Become a Fan
By S G Cardin
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Two LAPD Police Officers find themselves in trouble for doing the right thing. Based on a true life incident.
My eyes cut from the mobile computer screen in my patrol car to my partner who was driving. “It’s stolen.”
Jack paused, just a second. His eyes lit up through the blackness of the night as if he just hit the lotto. “Let’s get ‘em.”
I nodded my head and reached for the radio while Jack jerked the steering wheel, sending the patrol car careening into a u-turn.
“Control, this is 16x11, show us following a code thirty-seven…” I began. It was LAPD’s policy to initiate a following first, not using lights and or sirens to warn our target we were on to them.
Jack smirked. He liked nothing better than to find a stolen vehicle on duty. Me? I like the thrill of the moment, the adrenaline rush, but at the end of the watch, I want to go home to my wife and kids.
“Brian, he’s accelerating,” Jack said, gripping the steering wheel.
“He knows we’re behind him,” I replied, realizing this was going to be taken to a higher, more dangerous level.
Our eyes locked. Jack nodded his head. With a flick of his finger, Jack snapped on the lights. I keyed the radio.
“Control, we’re attempting to pull over the vehicle, Brand and Hilton…” I said, my voice calm and easy, despite the knots welling up inside.
Our stolen vehicle punched the gas. He had no intention of stopping for us. Jack pressed down on the pedal. I knew what was happening.
“Control, show us in pursuit…”
Jack turned on the sirens. Our buddies, Paul North and Lisa Reyes in 16A16, immediately came over the radio, backing us. They were probably the closest unit, but still a good ten minutes away.
I glanced at Jack. His eyes focused with determination to keep up with the car in front of us. It was a 2004 silver Lexus. There appeared to be two male occupants in the vehicle. I couldn’t make out their ethnicity. It was three a.m., and
the streets in this area of our division were dark.
The RTO on the frequency was good – prompt in putting out my locations, but one thing I noticed was the driver of the stolen vehicle was very careless. I saw him sideswipe a couple of parked cars and slice his wheels against the curb. He was probably drunk. The other reason which might have taken his attention off the wheel, could have been a cell phone, but I doubt he was on one this late at night.
“He’s probably drunk, Jack,” I said.
“Or high as a kite,” my partner responded.
I ran a nervous hand through my hair as Jack took a hard turn, cutting the wheel fiercely to avoid rolling. It wasn’t easy being LAPD. Jack and I worked a division in the valley called Foothill, and Pacoima was a section of the division that was run down and poor. We were in that section now.
Hispanics primarily lived in Pacoima. Most of them didn’t have much money and were taken advantage of by others who were usually in gangs. Some of the men we dealt with had an incredible amount of pride that led them to be stubborn and foolish – especially when dealing with the police. Anyway I looked at it, I wasn’t too thrilled to be heading into this section of the division. I knew our presence was unwelcome – even when residents did play a call for service.
“Shit!” Jack spat.
I looked up. A second rush of adrenaline pumped through me. The Lexus clipped a parked car and smashed its front fender. It came to an abrupt halt. Paul and Lisa weren’t here yet. Jack and I would have to face them on our own.
At the same time, we shoved our doors open, drawing our guns, taking up a defensive position behind them. One lone street lamp cast deep shadows over us. All the other lights were broken out. Adding to the stress, we were in a residential neighborhood. Run down houses with chipping paint and shudders barely hanging on their hinges littered the street. What never ceased to surprise me were Direct TV dishes displayed proudly from most of the rooftops, and the Cadillac Escalades parked in the driveways.
Jack began issuing commands for the occupants to get out. Their doors opened. Fear mixed in with the stench of day old rubbish ran heavy through the air. I noticed several lights click on in the surrounding houses. Soon we’d have witnesses - but what kind of witnesses would they be? I didn’t like where this was going.
“Brian, look out!”
My eyes cut from the surroundings to the Lexus. The occupants never got out. Instead, they sent the car speeding in reverse toward our patrol vehicle, and both of us jumped away. I went sprawling against the curb, landing in a puddle of stale, standing water. The Lexus slammed into our front end and our car made a loud crunching sound as it compacted on itself.
Jack was barely inches away from the destruction. Shrapnel sprayed on top of him. He lunged for his gun and fired. I followed suit, fearing that maybe they had guns, too. After all, they weren’t afraid to ram us. I couldn’t imagine they’d be afraid to shoot at us.
Bullets shattered the back glass of the Lexus. Deep male voices rang out. “I’m hit, I’m hit!”
The stolen car shuddered to a stop and then the car’s horn blasted out, steady and strong, as if someone was slumped over it. I froze – horrified – knowing I’d just shot my gun and probably killed someone because of it. In those seconds’ silence, Jack scrambled to his feet and ran behind our vehicle towards me. He had several cuts and scraps on his face and was bleeding from his ear.
“You okay, Brian?”
“Yeah – Jack – you look…”
“I know. Don’t worry, it’s minor,” he assured me.
