This week, Detective Hussey deals with a more somber side of law enforcement. Sadly, this chapter in his manuscript is much longer than the segment I'm posting today.
Today, I buried another brother. Not a blood relative, but a brother just the same. Although I did not know this man personally, we had traveled many of the same roads. I had been luckier... Sometimes more careful or skillful, but never without amazement that I was still here after all these years. There must be a reason...what could it be?
As I said earlier, I am now a detective with a large agency. In fact my current department has over 1500 sworn law enforcement officers. A sharp contrast to the fewer than 100 officers strong that the Lakeland Police Department was when I left.
The motorcade from today’s funeral stretched more than six miles. There were over a thousand cops at the church, 600 from my agency, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. I sat in the huge sanctuary of Orlando's Calvary Assembly Church. As I looked around at the mourners, I tried to remember how many times I had sat with other cops. On days much like today when we found it distastefully necessary to say farewell to a heroic brother or sister, brutally taken from our family by some low-life, sub-human species.
Many of the Lakeland and Polk County Officers I have served with and paid tribute to were not unlike the man we paid tribute to here today. Though police work has changed drastically over the last decade, this part never does.
The deputy being buried on this Friday morning was a thirty-seven-year-old rookie with less than one year of service with our department. A couple of mornings prior, he had been a member of a sector-one uniform patrol squad. A motor vehicle pursuit initiated by a sector-four patrol officer had crossed into the jurisdiction of sector-one. The slain deputy had stopped his marked patrol car on the shoulder of Interstate 4 and was attempting to place “stop sticks” in the path of the confirmed stolen vehicle. Stop sticks are 3 foot lengths of paper covered spikes, designed to puncture the tires and stop speeding vehicles without injury to the Officers, the public or the suspect driver. In the old days we would have just shot the driver, not caring whether or not he was hurt. We’re kinder and gentler now, but at what price?
As the Deputy exited his cruiser, the 18-year-old, intoxicated piece of trash driver, approached. The driver swerved across three lanes of traffic, striking the officer and throwing his body 40 feet. As one witness would tell other officers, “The kid laughed, and flipped the cop off as he drove away.” The officer left behind his squad, his wife and three sons, and the rest of us who did not personally know him but respected and loved him. We will never forget how he died or how he lived.
As a bagpiper played the haunting hymn, Amazing Grace, my memory left that place for other years, other funerals. How many had there been? Too many.
In 1977, I was on downtown walking patrol in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A burly but tearful old desk sergeant told me that officer Danny Gentil had been shot and killed. I had walked a beat with Gentil the week before, and we'd talked about our future plans, mine and his. He showed me pictures of his wife and two young daughters. We talked about the death of Elvis Presley. We were both big fans of the King.
Danny had surprised a pill-head in an alley behind the Prince Albert Hotel. In an attempt to arrest the suspect, they had struggled, and the officer’s gun had fallen into the hands of the suspect. As a crowd gathered, many onlookers coaxed the druggie to finish off the cop. The officer attempted to reason with the addict and assure him that if he gave the gun back, the charges were not serious. Then, someone from the crowd yelled, “Don’t forget, the son-of-a-bitch has a bulletproof vest on.” The “suspect” then, according to witnesses, raised the revolver a few inches, cocked it, and shot the 26-year-old officer in the face.
On July 5, 1980, an alarm call went out at the ABC liquor lounge at Walnut Street and South Florida Avenue in Lakeland. Officer Carl H. “Scooter” Cushman was finishing a report and preparing to go home from the day shift. He thought about possible escape routes for the suspect and headed to an area on the city’s West Side. As he approached the intersection known as “five points,” he observed a vehicle fitting the description given to him by the dispatcher. The chase was on.
About five miles and four minutes from then, a period which seemed like an eternity for those of us listening to the pursuit on the police radio, Officer Cushman and convicted cocaine dealer William R. Chase were embroiled in a vicious gun battle. When it was over, fourteen rounds had been fired, six by Officer Cushman, two of which struck the suspect in the face, and eight by the “former” Hells Angel gang member. One of Chase’s rounds went through the driver’s door of the patrol vehicle, and ripped into the cop’s right side just below his bulletproof vest. The suspect was out of ammunition, and in his drug induced state, rushed the officer, hurling himself on top of Cushman in the front seat of the patrol car. There, Cushman was trying to reload his revolver. Chase, also shot, was trying to chew off the officer’s ear. An arriving backup officer’s brakes failed and the car he was driving, struck Cushman’s car, smashing Officer Cushman’s leg between the door sill and the bumper.
After seventeen hours of surgery and 9 pints of blood, Cushman was stable. A stainless steel pin, protruding from his thigh, was placed the full length of his right leg and a large section of his intestine had been removed. He would never be the athlete he had been prior to the shooting. He would never be the great cop, physically, he had once been. In a lot of ways, Scooter died that day. But he didn’t die, not just then. The bureaucrats killed him slowly.
About a year later, Officer Cushman returned to work the desk, an extremely stressful job, as any cop knows. Although the men were ecstatic about having him back, the Lakeland Police Department brass labeled him as a malingerer. He was accused of intentionally slowing his healing progress in an attempt to keep from going back to his patrol duties. An absolute lie. He would have loved nothing more than to have returned to his chosen profession. He asked to be given a detective position. The Chief refused.
Scooter was given menial jobs and was continually berated by the Chief and his staff. One afternoon, Cushman called the watch commander and told him that he was having pains in his chest and arm. The Lieutenant angrily cried, “Carl, you belly-acher, if you’re sick, get a patrol car and go to the hospital, but we’re too busy to send an officer with you!"
Carl Cushman did drive himself to the hospital, and after a short examination, a very frightened triage nurse rushed him into a cardiac trauma room where it was determined that he had suffered a serious coronary.
The City of Lakeland refused to pay any of the medical expenses relating to the heart attack, saying they didn’t “believe” it to be job related. A federal court in Tampa decided a year later that the heart attack was indeed job-related and ordered the city to pay. By then Officer Cushman had lost his house and his financed automobile. He left the department shortly thereafter, not as a hero as he should have, but in a sea of controversy.
In 1985 Carl joined the Department of the Army’s civilian security force at the infamous Watergate hotel complex in Washington, D.C. A year later he was transferred to Cameron Station, Virginia, and became a much-loved Chief of Police there. Less than two years later on April 11, 1988, he died after undergoing the last of several open heart surgeries. He was 45.
In the City of Lakeland where he had served so gallantly, there were no fanfares, no taps, no twenty one gun salutes, no flags were lowered to half mast. The Lakeland Ledger newspaper ran a short article titled, “nightmare over for cop’s wife”. The then Lakeland Chief of Police said, “I thought he was doing okay”. The Fraternal Order of Police was unable to honor Cushman by placing his name among those who had been killed in the line of duty because it could not be proven that the officer’s death was job-related. The city fathers fought that notion. They might have to pay survivor’s benefits.
Carl’s wife Barbera lost her home and nearly everything she owned. Bill collectors hounded her relentlessly. She was forced to move in with her daughter.
Make no mistake about it. Carl H. Cushman died in the line of duty, in service to the citizens of the City of Lakeland. On May 7, 1998, through the diligent efforts of his friends, Carl H.. “Scooter” Cushman’s name was added to the roll call of heroes, those individuals who have given their lives in defense of their public. It’s a small honor for such a worthy hero. I can only hope it somehow eases his pain.
In the Lakeland Civic center rose garden, near the small black marble plaque which bears his name, is a larger monument which bears the following inscription: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS" John 15:13
Note: Every Friday, Lee Lofland salutes current fallen heroes on his blog, The Graveyard Shift.