1978, Orange County, California:

I was 21 or 22. I had gotten a speeding ticket that I never paid because I never had any money and because I was pretty irresponsible back then.

I was so out of it that I didn’t even realize there was a warrant out for my arrest for failure to appear. Late one night during a weekend on or near Christmas I was hitchhiking in Corona del Mar on Pacific Coast Highway. I was standing a little ways onto the street, rather than the sidewalk. This is illegal. Police pulled me over to give me a ticket, discovered the warrant, and took me to Orange County jail.

I remember I was wearing brown corduroy pants, a nice plaid shirt, one of those fluffy brown suede coats, and desert boots – all clothes that my mother had recently bought me. I looked like what I was:  a waspy suburban kid. I guess it had been a wild weekend night, because there was a huge line of other arrestees to process. Most of the people in the line looked like gang members and/or criminals. To me, at least, they looked like they belonged there. When I got to the front of the line the young red-haired freckle-faced jailer looked me up and down and then asked me, “Jesus Mr. Monson, what is a hardened criminal like you doing with all these fine, upstanding citizens?”

1983 I think, Tyler, Texas:

I was 27 or so. I was with a nice young woman (whose privacy I will try to protect as much as I can without also ruining a chance to tell a story of course)  who was actually still married to her last husband. He thought they were on a trial separation and didn’t know yet that she’d already passed sentence and had decided to go with me instead. He was from Transylvania or someplace, had this huge thick head of black hair, black eyes, and a beard that nearly covered his entire face. Plus, he liked to dress up in leather clothes. He drank a lot and went into horrible rages. To me, he was the Wolfman. Get it?

So one night he comes over and peeks into her bedroom window and sees us together. He begins banging on the front door. My girlfriend thinks it is someone else and opens up. He barges in screaming, looking like he wants to kill one or both of us. Then, I did something that I always debated about later: I went out the door, hoping he would follow me. I wanted to get him away from my friend. And he did follow me, so I shouted at her to close and lock the door and then I started running down the street with him in fast pursuit.

I was only wearing a pair of jeans – no shirt and no shoes. It had snowed that night and I kept slipping in the ice on the street. Finally, I just stopped running and turned to face him. I think I felt ashamed of myself to be running like that. He approached and I got down low and sort of tackled him. Now, I’m not a very experienced fighter and I really have no idea how to fight but I’d been a wrestler in high school so I was sort of comfortable with handling myself on the ground with someone. But, he got me on my back and started choking me. Luckily, though, he ran out of steam almost right away and got off of me and got in his car and took off.

I guess I was pretty upset and pissed off because I called the police. One officer came right away. When he heard the name of the guy who attacked me he got all happy. Turns out the Wolfman had some beefs with the local police department and had filed some very serious complaints. Several police officers were potentially in a lot of trouble because of this guy.

Since he had a very respectable job the threats were being taken seriously by the DA. Now, however, they had something on the dude. As you can imagine, my assault complaint was dealt with quickly and I got a lot of personal attention and help with the case.

About 1979, Long Beach, California:

I was around 24. I was working for Yellow/Checker Cab of Long Beach. It was a great gig and I felt lucky to have it. I loved that it was a Teamster Union job and I really enjoyed having cash in my pocket all the time (this was rare for me in those days). I liked meeting and talking to all the fares and never knowing where I’d end up and who I’d be driving. I saw a lot of new and strange things, especially when I went into the rough downtown bars to answer a call.

I picked up prostitutes before and after dates, I drove musicians to and from gigs, I delivered bottles of whiskey and six-packs of beer to drunken shut-ins. I took rich guys to the airport. Once or twice a week I picked up a gypsy lady at her job at a fortune telling booth at the Pike amusement park down by the water. The gypsy just fascinated me for some reason – I think she knew this but she was good at playing it cool and keeping me from asking too many stupid ‘what’s it like to be a gypsy’ questions.

Okay, so one night, I get a call to go to an address. It was in a bad part of town but I didn’t care because I didn’t know enough to care. I had some trouble finding the place. The address was something like 1011. I found 1009 and 1013, but no 1011. So, like an idiot, I get out of the cab and went looking to see if maybe it was one of those mother-in-law units in the back.

