Notes on…”The Tackle”

       The who, what, where, when, how, and why do you want to tackle an opponent? If you tackle someone in the real world, you will usually end up on the carpet, tile, floor, cement, asphalt, dirt, rocks, etc., with the enemy. I know a veteran doorman/bouncer from New York City who says,  

       “why should I take a customer down to the ground? Then I just have to pick him right back up and take him out. And dance floors can be dangerous at ankle height.” 

     The same can be true for many police situations. Sometimes taking a suspect all the way down may be part of your plan. For example, the police may take resistors and fighters down to the ground just to get them off their feet or prevent them from running. In some military situations, enemy soldiers such as sentries must be taken down and out of sight of his comrades and quickly restrained, made silent, and/or finished off.

     Another reason the police tackle people to the ground is because they are chasing people in pursuits. They tackle much like a football player must pursue and tackle. But so many real-world altercations are not foot pursuits. In fact, citizens in most situations would prefer their opponent suddenly turn and flee. Why chase them? Why tackle them? The citizen has then escaped a crime? 

In the non-sport world of no-weight-class restrictions, you don't know the animal you may be tackling and then wrestling with on the ground. Or, for that matter, the size of the ground fight inside the dog – to paraphrase that old expression.



     Many untrained knuckleheads, mimics, and sports people will tackle. Being tackled is one of the four main ways we hit the ground, so says a number of universities with police science department awhile back, gathering a smattering of stats as best they could. The big four ways, briefly, are these:

  1. We trip and fall during the fight.

  2. We are punched down during the fight.

  3. We are tackled during the fight.

  4. We are pulled down during the fight.

     One of our Force Necessary "Worst Case Scenario Modules" is all about the Tackle and Countering the Tackle. So we must learn the ways of the opponent. Here are the main and common ones we exercise through in the courses as a foundation for you to springboard into deeper studies: 

Common Sport-Based Tackles (which can, of course, work in "real" life, too)

   – Single leg right, a "leg pick," or smothering crash on it;

   – Single leg left, a "leg pick," or a smothering crash in it;

   – Double leg;

   – Single of Double leg, and he evades with a footstep, you hunt/swivel for the best direction for a takedown;

   – The "Fire Pole" – a slap-down tackle from a bear hug or clinch;

   – The Military Belgium Takedown, a classic military (WW II) tackle from the rear;

   – Football tackles.


Belgium tackle art series_for the web

Non-Sport Tackles

   – Wild-man, “untrained civilian” body grabs/tackles
   – Military body pitch where a tackler's torso goes airborne 
   – Law Enforcement Pursuit Tackles System where chases tackled from behind are exercised.


Common Counters to Tackles

   – Splay/Sprawl
   – Evasive footwork back and/or side-step
   – Brick wall
   – Side headlock, catch, crank/choke
   – Wheel throw



Experiment with these foundational moves, then is you wish, continue on deeper.

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Shoot the Car! I Need Me Some Relief!

Shoot the Car! I Need Me Some Relief!

     I recall a time when cars did not have air conditioning, and when they did, many police cars still did not have the add-on feature. To save cost, skinflint supervisors ordered fleets of cars without AC, but of course their cars had AC. In the Military Police, “back in the day,” on dayshift we had to wear our class A uniforms on day shift. Whether tan or the green “suit”, we had to wear that big-ass, white hat inside the car. The hat that rubbed on the interior roof if you were over 5 feet tall, and turned the top of your hat gray. Yet we’d see the Provost Marshal (like the police commissioner) driving in his sedan with AC and hat off. His hair all blowing in the AC wind tunnels like a big dog. It’s nice to be king! Evenings and midnights we switched over to fatigues, but hot is hot in Oklahoma and Texas,and in the deep south.

DressClass A copy

     Shoot the car! What? Wait, stay with me. Shoot the car for ventilation? Or for draining? Every once in awhile some eager officer would draw out his gun too soon during a chase, hit a bump and shoot the car. The floorboards. Under the dash. One time in Texas, an officer who shall remain nameless, held his gun, hit a bump, shot his car and killed it. Dead right there. I don’t remember exactly where he shot, but it hit the engine and killed it. This would also happen with interior “quick draw practice.” Or the anxious officer would draw his gun out in a chase and lay it on the seat. Well, when you are driving at a hunnert miles an hour, a slight turn or braking, and that six gun would fling itself all over the car, along with the french fries and burgers). But back to shooting the car…for draining?


     A lot of these old police cars had bullet holes in their floorboards. On purpose. No accident. I was reminiscing with another old vet and we were talking about the ice bag trick. Various ice houses and stores back then often gave free big bags of ice to officers, or sold them, in the summer. Some ice houses just stacked them by their back, open loading doors and cops would drive by and throw them into the cars.

     The trick was to shoot the floorboard, you know center-mass. You go out and drive over some soft dirt or sand, shoot the floor and the bullet buried into the ground. In them-thar days, the outside bottoms of cars did not have the Buck Rogers technology of today’s cars. It just made a nice clean hole in the body, if you knew where to aim. Next, the big ice bags are plopped on the floorboards. The vent fan was turned up full, and wala! Ice bag air conditioning. Primitive, but better than nothing.

ice bag copy

     The floorboard holes were needed for the condensation and ice bags to eventually drain. The driver needed a little makeshift barrier to keep his bags from the pedals. Better than nothing, and your cowboy boots would keep your feet from freezing off, usually. But passengers could ride with their feet high up under the dash.

As I recall, you would certainly get into official trouble for shooting your car, but many veteran supervisors did this in their good ol summer days, too. So. Mums the word. If your supervisor were “cool” the word would get about such pending inspections. And these were fleet cars back then, not necessarily assigned to any one, two or three officers. So finger pointing alibis were engaged. What? Who?

     Everyone knew where they could get their holes plugged if need be, for any planned inspections. We had a day or two to fix things, and in emergencies, we all had a few midnight shift, open garage/gas stations back then to race to when we had a such fix em up emergencies with our cars. But that’s another batch of stories.

      Finally cars were manufactured in such a way that it cost extra to remove the FM radios and air conditioners, frustrating sadistic administrators! Play rock in the cool breeze! And we peons ruled the day! Viva la revolution!

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Storm Jumper! Captured Alive in Water Channel

     On the east side of our city, there ran a series of waterways, storm channels to handle the bad Texas rainstorms. I know some cities don't have any of these drains, but I guess everyone has seen storm channels in the classic movies and TV shows about Los Angeles. Just like theirs in the City of Angels, ours was an "open top" system, quite wide at parts, deep in sections and branched off into all parts of the city.



       The channels were usually dry unless it rained heavily. But like in this photo here, there was usually a skinny stream from somewhere. I have seen them flood and overflow. I have had a few foot chases thru and in, some fights, arrests, and a couple of mishaps down in the dirty ditches. Here's one such tale.

     I once chased down and cuffed a child rapist through those channels, but my first real adventure down below in the water channels … catching an armed robber, way back in the late 70s. There was a series of armed robberies plaguing us on the east side of town, and the detectives were doing the best they could with stakeouts and interviews to break the cases. Solo actor. Big revolver. Black male. In his 30s. Afro. Cheap bandanna over the lower half of the face. We were all convinced that the suspect was a local. No one ever saw a getaway car, and each time the occasional witnesses said the man just melted off into the back lots and alleys behind the businesses.

     Several nights a week back then, I rode with another patrolman named Clovis George, a very sharp and real funny guy, a prior border town/city cop down Mexico way. Even back then, the Texican border towns were all hotbeds of all kinds of criminal activity and, yes, drugs, too. The interstate that split our city ran from old Mexico straight up the center of the USA. A drug route then and now, but that's a whole other story. Clovis had seen a lot of street-level action down there on the border. The George family was big in our city, and he returned home after several years to settle down. Our city produced one Miss America,  Phyllis George, and she was his cousin.

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     Another one of these armed robbery calls went out late one weeknight while we were paired up in one car; and it had us and other cars running every which way hay-wired, trying to find the suspect either running or driving away in a getaway car. Not a clue. A clean escape yet again.

     When the dust settled, we drove to a taco outfit and got tacos and some ice tea, sat on our squad car hood, and ate, contemplating the world as it blew by us. We also contemplated the armed robber.

   "I'll bet that squirrelly bastard is jumping down into these dry channels and running right home," Clovis said between bites.

     "I'll bet we could jump in at one key point and cut him right off," I said.


