By Hal Collier LAPD, Retired
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
This is the last installment about criminal court—I think. Sometimes after a nap I remember some incident that I think might be amusing. I had over ten years’ experience in criminal court when this incident occurred. I’d thought I’d seen everything.
I was once working a movie premiere when an Australian film crew asked me, “I’ll bet you have seen everything.” I looked the camera straight in the lens and said “I’ve worked Hollywood long enough to know that I’ll never see everything.” This court case proves me right.
I’m working with Dave Balleweg. Dave was one of those partners that just made police work fun. You couldn’t spend a night working with Dave without having your ribs sore from laughing. I don’t ever remember getting into a fight while working with Dave—he always talked the suspects into jail. I remember one Thanksgiving Day, a speeder called the station after finding out that we were looking for her. She agreed to come to the station where we arrested her. Not bad when they come to you on a holiday to be arrested. Believe it or not she had a turkey in the oven. It was delicious. Ok, I’m just kidding. It was dry.
Dave and I are driving westbound on Selma Avenue approaching Ivar about 3 A.M. We see this guy get out of a Mustang in the parking lot. He crosses the street in front of us wearing a blue “Puma” t-Shirt. He says “Hi Officers.” We’re waiting for the light to change and watch him walk northbound on Ivar. We wonder why he parked in a parking lot a block from Hollywood Boulevard when there’s closer parking spots on the street. Ok, our police instincts have kicked in. He walks up to Hollywood Boulevard and walks west.
We drive into the parking lot. I jump out and look inside his car. The ignition is held together with scotch tape. Crap, the car’s probably stolen. Now we have to find that stranger in the blue Puma t-shirt. We race up to Hollywood Boulevard and can’t find him. Ok, it’s 3 A.M. and not many places are open. Ah, the all night news stand at Hollywood and Cahuenga—they never close.
Sure enough, our suspect is in the porno book section in the back of the news stand. We grab him and now the fun begins. The car isn’t reported stolen. The registered owner lives in the San Fernando Valley. We have a valley cop go to the registered owner’s house. I hope we didn’t disturb the cops nap. The Valley was quiet then. It’s always fun when you knock on some guy’s door and ask, “Do you know where your car is?” He says, “Yea, it’s in my driveway.” Then he looks and screams, “Where’s my car?”
We arrest this Puma shirt guy and wait for our court subpoena. Because the car was stolen in the San Fernando Valley we get a subpoena to Valley court. I haven’t spent much time in court in the valley. Valley Court is where this story gets bizarre.
Dave and I show up in our best suits. Ok, they were our only suits, off the rack from C&R Clothier’s. We check in with the DA. He informs us that the defendant has some additional charges against him. He was on probation for stealing cars and he was not allowed to be south of Mulholland Drive after midnight. Huh. That’s right—every time he stole a car he would drive it to Hollywood. We caught him in a stolen car south of Mulholland. We had never heard of an adult being restricted to the Valley after midnight. Maybe Lindsey Lohan should be restricted to west of the 405 Freeway.
Dave and I are waiting for the judge to take the stand when we see another strange sight. The court reporter, a man in his late 50’s, is spreading paper towels all over his chair. He approaches us and asks if we are the officers testifying. He tells us that he is the last court reporter to take testimony in long hand. He told us that after the attorney asks a question, to wait until he nods to answer. This can’t be happening. He didn’t tell us, but the paper towels were for sweat. During the trial he sweated more than Clinton did denying he had sex with “that” women.
The judge takes the stand and informs the court that the defendant accidentally ruined his blue Puma t-shirt and has nothing to wear in court. Dave jumps up and offers to go to the Army/Navy supply store on the corner and buy the defendant a shirt. The judge agrees and said he’ll pay for the shirt. The judge takes out his wallet and gives us $20.00 cash. We consider going to lunch on the judge but reason prevails. We hustle over to the store and look for a blue Puma t-shirt. No luck, so we buy a shirt and race back to court.
The defendant decides to have his parents bring a suit–I’m guessing it’s his court suit. Can this case get any more bizarre? Just wait. We come back after lunch and I think were ready to go. Dave takes the stand and waits for the court clerk to swear him in. Only problem is that the clerk is not in the court room.
Dave tells the judge, “I can do this,” he raises his right hand and says, “I do solemnly swear, in the case now pending before this court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
The judge says, “It works for me. Any objections?”
No objections. How many cops who read my stories have seen this or sworn themselves in?
I’m guessing that a perpetual car thief who apparently gets caught a lot would have a good lawyer. The defendant’s lawyer must have been a family friend, or a DUI lawyer because I think I knew more about criminal law then he did. The judge was always admonishing him about proper questioning and court protocol.
I was testifying for the prosecution and told how we found a pair of channel lock pliers in the defendant’s back pocket. The defendant’s lawyer is now on cross examination.
He asks, “Officer, did you notice anything about the teeth on the pliers?”
Ok, I jump on the question, but only after a nod from the court reporter. “Yes, the teeth had a grey metal on them similar to the grey metal on a vehicle ignition.”
Defendant’s lawyer jumps up and yells, “Objection.”
The Judge looks at the defense lawyer and says, and I loved this, “You asked the question. You can’t object to your own question.”
I almost peed my court suit.
Defendant was found guilty. The court reporter sweated through a roll of paper towels, the judge got a t-shirt, defendant probably got more probation and Dave and I got three hours compensation and the memory of the most bizarre court case.