by Duane Preimsberger


Working with Charlie Manuel in the north end of Firestone Station’s patrol area was an interesting and unusual experience, one not soon to be forgotten. Charlie lived not far from the station, he was a deacon in a local church and had an eye for the ladies, however his most unique trait was his ability to make conversation with just about anyone and the fact that he knew practically everybody in the north end. Along Central Avenue from Slauson Ave. to 103 St. and east to Alameda St. Mister Manuel was a very well known figure.


Many Deputies who worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at this very busy station went from call to call dealing with whatever the dispatcher happened to assign them to handle. In between calls they patrolled their beats looking for bad guys needing to go to jail or they spent time writing a never ending stream of crime reports. Charlie could write reports and he patrolled, not necessarily looking for bad guys, although that happened frequently, but stopping and talking to folks who were out on the street, many of whom he knew. If you were his partner you got introduced to them as well.


It was our first day as partners and Charlie and I had been assigned to work 11 Adam P.M.s and Charlie was driving and I was the bookman, the guys who kept the log and wrote the necessary reports. I’d been recently released from training but there was still a lot for me to learn about being a street cop and I was looking forward to acquiring some of the requisite tools of the trade from my partner. We went through the new partners drill about special code words to identify danger, who’d handle the shotgun that rode upright in a bracket attached to the dashboard and we exchanged badge and employee numbers for our notebooks. After checking out our patrol car, a 1961 Chevy, we hit the streets of our beat.


Charlie started talking right away and it was unnecessary for me to say even a single word, Charlie directed our conversation that ranged from what we’d eat that shift to who he needed to see this particular afternoon. As it turned out, high on his list for me to meet was an individual who had escaped my attention in the few months I’d been at the station. We were on the way to see Fat Emma, a street hooker who hung around near the intersection of 68th St. and Central Ave. “She likes young, white boys,” Charlie informed me.  “There she is!” As I looked ahead over the hood of our patrol car I saw an immense woman wearing a very bright orange dress. Even as she teetered on a pair of rather tall high heeled shoes I could see that she was perhaps 5’ 3” tall and had the diameter of a large refrigerator. Fat Emma smiled when she saw Charlie and it was then that I noticed that she had lost almost all of her teeth. Charlie pulled to the curb on 68th St. east of Central and Fat Emma undulated toward our car and leaned in my window as she and Charlie exchanged greetings and graphic conversation about problems with weird customers and over-zealous pimps. It was a real learning experience for me and some how I had difficulty visualizing this conversation taking place near St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Van Nuys close to where I lived.  


After a couple of minutes, Emma turned her attention to me and asked me if I’d visited any of the ladies who plied their wares on the corner. I was so surprised by the question that all I could get out of my throat was a squeaky “Nope.” And that’s when it happened and I got my first real shock while riding with Charlie. Emma’s ham sized forearms were resting on the window ledge next to me when suddenly one of her hands darted into the car and I found myself being groped by her. I was trapped in place by the seatbelt and it was impossible to move away from her inspection that fortunately, soon stopped.


“Charlie, for a white boy, this one is packin’-- he be welcome “round here.” Emma then launched into a detailed description about how she could tame what she referred to as my trouser snake while Charlie laughed and laughed. Fortunately, our radio came alive and we were off to handle a radio call much to my relief.  As we drove Charlie filled me in on Fat Emma, “she’s like the mother hen to the other girls that work on the streets, she tries to keep them sober and off drugs. Since she’s so big and you ain’t seen it but she’s very, very quick and if any of the pimps get too heavy with their girls, they’re likely to be explaining why they did what they did and hearing Emma tell them what will happen to them if they do it again. She can put the fear of the Lord in their hearts. She knows almost everything that goes on near the corner and if she don’t know she’ll know who does. A lot of the guys don’t like her and that’s ok but I find her helpful when something really bad happens around here and she’ll fill me in. Sometimes she’ll call the station and leave a message for me to see her and I’ll get a tip about how to stop a bad thing. I help her out once in awhile, if one of her chicks needs to go to the doctor for a problem she knows I can get them seen.  It’s worth being nice to her and she makes me laugh sometimes.