     Sounded plausible to me, so we made a plan. A large percentage of criminals lived in the nearby projects in our beat, and we drove around to calculate possible routes from Tell Ave. businesses to the government housing districts. We knew the CID stakeouts were spotty and all above ground and vehicle-based. No way the detectives could cover all those locations every night, night after night. So if we were free and patrolling and heard a report of another east-side, armed robbery on our radio, and if our man was indeed a storm channel jumper, we would guesstimate the time and location where the robber would be running, jump in the drains at some point, and stake out that spot.

     Well, within a few nights, a chicken restaurant was hit by our lone suspect. Handgun presented. Money grabbed. Mask. In and out. And Clovis and I raced to our own planned stakeout. We parked the squad car and, in a huddled-over combat run, slipped into the open channel by a viaduct at a bend in the system where we couldn't be seen from afar. There was less than a small stream of water in there. In less than one minute, we heard some splashing and footsteps, and we exchanged surprised expressions like … "well, damn! That could be him!" 

     And sure enough it was. He rounded that corner huffing and puffing with a paper bag of money in one hand and a revolver in the other. We spread out and hit him with our flashlights' beams. We pointed our pistols and started shouting,

      "Drop the gun, or we'll kill ya!"  

      "Drop it or yer dead right there!" Words to that general effect. You know what I mean. And they were true warnings.

     Our man dropped his pistol and bag and put his hands up. Bandanna in his back pocket. We cuffed him, hauled him up the side, and "took him in," as the expression goes. 

     CID was kind of thrilled. And they took over. Our suspect was not a local as it turned out. He was in from Akansas visiting locals and thought he'd run up some traveling money while in town. Mask. Gun. Money. Flight. Matching size and clothing description. Wow. Nice little arrest. Hey, three cheers for the Clovis George idea of ditch jumping, all over some tacos and tea.

     Through the years, Clovis and I were also detectives together, too. First him, and then me. Starting back in the early 1980s, I had a bit of a reputation for getting a lot of confessions; and Clovis often asked me to partner up with him when he had extra troublesome witnesses and suspects in his cases. Plus, I was his choice when he served an arrest warrant on some of his cases because we knew how to work in unison.

     So, we worked these numerous cases together. Always had a blast, too. I remember he had an affinity toward the Tonight Show's Johnny Carson suit line. He thought he was really styling it in a Carson brand suit. You know what? He was!

waterways 3

     We went out with our wives to various country and western establishments in those days, some Tex-Mex locales, and drank way too much as I seem to recall. Admin often made the mistake of sending us to various investigation training schools in Austin, whereupon we had entirely too good a time above and beyond the classes. We'd drive to Austin on Sundays to be in position for class on Monday mornings. On some of the trips we'd bring a small camper's black and white TV set with us to try and watch the Cowboy's games in the car on the drive down. It was a war with the rabbit ears for antennas, trying to catch the local channels as we passed through cities on the interstate. Back then, you could legally drink and drive in Texas (not be drunk – just you know – sip up until), and this adventure always included beer. One guy drove and the other guy operated the rabbit ears. What a team! (Imagine doing that today. We would both be serving life sentences.)

     Clovis took a few promotion tests while in CID and went back into uniform as a supervisor. He continued his professional career rise, while I, never testing for any rank, remained back in line operations working in the trenches, not unlike the stinky water ditch system where we made the aforementioned arrest.

     Then he had a severe heart attack in the early 1990s. He recovered and became a supervisor for our communications division. He also became an avid runner. Then he suddenly died in 2002. The heart again. Couldn't outrun those genetics no matter how hard he tried. I was working out of the country at the time and missed the funeral. 

     Many years later, the next century actually, our agency developed a truly amazing, modern police academy. They dedicated the police library part in his name, which I thought was just a damn fine idea. Here's a picture of one of the best Police Chiefs you can find, Lee Howell, dedicating the library with Dana George.

waterways 4

     Clovis George was a really good guy, a good friend, and we had a lot of laughs, tacos, beers, and margaritas. Plus, together, we handcuffed a number of felons, too. What more could you possibly ask of a friend? What more?



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“A Knife Should Be Felt, Not Seen.” 

"A knife should be felt, not seen." 



This kind of a macho-sounding meme is going around the web. I guess that's true if you are…you know…like an assassin or something? Or in a horrible, desperate worst case scenario? I think we can all conjure up a nasty situation where you need a concealed drawn knife at the ready. And then sneak it into action. But to suggest that "all knives should be felt, not seen?"

"Seen knives" have worked well too, which is what I would like to talk about here. But there use to be a number of studies by the Department of Justice that said – and it varied a bit each of the years they did it – some 65% to 75% – or like an average of 67% of the time, the presentation of a knife or gun to a criminal, "scared" the attacker off. Meaning that only about 30% of the time, people had to actually fight (as in wound, maim or kill, or be those those things). Now, stats can be screwy but I know numerous people, some of you reading this now, that have interrupted an attack by presenting their knife (or gun), and the event was never reported to the police, never making the DOJ study list. I might easily be convinced that there are many more such successful, presentation-interruptions than the G-Men found.

So, there is also some merit to an opponent seeing the knife sometimes. Lots of people get stabbed and complain that it felt like they were being hammer-fisted or punched, and continued fighting, oblivious to the fact their opponent had a knife. Staying too close, too long. Would you stay in a fistfight against someone with a knife, when you could leave? Depends, huh? The display, presentation of the weapon, with a threat and command presence, can end the fight before it starts and it has!

A presented knife can hold attackers at bay for an orderly retreat. Stuff like that.

Numerous vets report that letting the opponent see the knife, hear the threat, and it counts for something, sometimes, because it has worked.

All these things have happened not just in personal anecdotes, but in research. I think people should be open to the situational problem-solving, not these kinds of overall one-note, well…macho suggestions. Supporters of this message claim "well, you know, it is out of context." But the message is exactly what the message is. Heck, life is out of context. We need to shoot for the best message.

That line might sound so cool, until you're in jail. Or in court. I hope in the end the overall situation is in your favor. I have seen them go both ways. (And I know for a fact that whatever you have posted on Facebook will be used in court against you.)

So you have in a continuum, whether gun or knife:

Draw/Don't Draw

Point/Don't Point

Use/Don't Use

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Draw Guns and Knives … or Not? And When?

Draw/Don't Draw. 
Point/Don't Point. 
Shoot/Don't Shoot

     Who, what, where, when, how, and why do people draw their weapons once inside the fight? AFTER the fight has started? After the first collision? When do they or don't they draw their knives and guns, or maybe their clubs? Brass knucks? Or other weapons? We have already documented the three major weapon-carry sites here in prior essays and outlines:


Primary Carry Sites – think quick draw; 
Secondary Carry Sites – think backup; 
Tertiary Carry Sites – think lunge and reach, off the body

     These are locations on or near the body we need to anticipate for weapon pulls when dealing with suspicious people. Their hands access these weapon sites. (This is where we pack em too!)

     “Watch the hands, it’s the hands that will kill you,” is the old police adage. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you just stare at their hands during an encounter, but you just keep track of their hands.

     But if someone is armed and gets into a grappling/fist-fight, why and at what point in the fight does the weapon draw happen? When do they do it, or why don’t they pull their knives or guns AFTER the fight has started? As a Army and Texas detective, I have investigated tons of assaults, aggravated assaults, attempted murders and murders, plus have received continuous police training on crime and here is what I think.

1. No pull – they actually forget they are armed

2. No pull – they know better

3. Pull – they get mad enough

4. Pull – they start to lose

5. Pull – dominant fervor

     1: No pull – they forget. Yes, people get in fights and can forget they are carrying a weapon. When we arrest them and discover a gun or knife on them and ask them, “Why didn’t you use this?” They sometimes answer, “I forgot I had it.” This is a common occurrence.

     2: No pull – they know better. Some people understand that the situation they are in doesn’t warrant or justify the use of their knives or guns. They don't "rise to the occasion.” Some seasoned criminals know this. Smart guys and, of course, cops. Cops are carrying all kinds of weapons, get in all kinds of scrapes, and never pull the weapons from this sense of understanding and control.

     3: Pull – they get mad enough. Everyone understands this. You are in a fight and perhaps take an extra serious blow or experience something that further enrages you. You forget the law and your common sense and pull that knife or gun out.

     4: Pull – they start to lose. Everyone understands this, too. You are in a fight and sense it ending very badly for you. Predicting the disaster, you pull out the weapon.

