By Hal Collier
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
Court is the down side to doing good police work. By now you are aware that I made a few arrests in my career. An arrest didn’t necessarily mean court. The District Attorney (DA) had to file the case. The DA only filed cases he thought they would win. If there was the slightest doubt, he would reject the case.
I’m going to describe a few of the more bizarre court cases I was involved in. The first was a little complicated so bear with me if I get a little verbose.
I’m in the station with an arrest and writing reports. As most officers, we are monitoring the radio for emergency calls. We hear a broadcast of a robbery at the Norm’s restaurant, Sunset and Vermont, in NorthEast Division—suspects are four male Hispanics with a handgun. Ten minutes later, a robbery at the Jon’s market, Santa Monica and Hobart, same suspect description. Ten minutes later, another robbery at the Mayfair Market, Franklin and Bronson. You guessed it—four male Hispanics with a handgun.
The suspects are working their way west. It’s after midnight and there are only a few places open at this hour. Ok, even a blind pig can find the slop once in a while. Pig-Cop get the segue? Oh, never mind. The next place open is the Hughes Market at Highland and Franklin. The Watch Commander sends the only available car to the Hughes Market.
Suddenly, an officer broadcasts that the suspect vehicle is at the Hughes Market and the pursuit is on. There are only two suspects in the vehicle. We, like most officers, drop what we’re doing and run to our cars. The pursuit heads north on Highland to the south bound Hollywood Freeway. The suspects are throwing money out the window and a handgun. I’m heading North on Highland when I see this very nervous male Hispanic walking south bound—he’s one of the robbers. Two went inside the Hughes market and robbed the store. The two in the car left them afoot. No honor among thieves.
Hollywood Officers end up catching all four desperados, retrieve the handgun and collect all the money the lucky motorists didn’t beat us too. Happy ending right?
Now comes court. We have four defendants, three are adults and one is a juvenile.
I show up for court early and walk into Div. 38. I ID myself to the DA and tell him what case I’m on. He says that’s being handled by a special District Attorney. Huh? I’ve never had special DA. This attorney, Ronald Cohen, steps up and says you must be Officer Collier, and you arrested so and so and recovered this evidence. I’m shocked.
A little background. Most days you go to court, the DA has been assigned 12 cases. He hasn’t read the arrest report and is not familiar with the case. Sometimes the arresting officer could assist the DA as the investigating officer. There were times when an officer was testifying and the DA had to be told what question to ask or when to object.
My DA sets down a big three ring binder with aerial photos of the markets and all of Hollywood. He has a list of all involved officers, who took what reports, who found what evidence and who arrested what suspect.
I’m now standing before a DA who’s prepared for a court hearing. I ask, “Who are you?” Cohen, now a superior court judge, was a Career Criminal DA. They only get complicated cases or high profile cases. Cohen prosecuted the Wonderland Avenue Murder case, involving John Holmes, the porno star. He was very good, Cohen not Holmes. I wish all my cases were handled by the Career Criminal DA’s.
I get on the stand and testify against two of the three adults. One didn’t show up, bench warrant issued. The fourth was a juvenile and might be tried in juvenile court. The third adult shows up as I’m leaving the court room. He’s taken into custody and I’m ordered back the following week.
I testify against the third adult. The juvenile is later determined fit to be tried as an adult. I testify a third time and they are all held over for trial. This could have been a disaster if it was not handled by a career criminal DA. The four robbers were all sent to prison and might still be there unless the court system decided they had paid their price.
Next the most bizarre court case I was ever involved in.