Just then we heard the sirens of our back-up flood the streets. I noticed curious faces peeking out from behind flimsy screen doors. A dog was barking nearby, barely audible over the horn’s steady noise.
Jack and I cautiously approached the Lexus. The passenger leaned against the glass of the door gasping for breath, his shoulder torn apart from our bullets. Jack approached the driver, pushing him off the horn. It’s screeching suddenly stopped.
“He’s dead,” said Jack.
I grabbed my radio requesting an ambulance. Our back-up arrived with four other cars.
“Brian, he’s a kid,” said Jack through clenched teeth.
I swallowed a hard lump of bile, trying to bury my own fear down into the darkest part of my soul to a place so hidden it would never come out. We’d just shot kids. What the hell were they doing driving a stolen vehicle at 3 a.m?!
I paced the room, hands locked behind my back. The past few days had been a blur for Jack and I. Now, I was waiting for Internal Affairs to interview me. I’d always been a level-headed man. I did well in college. That was where I met my wife, Megan. She currently works as a 911 dispatcher for LAPD. All my life I wanted to help people. That’s why I became a police officer. I wanted to make a difference in a positive way – be a role model to my kids. Now, I just feel empty.
I stopped pacing and looked out at the two-way glass wondering when I.A. would get here, before I slumped down into a chair at the table.
The driver of the stolen vehicle was a fourteen-year-old boy, Jose Gomez. Him and his friend, Mario Rodriguez, had gone to Sylmar and stolen the Lexus so they could joyride. Mario, the passenger, claimed Jose wanted to join the Pacoima Rats, a street gang, and this was part of the initiation into the gang. Mario claimed it was all Jose could think about – wanting to join the Rats. The reason Jose tried to ram us was that would make him more “prestigious” to the gang members he was trying to impress. Of course he claimed his involvement was more innocent. He was just a casual friend of Jose’s and he didn’t even know the vehicle was stolen when Jose picked him up. No one believed Mario’s protests he was just an innocent passenger. Still the Hispanic community of Pacoima voiced their outrage at the police ‘slaughtering’ a fourteen-year-old boy.
I kicked the table leg in front of me, my frustration growing – especially thinking of the news media and the spin they put on the incident.
“Police purposely shoot and kill a child!” the headline said. Buried in the fine print on page seven was the fact that same boy tried to kill us by ramming his vehicle into ours. That same boy had no driver’s license. He wasn’t even legally old enough to drive! The crimes that fourteen-year-old committed paled in comparison to what I’d done. I had fired my gun firmly believing I was doing the right thing to save the life of another – my partner.
The door squeaked open.
“Officer Brian Hodges?”
I nodded my head, drawing in a breath to steel my courage. I.A. was here.
I can’t begin to fathom how the months passed quickly after that, or how LAPD and its policies were scrutinized. All I can tell you is that my life has been hell and it’s not getting much better.
After my interview with I.A., I was put on light duty and transferred to Devonshire division where I worked as a desk officer. As the investigation dragged on, LAPD’s policy regarding firing at a shooting vehicle came into question by the Hispanic community. They claimed it was too vague and that we should have used better discretion than to shoot at a moving vehicle. In other words, we should have done everything short of firing upon our attackers. The claim further asserted that Gomez’s age, fourteen, should have been taken into account when we fired.
Jack and I were, frankly, appalled. There was no way for us to know their ages until after the incident was over. Adding insult to injury, Gomez’s family filed a five million dollar “Unlawful Death” lawsuit against the City of L.A. While all this was going on, I took reports at the desk, trying to hold my growing anger at the system in check. I mean, whatever happened to objective reporting? Whatever happened to appreciating the policy for getting a potential gang member of the street? The owner of the Lexus didn’t even thank us for recovering his vehicle. Thankfully, at the end of the investigation, the Chief of Police ruled that our shooting was within department police and that no penalty should be levied against us. I could return to regular patrol duty.
That lasted a day. The Police Commission, five civilians appointed by the mayor to oversea the department and the Chief, came out with a ruling less than 24 hours after Chief Ralston issued his. My shooting was “out” of department policy, and I was going to be fired – both Jack and I. We were stunned to hear this. Chief Ralston immediately filed paperwork on our behalf for a “Board of Rights,” our last chance to keep our job. Since the Commission’s ruling, both Jack and I have been restricted from going to work – even in a light duty capacity. Rubbing salt on the wound, a jury found the City of LA liable for Gomez’s “Wrongful death,” and his family was awarded one million dollars in damages.
That’s where I’m at right now. My Board of Rights is going to be soon and quite honestly, I don’t know how they’re going to rule. The panel is three civilians, three senior police officers, and a member of the city counsel. Will I keep my job? I honestly don’t know, but it’s been hell on me and my family.
Oh – and the department’s policy at the time? “Officers have the discretion to use whatever force is necessary to stop an immediate threat of perceived death or serious bodily injury directed at that peace officer in the line of duty.”
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|Interesting policies and systems we have out there. Gets you thinking. Captivating write, Steph.
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