     5: Pull – dominant fervor. An official name for this category has arisen in the last few years, which recognizes a certain personality type. When they are in the final stage of winning or have won, they hate for it to be over. They want to further punish the opponent. So rather than leave, they want to enjoy themselves and the victory. Enjoy the moment. If they have the enemies pinned against the wall or ground or in their clutches, out comes the guns or knives. They get shoved in the loser's face with celebratory words. They may carve up the people a bit. I recall a case I worked once where the winner cut the loser's face and said, "Here, wear this for awhile." Consider this as a "victory lap."

     Recently, I was talking with Queensland, Australia, police officers at a training session. They had just investigated an armed robbery…

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01 Book Cover-med

The “Myth of the First Event” and how it relates to the “Diminished Fighter Theory.”

     Watching judo practice and tournaments, watching the stepping and positioning of opponents and the time it took, I use to make a remark years ago that “all judo throws work quickly after you break the guy’s nose.” And many folks looked at me like I was crazy or something. But I wasn’t. I meant it. You’ve seen grapplers step and step and torso-twist and circle arms for a position for a take down. You’ve seen wrestlers, wrestle and wrestle to get that submission. But, once you severely stun the opponent, opportunities suddenly, can quickly occur in all forms of fighting, standing and on the ground. Put boxing into judo. Put ground n pound into wrestling. Unarmed or with weapons, close and afar, once stunned, they are diminished. Weapons? Yes. Through the years in policing and training with Simunitions, and other sims ammo that goes “boom,” I have learned that he who gets that first gunshot off, sends not just a bullet but a very shocking explosion at the opponent, so often disrupting their return fire plans, especially when close. Most range shooters are never on the wrong end of a barrel and don’t grasp this advantage. Why do you think the police and military use stun grenades?

     What exactly is the Diminished Fighter Theory? It’s a helpful phrase I coined decades ago about how you need to diminish an opponent in a fight. This is far from a new idea, its common sense and most folks get it, but still the idea doesn’t often float down and melt into many systems and practice. Just look at the martial arts of the world and watch what they do.

     Sometimes they come to you diminished. They are drunk, drugged, out-of-shape, etc. Sometimes, not. Then, when we fight, we fight an opponent’s athleticism, their pain tolerance and their adrenaline, and therefore even the lesser performer might rise beyond expectations. So, we have to diminish them. I’ve used the analogy also for years about how we would hate to fight “Bruce Lee on 3 cups of coffee.” Bruce, fresh. Alert. But throw chair at his head, and he’s Bruce on two cups. A lamp at his head? One cup. And so on until he becomes…”manageable.” Diminished. When we stand before a giant that we have to fight into handcuffs, it seems to be an impossible task. But if you diminish him enough, not only can you cuff him, you can tie his shoelaces together. Your first serious diminishment make knock the opponent cold. Which would be great, but you can’t count on it. Settle for stunning.

We fight their:

  • pain tolerance
  • adrenaline (which also helps their pain tolerance)
  • athleticism
  • Any fight training they migth have

     Diminishment. But the theory is only a side issue to the Myth of the First Event. What is this “first event?” A fight of any kind has several physical events. Everyone has an idea on what the first physical event is. The first significant, physical thing that happens in a fight. What then is the “Myth of the First Event” all about? The confusing myth that few seem to understand? Understanding/contemplating these “must/can” questions –

 1 – “must every martial move work in the very first event of a fight?”

 2 – “can every martial move work at the first event of a fight?”

    Must every? Can every? No, and no. I would venture to guess that in the big picture about 70% of all martial and martial arts moves that people strain and train to learn are not appropriate in the first instant of a fight against Bruce Lee on 3 cups of coffee, or versus many normal people for that matter when the fight first starts. And by 80%, I might be very generous. Unless you are talking maybe about boxing? Boxing and a few others can be very “first event-ish.”

     A fight of any kind has several events. Like primary – the first, then secondary, obviously the second thing, and third and so on. Yet the martial world, arts, tactical or otherwise has seemingly tons of moves, compared to this one, two, three option. Where do they all fit in? (Please do not burden me here with quips about bunch of pre-fight jargon, as this essay is only about the physical fighting part). These tons of moves are taught by many international instructors. These instructors make video clips like mad, showing parts of these tons of moves. But most of these movements are NOT the first events of a fight, but often seem to be shown in these internet videos as firsts. They are, or rather should be second, third, fourth on and on, etc.

     These clips are then judged by millions of viewers. “That won’t work!” viewers declare as well being far, far, far worse in belittling, scathing tirades. But they might not realize that many of those moves should be reserved and are quite worthwhile against the ½ diminished or fully diminished fighter. Wrong time! Wrong demo. Out of context. But still, I think most all viewers innocently rate things on will it work in the first event of a fight and they just don’t realize it. But they forget or don’t understand that the moves they criticize often have potential in the following events, the following seconds. I still see clips of secondary moves done in the right time, and still ridiculed as “not going to work.” Perhaps these critic has never really be clocked in the mouth and head hard enough to understand the value of these follow-ups.

     One might organize training methods in like sort of a Tier 1 and Tier 2 approach. Tier 1 is very small collection of first event, really diminishing moves…like BOFFO! A great smack to the head, to the brain/computer, for example. Then once diminished, Tier 2 stuff can be better implemented. You have a diminishing event as early as possible so that many follow-ups might work, follow-ups like locks, controls, take downs, finishes, etc. You would assume people know this? But listen to them. Watch what they do or say.

group fight 1     I know this deeply because I have lived in these Tier 1 and Tier 2 worlds, in the police world we were and are forced to do Tier 2 stuff first, then when faced with undiminished resistance, only then can we move up to Tier 1 responses and even that is legally problematic and frowned upon. Do you see what I mean? It’s ass-backwards for police, if you will. This has hung a huge yoke upon police training over the decades. An, ass-backward disorder, but such is the life and the gamble of the police officer. But struggling in the backwards world helped me better understand the order.

     And, also take heed…with all this talk of diminshment, this is NOT an excuse to follow-up with stupid or unnecessary things after the diminishment! Not at all. I am constantly seeing extra, exotic, even whacky movements – moves that hypnotize the easily “hypnotize-able.” Things too fancy. Things extra and unnecessary. In our courses we are “Force Necessary, not Force Unnecessary,” but this should be true in your fighting system too. You have to trim the fat. From what I see? Most don’t, electing to do complex, flashy crap.

     In summary, the myth of the first event is misjudging all moves to be great in the first event of fight. The myth also explains that a great many moves are still very worthwhile to know, practice and execute, but in the second, third and so on events against a diminished fighter. Not all things are meant to be used in the first event. Many things are still good and important, they are just…”Tier 2.” A stun is a stun – a distraction. A diminishment in plain language is a diminshment. You don’t have to inject a bunch of OODA Loop jargon to understand and explain this.

 – Don’t use Tier 2 in Tier 1 times.

 – Don’t blanket ridicule and throw out Tier 2 material because they didn’t work in in the first event. They are meant for…later.

     Recognize what is Tier 1 and Tier 2. Before you ridicule a video, an instructor, or a course and declare what they are doing is worthless, consider the context of the clip, and consider if it might work against a diminished fighter a few seconds later in the fight. (And your critique might be right! The instructor might not understand the Tier 1 and Tier 2 equation?

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Fiery Grab-Assing – One in the Top Ten Crazy-Brave Moments I’ve Seen 

     One of the bravest things I have ever seen right before my very eyes wasn't in the military or wasn't performed in the act of battling criminals. This particular act of incredible courage was performed by one officer, Glenn Bell at the secluded, police gasoline pumps on a Texas city service complex. I worked very closely with Glenn for several years back in the 1970s. He  was a fastidious, do-gooder and the senior officer on our squad who really did take responsibility for the shift and I mean seriously. This night it almost rendered him into a ball of fire. We had to keep this heroism secret for decades. Decades! Until now, whereupon I reveal it right here…   


     Not many citizens know that before the end of a patrol shift, just about every patrol car in the country, perhaps the world, has to go to a particular place to get gas. Most agencies drive to a city, county, state, federal complex or compound to refill their fuel. Or, they have a credit card arrangement/or some form of credit arrangement with a commercial gas station. This way the next shift takes over the car with a full tank of gas. If its take home police car, then the officer can refuel at his or her desecration.

     When I worked patrol in the US Army in several states and countries, not only did we fill er' up, but we were expected to hose er' down. Clean the car. Unless the temp hit freezing, we grabbed a hose at the "Mike Poppa" – the motor pool – and did a quick clean off of the car when getting gas.

