If you haven't read Part 1 yet, I suggest you scroll down and do so before reading this.
We had been broken into two man teams and placed at strategic locations around the shopping center area. The purse-snatcher’s activities had been greatly curtailed during our one week of steady surveillance. He had still managed to hit us three times, always in an area where we weren’t. It seemed he knew our every move and when we were on one end of the complex, watching someone who fit the description, he would hit on the other end and disappear. We were into our second week. I had missed two episodes of my favorite show, “Cheers.” The boys in the bar were my new heroes.
It had gotten incredibly frustrating. We were under pressure from the Captain who was hearing it from the City Manager and the news media. People were refusing to shop at Searstown, and this guy was making us look ridiculous.
It was nearly a hundred degrees every day, and our cars were overheating in the parking lot. The dark blue uniforms were scrapped after three days for the more comfortable blue jeans and t-shirts. All in all, we were at wits' end. We all talked about when we would finally catch this guy and beat the living shit out of him for causing us all this grief. He would certainly be “hospitalized,” we all agreed.
I don’t know who came up with the idea, but everybody shrieked with joy when the plan was laid out. One of the unmarked cars, an old Buick station wagon that had been confiscated in a drug seizure, would be placed in front of the hardware store, where a number of the robberies had taken place. The window would be rolled down and a women’s purse placed on the front seat of the car. Inside the purse would be a “Mighty Midget" flash bang device, with its detonation pin wired to the steering wheel. Anyone removing the purse would pull the pin, and in 3-5 seconds, the purse would explode, startling the would-be thief and pinpointing his exact location, facilitating his certain arrest.
For those of you who are not familiar with some of the tactical tools, the “flash bang” was developed and is commonly used as a diversionary device. For instance, in a hostage situation, a SWAT team member tosses a flash bang in the vicinity of an armed suspect. The device contains an explosive charge as well as flash powder.
There is a huge “concussion” type explosion, accompanied by a flash of bright light. This tactic will usually confuse a suspect long enough for a team member to move in and disarm or otherwise neutralize the suspect.
The literature that is packed with the device, warns that "Detonation in close proximity to humans may cause “great bodily harm” or “death.” The detonation produces overpressures. That is, pressure greater than atmospheric pressure. These pressures can maim or kill depending on their magnitude. An independent study conducted by a prominent university said that the standard 188 lb. Output Distraction Device, which was the one we used, although the most consistent in producing “like” overpressures, was at the threshold of safety. The report goes on to say that when tossing the device into a room, the possibility is that the device would land within 3.75 inches of the occupant. If this happens, the suspect would be subjected to 115 pound per square inch of overpressure. If the occupant is lying on the floor and the device lands near his head this would give disastrous results.
The problem was nobody read the warnings or the study. At least nobody brought it up when our little plan was formulated. So we went through with it. The car and the booby-trapped purse were set up and we waited.
The decoy was placed on Tuesday morning. It was Wednesday afternoon and getting late. The air conditioner in the unmarked Chevy was starting to blow hot air. That meant that we would have to shut off the car’s motor until it cooled. The heat was making us cross and crazy. If the bad guy didn’t take the bait again, we’d have to carefully break down the car and purse until the next day. Another day in this sweltering hell.
“Do you have to do that?” I asked my partner as he drummed on the car dash.
“Boy you’re sure touchy.” He made a face.
“It’s just so goddamn hot” I said. “I’m—" I never got to finish. Somewhere to the west and in the direction of the decoy car, there was an explosion.
“What the fuck?” My partner looked at me. We both yelled “He’s in.” We couldn’t start the Impala sedan fast enough. We raced to the area of the blast, and when we arrived, found a crowd gathered.
I made my way to the center of the group of uniformed and undercover officers as well as civilians. Lying on the ground in a large pool of bright red blood was the motionless suspect. A good portion of his right arm had been blown off, and a large area of flesh on his right side was missing. Two charred purse straps were all that remained of the pocketbook.
“Guess the stakeout’s over,” one of the STAT guys said.
“Yeah, this guy’s boosted his last purse,” my partner added.
“Anybody see this?” a uniformed officer asked.
“We’ll be taking this investigation, officer,” the STAT commander said ominously.
“Yes sir,” the officer said, rolling his eyes. “It’s all yours and I’m outa’ here.”
The ambulance arrived, and after being told how the victim’s injuries were sustained and talking to the Lieutenant, just wrote, “Industrial Accident.” The injured purse-snatcher was transported to Lakeland General Hospital, where he eventually recovered, sued the city and was compensated in an out-of-court settlement.
The STAT team had numerous high level meetings, which were no more that rehearsals of “The Official Story” in case somebody from outside the agency asked. The paper printed an account that left out “some” of the details. Their headlines read, “Searstown Robber Finally Caught” and “Police Chief Credits SWAT Team With 'Innovative' Arrest Techniques."
One of the Tampa television stations recorded an interview with an eyewitness, but it never aired. They were used to having some “whacko” come out of nowhere and swear he had seen everything.
The reporter pushed the microphone into the face of eighty-two year old Silas Cumbee who was from a different era and didn’t even own a television set. Mr. Cumbee had bad speech impediment and a limited vocabulary. Old Silas was coming out of the hardware store when the suspect reached into the station wagon and cradled the purse like an NFL running back cradles a football, heading for the open parking lot.
“What did you see sir?” the young female reporter asked.
“W..w..w..w…w.ell,” the old gent said, grabbing the straps of his bib overalls and spitting some tobacco juice on the sidewalk. The old man seemed to be choosing his words carefully and thoughtfully. He looked at the camera and said seriously, “That damn n..n..n..nigger jis’ blew up."
“Cut...cut...cut...!” yelled the red-faced reporter.
I'll be back next week to fill you in on everything that's happened.