Charlie was amazing, he could talk as easily with bank presidents or bag ladies and he could even tailor his grammar to fit the situation; street talk to the street people and more erudite conversation with business owners, school officials and others. He was one of many partners who made me realize that one of the hallmarks of a good cop was his or her ability to know and to communicate easily with the clientele with whom they dealt.


Dinner with Charlie was often a culinary experience of some note. It was infrequent for us to stop at a fast food place. Instead Charlie would take a few minutes to go shopping, sometimes to markets slightly outside our jurisdiction. I’d sit in the car and listen to the radio since in those days we didn’t have handheld communications gear while Charlie got our dinner. Pork chops, chicken breasts, rib eye steaks, all kinds of BBQ and catfish were some of the things that Charlie got for us and always at a reduced price. Next, we find someone to cook for us. This was invariably an attractive lady who lived in or near our patrol beat and who’d be delighted to let us park in her driveway while she whipped up a delicious meal. “Good cops don’t go hungry, they don’t miss a chance to pee and they don’t get wet or cold.” Work rules from Charlie.


For the month we were partnered together there wasn’t a day that I didn’t enjoy coming to work and experiencing a new adventure with a very unique partner. I was always learning something new and much of it was practical knowledge about how to do a good job and have fun at it as well. Enjoying life was one of the big benefits that came with working with Charlie.  I’d never preached a sermon to a congregation as a Deputy Sheriff or in any other capacity so I was awe struck watching my partner turn a disturbance call at a church into a full blown hellfire and damnation oration that resolved the problem.


Early on a Sunday evening, we received a radio call of a disturbance at a fairly large church on Central Ave. I had no doubt that this was going to be another learning experience for me and I wasn’t disappointed. Some elegantly dressed church elders were waiting at the curbside for our arrival and the two factions immediately launched into a noisy recitation of their sides view of the problem. Charlie quickly took control of the discussion and listened as the groups individually described an argument about what kind of car to purchase for their pastor and his family. They were divided between the Lincoln group and the Chrysler group and it was getting very heated. From inside the church we could hear shouts and threats and loud arguing.


“Get your nightstick and come with me,” Charlie directed.  Once inside the church vestibule Charlie handed me his uniform cap and told me to wait just inside the door and with that he began walking quickly through the antagonists, toward the podium near the altar. I had no idea of what was going to happen so I just watched as my partner climbed the altar steps and stood behind the podium staring at the congregation. The noise level didn’t subside so Charlie did something I’d never seen done in a church before. He pulled the hickory nightstick he carried in a ring on his gun belt and used it to loudly tap on the side of the podium, ultimately getting the folks in the church to pay attention to him.


Then, doing what Charlie did best, he began talking; only it wasn’t a conversation. Nope, my partner stood there, night stick in hand, preaching a sermon about getting along in the face of disagreement. He talked about difficulties involving husbands and wives, parent and children, workers and bosses and on and on, quoting scripture verses as he spoke about the need to resolve troubling differences; his voice rising and falling in almost hypnotic tones. Soon the church was silent and I was amazed as people really began to listen and slowly the sounds of agreement to my partner’s message spilled forth from the congregation as “Amens and Yes Lords began to fill the air.


I suppose we were there for about 10 minutes, Charlie’s suggestion to the congregation ended the dispute as he advised them to ask the pastor and his family to chose the kind of car they wanted. As he walked back to me people in the pews on both sides of the aisle reached out to shake his hand and thank him for his wisdom and I was more than just a little bit impressed with my partner, mentor and friend.


I picked up a lot of pointers from Charlie during a month that I now wish could have been much longer. Even today, when my wife Judy comes home from shopping with a package of meat or fish wrapped in white butcher paper and sealed with that reddish/pink tape I think of Mr. Manuel and that memory never fails to make me smile.