Suicide by Cop
Kriste (AKA KREX)
We were going to Uncle Spiffy and Aunt Gloria’s for dinner. Tammy and Misty, Uncle Spiffy’s daughters, would be there. My father and “Spiffy” were close friends; I called all his closest police comrades “Uncle” and more often than not, their children were friends of mine.
Mom sat my sister Heidi and I down before we left and explained a few things. She wanted us to know what had happened earlier that day (we’d already overheard a few snippets from Dad) and she asked us not to inquire, “What’s wrong with Uncle Spiffy? What happened to him? How’d he get hurt?” “Is he ok?” She gave us a very short, basic version of what had happened; Uncle Spiffy had been injured and then shot a man in the line of duty that day. She then explained that Spiffy and Gloria had made the difficult decision not to tell Spiffy’s daughters any specifics of how he was injured or about the shooting. They didn’t want to scare them; didn’t want them to think the Bad Guy was coming back for them all. The Bad Guy was dead.
He’d committed Suicide by Cop.
The man that chose to die that day had planned his exit from this world with care. He’d left his apartment clean and tidy; all his important papers stacked neatly on his desk along with a suicide note to his family. He had then meticulously dressed himself in his Sunday best, and driven to the Oakland Police Department.
He stood outside the main entrance of the PAB – Police Administration Building (or simply “The Building” to us) and waited. I’m not sure how long he waited for his victim; I only know the man he chose is a man I love and call “Uncle Spiffy.”
Uncle Spiffy, like my father, was a Motorman at the time and had parked his Harley near the building; he was standing in front of the main entrance with a clipboard in his hand. He was finishing up a report before taking it inside and submitting it. He was probably a tad hot and slightly sweaty. It was a warm day and his uniform consisted of a dark blue motorcycle helmet, knee high, black leather riding boots, dark blue woolen riding breeches, and a matching short sleeved shirt, under which was his Kevlar vest. The vest had always been a bone of contention between my father and one of his most trusted comrades. Spiffy hated wearing his Kevlar and often didn’t. It was bulky and heavy and just plain hot at certain times of the year. Looking back now and considering the chosen victim was wearing a helmet, not a soft hat, and his torso was encased in Kevlar, my father has said more than once, “A Policeman was not meant to die that day…”
The other man standing outside the building in his Sunday best, it is believed, had the intention of doing just that. He was there to murder a police officer, right in front of the main entrance of the building, probably envisioning that he would then be gunned down by a phalanx of blue uniforms as they came pouring out of the wide, double glass doors.
The man carefully approached Spiffy with a ball peen hammer in his hand while Spiffy was preoccupied with his report and launched his assault. He hit Spiffy on the head with one or two critical blows, nearly driving him to his knees. While instinctively reaching for his gun, Spiffy tried to get away from the man but could only manage a “duck walk” as his assailant continued to rain agonizing blows down upon his back and shoulders.
Realizing he was not going to be able to gain enough distance from his attacker to turn, draw and fire, he continued his crouched retreat until he was finally able to remove his gun from its holster. He reached around, muzzle back out under his armpit and BANG. With one shot, he blew a hole through the man’s Aorta. The man fell to the ground and died there on the pavement.
Unlike the man’s probable Hollywood like dramatic visions of a phalanx descending upon him for having the gall to fatally attack an officer right in front of the Police Department, no one in the building had yet to realize what had just transpired. It happened to be a very quiet day in the building’s large foyer and it was basically empty. The Desk Officer hadn’t even heard the single gun shot.
This is one of those moments that illustrates so clearly to me the superb training and professionalism of my father and his comrades. Immediately after determining his attacker was dead, Spiffy hobbled over to his Harley, got on the mic, and called the incident in himself. I’ve “plugged in” with an OPD dispatcher before and was amazed at the utterly calm, strong, professionalism of the voices on both ends of the mic.
Within minutes, officers arrived to assist him. He was immediately taken to the E.R., examined, given a heavy dose of pain medication and then released back into the hands of his comrades. But his day was still far from over. S.O.P. in an officer involved shooting is for the officer, if medically possible, to immediately proceed to the Homicide Division to give his report with a District Attorney present.
While Spiffy was in Homicide, my father was working a different district and the chatter on the radio tipped him off that something had gone down, he wasn’t sure what, but he knew Spiffy was up in Homicide giving a report. Dad hightailed it back to the building and when he arrived in Homicide, Spiffy was just wrapping up his report and being cleared to go home. Between the pain he was in and the medication in his system, he obviously wasn’t capable of driving. It was quickly decided that my father would get Spiffy home.
