Lessons from my 4:30 a.m. encounter with a PCP-freak

It had never occurred to me that I could be seriously hurt or even killed during that time I spent working a beat car. I was young enough to reassure myself that I would live forever and, after all, I was the law, not the bad guy.

I had my share of bruises and cuts and, for a stretch of about six years, I was in a fight – or whatever you want to call the attempt to wrestle some 215-pound drunk redneck into a set of handcuffs and on to jail about once a weekend, at the minimum.

It was why I worked the midnight watch. It was fun. As far as job satisfaction, you couldn’t beat it. Well, maybe the money could have been a bit better. But I think of all the time I spent on the midnights, I maybe called in sick once or twice and, surprisingly, that’s when I was really sick.

I went to the hospital a few times, not many, mostly to get patched up or cleaned up. During that time, we knew all the ER doctors, nurses and half the regular ER patients on the weekends. The same guys kept getting beat up, stabbed and scraped up. Back then, I bounced when I hit the ground and could come up looking for more.

My deep look into mortality came around the time “Angel Dust” or phencyclidine, or more commonly known as PCP, was a fairly popular street drug in Sandy Springs around the early ‘80s. It was a dirty drug in comparison to cocaine – even the cut version that for some reason always seemed to fall out of some poor slob’s pocket after I pulled him over for no headlights at 3 a.m.

The coke would keep you up long enough to get really stupid on the liquor, and, of course, that was followed by a car ride with no headlights.

But PCP was an angry version of any other drug that I saw during my “cowboy” days on the streets. I knew of it, but the only prior contact I had with someone whacked out on it was a few years earlier when another officer and I tried to arrest a guy wearing  four jackets, two sweaters and four shirts – all on a nice July night.

He fought us both until we were all lying on the ground, out of breath, and waiting for that second wind so we, the good guys, could get the (%$&$^) cuffs on him. We were not having much success. You know the arrest isn’t going well when you have to take breaks before resuming the fight. Although frustrating, that fight was more of a sloppy wrestling match.

Things can go very bad — very quickly

My second contact with a PCP-head would come about four years later.

Morning watch (midnight) officers get into a lot of situations, arrests, fights – also known as attempts to arrests – and generally other stuff more than other officers on the day and/or evening watches. Our watch consisted of mostly younger guys with a few crusty veterans sprinkled in.

The vets were priceless because they could offer good solid advice and not show you up. In other words, after you got your butt whipped, they would clean up your mess, cuff and off they go. And then they’d explain how perhaps they would have handled it so you wouldn’t necessarily need the 12 stitches in your head. We learned quickly and, overall, we became a very close group.

We had dealt with druggies, drunks, hookers, strippers, pedophiles, closet this-and-that and those who made these folks look normal. That was the reason we worked the morning watch. It was like going to the zoo every night. It was fun.

Well, sooner or later something happens to bring you to the inevitable come-to-Jesus moment where you realize there are people who will and would kill you.

You would think having buried a couple of fellow officers would give you a good perspective on life and crime and those on either side, which it did. But, still, when you were on the shift and in the car and handling the crazy-people calls, it was surreal, maybe to the point that you didn’t consider it something that could result in bad stuff for you.

I got my come-to-Jesus moment one night when I was headed to the ‘crack,’ which was slang for the place you went to take a short breather – just about 4:30 a.m. when the calls slowed down and even the drunks were in for the night. I was headed up the road to hook up with a couple of beat cars to sit, talk and maybe catch a quick 20 winks before the early morning traffic started running into one another on GA 400.

Straight down Roswell Road. past Northridge in the north part of Sandy Springs. was still not developed out. As I headed north on Roswell, I saw a car in front of me, traveling in the same direction. He was speeding, but since there were no other cars on the road and I didn’t really want to get into something in this late hour, I didn’t give it too much though.

The car then continued through a red light.

Now this may come as a shock, but even that didn’t earn a response. He had my attention, but he was driving straight and almost into Roswell where, if all went right, he could be their problem, not mine.

The gods of good-things-for-me were not smiling on me that night. The car seemed to speed up and then ran a second light.
That’s it. Enough is enough. I fell in behind and hit the blue lights.

It wasn’t a normal traffic stop — and it just kept getting worse

The car pulled over in a shopping center just south of the river. He almost made it, and this in itself didn’t sit right with me. How dare he make me work this late!

