Here's another story from the files of Deputy Mark Hussey. Enjoy.
In the early 1970's an incredible building boom took Central Florida by storm. Following the opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando in 1971, industry and people streamed into Florida, making it the fastest growing state in the U.S. With this mammoth growth came all the problems, crime, crime, and of course, crime.
There was no housing for the thousands of people moving into the state daily. The facilities in place in the sixties could not handle the growth of the 70's. Traffic had become a nightmare and just about everything else was in transition or total chaos. The 26th amendment to the United States Constitution was voted in, lowering the legal voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. Newly elected President Richard Nixon announced his new economic policy which included a ninety day wage freeze, imposition of a 10% import surcharge, and an indefinite freeze on the conversion of dollars to gold. The news caused the Dow to jump 33 points.
The city of Lakeland, located just west of Orlando, with a population of 50,000, was also booming. A new civic center had been built and revenue from big name rock concerts like Chicago, Marshall Tucker, and The Rolling Stones was pouring in. The city prided itself in having a top-notch police department. The then 80 sworn officers were trained in tactics, and equipped to handle any emergency. In reality, they were ill equipped and under trained to handle some of the problems that would confront them in 1975. There was no riot gear, except for a few helmets that had been bought as an afterthought. No shields, no tear-gas, no gas masks. The sixties were over and things had been quiet for nearly six years. The war in Vietnam was ending and everyone seemed ready to go back to work and take advantage of the prosperous economy.
Many of the people moving to Florida were migrating from big city areas like New York and Detroit. Workers there were accustomed to large hourly wages, great employee benefits and union shops. What they found in Florida were companies that would spend millions of dollars annually to break unions, keep wages at a minimum, thus keeping their costs down and their profit margins up. They also found something unheard of: governmental entities, such as police agencies with poor or no retirement and no disability or medical benefits.
In the spring of 1975, the city had broken ground on the east side of town for the Macintosh Power Plant, a new coal burning electric power plant. Workers were hired on site, and most were local people looking for a job. Many were relatively unskilled.
On Monday morning the phone rang at police headquarters and a very upset city manager asked to speak to the chief of police. It seemed that a large group of individuals were causing a problem at the site of the new power plant and city workers were being kept from work. It was unclear what all this meant, but the chief, having come from the north, was relatively sure that this was some kind of union activity. He was right.
The "Boiler Makers" local 386 had gotten wind that non-union workers were being hired to build the new state-of the-art power plant. A few pickets and protesters were sent to force the city to hire the union to complete the project.
The forty-one men, all around 6' tall and well over 200 pounds, were meant to be intimidating. I'm sure they were some type of organized goon squad. Initially, they didn't seem to be much of a problem. The first 40 weren't. They just stood around and made some quasi-threats. The workers refused to cross the picket lines, and work on the new plant stopped for a time. The first eight cops to arrive was the entire day shift, excluding one old-timer left in the city to handle any emergency which might arise.
The mere sight of the cops, seemed to cause some emotional rise in the crowd. It also seemed as if some of the non-union workers had made their way over to the union crowd. It was getting hard to tell who the players were. For some time, the cops just stood around smoking cigarettes and talking. Then the Captain arrived on the scene. As he walked into the group of officers and began shaking their hands, everyone from LPD knew there would be trouble. This guy had no people skills whatever. The sight of him and the sound of his voice pissed people off.
"I brought you guys some gas," the captain said. "I've got it in my car."
Well, maybe that would help, they thought.
By mid-afternoon it was the general consensus that nothing was going to happen. Most of the 41 original demonstrators had gone, and some of the construction had resumed. At around 4:20 pm three unmarked tour buses made their way out Lake Parker Drive and pulled onto the property adjacent to the power plant construction area. The buses began to unload, and it was evident that now there was going to be real trouble. As the nearly 400 men assembled, they yelled threats and obscenities at non-union workers and the police. The Captain, who had been preparing to leave for home, went to a telephone and briefed the Chief, asking for reinforcements.
The department was on some kind of alert. Guys were called at home. Some were poolside, drinking heavily. Others were preparing for shifts later in the day. The Sheriff was notified and asked for any help he might be able to spare. The crowd grew increasingly more hostile.
A sergeant arrived who had seen some National Guard action as part of a riot squad in Miami during the Democratic National Convention. He gave the guys some tips and formed them into some crowd control lines. Then someone remembered that the Florida Highway Patrol had some experience with crowd control in Miami at that same convention. A call went out to them.
Cops began to arrive from all over. They all asked the same question: "Who's in charge here?"
"I am," the Captain would reply. It was nine hours into the operation and a plan had not been formulated. Most of the guys had not eaten or had any water. The union provided their people with food and beverages.
The Sheriff arrived, and not wanting to miss an opportunity to win a few votes, strolled off into the hostile crowd, tipping his cowboy hat and shaking hands. He told them how he supported the unions and would need their votes in order to implement his labor polices. He wouldn't "mind" seeing a union in his own department, he told one sweaty, bearded man. This of course was an out and out lie. When the Sheriff had taken office amid a scandal in the previous administration, he had fired nearly three-fourths of the department without giving a single reason. It was totally legal. Deputy Sheriffs in the state of Florida in those days, according to Florida statutes, "served at the pleasure of the Sheriff." The Sheriff continued his politicking as the crowd became larger and more dangerous.