Then, boom, about 12 young black men between about 17 and 25 converged on me. They punched me in the back and stomach and face and sprayed my eyes with mace. I gave them my roll of cash from my shirt pocket and they all ran.

I called the cab dispatcher who told me to call the police right away. Two policeman came and took my statement and then got a call that maybe another squad car had found the perps and asked me to  come with them to try to identify them. I sat in the back seat of the police car as they slowly drove me deeper through the same neighborhood in which I’d been attacked and robbed. It was weird – looking out the window there were dozens of people of all ages and both sexes everywhere. They were milling about, shouting and laughing. I’m pretty sure this was after midnight.

We came upon a squad car and the officers motioned for us to drive closer. They were pointing at something and holding their stomachs because they were laughing so hard. When the policemen with me saw what they were pointing at they started laughing hysterically as well.  This was what they were looking at:

The other cops had lined up three young black men in a row along the sidewalk. They were each on their knees. They shined flashlights at each of their faces in turn.  They had one cover his ears with both hands, one cover his eyes, and one cover his mouth.

Real funny. I ended up not being able to ID anyone.

I never went back to the job and became broke all the time again. About two weeks later a guy I knew who was moonlighting as a cabbie for the same company was found dead in his taxi over in San Pedro – shot in the back of the head.

1980, Long Beach, California:

This story is mentioned in passing in this previous blog. Check it out. Okay, so I was 24 and living in a hovel on an alleyway of similar hovels mostly occupied by drug addicts and low-level criminals – scary people who I tried to avoid. One day there was a banging on our door. When I answered there was a huge man who identified himself as a Long Beach Police Department detective. He was looking for the young man who lived in the little cottage in front of ours and he was convinced that I was him, at least for the first moment or two. I remember how red his face was and how angry he looked, like he just wanted to beat me to death right then. As I was explaining my true identity as a broke-ass loser fuck-up rather than a low-life outlaw fuck-up, his partner came up and told him they had the wrong place and the wrong guy. The red faced officer immediately changed his attitude toward me when he realized his mistake. I’d gone from scumbag to citizen in nothing flat and was no longer in danger. The difference was palatable. I was very relieved and glad to be me.

2010, Modesto, California:

My wife Rebecca had very kindly moved her former mother-in-law from her home in Oklahoma to our home. The lady was old and frail and Rebecca was convinced that she could give her the care she needed. The other choice was a cheap nursing home.

Things went okay for a little while until the lady got sick and had to go to the hospital. At this point Rebecca realized that the woman needed specialized care and arranged for her to go to a very upscale assisted living center, something much better than the place in Oklahoma.

The woman became angry at this and began accusing Rebecca of stealing from her, even claiming that Rebecca had taken $20,000 from her checking account. None of this was true. It was a heartbreaking time and it was awful to watch Rebecca have to deal with one accusation after another from a woman that she had considered a great lifelong friend.

One Saturday afternoon I was alone at home while Rebecca was at work. The doorbell rang and upon opening the door I was faced with the sight of a uniformed Modesto Police officer on my porch. His squad car was parked out front and he asked me to come outside and talk. I was mortified. By this time I was no longer a broke loser fuck up, I was now the kind of person who didn’t like being the guy in the neighborhood talking to a police officer in his driveway with a squad car parked outside. I really hated it.

He said that our Oklahoma visitor had filed a complaint for the theft of $20,000 and he was there to investigate. I told him the entire story from beginning to end. I noticed that he looked me in the eyes the entire time and listened very intently. He asked me a couple of questions about myself and about Rebecca. Then, to my great relief, he told me that he believed me and that he most likely would not be back – which turned out to be true.

2 Responses to “Various encounters with law enforcement over the years: good and bad”

  1. thetitularauthor February 5, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Its funny, the subtle theme that crops up– how you are treated differently when you are dressed nice, when you have something they want, and of course, when you’re a grown up in a decent neighborhood. I tell ya, the way I was treated when I was young by police officers vs. the way I am treated now (even with all the tattoos and the green hair) just blows me away.

  2. Annie February 6, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    I liked reading this.

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