By Gerry Goldshine
As Mike Dettling progressed in his reserve officer training, we had the opportunity to ride together quite frequently. One Friday night, dispatch sent us to the Lucky Market Shopping Center to check for a possible DWI that was supposedly cruising around the parking lot. The person who reported it described the suspect’s vehicle as a dark colored, Ford 4X4 pickup truck with roof mounted off-road lights.
On the way, we talked about how there happened to be a small bar located right next to the supermarket. I figured that our suspect was either coming from or going to it. Coincidentally, on the other side of the bar were the offices of a local advertising newspaper. My wife had a job there as a typesetter and I mentioned to Mike that she was working that night.
Being a Friday night, , the parking lot was chock-a-block full when we arrived with all sorts of vehicles belonging to folks rushing to buy groceries for their Friday night parties. We thought the likelihood of finding this one particular vehicle among all that traffic to be on the slim to none side. I no sooner finished saying this to Mike, when I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed that the vehicle behind us was all but riding our bumper. I did a double take when I realized, it was the truck we’d been searching for.
“Mike, I think he’s behind us.”
He whipped his head around and exclaimed, “No shit?”
Okay, so fortune dropped him almost into our laps, but now we had to figure out how to get behind the pickup to make a traffic stop. It took a few minutes to find a spot to pull over and let him pass by us. As soon as we were in back of him, I flipped on the emergency lights. We got a little tense when the truck kept on going. We followed as he maneuvered around to the back of the market, apparently oblivious to our presence. He continued to creep along at no more than 10 MPH and nearly collided with a perfectly innocent dumpster. Finally, I flipped the siren on just briefly to get his attention and at last, he slowed to a stop. The spot he chose happened to be in front of the window where my wife’s workstation was located. As Mike let dispatch know our location, it occurred to me that this might be a nice show for her and her co-workers.
As that old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Mike moved up along the passenger side of the truck while I did likewise on the driver’s side. I could smell the alcohol from his breath through his open window before I even reached the back of the cab. I had stopped just to the rear of the door and had just finished asking the driver for his license, when Mike called out the last thing any officer wants to hear.
To this day, I don’t recall pulling my sidearm out of the holster. I only remember pointing it at the back of the driver’s head and quietly telling him that if he so much as sneezed, it would his last one. Mike was also pointing his weapon at the driver. He told me that it was right under the driver’s seat. I quickly requested a clear radio channel and a back up unit, letting dispatch know that the driver had a gun. While we waited for the other unit, I suddenly hoped that my wife wasn’t watching.
Up until then, it had been a slow, boring Friday night. So naturally, every officer even remotely close by responded to back us up. After two cars rolled up with lights and siren blaring, I let dispatch know that we had sufficient help. Once everyone took up safe positions behind cover, I ordered the driver to get out, keeping his hands raised, of course. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when right as he got out he did a face plant onto the asphalt. The prospect of his getting to back up unaided seemed problematic. While the other officers covered us, Mike and I helped him to his feet and the handcuffed him. Once I patted him down for any weapons, one of the other officers took him to the front end of my car.
Now that the driver’s door was open, I could see the wooden grips of a revolver sticking out, ever so slightly, from under the front of the driver’s seat. There was no way I could have seen it from my side of the truck, even if I had been 6’6” tall, instead of 5’8” and had been standing right in front of the door. How Mike managed to see it from the other side was a wonder.
When I pulled it out, I’m not sure whose eyes were wider; Mike’s or mine. The gun was a loaded, chrome .44 Magnum revolver. You know, the one about which Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan said, “This is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off so you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
Yeah, that .44 Magnum revolver.
I unloaded the gun and gave it Mike to take as evidence. Then, I went back to talk with the driver. His physical symptoms of intoxication were plainly obvious even to the most casual observer. His clothes were disheveled, his breath reeked of alcohol and his eyes had more red lines than a Rand McNally road atlas. He was unsteady on his feet to the point that he had to lean against my car for balance. His speech was so slurred, it was questionable whether he was speaking English.
Not surprisingly, he was less than enthusiastic about our having stopped him and launched into a loud, vicious tirade about the police constantly harassing him. Aside from being “loaded”, the fact that he had two recent convictions for DWI on his driving record explained a good deal of his sour disposition toward us. Before I had a chance to get any further into my DWI investigation, he made it clear that he wasn’t taking any “drunk” tests. He groused about passing them the last time and still went to jail. That was fine with me because I had seen enough to articulate the needed probable cause to arrest him for driving under the influence of alcohol. Of course, there were also the additional concealed and loaded weapon charges as an added bonus for him. On went the handcuffs and we offered him a comfortable seat in the back of our patrol car.
Before I closed the door, I asked him why he had a loaded gun under his seat. His surly reply was, “for protection, of course”. Naturally, I was then just a wee bit curious what he needed he needed protection from.
He looked up at me, through his glazed, watery eyes and said rather emphatically, “From shit like this.”
I don’t know about Mike, but that gave me a slight case of the “willies” that I could well have gone without that or any other night.
On the way home, at around 3:00 AM, I started wondering how much my wife saw of what went on outside her window and if she was going to be upset or worried. When I got there, she was awake and asked me how the night went. I thought she was being funny.
“Well, what did you think?” I asked.
“Think about what?”
“The drunk driver Mike and I stopped right in front of the window where your workstation is.”
“Oh, I was at a different station tonight. Didn’t see a thing.”
Just as I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, she added, “But everyone else who saw it, told me all about the big gun that you found under the seat.”
With that, she turned out her nightstand light and went to sleep while I stood there feeling “had”.
As for Mike, despite that boundless energy of his, he had reacted in the calm manner of a seasoned officer. He didn’t second-guess what he saw, didn’t hesitate to take action and took the appropriate response. Mike didn’t stay a reserve officer with us for very long; the Department hired him as a regular, full-time officer.