It made perfect sense really. In addition to being riding partners and close friends, they were commuting to work together in those days. We all lived in Livermore; a quiet little bedroom community about an hour’s drive from Oakland. That day, they had driven in in Spiffy’s little Chevy “Luv” pick up truck. Being rated at a half ton, it had a very stiff suspension. After making their way down from Homicide to the parking structure, my father assists Spiffy as gently as possible into the passenger side of the truck. They both know it’s going to be a bumpy ride given the stiff suspension and Spiffy’s back, even with the pain medication, is hurting like hell. Spiffy’s a trooper though and climbs in and hangs on. Dad promises he’ll do his best to keep it as smooth as possible.
Murphy is an asshole.
No one knows Murphy’s law better than guys who serve, and of course, this day would be no different. As Dad is making a left turn onto the street that leads to the freeway onramp, he and Spiffy’s eyes scan the intersection and they see a guy to their left, angling across the road, running hell bent with a purse tucked under his arm and a few civilians screaming and attempting to give chase. He’s coming from the direction of Jack London Square, a tourist area. This day is not remotely over.
Dad looks at Spiffy. They both know what’s going down. They both know they can’t ignore it. And they both know they now have to give chase in the truck with tight suspension and no radio to call for back up. Dad guns it and the pursuit is on. The suspect, having booked it through the intersection, is now heading for a park. As he reaches it, he sprints across a wide expanse of grass with a baseball diamond at the other end. My father’s foot doesn’t even come off the throttle. He continues the pursuit; up and over the curb, full speed across the grass and skids to a stop in the dust of the diamond. He is now close enough to the suspect to launch himself out of the vehicle and finish this on foot. The suspect, in fight or flight, has damn near run into the diamond’s backstop and as Dad approaches, he’s advising him, “Police Officer! Don’t MOVE!”
The suspect is now somewhat cornered by the truck and the backstop and there is one pissed off looking man, who’s just identified himself as a cop, descending upon him. He’s frantically looking for an exit but within seconds, my father grabs him, puts him into an aikido hold and plants him, face first, into the backstop of the diamond, again identifying himself as an Oakland Police Officer. He instinctually reaches for his cuffs and then realizes they’re back in the truck with the rest of his gear. Dad looks over his shoulder toward the truck and sees Spiffy, that crazy, tough bastard, hobbling, literally, over to them in order to back up his partner. Spiffy looks at my dad, puts his own hold on the guy’s arm and shoulder and yanks him sideways a few feet and proceeds to “extrude” him through a chain link fence. He then growls over his shoulder through clenched teeth, “I got this. You call it in.”
Dad manages to find a phone in one of the park’s buildings to make the call. Within minutes, a Beat Man arrives, takes the suspect into custody, loads him into the car and gets a basic verbal rundown from Dad and Spiffy. Before the guy can even ask them to come file a report, my father informs him of the prior attack on Spiffy and tells him quite calmly, “He’s already had one attempt on his life today. He’s in serious pain and pumped full of medication. We are not going to take him back to the building and make him sit down and write an incident report; I’m taking him home. Make a note in your report that I’ll submit a supplemental report tomorrow.”
The Beat Man looks at Dad somewhat dubiously but acquiesces. Unfortunately, however, he is now further convinced that the “Motorman Rep” is well deserved. As I’ve often said in the past, “Their rep is not unlike Naval Aviators”. The guy figures the hot shot Motormen consider themselves “above it all” and can’t be bothered with the likes of paperwork. Rather ironic considering what Spiffy was doing when he was attacked. And so yet again, Dad gets Spiffy into the truck and finally on his way home. Somewhere along the drive home they decide we’ll all come over to Spiffy’s house for dinner that night.
You boys never let us see you in pain…
And later that night? After dinner? I wasn’t thinking about hammers or guns or purse snatchers or steely eyed men who do battle daily with the Bad Guys in one of the most dangerous cities in California. I was laughing with Tammi and Misty, my sister Heidi, my Mom and Dad and my Aunt Gloria. Because Uncle Spiffy was laying on his back on the Living Room floor; on an ice pack. And he was telling us the FUNNIEST stories. His laughter was always so contagious. And he talked so FAST. Which made it even funnier; half the time you couldn’t understand a damn thing he said. But it didn’t matter. The way those eyes of his danced and his laughter sang? You couldn’t help but laugh with him; he was highly infectious.