This section of the old "Mother Road", Route 66, had been bypassed by the new Interstate long ago. The sparse population that had spread out in the small valley had made it necessary to keep the road open but, the steady stream of traffic in and out of the "Golden State" had long ago taken a different, faster route.
The diner only stayed open because the owner had nothing better to do and, he owned the building outright. Like the road that ran past, it had seen better days. The building itself was of wood construction and the parking lot, simply dirt. No fancy plastic and steel here. No matter its age, it was kept squeaky clean, as if readying itself for the return of the scores that used to travel the old roadway and stop for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat as a welcome break in their adventure. Law-enforcement officers looking for the same thing had already found it.
The waitress lived nearby and worked to supplement the family's income. She knew she wasn't going to make her fortune here either. The days of big crowds and equally big tips were long gone.
It was a Friday night and the few customers that were there were, for the most part, locals, unhurriedly eating their way through the 'early bird special' and nursing their bottomless coffees.
There was a group of three at one table that seemed to be different though. She hadn't seen them before and suspected they were just passing through, but to where? There was a younger couple that were seated together and a man a few years older seated across from them. The two men seemed to be discussing something very important while the girl paid no attention and let her gaze wander around the room.
They didn't look at all like business people, the two men wore Levis and T-shirts while the girl had on shorts and short blouse that failed to cover her midriff. Why was it then that they stopped talking when the waitress approached to refill the men's coffee cups and the girl's iced tea? The waitress thought it was none of her business; she'd seen it all before and found it best to stay out of other people's affairs.
As the three started to leave, the older of the two men told the other two to go ahead and he would take care of the bill. The couple left but the younger man seemed to be keeping an eye on the one left inside. At the register, as the man handed the check to the waitress he moved so his back was to the door, flashed a badge hidden in the cup of his hand and said, "I'm a police officer, get in touch with San Bernardino Police and tell them I need assistance." At least, that's what the waitress thought he said.
As the three drove away from the diner the waitress noted the vehicle type and color but did not get the license number. She did, however, take note of a rather unique bumper sticker as they pulled out on to the highway.
The officer on the desk at Police Headquarters, in the Court building, in San Bernardino took the call from the very excited waitress. She reported what had happened and suggested that the man who flashed his badge may have been the victim of a kidnapping!
Meanwhile, Deputy John and myself were on patrol a few miles up the interstate from the diner. I'll just call the deputy "John" because a short while after this incident he was transferred to Vice and a while after that I heard that he had gone under-cover. I'm sure he is retired by now but one never knows. Anyway, it was a Friday night and that is when the "Reserves" are most often needed. Although regular deputies receive much more extensive, and continuous training, the reserves must also attend the Sheriff's Training Facility. I had been to the academy and received my POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certificate. A by-product of the certificate of completion is the authorization, unlike Barney, to carry more than a single bullet in my shirt pocket.
We had yet to receive a call on this shift when over the radio, we heard that all units were being advised of a possible kidnapping of a police officer out of San Bernardino. They told us to be on the lookout for an older model white-over-blue van with a bumper sticker on the back that said, "Support Your Local Hell's Angels." The van was last seen heading in our direction. The dispatcher added that there were three subjects in the van, two males and a female and the identity of the officer was unknown.
Units were assigned to each of the off-ramps in our area and we just happened to be near our assigned location. As we passed the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp we both noticed a white-over-blue colored van coming off the interstate. John made a quick U-turn and sped up to get behind the van that had already entered the flow of traffic. Both of us strained to read the bumper sticker that was obvious on the rear of the van and together we exclaimed, "That's it!"
While John kept us at a discreet distance, I got on the radio and told control that we had spotted the suspect vehicle and were right behind it on Seventh Street. John looked just ahead and saw a relatively well lit section of the street with ample verge and told me he was going to make a car stop.
Now things were starting to get tense, I got on the radio once again and told control that 7P3 (our unit) was making a 'felony car stop' in front of the liquor store on Seventh Street.
There is a big difference between making an ordinary car-stop, which is hazardous at the best of times and a full on felony car-stop. For one thing, a felony car-stop is used when the occupants are considered dangerous and may be armed. Such was the case on this routine Friday night that had just turned into something more.
I heard the dispatcher announce we were making a felony car-stop, where it was taking place and calling for radio silence. She already knew that every cop and his brother were on their way toward us.
Things were now about to get really serious. John reminded me that we didn't know which of the two men in the car was the police officer so we were to consider all three of the occupants as suspects. He said he would take the driver and I was to take the two passengers from the passenger side of the van. We also didn't know if there were only the three in the van! He asked if I had any questions? I said, "No" although I might have wondered what the hell I was doing here.
John said, "Let's do this." I turned on the lights and punched the siren. Almost as if we had practiced it, the van came to a stop on the side of a brightly lit part of the street, right in front of the liquor store.
Today, in similar circumstances, the officers would stay back at their unit and use a loud speaker to tell the occupants to get out of the car and lay in the road. In our case, John got out of the unit and proceeded up to the driver's side of the van while I went to the passenger side both of us with guns drawn.