He pulled to a stop and out of the car came a young man about 20 years old. He stood about my height. He stood by his car and had a very polite look on his face as I walked up. We were about 20 feet off the road so I was very visible to the other cars and had pulled out on the radio so they knew where I was – if they were awake, which I optimistically assumed the were.

As I walked up to the car, I could see the man because of the parking lot lights. I shined the flashlight on the man and instantly knew he was on something because he looked right through me. Most of the time, the driver is trying to be cool all the while thinking “Oh &$(%&*!!!!” to himself. This guy had a very mellow look on his face. That bothered me because I interpreted that as him knowing something I didn’t.

In my modest opinion, I figured I would start out friendly to see what his reaction would be, along with his balance and so on.

I spoke to him and told him why I stopped him. (I never asked the person “Do you know why I stopped you?” I figured I’d either get a truthful or really stupid answer so I always preferred not to waste the time.)

I told the driver that he ran a couple of red lights and was speeding, but that it was almost a ghost town that late at night and I wasn’t particularly upset with him.

He just looked at me with that really slight smile. I knew then that this was not going to be a good situation.

I had a habit of trying to talk people into things rather than bully them, at least when I had the option. I knew this guy was flying on something and I knew I wasn’t going to put him back in the car. But I didn’t know where the backup was so I told him I would run his driver’s license on the computer and if it came back okay, he’d be on his way.

“While I do this, I’d like you to have a seat in the back of my car if you would.”

“No sir.”

(What????) “Look, its policy to require the driver to sit in the back of the car. I’ll let you right back out when we’re done. No big deal.”

“I don’t want to freak you out, officer, but I’m not getting in that police car.”

“Look mister; don’t make this into a bad situation for yourself. Just do as I ask and we’ll be done in a minute or two.” (”Unit two-twenty-eight-start another car over here.”)

Now I’m thinking: “How long can I stall this guy before help arrives?” The answer arrived very quickly as he turned and got into his car. I reached in, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back out. This is where we will say “The Fight Was On!”

All I remember is this guy was so quick that he hit me at least twice in the face while I was still pulling on his arm and he was still halfway in the car. We went back and against my car where it felt like he was stinging me like a bee I couldn’t swat back. I finally caught my balance and we struggled down on the ground where we rolled one way, then the other. I was yelling a few choice words, trying to order this guy in submission, but he would have none of it.

The weirdest part was that his facial expressions didn’t change. He was calm as he beat my butt all across the parking lot. We slugged it out, and then I hit him with a slapjack over the head, which did absolutely nothing to him. On the second swing, I lost the slapjack so I reached for my radio and, as he grabbed me, we fell back and I started hitting him with the radio.

I could hear the 9-1-1 operator asking for my status as I was unable to respond “I’m getting my %@#*& butt beat!!”  I was hoping the non-response would generate the cavalry to my rescue.

When deadly force becomes a real option

I was now exhausted and this guy was showing no sign of tiring, so all I could focus on was the fact he was going to get my gun and that would be it for me.

In some cases, the decision to use deadly force is a difficult one. This was not one of those cases. I reached for my weapon, which was a .357 revolver. As I worked myself back on my feet, I planned to shoot him in the side, which was the only shot I had and would end the threat.

I reached for the gun and, as I did, he grabbed my arm. I guess he was figuring out that I wanted to end this business. As he grabbed my arm, we again, fall back. As we headed to the pavement, I was on the bottom with my hands on his collar. I pulled him in as close as I could and, when we hit, I pulled even harder. I don’t know if it was his head or mine that made the loudest “knock” on the pavement, but I know he quit moving.

I couldn’t believe it. I could not have gone on much longer. I was so exhausted I barely breathe.

I scrambled out from under him and literally crawled around looking for my handcuffs, which had long since been thrown off during the fight. I found them under the car and crawled back -  after realizing I couldn’t stand – and handcuffed him as the first car arrived.

I was a mess. I was cut, scrapped, had a couple of knots on my head and sporting a torn uniform with almost no equipment on it. I was bleeding and looked pretty bad, according to the face of the arriving officer, but had no more than cuts and bumps and so on.

The driver of the car was out cold. The ambulance crew looked him over and took him to the hospital and then to jail. He had PCP in his shirt pocket, his pant’s pocket and in a bag in his ashtray.

When he came to court for the preliminary hearing the following Monday, he told the magistrate he had no knowledge of being pulled over or fighting with the officer. The magistrate pointed to me, with a face that looked like a prune, and said: “There’s your evidence.”