     At first, these chores were a personal affront to my immature, ignorant, self back then. Starting in the military police in garrison patrol duty, (garrison duty as in police work like in a major city, not in the "field") I perceived myself as an armed and elite agent of the law and thought for sure, subservient, attendees would flock to my squad car and service it when I pulled into the motor pool. Gas. Wash. Oh, not so. We did it all. In my next assignment in South Korea, 90% of it was foot patrol, or standing around looking cool at various assigned places. When we used me jeepa jeep we actually did have such caretakers from time to time, like Koreans with their palms out for cash, to either drive us around most of the time, or spit-shine the jeeps. To you young-uns' out there? These were not the Humvees of today. Oh, no sir. These jeeps were right out of an old War World Two movie. I have had a misadventure or two in these jeeps but those are the fodder for other stories. And I still have a fondness, a nostalgia for them.

     By the time I went to work in Texas, the Hochheim "elite-ness" had been totally kicked and spit right out of me. No longer was I special and delusional about my position in the universe. You realize in the Army that you are a totally, expendable, grunt. With this lot in life, I learned to whistle gladly as I pumped my own gas, and hummed contently as I took the squad through the hosing or car wash whenever it was needed, for I was a professional  in both social sanitation and vehicular maintenance. I just wondered what part of the totem pole I was? The part under the dirt? Or the part just above the dirt? No matter what, it involved dirt.

     These petrol fill-ups are usually within one hour of the shift's end. And, on evening shift and certainly midnight shift when the world was blissfully in stage-three-REM sleep, these fill-ups are often congregations of squad cars getting gas, and, or waiting in line at the same time. This invariably leads to gossip sessions, comedy corners, bullshit speeches, major league complaining and many crazy shenanigans like stun gun duels, baton fights and If the fuel compounds were remote enough? Trick shooting and target contests, Many “cool” sergeants just joined us in this sessions, but some anal retentive patrol sergeants would watch these gas pump meetings from afar with binoculars, hiding in the dark, taking notes and charge officers with wasting precious, city time. I mean, come on! What harm could a little 6 am, on-duty, trick shooting contest bring? Even with shotguns! Hey, come on! We replaced the ammo, Lieutenant? Captain?

     Generally speaking the local, Texican police colloquialism for such horse-play at our pumps was a simple, catch-all phrase – "grab-assing." Grab-ass became an official term connected with the gas line, but could be inserted when needed when officers foolishly misbehaved and were caught. You had to be caught at it of course, else it never existed. We learned this institutionalized nomenclature from the periodic and official warnings in squad meetings from the staff.

Solemn looks and wags of the finger and –

     "This grab-assing at the pumps has got to quit."

     "No more grab-ass at the pumps."

     "We are setting up surveillance at the pumps to put an end to this grab-assing."

     "This is the end of this grab-assing."

     "If we catch you grab-assing at the pumps, we'll…"

And the occasional, soon ignored mandate –

    “THree car limit. No more than three cars at the pumps at any time, to cut down on this grab-assing.” (We would groan at this because we needed at least four to party.)

     The Einstein algebriac equation seemed to prove that cosmic, grab-assing statistically begins at the collection point of four officers. Its just science! Now, you understand that no one was officially, actually, really grabbing anyone’s real ass, (though there were incidents of male and female huckle-buckling in the further, darker reaches of the gas pumps, service compound. I wouldn’t know ANYTHING about this huckle-bucking!) But, a scientific combination of three or more of us congregating there at any time meant the potential for…grab-ass.

The Night in Question….

     Near the end of one unforgetable, midnight shift, at about 5:50 am, four of us wound up getting gas at the city pound at the same time. FOUR! Me, Glenn Bell was there, and two other officers. One name I forget. One, I will change his name to Ron Bapkins because his damn fool move is about the only, really super dumb-ass thing he has ever done, (well then again, I have seen some of the women he's chased…but I digress). Anyway, our numbers – now four – was one person over the department commandments for the official possibility of grab-assing.

     I happily hummed a Waylon Jennimngs tune as I started pumping gas. Glenn was pumping his gas at the next row with this other officer waiting nearby. Bapkins was behind me in line and leaned against the front end of his car. Bapkins, a smoker, was holding a book of matches. Yes. And he was striking them for…fun…and tossing them on the ground. At the gas pumps. For…fun!

grab-ass 2

     Yes…gas pumps…while gas being pumped…lit matches. Yes. Yes, I know what you are thinking. But remember, we are not ourselves. We had entered into the bleak and twisted, mind-dumbing, twilight zone of Pump Station, Grab-Ass.

     I started to complain to him. He taunted me.

     “Wha? Ho Che Mein? Chicken? CHICKEN are ya?”

     Bapkins grinned, possessed by the Evil Specter of the Grab Ass. and he started tossing lit matches closer and closer to me.

     “Are you nuts, are you…” I yelled at him, but it was too late. A tossed match came too close. Too close! For some reason as it flickered through the air the entire rear side and trunk of my car sort of…blew up before me. The air actually became a rolling ball of flame before my eyes.



     I jumped back, pulled the pump handle out with me, and thank goodness, releasing the gas pump handle shuts the gas flow off, but not before I shot some gas over the back of the car. I know a potential, freaken fireball when I see one! And – the gas cap WAS OPEN! The rear of my prowl car seemed to be on fire, like a layer of fire in a redrish wave. The fire dancing around the gas cap and back trunk area of the car.

     If the car blows up. One pump station blows up. Three other pump stations blow up. I could see that in one primal, instinctive instant, the whole outfit would explode in something right out of spy movie.

     I swear my eye lashes were singed! My ape man brain said "Fire! Run! Run! Foolish primate! Face on fire! " and I took off at a dead run.

     Bapkins took off at a dead run in another direction

     Officer Unknown took off at a dead run in yet another direction.

     But Glenn? No. Glenn, senior officer on the scene, feeling responsible for my car and the other three sedans, the pumps and who knows what all next that would explode, charged in, at a dead run! He obviously had an evolved brain beyond ours, I guess?

     My keys were in the ignition. Glenn jumped into the driver’s seat of this flaming car. He started the car and stomped the gas pedal. The engine roared. Over my shoulder, I saw him, driver's door held open for quick escape (perhaps the blast would throw him clear?), roar my fiery car across the compound parking lot some forty or fifty feet. He jammed the car in park and dove out of the car, hit the pavement, rolled and ran for his life. He somehow drove my flaming car away from the gas pumps! I think that Glenn knew he would be blamed for the mess.

     Bapkins got his fire extinguisher out. We jogged to my car like a grunting pack of monkeys, unable to speak, thinking the rear quarters and trunk would at least be irreparably charred. He dosed the car.

     As we paced and mumbled like nervous chimps, the flames that licked the back of my car slowly…slowly…extinguished. We were amazed.

     "Fire…gone!" one of us mumbled. Indeed, the fire went out.

     Officer Unknown got an emergency blanket from his trunk and wiped the deck lid. The charred black came off! Wiped right off and the pure police white goodness remained and shined though. We exchanged glances and mumbled. Oh, oh but to return it to this pure, police state again! Especially poor arsonist Bapkins wished for this! Whose fault doth lie upon his window break! He'll have his Shake-speared but good! And with the scientifically proven, Grab-Ass Equation of four or more officers present?

     Alas! We too shall roll with this tide as once again, we are proven to be little more than mischievous monkeys stuffed into polyester blue, playing with matches near 1,000 gallons of gas and staring curiously down the barrels of our guns, tempting fate itself on a daily basis.

     But can monkeys accidentally type an encyclopedia? Glenn wanted us all to avoid these slings and arrows. He told me to get to a car wash fast, as dawn was breaking. He would join me and we would see what we could clean off before being summoned in for day shift change. Quarters? Did we have quarters? Yes, we pooled our quarters.

     Perhaps…just perhaps we did not need to report this mishap to the supervisors! This would save us from the indignation of reporting to the police chief's office next morning and having him…yell at us…”on the carpet”…and wag his finger at us…and…and suffer the psychological damage of this horrifying experience! Save us from the walk down the day-shift admin hall, that hall of shame gauntlet and have everyone sneer and whisper and cluck their tongues at us and, and…oh, the horrors! The charge against us?

     "Grab-assing" at the pumps!” Almost blowing up the damn pumps. And after so many warnings.