The first thing I saw was a scruffy looking male with long, unkempt hair looking back at me through the open window. Over the top of my revolver I told him to unlatch the door, put both hands where I could see them and slowly get out of the vehicle. I remember he hesitated and I yelled something very loud and clear. I don't remember my exact words but I do know it was not a simple request and it did get the intended result, I got his undivided attention and he did what I had asked.
As he stepped out I looked in the open door and saw the girl sitting in the middle of an otherwise empty seat, her hands in her lap. Apparently John had the driver out of the vehicle already. I told her not to move until I said to and then I told the man to put his hands on the side of the van and to assume the position. When he had complied I told the girl to get out slowly and do the same.
All of this seemed to happen in slow motion. We had been through it many times in training but I also knew that in a real situation, it almost never went down as it did in a training exercise. The senses are alert for any move made by the suspect and the adrenalin is pumping faster than the beer at a redneck wedding.
When I was finally satisfied that the two passengers were in a controlled position I took a moment to look around me. The entire street was clogged with law-enforcement vehicles from every agency within a twenty-mile radius. All of them had their red and blue lights flashing and all of them were empty. I glanced behind me and saw at least ten cops, some holding side arms and some with shotguns all pointed at the two suspects lined up against the van. I was sure the other side of the van, with John and the driver, looked the same if not more crowded. A look at the two suspects showed they were 'frozen' in place against the van. With all those guns pointed at them they were busy willing that not a muscle would twitch.
Someone behind said, "Go ahead with the search, I've got them covered." I holstered my weapon and began the search of the man. Again, we had trained for this but now it was the real thing. Things were different when I got to the girl. We hadn't trained for this but it didn't matter, she was a suspect and she got the full treatment. If either of them had been hiding a small mole I would have found it.
I felt a great deal of responsibility in this situation. John, the officer that had been in the van and all those behind me were relying on me to do a job. I don't think any of them noticed that on my arm patch it said, "Reserve Deputy."
After the search, I told the nearest deputy that I was taking the male subject to the car and he said he would take the female. I put handcuffs on the male and led him to the back seat of the car without saying anything. As I walked past the back of the van, I noticed John and a couple of other deputies talking to the driver who was spread eagle against the back door. Suddenly, regaining his courage, my charge started cursing at me as well as anyone within earshot, protesting his innocence and asking why he was being arrested. He had also failed to notice that I had not placed him under arrest a very important omission on his part. The truth was, I didn't know if he was a suspect or a cop, if he had committed a crime or not and, very importantly, what I would charge him with if I did arrest him.
As I got him seated in the back of the unit, John came walking back, asked me to turn down the radio and close the doors. We walked away from the unit and he said, "We got a problem!" He told me the driver was the cop, he wasn't in trouble (at least he hadn't been until we stopped the van) and he was working the couple under-cover, trying to make a dope buy. He had told John he flashed his badge at the diner and had asked the waitress to let his department know where he was that was all. The cop also wanted to continue with the attempted buy and we had to somehow convince the suspects this was all one big mistake! I thought that shouldn't be a big problem, it was, in fact, one big mistake.
John said, that the police convention that was taking place all around us would be disbanded and just like them, we had to make this all go away. When I asked how would we do that he said, "We'll just release them and tell them to go away you didn't arrest him did you?" I said I hadn't placed him under arrest but he was not going to be happy with what had happened. John replied, "We'll just have to wing it." He also said, "You go ahead and release your guy and I'll release the other two."
I didn't realize it right away but I was getting the short end of this stick. John was releasing a cop and a female that was so scared she couldn't stop shaking and, she was in way over her head. Me, I was stuck with the biggest, loudest and dirtiest "mouth" in the county. As soon as I opened the door to the unit the guy started yelling about police brutality and stupidity. It only got worse when I told him to get out of unit, took the cuffs off of him and said, they were being released!
As we are walking back to the van he is still ranting about being stopped, searched, handcuffed and put in a car. He stopped, glared at me and said, "Why the hell were we stopped in the first place what right did you have to stop us?" Technically, it was an important point. Although I doubted he was interested in the nuances of criminal arrests. In the US, a law enforcement officer does need PC (probable cause) to stop, let alone search someone.
I couldn't think of a good reason for the stop, they hadn't broken any laws (that I could mention) and the vehicle didn't have any safety faults. So I gave him the only thing I could come up with, I said, "You see that bumper-sticker, it says, 'Support your local Hell's Angels'? Well, when somebody comes into this town with something like that on their vehicle, we're going to stop them and find out just who the hell they are and what they want here!"
He looked at me with this stunned look on his face and said, with an incredulous tone "A bumper-sticker? You stopped us and put us through all of that for a bumper sticker?" I said, "That's right, now get going before we find something else." With that he shook his head and turned away. He got into the van with his two companions and they drove off not another word was spoke.
I know, my story was quite lame but it was all I had on short notice. Besides that, I had just been through one of the most exciting adrenalin rushes of my life ... and it was still early on a Friday night.
We heard, days later, that the drug buy never did go down; the two suspects were too shaken to do any 'business' that night.
As we got back in the patrol car I noticed the street had returned to normal, traffic was flowing smoothly and the crowd that had gathered outside the liquor store had broken up and gone their individual ways.
As John and I drove off he said, matter-of-factly, "I think that went well!"
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