Boys and girls! Another episode in the thrilling days of yesteryear Texas Policing….
When I walked onto the Criminal Investigation Division floor to start my evening shift, I could tell something was “up.” The day shift guys were scrambling to get their tactical vests and assorted personal and standard-issue, shotguns.
“Hock!” said one, “Hurry up here!”
They directed me up to the third floor meeting room, which was a large room constructed like a small theater.
“We will hit this house….” …and the briefing went on, conducted by a SWAT team sergeant who also was a detective sergeant. I’ll just call him here, “Sgt Larry.”
Down in our city’s projects, in an old, two-story wooden, house bound for demolition, a local crack/cocaine dealer, ex-con named Willy Vics was running a dope house. It was a magnet for bad guys and hookers from the region. Our narc guys had a freshly signed warrant in their hands, growing stale by the minute.
“David, Benny, Jeff…you three will enter here and will move upstairs…Tony…you…” and Sgt Larry laid out the plans while waiting for the warrant to be written and signed. There was a somewhat discreet effort to rest the SWAT team a bit in those days. Recently, a certain team had set a house on fire with a flash-bang that had ignited a curtain, and the house had burned down. And, well, there was a movement, you might call it, to tone down militant appearances a bit. At some point Sgt Larry decided some of his detectives should do this one, not our SWAT team. So, his chalkboard was filling up with tactical brilliance. White arrows were laid down aggressively, but there was a bit of a problem manifesting.
The back of the house. It emptied out to a big yard connected to a neighborhood of other yards. The arrows ran out of people to cover the escape routes! I would say there were at last eight detectives assigned arrows. Sgt Larry looked up at newly arrived me. I was gear-less at this point in a suit and tie,
“…and Hock…you take the back.” Huh? Famous last words. Okay. Me The back. Take it. Pretty big back though.
A few of us had run dozens of these deals through the years and we all had.. “taken the back,” at one point or another. Still, this was a pretty big “back.” Nothing new here, though. Most of the time, the suspect, and or suspects, upon hearing officers at the front door, would then peek outside a rear window, see an officer standing guard back there, and often surrender. Usually. Some hide in the house. We have had to chase a few. (I would often put something across the back door causing a fleeing felon to trip.) I witnessed one investigator throw a brick and hit a fleeing suspect in the head. Took him right down. He couldn’t shoot him! So he bricked him.
Within a few minutes, everyone hit the streets in their unmarked cars. I threw on my body armor and raid jacket and left the shotgun in my car (too cumbersome in close quarters for me on deals of this nature). The plan was to give me a minute to park down the street just a bit and trot up to the yard. This was a corner house. Then, several cars would skid up to the house front, men bail out, destroy the door, and rush in.
I barely had time to jump the tall chain link fence, when I heard the sound of skidding tires and men yelling out front. The usual soundtrack. It is always difficult to exactly coordinate these things. There were about six back windows and a back door. The first floor extended out beneath the second story. There was a sloping, large ledge under the upstairs windows. I tell you this now because in an instant, every hole in the back of this building had people pouring out of it, as people leapt, hung and dropped from the ledge to escape.
“Halt! Police! Stop!” I yelled from the middle of the yard, my .45 drawn.
HA! I recall at least 10 unarmed people ran by me as though I was not there. Fat hookers, skinny dopers, you name it. If I had actually started shooting at them? Well hell, I’d be writing this from the penitentiary right now.
BUT! One of the escapees was Willy Vic himself! He ignored me, too, so I figured since he was the subject of the whole raid, I would chase him. The sprint was on. Willy had to vault a fence, and I was counting on that slowing him down. I holstered my weapon. I couldn’t shoot anyone here anyway.
He jumped on the fence and starting climbing, and I reached up and grabbed him. He clung like bat on the chain link. I reached around, cussed and slapped his face a few times. Hammer-fisted his hands, loosening his grip. Distracted, he dropped.
Thereupon came the scuffle. Willy landed on his back and my mission was to get him cuffed, which he didn’t want. He still had “rabbit in him” (which was Texican lawman talk for he was a runner). He was a big guy, but in his mid-50s and these guys are still dangerous when excited, plus I was still surrounded by his escaping doper customers and his gang who could double and even triple the odds in Willy’s favor. Ever try to fight a mean, angry, fat hooker?
Meanwhile, the “team” was SWAT-tip-toeing through the house as though terrorists with sub-guns were around every corner. I could hear them yelling, “Clear! Clear!” as they secured every empty room and closet.
One thing was very “clear” to me, I was all alone in the yard, fighting a guy right beside all his buddies, who I hoped were all busy trying to escape. I had to toss a few snappy body punches into Willy, all the while yelling for him to give up. He quickly ran out of gas, and I cuffed him. His help? There was no loyalty among these thieves, and all the escapees got over the fences. I stood alone with the drug dealer, and I was, all at once, a failure and a success.
I pulled the portable radio out of my back pocket and called Sgt Larry. I reported that I had caught Willy Vics in the back yard. I hooked his arm, lifted him, and walked him to the front porch of the house where the few, shocked folks who had remained in the house were cuffed and sitting on the steps. It made for great front page, local, newspaper photo of about six guys, Willy among them, cuffed and sitting dejected on the front porch steps and about six of our guys in raid jackets and shotguns towering over them.
I stood off from the victory photo-shoot and was a bit disappointed in myself because I had let about, oh, 11 people get away. I was about 35 years old then and had very high expectations for myself. Hell man! “One riot? One Ranger!” Audie Murphy and Sgt York took hundreds of prisoners. I couldn’t stop eight dopers and four fat hookers?
But, it all became quickly apparent that, in the end, I had caught the big fish they were after, and there was a tactical mishap in planning. Me alone…”in the back” – you know, the place where everyone seems to go when the front gets raided?
This mishap became an “inside joke” with the troops for awhile. For the next year or two there was running joke with CID that anytime we would plan anything, (even a party), it would finish with, “…and Hock, you take the back!”
Sgt Larry, if he heard the rib, took with good nature. I guess?
There was an old comedy bit done by the now disgraced Bill Cosby about the Lone Ranger and Tonto. The Lone Ranger would say, “We’ve got to go to town and find out what the gang is doing,” meaning that Tonto himself, – alone, – would have to go to town. Whereupon he would routinely be beaten up. Cosby said he and his pals would scream at the TV set, “Don’t do it, Tonto! They’ll beat the snot out of you!” Cosby suggested Tonto say instead, “Who’s ‘we,’ Kemosabe?” Which for a while back then, that line become a bit of a cultural joke. You might still hear it a bit now.
Hock’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org
This is excerpted from Dead Right There. Get all of Hock’s books here: