A Street Cop’s Perspective of Philosophy

By Sled Smith


When I was a young deputy I can recall seeing newspaper articles detailing an incident involving an off duty officer and either a burglar or other felon inside the cops home.  In most cases I was very critical of what the article explained happened.   I immediately projected that I could have done a much better job of kicking butt or taking names or shooting the suspect or whatever else was needed.  I do not recall who was the author of this comment but I have learned the very hard way that this is an extremely true statement that one should definitely pay attention to,  “You should never judge another man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”.


During September 1977 I was assigned to the Watch Commanders Detail working graveyard.  On September 24, 1977 I got off work around 0730 in the morning.  I got home just after 0800 and talked with my wife for a short time.  I then got into bed and immediately fell asleep.  I must at this time recall one of my favorite Philosophers, Thucidides whose most famous quotation was made in 340 BC has always been one of my favorites, Thucidides said, “A collision at sea can ruin your entire day”.  I am here as a living breathing witness to tell you that an auto/pedestrian collision in the alley behind your home can ruin your entire life. 


It was one heck of an experience to have to go through.  I am more then blessed because I am still in reasonably good health despite suffering numerous severe injuries.  These were to my knees, my back, my right shoulder and my neck.  After several surgeries I am living a full and hearty life with one of the most wonderful and beautiful ladies I have ever known, my wife of 14 years, Courtenay.  I met her then married her one-year later in the same church. She has been an excellent influence and extremely helpful in encouraging and supporting me to continue walking every day and keep up with my vegetarian regimen.  She was the person who suggested I go to a seminar at the Weimar Institute on the subject of reversing Diabetes.  I went to the presentation and heard what they had to say then came home and became a vegetarian.  Since that time I lost almost 60 pounds and I walk from 3 to 5 miles daily. Through my faith the Lord has given me the fortitude and self-discipline necessary to do those things that must do to maintain my health.   I do however always keep in mind that these things don’t necessarily come easy nor are they free.  It still requires a certain amount of energy and hard work to accomplish them.  I completely gave up drinking many years ago and that has helped my longevity a great deal.  I can only thank God that I never took up smoking cigarettes. My doctor enthusiastically supports my lifestyle telling me that I am healthier than any of his other patients who are 64.         


Before this day was over I would have been hit by a van driven by a burglary suspect attempting to kill me; fired five rounds from my model 60 S&W 2” Chiefs Special in anger; had visits by the shooting team from Homicide; as well as from the Departmental Duty Officer personnel; a flyover by the Lakewood Sky Knight helicopter taking photographs of the scene; as well as being told by my captain that I was not covered by Worker’s Compensation because I was not in uniform nor did I properly identify myself. What’s more I was dumb enough to believe that Captain.


I was in my bed sleeping at a high rate of sleep when I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass.  We had a swimming pool out back and the first thing I thought was that one of my children or their friends had thrown a ball or something else and broken a window.  I then heard the sound of more glass breaking.  At this point I got up and picked up my 2” revolver from the nightstand.  I then walked into the north south hallway adjacent to the eastside of my bedroom.  As I turned to walk south down this hall toward the family room I could hear a whole lot of glass breaking and see shards of glass flying across the family room from west to east.   I stopped just short of the corner of the family room and stepped into a half bathroom located to the west of the hall there.  I then peaked around the corner just enough to see an unknown male Negro, 23-25, 5’9”, 160#, wearing a short medium, “Afro”, hairstyle, a light green T-shirt, and dark trousers. 


He was intently breaking a large hole in the middle of my north sliding glass door with a steel form stake he obtained inside my yard.  I was able to watch him for over a minute. I recall at that particular moment thinking about an incident I had witnessed where a homeowner shot a burglar who was breaking into his home through a window while the suspect was still outside.  I remember just how hard the crew handling the call found it necessary to use all their creative writing skills and techniques to help clear the informant from being prosecuted by the D.A.  As I thought through the situation I was involved in there were many, many things to consider.  The suspect reached in through a small hole in the glass around the latch area apparently attempting to open the latch.  He was unaware that I had installed a stout burglar lock along the upper rail of the doorframe.  This was the only time that I considered I had a shot at him and only his hand was through the broken glass.   My other thought was the fact that I definitely wasn’t in fear for my life at that particular moment.  


The suspect then backed up and looked intently at all facets of the door. He reached up on top of the adjacent awning apparently searching for a key.  The suspect then threw the steel stake into the pool and turned and took two or three rapid steps toward the south then stopped once more.  He turned again looking back into the room.  I had started to walk up the hallway from the bathroom and simultaneously turned to look outside just as the suspect looked in.  Our eyes met then the suspect fled running south out of my back yard.  I got the key for the burglar lock and opened the door.  I ran outside to see if I could locate the suspect.  I looked both ways east and west along the alley behind my house.  I ran to the adjacent street and looked north and south for signs of him.  As I was returning toward my garage I saw one of my neighbors driving eastbound along the south edge of the alley toward the street.  I turned into the alcove formed by the block walls on each side of the driveway leading into my garage.  I then walked over to the southwest corner of the driveway still inside the alcove. 


At this time I heard an engine revving and decided to see what it was.  I stepped out into the alley one pace, less than three feet, and looked to my left toward the west.   I saw a 1960’s Corvair Greenbriar van light green, almost chartreuse in color, coming down the south edge of the alley toward me.  As I looked into the van something didn’t look right about the young black man driving it.  The man who I saw at my sliding glass door definitely had a medium, “Afro”.   The man inside the van looked like he had close-cropped hair, which I later learned was due to his putting on a watch cap. Suddenly the driver grinned broadly and pulled the steering wheel to his left causing the van to swerve to the left and toward me.  Prior to this I was thinking of turning so as to face the van to be in position to fire at him. 


As the van turned toward me my body with no input from my brain what so ever suddenly started spinning to my left away from the van.  He struck me first on my right buttock with the left headlight pushing me eastward, my right arm with the gun in my hand came back and my elbow hit the cowl then the gun butt hit the cowl.  At this point I was projected eastward some distance and ended up rolling and tumbling to a point about thirty-five east of where I had been standing.  I rolled up onto a sand pile I put there because I was doing some masonry work in the yard.  I looked eastward as he passed me after turning slightly to his right.  I thank God he did that or he would have run completely over me.  I noticed that I still had the gun in my right hand and raised it up holding what I thought was a dead center sight picture on the back door of the van.  I fired at least five shots and dry fired several more.  As it turned out I hit the van in both the back doors, put tow bullets into the front of the store building across the street.  One of these rounds hit the exact middle of a Rexall Drug Store sign.  The sign was made on sheet metal with a very hard brittle almost pottery like material for the lettering.  My fourth round hit right in the middle of the X causing the material to break out in an almost perfect circle.  How do you like them apples, at least I got a circle X in this shooting.  


As far as I was concerned there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and I got up and ran almost a block just to make sure I had the license number right. I then ran back to my home and called Long Beach Police Department.  I explained to the dispatcher that I was an off duty deputy sheriff and gave her my name and address.   I then spit out exactly what I would have put out as a broadcast over the radio in a patrol car.  She didn’t miss one syllable and never asked for any other information.  She broadcast the information then told me the handling unit would be at my home in a few minutes.  The officer arrived just seconds after I hung up.  He began asking questions as fast as he could and communicating on his hand held radio.  He also had a bit of a quandary in that he was trying hard not to laugh at how I was dressed during all of this.  I was wearing a pair of tan boxer shorts and a S&W 2” model 60 Chiefs Special that’s all.  I attempted to be as clear and concise as I could.  He then answered some traffic directed to him on his hand held.  He turned and asked me if I would accompany him down to where they had the suspect stopped about a mile south of my home.   I assured him I would be more than happy to accompany him down to the location but first I would have to finish dressing.   


We drove south on Orange Avenue and about a block north of the intersection of Wardlow Road I saw several black and white’s stopped around the light green Corvair van.  It was at this time that I said loudly, “ Oh look officer there’s the suspect, that black man, standing in the center of all those cops”.   The officer began laughing knowing full well that I was aware of the admissibility of a spontaneous unsolicited statement from a witness.  When we stopped he asked me is there anything we could do for you.  I believe I responded, “Is there anyone here with a 245 Golzales sap that I could borrow?  If you could have the officers form a circle facing outward for a minute or two I’d appreciate it”.   I then told him never mind because I knew I couldn’t do anything like that here and now but still overall I was really angry.  In my mind there was nothing physically wrong I was completely invincible. 


The case was tired in Long Beach Courts and the defendant got five years in California State Prison on my case alone.  I had a real good friend who I’d worked with at the Marshal’s Office some years ago who was a homicide detective at Long Beach.  He called and thanked me for what he figured I had done to make sure the suspect was apprehended.  He made another case on the same suspect in a burglary and rape case.  I then learned that the suspect’s MO was to sit in a residential neighborhood watching homes.  When he saw women leave a house he would break in take what he wanted wrap it up in a bedspread.  He would then wait for the women to return and rape them at knifepoint. That’s a cold thought when my wife and sixteen-year-old daughter just left my home to go to the grocery store. 


At the time of the impact with his vehicle the suspect couldn’t have been going over fifteen or twenty miles an hour even though he was accelerating at the time.  The only thing that kept me alive was my condition.  I thank God I was working out and running at the time.  The closure rate was much faster than I could respond to.  It was one more time when everything happened in just a couple of heartbeats.  Remember you always have that perception and reaction time in any situation you are responding to.  You may think your body is moving but not until your brain stops evaluating.