     Fearing this shame and embarassment, and creating a legend for story-tellers, Glenn and I raced to the nearest car wash and plunked in quarters. As senior officer, Glenn took control of the wash wand as the severity of the clean-up job was not to be left to a mere patrolman such as myself. Too much was at stake. This job required zest, zeal and experience and he was clearly the Tarzan of the group. And I'll be damned if the black soot didn't come right off the squad car! It was somehow as good as new. Pristine again! Oh, wonders of wonders.

     Car and souls again washed clean, at 6:50 am we turned over our squads in to the next shift and no one was the wiser that Bapkins almost blew up my car and the surrounding compound. And that Glenn Bell had performed one of the most heroic, selfless acts I had ever seen. And it had to be held top secret.

     Secret Until now. For you see, the Grab-Ass Statute of Limitations is about 35 to 40 years. Even if none of us work there anymore. The regime in charge itself must have either passed away or at least be in assisted living facilities before the event can be revealed. Their power! You don't understand their long-lasting power! One or two of them, I fear, will be positioned at Pearly Gates, in the admission process! We kept this heroism secret for decades!. But now you know. The world knows.

     Glenn told us the next day or so that he discretely talked to some buddies at the Fire Department. The FD experts said they guessed only some of the gas was affected/lit and mostly gas fumes were actually on fire. The fumes would produce this look, linger on the car while it flashed away, and explain the soot that we wiped off. But, great balls of fire were great balls of fire and the potential was great.

     While me, Bapkins and Officer Unknown, Misters See-No-Evil, Speak-No-Evil, Hear-No-Evil were busy dashing for our primal lives. I remember seeing Glenn blasting away from us in my flaming car, trying to outrace destruction. (That's me in the middle).

     Oh and you want to know some irony? Years later, Glenn became the fire chief of a smaller city. I’ll bet he did a fine job too.

     Now, pass me a banana. Hey, which end does the bullet come out of this gun thing again?



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The Greatest Shot I’ve Ever “Seen!”

     It was gruesome. Memories of pain fade, but not those of parents much. Out of respect for the surviving parents, I will pass on revealing the details of this child murder here, the death, rape and mutilation of a young girl, even though it was long ago. Suffice to say that we'll start here, when this freshly, arrested killer was first incarcerated in our county jail, so that I might focus on only telling the tale of the greatest shot I have ever "seen," while the gunsmoke was still in the air, or more specifically, ever investigated, and one that has all the elements of a helleva, Texican lawman tale. It was the 1980s. 



     The day after the arrest, the brutal killer, Reilly Rice was in the county jail and due his very first visit to the judge for his judicial warnings, what is often called a preliminary arraignment. In our old, county jail building, just up the street from our city police headquarters, one judge had offices on the first floor, making such visits a handy process, as the jails themselves were all upstairs. Getting that first-day, mandatory visit in could be geographically challenging in some jurisdictions. Nowadays, this type of appearance is often done by close circuit TV! 

     Judges can be power mad, quirky or cantankerous. You've seen this on TV, the movies and in the last two decades, you've seen these “Judge Judy” TV shows. Some actually talk and act like that. On this fateful day in the 1980s, a traveling judge was in chambers and he was one that demanded all prisoners who enter his court must be free of shackles. I guess he hadn't has his nose broke yet. But something dramatic was about to happen that would at least make him think about that idea. 

     Whatever the process was assigning jailers to suspects for their court trip downstairs – rotation? Dice game? Short straw? Whatever, an overweight, out-of shape jailer named Barry Bale got the chore of marching Reilly Rice downstairs to the judge's chamber for this un-handcuffing and visit. Alone. Yes, alone! "Such be things at the ol' jail." 

     At that very time in the late afternoon, Texas Ranger Weldon Lucas walked into the Sheriffs Office on the first floor. He'd been in on this investigation and was there to collect paperwork on the case to send to his Dallas Ranger Company and then on Austin, and to clear up some loose ends. Lucas was dressed in his usual, work clothes of a Ranger – western boots, pants and matching vest, embroidered gun belt and classic, engraved, model 1911, .45 caliber handgun. The famous Ranger badge adorned his vest like it had on Rangers for hundred-plus years. Lucas was a regular sight to every police agency in the region and I can't think of a police officer that didn't know him, of know of him, certainly we detectives did.

     Appointed by the Texas governor, Rangeren' was a great job coveted by almost all, and Lucas was one of the troop that had considerable experience in investigation before pinning on that legendary badge. He'd been a state highway patrolman, as all Rangers start out, and then worked auto theft, narcotics and organized crime. Many Rangers are appointed without such stout backgrounds and are a bit behind the curve in investigation skills. I recall one Ranger being made that had worked only as a patrolman and then for many years in a section called “Weights and Measures.” Weights and Measures involved weighing and overseeing trucks on the highway. Jobs like this offer zero qualifications for an investigative position, but sometimes politics get in the way with Ranger appointments. Very few, had Weldon's background. 

     Rielly Rice was due in court. A local Dallas, television station sent a news van up to the court to film the proceedings. The reporter and cameraman positioned themselves in the hall for the 6 and 11 o'clock news shot of Reilly Rice walking into the courtroom, as no cameras were allowed inside. A reporter would enter and take notes.

     A hurried, representative of the DAs office showed up, but not much legalese would be crunched in this early visit of the case. Bales took Reilly down the elevator. He walked Rice past the camera crew and into the court. He took off the handcuffs, as required. The TV crew got their “perp shot,” and walked out of the building to their van. Weldon Lucas was talking with some deputies in the lobby of the S.O. just down the hall.
And then all Hell broke loose. 

     I was working in our detective bay, closing out the day, when the hell broke loose. There were some other investigators there also. I can't remember who bellowed out the announcement across the room. 

     “Reilly Rice just escaped from the jail. Eastbound on foot.” 

     And we were gone. We stampeded down the stairs, hit the street and ran to the S.O. just a long block away. Oddly, there were quite a number of prisoners through the years who'd ran/escaped from the sheriff's office; right out the back door usually during book-in, interview or some transfer process. The bad guys could see the irresistible green of civic center park out the back doors and windows, versus the battleship gray cinder blocks and bars inside. And they bolted. They were always caught. We ran, all of us passing on getting into our cars and driving there, thinking we would be searching the surrounding park and streets afoot anyway. 

     My gut instinct was to flank over into the park behind the S.O., but my eye caught a disturbance way down on the major intersection just east of the jail. A cluster of people. The others saw it too and I veered back with them. Four lanes of rush hour, east/west traffic stopped cold. Next we saw an ambulance pull up which really jammed up traffic. This shut down the north/south traffic. 

    I ran past the county building and saw jailer Barry Bale, sitting on the ground, all multiple hundreds of pounds of him, his back propped against a tree, hair messed up, shirt tail out, gasping for breath. He must have chased Rice all of about 15 feet and collapsed. Acting like he was near a heart attack, another jailer attended him and pointed us east. He actually said to me, 

     “they went that-a-way.” 

     That-a-way. Up ahead on the northwest corner, in a small dose of short bushes and foliage of the civic center parking lot, were multiple official types working on a downed man. When I closed in, I saw that the downed guy was Reilly Rice. Ranger Weldon Lucas was standing over him, with his hands on his hips. Huffing and puffing. A patrolman showed up. Our CID Captain Bill Cummings drove up and bailed out of his sedan. 

     In so many words, Weldon told us he shot Rice. Okay. You must be thinking can police shoot fleeing, unarmed suspects? First off, this was Texas many decades ago. Back then there was a running joke that if you ran 7 feet from us? We would start shooting at ya'. That also included driving away from us too. Rice was a child raper and killer, otherwise known as a dangerous felon we could not allow to escpae. Just couldn't.

     Shooting at fleeing felons. I have. I have either tried to scare them into stopping or tried to kill them and missed. But these warning shots or "scare" shots have been deemed illegal almost everywhere by now, but they sure have worked for me more often than not. Hate to see them go. Great peace-keeping tool, but they are gone.
     The shooting at escaping felons laws in the USA has been evolving since about 1977. The general, modern letter of the law requires that to shoot someone, it must be in defense of yourself or to interrupt the imminent serious injury of others. Seeing the back of a head, ass and pumping elbows of a fleeing felon does not constitute these imminent categories. But, many state laws include shoot/don't-shoot and the fleeing felon problem. Many states and police agencies say that permitting the felon to escape would pose a grave and continuing danger to public safety. Shooting them is an option. Not misdemeanors mind you. Felons. 

     The Texas Department of Public Safety, which covers the Texas Rangers, then and now doesn't completely address the feeling felon matter in its policy guidelines because “every situation is different,” DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said. “It's officer discretion,” she said. “If they perceive that there's an imminent threat, they can take any action they feel necessary to protect themselves.” 

     If you are citizen? I wouldn't do this, by the way. And as for police officers, different states have differing laws about this. Even police departmental policies may be more strict than state law. And local county, state, and federal prosecutors and grand juries can have some say on the subject. If driven by politics they may weave some charges in and around the laws. Then there are the civil law suits! Shooting your gun can be messy.
     Speaking of messy, I examined Reilly Rice. Prone, he was panting from his mad dash, but otherwise he seemed just fine. Not too messy. An EMT was patching up the side of his head. A head shot? 

     “Where's he shot?” I asked the EMT, kneeling beside him.



     “Earlobe,” he repeated. 

     I looked at Weldon and Weldon shrugged. 

     The TV news crew was setting up for an impromptu shoot. A patrol sergeant was organizing traffic control to allow the far lines to pass. The EMTS were standing Reilly Rice up and preparing to transport him…back to the jail, not the hospital. After all he was only shot in the earlobe. Our crime scene guy, Russell Lewis showed up and began photographing the scene. More county officials jogged up. 

     “Hock, you got this case,” Captain Cummings told me. Though this involved the Sheriff's Office and the state police via the Texas Rangers, the shooting did occur within the city limits and it was also our city's problem. I knew that people from the Rangers and Austin would eventually be involved in this, but there was work to do right then. First, documenting the crime scene, which ran from the S.O. courtroom to the intersection. 

     Weldon and I walked off a bit and he told him what had happened. I paraphrase here a bit because some 30-plus years have passed since that afternoon. He basically said,

     “I heard the shouting that Reilly Rice had escaped out the front door.” It must have been the jailer calling out. Of course, I knew Weldon had worked on Rice case and was well aware who and what Rice had done. 

     “He ran into the middle of traffic and turned east. I took off after him and got in the middle of moving traffic, chasing him. He had a big lead. It was getting bigger. I felt like he could get away. I couldn't shoot at him because it was rush hour. Cars and people everywhere. But, Rice started angling north and in front of him was that brick building.” 

     Weldon pointed to the two-story brick building behind us and to our east. It looked pretty big as close up as we were. 

     “I could see he was going to pass in front of that building and it was my only safe shot. I drew my pistol and fired one shot when he crossed in front of the building. Rice went down.” 

     “How far away were you?” I asked, thinking about the ejected, spent shell from Weldon's .45 handgun. 

     “Up there," he pointed up the avenue. We both grimaced at the sight of the cars being filtered into the right lane, albeit slowly, and allowed to pass the intersection by our erstwhile patrol officers. Oh well, life – and cars – move on. I least they were moving slow. A crushed shell would be better than a no shell. 

    My unmarked detective car was back at the station. I approached an officer and asked for one of their distance measuring wheels and some chalk. This is like a walking stick, with a wheel at the bottom and distance counter. Back then, the numbers rolled like a slot machine. Some today are of course – digital. The officer pulled it from his trunk. Weldon and I started from where Reilly Rice took his dive and walked west on the avenue, marking off the feet. 

     I hit about 30 feet and I asked Weldon, 

     “anywhere around here? “ 

     “Nope.” My eyebrows raised. 

     We keep moving in between the cars and impatient drivers. Our eyes were scanning the roadway for that single spent shell. We hit about 60 feet! 

    “Anywhere here? 


     Nope? How far was this shot? We continued. 

     “Right about here, I think,” Finally, Weldon stopped me. He looked around. 

    I looked at the scrolling meter. It read “97 feet.” Good God, could that be right? 

     And sure enough, to our right, untouched, unbent and pristine, lay the spent shell in the middle of the street.
    “97, 98 feet, Weldon. Thereabouts” I told him. "Maybe 100."

     I took out the chalk from my pocket, circled the shell on the asphalt and put the shell in my pocket. I don't want any of these cars rolling over it. I looked back at the intersection. That two-story brick building that Rice passed in front of? It was now about the size of postage stamp from here. 

     I looked over at Weldon and he was staring back at the intersection. “Yup. This is about right,” he said, nodding his head. 

     I walked up beside him. “Shit, Weldon, this is like a circus shot, like a wild-west show, shot.”  

    “I reckon,” he said. 

    “Was it a moving shot? How'd you do it?” I asked him. 

    “I was running. I saw my chance. I pulled my gun. Two-handed grip. I think I stopped just for a second. I think. Kinda. I shot. Cars out here were whizzing by me.” 

     “Well, go on back and I'll start taking some other measurements.” 

     I recorded the distances, "triangulated" them if you will, from the S.O. front doors, the shell scene and other related landmarks. Nowadays I guess they use GPS and satellite photos on big cases? Russell Lewis took land-level photos with his 35 mm camera from each important spot. 

     Weldon went to our P.D. and started his own statement on one of our new, electric typewriters. There was much for me to tighten up and I wanted as complete a report as complete as possible before the state bigwig, shooting team started showing up. Russell and I worked the scene. The only loose end was the bullet and the brick wall. It might take a major deal to find and recover that slug, as we couldn't see it with a quick walk-by. 

     Two high-ranking Rangers were there at my desk the very next morning and I had a good, solid report for them to kick off with. As we went over the details, I got a call from the Sheriff's Office CID, Captain Ron "Tracker" Douglas. He told me the latest news.
     “Hock, Reilly Rice hung himself last night. He's dead.” 

     “Hung himself! How? Where?” 

     “He was first booked in wearing his own socks. We let them keep their socks. You know those long, white tube socks? He got one end around his neck, tied of the other end on bunk bed and hung himself.” 


    “Deadier' than hell. Dead right there in the cell,” Tracker said.


     Shocking for sure, but I really didn't care. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he wasn't officially convicted on the case, but the case was airtight with a confession that lead to other evidence. I mean, the son of a bitch was a child rapist and killer. And “death by sock” was too damn good for him in my book. Too damn good. 

     “You gonna' call Weldon?” I asked Tracker. 

     “Already have,”

      And we hung up. 

     “Well, gentlemen," I told the Rangers at my desk, “looks like our ear-pierced, shooting ‘victim' hung himself in the jail last night.” They exchanged glances. They collected my reports and their very next visit was to see Ron Douglas at the S.O. 



Weldon Lucas later became the Sheriff of Denton County and quite a controversial figure. 


     I next made it a point to try and find the bullet itself. Honestly, I would have loved to dig the bullet out of that brick wall and tie Weldon's perfect shot package into a bow. I made two trips out there with two heights of ladders and a metal detector trying to find the slug. It was tedious work but I just couldn't find it and would need a third trip with a damn fire truck or utility cherry-picker to do it. But, how high could the slug be? I think not that high. I could arrange for a basket but it would be a pain. Around the time I started making calls for one, nobody cared anymore. There was no further case to pursue as the county and the state declared it a closed investigation and justified shooting. The local D.A., the state, no one found any fault with the actions of Ranger Weldon Lucas taking that single shot and winging, or “lobing” the dangerous, fleeing Reilly Rice. That bullet remained in the wall until the building was torn down years later? Who knows? Did it miss the wall? No matter where it went? It went nowhere anyway. 

     When I think about it, it was the greatest shot I've ever seen, given the circumstances. I'm sure there are many record-breaking, amazing, military sniping shots on the books, quick-kills and all, but think about it. Think about this one and why it is so unique. 

* The shooter was a Texas Ranger (already cool) 

* The shot was taken in the middle of moving, rush hour traffic. 

* It was about a 100  foot, high-stress shot with a pistol.

* Weldon still had the foresight to wait until Rice had a safe background. 

* Rice was a confessed, dangerous, escaping felon/murderer. 

* Rice was a moving target. 

* Rice was shot only in the earlobe and it knocked him down.
* Rice didn't even require a hospital visit. The escaping Rice was returned to jail with an ear bandage. How and what could he sue Weldon and the State about? What Texas jury would award escapee Rice for damages, for an ear piercing? 

* The state police had no defined policy for shooting dangerous escapees. 

* The passing bullet did no further damage. 
* Any possible, crazy, residual legal problems were over when Rice hung himself in the jail. 

     We know it would be impossible for Weldon to actually aim at an earlobe in a split second like that at 100 feet. Impossible. Sure, but all the events played out so very well and with minimal, post-shoot problems, it makes for the best shot I have ever "seen." 

