Detective Hussey is back to his lighthearted look at a cop's life. Some days you win, some you lose. Sometimes you're just glad when it's over.
When you're twenty-three years old, wearing a badge and gun is the most exciting thing in the world. All young cops are a little badge heavy, most are a lot badge heavy. Hopefully you make it through those years without getting hurt or fired and get to the point where you have some common sense. In those formidable years however, it is common to have what cops call Wyatt Earp Syndrome. This occurs when you watch too many Hollywood cop shows and labor under the misapprehension that you are invincible. When some guy who stands six-five and weighs 300 pounds tells you, "You ain't takin' me to jail."
Then you, being the stupid rookie that you are, smile and say, "We'll see." If you're lucky, it works out. You also count on the fact that most people (in the old days) respect the badge and uniform enough not to challenge it. Sometimes you're wrong, and sometimes, the person or persons you least expect to be a problem, turn out to be the ones who are the worst.
In February 1980, it was unseasonably warm in Lakeland. I was working the day shift with Sergeant "Pistol" Pete Petersen. Lunch was over and we were waiting for four o'clock so we could go home. I was talking to some chick at Grove Park shopping center when I got the call, something about car keys being stolen. It didn't sound like much. It was 3:00.
I went to the Gulf station and saw the complainant walking toward my car as I pulled in. She seemed agitated. "Yes, ma'am, what can I do for you?" I asked.
"Well," she said, "I brought my car in this morning, and dropped it off here at Jim's Gulf station, to have the oil changed and the car washed." I nodded and scribbled on my pad. "I left the keys in the ignition and the door unlocked like I always do. When I came back, this afternoon, I found this note."
The lady thrust a small piece of white paper in my direction. I unfolded it and read the blue ink message scrawled there: I have your keys, if you want them back, come to 814 E. Orange St.
"Do you know anyone at 814 E. Orange Street?" I inquired.
"Of course not. But I did go to that address, and found a man there."
"What did he say?"
"Well, what I could understand, cause' he couldn't talk too plain, he said I'll give you your keys back for twenty dollars."
"No, and then when I threatened to call the police, he said, 'Go ahead, I am the police', and he flashed a gold badge."
Now there's nothing that makes a cop's blood boil like someone impersonating the po-lice. We work so hard for the privilege of wearing the badge, and people who pretend really hack us off.
I told the lady to wait at the gas station, and I drove the block to the address. I had a general description, including clothing, of the suspect. As I pulled up out front, the house seemed vaguely familiar. I thought I'd been here before, but couldn't remember what for. After several knocks on the door, with no answer, I got back into my cruiser and drove back to the gas station.
As I got out of my car to take the additional information from the victim, she pointed down Ingraham Avenue and yelled, "There he is."
A small man, fitting the description given to me earlier was walking away from us. The man had a small boy with him. Oh shit. I knew him all right. It was Jerry Gettings, a local derelict and part time whino, full time schemer and pain in the ass. "Hey Jerry," I yelled. "Comeer."
Now Jerry was an entrepreneur. He was always devising a plan to separate the public from their hard earned dollars. No big money, just enough to be illegal. Once, when the Lakeland Commission had made a decision to close the city jail and make housing prisoners the responsibility of the Polk County Sheriff, I found Jerry parading up and down in front of the post office, drumming on a coffee can, yelling "Save our jail, Save our jail" in his raspy voice. He wore a sandwich sign, with large crudely painted words, "Support the Save Our Jail Fund." In the coffee can was about twelve dollars. I ran Jerry off, confiscated his sign and gave the money to the Salvation Army. It was a typical Jerry Gettings operation.
Jerry and the boy turned around to look at me, but kept on walking. "Don't make me run you down," I said. Again, a quick look with no effort to stop. I looked at the victim and she gave me that, Well are you going to do something look. I broke into a half-hearted run and caught up with Jerry and the youngster of about ten, near Ingraham and U.S. Hwy 98.
"What..the..hell..are..you..doin'?" I panted as I caught my breath.
Jerry had some type of medical problem. I suspected throat cancer. He talked in a very staccato, raspy voice, and if you hadn't talked to him before, he was difficult to understand. "Leave-me-a-lone," he barked as he continued to walk.
"Get your ID out, Jerry and tell me about the lady's car keys."
"I-don't-have-her damn-keys," Jerry said.
"Look, if you don't give those keys back right now, I'm takin' your ass to jail."
"No-you-ain't. I'm-with-my-son-leave-us-alone." He took a drink from a carton of chocolate milk.
I made up my mind then that Jerry was going to take the ride. The lady at the car wash would surely give me a sworn statement, and I would be able to lock him up on extortion charges, and if I could find the badge, I'd make the impersonating an officer charge. I reached up and took Jerry by the shoulder and felt him stiffen. We were standing on the sidewalk, but right next to the walk, the ground rose about two feet and was uneven. Jerry braced himself and tucked his arms into his side.
"Give me your hands, Jerry." I yelled.
"You leave my daddy alone!" the little boy cried.
"If he'll just cooperate, he won't have any trouble," I said. I finally got one of his hands free, but it was the wrong hand; the chocolate milk went flying and covered my uniform pants, running down into my shoes. Now I was pissed.
I got a cuff on and when I did, Jerry pulled forward, pulling us both off balance. I tried to catch myself, but it was too late. We both toppled forward, me on top of Jerry, who was screaming at the top of his hoarse lungs. I was still attempting to get the other hand out from under him, when I felt something hard hit my left side.
"Leave my daddy alone!" the crying little boy shouted, as he kicked me as hard as he could in my side. I couldn't grab the kid; I'd have to let go of Jerry.
Now I was yelling. "Get outa' here kid." I tried to turn away from the kicking juvenile.
"Stop," he shrieked as he kicked me again and again. It was then that I saw my third nemeses. In the backyard of the corner house, just 50 feet away, was a small brown terrier, racing toward the melee, teeth barred. As he slid into the pile of bodies, I felt his small, sharp teeth, scrape my leg as he latched on to my pant leg, just above my sock. He was pulling my pants, the kid was kicking me and Jerry and I were screaming.
It was about this time the phones at the Lakeland Police Department began to light up. Officer Bobby Smith was working the PBX and got the first call. "You better get somebody down to Orange and Ingraham," the caller said. "You've got a cop gettin' the shit beat outa him." Other calls came in. The description of the fight varied from caller to caller. One lady said, "Some pig is hassling an old man and his kid and dog. I don't think that's right."
One thing was for sure, assistance was needed. The greatest sound in the world when you're in trouble is the sound of sirens in the distance. The first guy to arrive was my Sergeant, Pete Peterson. Ole' Pete was laughing so hard he could hardly get Jerry and me separated and Jerry cuffed. Jerry's son ran home to call his mother, and the lady who owned the house called "Twizzle" back to his yard and apologized.
"You look like hell. Pete giggled as he helped me search the prisoner. I really did. I was covered with dirt and chocolate milk, and my uniform pants were ripped. My hat had fallen in the bushes and was stepped on.
I found the keys to the lady's car in Jerry's pocket. Surprise. Pete found the badge, which had the words Special Officer emblazoned across the front. He was special, all right.
The lady who owned the car turned out to be a bitch, as I would soon learn, and refused to prosecute Jerry or provide a sworn statement.
I arrested Jerry on resisting arrest charges and he beat me out of the station while I was still writing the report.
The guys would always refer to the incident as the "Menage-a-massacre", or the day Hussey got his ass kicked.