As dinnertime came and went, someone brought water and ice for everyone, and later some sandwiches arrived. The crowd was becoming more organized and finally a leader approached. He was around 6' 3" tall and weighed approximately 280 lbs. His massive arms stretched the white tee-shirt at the biceps, both of which were adorned with several tattoos. The man carried a two foot length of pipe in his right hand. Fifteen nervous Lakeland Police Officers put their hands on their guns.
The Captain decided it was time for action. These were reasonable people, and certainly they knew the reputation of the Lakeland Police Department. The Captain reached inside his car and turned the selector switch to the "PA" position.
"Gentleman, this is the Lakeland Police Department. We are prepared to use force if necessary to maintain order. We will allow you some time to disperse qui—"
That was all he got out. From somewhere in the back of the crowd came a projectile about the size of an orange. The object, which turned out to be a steel ball bearing, struck the Captain's car windshield, shattering it and throwing glass fragments on several officers.
Many thought a shot had been fired, including the Captain. Sixteen revolvers came out of their holsters and pointed at the seething union members. The Captain had belly-crawled to the back seat of his cruiser and retrieved a canister of "CS" gas. Like an extra from the movie, "Sands of Iwo Jima" the Captain yelled "Clear" and pulling the pin, heaved the can high into the air and into the middle of the crowd of angry union members.
One of the other officers seeing this thought the Captain could use some help deploying the rest of the gas. He opened the back door and looked for the other canisters.
"Where's the rest of the gas?" he asked the Captain.
"That's all there is," he replied with a worried look on his face.
"Are you shittin' me?" the officer asked.
The Captain didn't answer. The gas canister, billowing the tear-inducing smoke, crashed noisily on the hood of the Captain's car, causing a dent and several nearby cops to retreat. Someone in the crowd had picked up the lone gas canister and thrown it back. The crowd advanced and took some additional ground.
Reinforcements for our side began to arrive and a plan was made to advance on the crowd in a line formation. Anyone who approached the line would be arrested and handcuffed. The sheriff sent a paddy wagon for prisoner transport.
The line of about 30 officers began to advance on the crowd. They were equipped with riot helmets and their nightsticks. The model 64 Smith & Wesson revolvers were holstered in the old border patrol type rigs with one snap across the hammer. The guns were easily removed from the holster by a hostile suspect. As the line advanced, utter pandemonium took over.
Whatever they had tried to organize was lost. An all-out slugfest ensued which by some accounts, lasted for hours. In reality it was probably only 30-45 minutes.
What kept the cops alive is unknown. Nobody was seriously injured, and nobody really went to jail. No firearms were lost, although several nightsticks were taken and not returned.
The National Guard was contacted and advised that the Governor would have to give the order. They did assist by providing a large tent, known as a "GP large" to be used as a command post. Some cots were also donated and some of the guys took turns sleeping. Some additional sandwiches were brought out and some changes of clothing were delivered. The scene for all practical purposes resembled a military outpost.
No one had any idea how long the standoff would last or what actions the crowd would take the next morning. Sometime during the night, Officer Kenny Hendrix got cold and decided to light a fire to warm himself. Some branches and scraps of wood were gathered and stacked near the door inside the canvas army tent.
"Maybe you'd better build that outside," one of the rookies suggested.
"Who said that?" Kenny glared at the rookie. The rookie knew his place and shut up.
The fire was started and did provide some warmth. Elsewhere, Officer Mike Butler, a former Indiana State Trooper was standing a post on the perimeter road. The orders were not to allow anything but police vehicles down the road to the power plant. There was no food, no water and he had been on his feet for nearly 24 hours. The only thing that kept Mike going right now was the earlier promise of a couple of hours of sleep in a tent donated by the army, and a couple of sandwiches. As Mike peered into the distance he could see red lights flashing. They seemed to be coming toward him. As the lights got closer, Mike realized the vehicle was a fire engine.
Officer Butler tried to find out where they were going, but the truck didn't stop. The engineer just waved as he passed.
About thirty minutes later, the fire truck passed M.P. Butler on its way out. The engineer again waved and smiled. Mike waved back. About a half-hour after that, one of the new guys relieved the weary officer. As he got into the patrol car and rode the ½ mile back to the command post, he couldn't wait to lie down on that cot and rest a little. As the police car made it around the corner, Mike noticed several officers standing in a group around a large smoldering patch of grass.
"What the hell happened?" Mike asked the driver.
"That fuckin' Hendrix set the tent on fire. Nobody got hurt, but it burned to the ground, cots and all."
Mike just sat there, seething. Finally, he got out of the car. Before he got a sandwich and something to drink, he chased the bewildered Kenny Hendrix around the command post at gunpoint, threatening to shoot his balls off. He was actually too tired to kill Kenny—he didn't feel like doing the paperwork today. But there would be another day.
The power plant standoff continued throughout the week. By Friday, the union realized the city was not going to bend and hire union workers. The crowd dispersed and the Lakeland cops went back to patrol work. That week in March became forever know as the "Power Plant Riots." The captain that week became forever known as "Captain Gas," and Kenny Hendrix was thereafter known as the "Flash".
Because that's exactly what happened when the fire caught that canvas tent. There was a flash and ten cops were sent scrambling and cussing for safety. And the guys became forever known as "The Original Macintosh 15."