     And I must add – for a while there was a running joke in the county. We wished that all prisoners would be issued extra long, tube socks upon their jail book-in. Who knows what they would do with them? 

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Fear and Darkness All Around You – The Flaky, Shaky, Snaky Business of Bail Bonds and Bounty Hunters

People have often asked me, especially a few years back when the TV show was very popular,  

     "have you worked with Dog the Bounty the Hunter?"   

     "did you know The Big, Bad Dog?"

     "Have you been a bounty hunter?"

     In a word, no to all questions. I have hunted many, many fugitives, finding them all over Texas, the USA, Canada and Mexico, as chronicled in book Don't Even Think ABout It and the upcoming sequel Dead Right There. I don’t recall finding criminals in the other countries. In fact, I can't think of a time when I ever worked with any so-called, full-time, official and black leather, "bounty hunters."


     Can someone be a full-time employed, official bounty hunter? On the whole, I don't think so. And if so? Not for long. Some folks have tried and maybe still try? Clean it up a bit and call it “fugitive recovery,” or a “bail enforcement agent.” I have also been contacted by private investigators while as a police detective, in their pursuits in finding various "skipped" folks but they are being paid for some other bigger reason, other than just bail location/reward money. This situation was reversed years later when I was a PI. For example, families have hired me to find missing (fugitive) relatives, knowing that once found, they would be arrested. Or to find criminals needed to testify in civil court. These are longer stories than I shouldn't include here in this one essay, but as a private investigator I have never been hired to just find someone who jumped bond, just because they jumped bond. There were strings attached.

     Least of all, I have never worked with one as colorful as likes of the Dog. The reason citizens know about the Dog is he and his pack are so utterly, unusual and over-the-top they became great fodder for reality TV. I’ve watched the show myself when it’s on. I use to see it all over the world on various cable channels. Reruns abound. The newer episodes of Dog and Beth! The Dog was and is big! It's a perfect little recipe for just what it is – from the bad-ass, Ozzy Ozbourne theme song to the group prayer at the end. Perfect schtick. The show of course is "pre-fab" and half-scripted as most reality shows have to be.

     But the bond and this bounty hunting thing. Do they make some money? Are they all, also PIs? Security companies? Or just anyone without training and licensing? How can this be so cool and even confusing? Why are so many arrested people set loose from court anyway? And who are bondsmen? Are all bondmen bounty hunters? What are bounty hunters?

     The Bail bonds business. It’s an odd business. Nationally on average, for most years, some 20 percent of felony defendants on bail fail to appear back in court. There are no handy stats on misdemeanor suspects who fail to appear. When this failure to appear happens, an warrant warrant in ussued. This issuance evokes all kinds of authority from officials on down to "citizen arrests."

     In the USA, most normal citizens don't even understand the bonding-out process of their justice system. What little they know of comes from fiction novels and TV and movies. For the layman or the foreigner, in the USA when someone is arrested, they may be released from this custody by promising to appear in court on a later date. This promise is bolstered and underwritten by money. As we know, the denero makes the world go round. Setting up this “monetary promise” to re-appear is a complicated process, like a business contract, and that is why God made the licensed, approved, bail bondsman. The court system cannot be bogged down with doing this and running a side, "human banking or pawn shop, style business." Plus, we don't have the space in jail to keep all these people for the pending months involved in prosecuting them. The arrested party calls a bondsman day or night to get out of jail.

     Both the bail bondsmen and the suspect stand to lose a lot of money if they run off. Cash, cars, house, jewelry, boats, artifacts, antiques…you might be surprised what bondsmen will take in immediate payment of their services or will come collect of you fail to appear.

     Most skippers/jumpers are eventually caught, and people usually think it was by some kind of sleuth, bounty hunter lone wolf or team. But regular law enforcement factor into this capture posse. If a subject has jumped bond, there is an arrest warrant. Once a bail jumper has been located, many chasers just call the police in to do the dirty work of the hands-on arrest. They sit back and watch the action.

     The owners of bail bond companies are usually “interesting” people. The arrested get a call from the jailhouse. The arrested call family or friend and ask for help with getting money and meeting bond rates. The bondsman meets with the subject at the jail and conducts an extensive interview. Once out? There is often another extensive interview at the officer or elsewhere. Lots of paperwork. What does the arrested party own to offer up and promise to return to court or lose? Cash? A car? A jet ski? Jewelry? A house? Sometimes, momma puts up the house. (Sometimes momma loses the whole house. I can think of several lawyers who also wrote bonds, and bondsmen who now have a small, real estate empire from collecting "momma's houses" through the years).

     For a fee and a possible loss of worldly goods later, the subject signs a contract and promises to appear later in court. The Bondsman is also gambling and playing a percentage game too and stands to lose a lot should the subject disappear. A good bondsman collects extensive identity information well beyond the common police arrest report for their civil paperwork. The authority stems from a 136-year-old, U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that people waived their civil rights when they signed a contract with a bondsman. All the contacts, friends, phone numbers, addresses, jobs, all things the bondsman knows from experience he might need later in a hunt.

     A good bondsman collects extensive identity information well beyond the common police arrest report for their civil paperwork. The authority stems from a 136-year-old, U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that people waived their civil rights when they signed a contract with a bondsman. All the contacts, friends, phone numbers, addresses, jobs, all things the bondsman knows from experience he might need later in a hunt. Anyone can make the bond for someone. Lawyers can do it. Friends. Family.

     Each jurisdiction in the USA has its own rules on bonding, usually set by a local committee/board of the city, county, state, federal jurisdictions, governed by the state in basic standards. Ordinarily, the board consists of a local judge or two, bail bondsmen, the local Sheriff, politicians and some others. Some boards are very forgiving if the subject "jumps," as in flees or fails to appear. Some other jurisdictions will set a deadline and demand the full bond amount from the bond company. This could be a lot of money. Either way, should a suspect fail to appear? A warrant is issued for the subject. The real power of the hunt, comes from this "failure to appear" style, arrest warrant from a judge. Any so-called “bounty hunter” should first ensure that this warrant gets listed on the NCIC police computer system before their hunt begins.

     Most bondsmen have slowly evolved in one way or another into the business. They rarely show up in town with a suitcase, a smile and a new license. They don’t graduate college and pop up to start a bond business. They didn’t aspire to be one since childhood. They are usually already entangled in the local, legal business in some manner, see the success and say, “I can do that too.” They’ve worked with a local bondsman. Maybe a family member of a local legal system person. Ex-cop? Somehow they knew something about the incarceration business.

     And most bondsmen are not bounty hunters, not as imagined, not like the Dog, not like in the books, movies and TV. They will go looking and calling for their missing people, but they do not carry business cards that read “bounty hunter.” In a way bail-bondsmen are like human pawn brokers. In many USA states they even look and dress flashy like pawn-brokers and have a tendency to own and sell vast amounts of odd things through the years, seized from bonds and jumpers. 

     And, very, very few strangers show up in town as a “bounty hunter” and open a storefront, you know – "Acme Bounty Hunting." Most states have strict laws about bounty hunting. In Texas a bounty hunter must be a private investigator, but on the other extreme, in some states like Michigan, there are no rules at all. Zip. Zero. In Michigan, no rules mean a growing wave of inexperienced wannabes. These laws change and you need to check them.

     In unregulated states like Michigan, working bondsman know where this newer wave in bounty hunting and hunters comes from…

     “It’s the Dog, following the Duane "Dog" Chapman. Duane Chapman ruined the industry," said Aaron Carr, 36, a Sterling Heights, a Michigan bounty hunter who also must also work a Sears stock orderer. "Dog's a convicted felon. He has no business being in the industry," Carr complained to a Detroit News reporter in March, 2009. "Many people entering the field do it part time and don't hang around for long."


"Many people entering the field do it part time and don't hang around for long."


     Reporter Francis X. Donnelly conducted a survey of 20 of the 65 names listed on a web directory of officially advertised “bounty hunters” in Michigan. Most of them were out of business and quickly. “The ones that remained had other jobs like cooks, teachers, computer repairmen, cable TV installers, social service counselors, and the bail bondsman. They earn 10 percent of the bail paid by the bondsmen, which usually nets them a few hundred dollars per fugitive. Something like that.”

     Only by being a combination of both bail bondsman and bounty hunter, can most hunters survive full-time. People like TV’s Dog. The Dog is paid by the television show, His TV show is his first or second job. They wrote the original bond. They clean up the mess when the guy disappears.

     It’s another loophole in most private investigation state laws and bounty hunting laws. The bail bondsman can investigate and locate/hunt his skipped clients as matter of regular bond business. he doesn't need a PI license. But, if he pays someone else to do this, say in Texas, this "other" person must be a licensed private investigator. In Arizona, the law requires bounty hunters just get written authorization from a bail bondsman before trying to capture a fugitive. In Kentucky, bounty hunting is generally not allowed at all because the state does not have a system of bail bondsmen, and it releases bailed suspects through the state's Pretrial Services division of the courts. So, there is no bondsman with the right to apprehend the fugitive. The police do it like they would any other warrant.

     As a matter of practice, it is always good for detectives to know and have a give-and-take working relationship with area PIs and bondsmen. I tell you this as a police advice because we use to ask bondsmen for inside info when hunting a suspect for a new or old crime. We would research or recall the prior arrests of our suspect and see who bonded him out in the past. Their files would often contain more people, places, phone numbers, etc. that we needed to troll around and find our guy. They needed us frequently. They would come to us hat-in-hand for help – facing a huge court payment for a jumped client. If we had the time we'd help hunt for their bad guys. Many times they were career criminals and needed to be in jail. We'd use that "failure to appear" warrant as a power base to help out when and where we could. An arrest warrant is an arrest warrant. We like serving arrest warrants. It’s what we do.

     These crimes and relationships can get really messy. One time years back, we arrested an international Thai, drug smuggler on a visa in Texas. Heroin. It was a major op for us, originated by us that eventually included the DEA and State Narcotics. It went down as planned, a simple-drop-off/pick-up, and we caught the smuggler “red-handed” as they say. The Thai was arrested and as a matter of routine, given a bail hearing. The bail was crazy high, but can you imagine this guy from Thailand even getting a bond at all set by any judge! Well, over a million something as I recall. I think the judge thought no one would/could make such a bond.

     But, once in the hoosegow, our man, as was his right, looked over the bail bondsmen ads in a phone book by the phones. He picked up the phone and contacted a local bail bonds woman nicknamed Spotlight Sally.

    We all knew her. “Spotlights Bonds.” She was a former Dallas stripper, stage-named, Spotlight Sally with quite the biography and therefore had a certain familiarity with the law and order business. She even married a cop in our region. She moved to our city and opened “Spotlights Bail Bonds.” She was one of those insiders who said, “I could do that,” about the bond business and she started her own bond company. She reminded us of a Dolly Parton type, if you will.

     But, sort of a different league with international drug smuggling, huh? Ya’ think? She took the bond challenge! She was given contact information from Thailand (we were not privy to this in the beginning).  She was quickly wired the required, very, very substantial, down payment money from international ports unknown, with promises of all the rest. All the paperwork boxes were checked. The DA protested, but the guy was set free.

     As next imagined, the Thai was never seen again! And we were all busy moving down the road working other cases. Spotlight Sally went into a tailspin as the court, deadline date loomed, freaking out over the total bail money she had promised the court. Desperate, she begged our detective division for help. She called Sgt. Howard Kelly, who was our "Jethro" of "NCIS" at the time, if you know what I mean. Kelly snatched me up and we paid a serious visit to her modest, small office. She sat with us in her Dolly Parton hairdo, in her tight jeans, boots and a country-western, plaid shirt and told us the rest of the story. The Thai connection. Meanwhile, we knew the real folks behind all this smuggling caper were off in a Thailand palace of sorts? Tripping over machine guns and giant stacks of cash?

     On her desk was the Thai file. Thick in paper, but when passed to us, shallow in workable content. It was thick enough to do a little hunting around with though. We got with our narcotics guy who cracked the original smuggling case – an old hand and friend, who had risked his life and almost died several times in his career, and for the sake of his peace and quiet, I will not name him here.

      We eventually found the Thai fugitive alright. His corpse. He was killed by a hired hit man. And…we eventually caught the hit man too, thanks to another joint agency operation. He was sort of a regional criminal who did a whole host of crimes. I testified in federal court to help with his demise. He died in the Texas Pen with the names of his Thai employers a secret and how they contacted him.

Police photos 1980s, hock hochheim

(Sgt. Howard Kelly and me, circa the 1980s. When I grew up? I wanted to be just like him, except for the Conway Twitty haircut.) 

     I am not sure how all that promise-to-appear money worked out in court for the our nice, Spotlight bonding lady. If the fugitive is murdered I think the system will not punish the bondsman and ask for the full bond.

     Sometimes these things are not as simple as a weekly Duane Chapman, Dog episode. Different leagues. Oh, and none of these heroic bounty hunters popped in on this one. Like Ozzy Ozbourne said,

    “There's fear and darkness all around you…” 


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Hear me Out! Hearing Loss in FMA

Every once in a while, in a seminar, depending on who is there and what they want to do, we break out the Filipino double sticks. This is a rarity for me as few folks in today’s world want to do such stick work, certainly in comparison to the 1990s when they were all the rage. Everybody today wants to do "reality" fighting and MMA, Krav-like stuff, and Brazilian wrestling.

tissue ears 2

There are really two main reasons to do FMA double stick work. The exercise/fitness/coordination reasons and for historical research/tradition. Okay, well, make this two and one-half reasons. Another half-reason might be that there are some people who just get addicted to them. For plain ol fun. I don’t mind doing them to make people happy for the two and half reasons. (I "sing for my supper," as the old expression goes).

And in the big picture the stick drills are not unlike punching/focus mitt drills on some level, as those patterns can get crazy too. I do get a kick out of people who ridicule certain FMA “dead drills” and turn around and do their own made-up, dead drills, and are too ignorant to realize they are doing the same essential "dead-ness" thing only different. One way to shut them up is just call them all “exercises” and not “drills.” Are there any “dead exercises?” Do we mock chin-ups? Push-ups? Dead Lifts? As dead exercises? After all, mitt drills, stick drills whatever – they are all EXERCISES that contribute to the end game.

Not my point here though, even though most people won’t read down this far and will comment on the photo alone. HA! Hearing loss is. I really want to talk about hearing loss and damage doing these things along with single and double sticks. Double sticks are worse because that bang fast and create more noise. I am damaged goods. We all are in this “bidness” for decades. I have brain damage and body damage and even my damage has damage. I also have pretty serious hearing damage. I need my hearing aids. Docs say that much of it comes from shooting guns (oh, and not on the range). Experts say that hearing loss can resort to specific, brain damage as some parts of the brain will like numb-out and die-away from the lack of nerve stimulation. (Oh I am sure Jimmi Hendrix and Cream had something to do this problem also.)

As law enforcement officer and 40 year Arnisador Chad Edward recalls for us "…gunfire, engines, power tools, sticks. Yup, most of us are old enough to remember being thought a wimp for using eye and ear protection." As far back as I can remember with firearms – the 1960s – we always had ear protection on the range. In the 70s? Yes. Military and police ranges required ear protection. Hunting? No. And of course, the rare occasional action-guy moment? No.

And another reason for my problem? Sticks! Hitting sticks since 1986. On these rare times we break out the double sticks in seminars, I am often without hearing protection and I am quick to remove my hearing aids and pack my ears with whatever I can, because the clacking hurts. Double stick noise is worse than single stick noise because they bang fast and create more noise. "Double the noise." But warning! This will sneak up on you. You think its okay, but it might not be. 

Mick Vodnoski, another Arnisador says: "I have to agree, those sticks banging together make a lot of noise. Do it for long periods of time could easily cause some hearing damage after awhile. There's been times after training with those sticks that I'll have a headache from all the noise after class."

I am at a point now where the raw clacking actually hurts. Stick on stick clack is not a cannon shot and it takes very little cover to cushion the sound waves. If I don't have ear plugs, even some tissue or toilet paper stuffed in my ears works fine.Now, it does depend on where you are and the acoustics, but I would suggest for your quality of life down the long and winding road, you think about your ears, your students' ears, and hearing, and not just when shooting. You might have hearing protection on your Batman utility belt, but what about your students when you are banging sticks? This problem sneaks up on you.

You agree?
Huh? What chu say?

tissue ears 1


1: The Decibel Meter for phones. I don't want you, or ask you to go hog-wild crazy on this subject, but you can get a meter for your phone, "…an app on your smart phone that can measure decibels pretty accurately. You could measure it with your phone at your next stick class. 85 decibels is usually the standard requiring hearing protection. A gun shot is in the neihborhood of 160 db." – Click here 

2: Sound waves and the ears – Click here

3: Noise and ear damge fact sheet – Click here


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