I felt like the poster child for beat-up cops.

Looking back, that was the end of the cowboy days for me. I still liked the midnights, but I surrounded the fun part of it with a lot of common sense. I learned what “never assume” meant and preached it to anyone who came to the shift; especially the new guys.

PCP faded out and, of course, it was replaced by dirt drugs like crack cocaine and methamphetamine. Meth, especially, is a drug that makes animals out of people just craving for the next hit.

The cops on the midnights are different. They are perhaps not as polite, but I think they are more conditioned to react to situations that go bad really quick.

Fortunately for me, I had a quick education on how bad things can go in a hurry. For instance, in situations like that, I never again initiated anything until the second backup car arrived. And I was never too egotistical to ask for help.

38 comments Add your comment

big john

August 5th, 2009
9:30 pm

great article…glad you came out of it alive. I had to chuckle a couple of times, best thing I’ve read all day.

Bobby dee

August 5th, 2009
11:51 pm

I like your style, Flatfoot.

The Truth about cops

August 6th, 2009
12:08 am

Nice article, well written.

Leary

August 6th, 2009
7:24 am

Good job Steve. I’m glad you’re here to tell about it.

Officer Joe Friday

August 6th, 2009
7:26 am

Another great column, Steve, about police work for those of us who would never do it in a million years. Especially after reading this, I only like to do stuff like this vicariously. Thanks for your service.

Patrick

August 6th, 2009
8:07 am

Awesome article. If I had met a guy like that, I’d probably think something was up instantly. The second you described his facial expressions, something didn’t seem to add up.

Montana L

August 6th, 2009
8:12 am

This supports the belief that police officers are people who like to brawl. Well, good thing there’s a match between the people and the need. We need people who like to brawl-for-law out on the streets.

Good Read

August 6th, 2009
8:59 am

Great article, Steve – keep ‘em coming!!

Ray Pugh

August 6th, 2009
10:06 am

Steve this is one awesome column…

gadyke

August 6th, 2009
10:53 am

Great column. Like everyone else, I’m glad you came out of it alive and didn’t have to use your gun.

JoeV

August 6th, 2009
10:59 am

Thanks for sharing this story. Nicely done.

Doug

August 6th, 2009
11:40 am

Amazing story that shows the potential danger to our police on the streets. If only the policemen and firemen were paid as much as the politicians!

Steve 2

August 6th, 2009
11:45 am

Good story but how much will you take before you shoot someone? Your threshold to tolerate someone’s stupidity is higher than mine. I probably would have shot him. Glad you are here to tell the story. Stay safe.

This was your best effort at writing...

August 6th, 2009
12:00 pm

…since the article on finding a Jimmy Buffett t-shirt for your wife! Would you have had time to find your bullet in your shirt pocket and put it in the revolver?

Chris Broe

August 6th, 2009
1:00 pm

But what kind of sentence did the PCP freak get? We are interested only in justice, sir, not cops sitting and talking and catching 20 winks.

The other rangers aren’t going to like this article, Yogi.

john

August 6th, 2009
1:07 pm

Thank goodness you ended up safe. I had a similar thing happen to me in an fast food restaurant in Atlanta. A Crazed looking/talking guy on some kind of drug kept coming in and out of the restaurant as I was waiting in line. The manager had picked up the phone and said she was on the phone with the police when he was berating her. I was familiar with the manager and her female workers and when I reached the cashier I asked her if everything was alright except for that crazy guy. She looked at me and told me “he has been in here five times already and stolen some chips. Right then I turn around and he is coming right towards her and was focused like a dog at a tennis ball. I stepped in between them and told him he needed to leave and the police were on the way. He sucker punched me so hard in the mouth I couldn’t see for a 1/2 second. I was surprised I was standing when I could see again and he was still coming so it was on. I’m not a brawler, but I know how to defend myself and got him off balance and gave him a few knuckle sandwiches that made him stumble out the door in retreat. I was all happy with my comeback performance from a near knockout suckerpunch and the lady manager says to me “please don’t leave,he may come back”. I thought to my self, he doesn’t want any more of this, but sure enough two minutes later he is back in the store and picks up a wooden kids chair over his head and barely misses crashing it over my head as he is screaming “so you want to fight”. I grab ahold of him and by this time I realize that I don’t want anything to do with this crazy mofo, so I yell “can I get some help with this guy?” Luckily there was a 275 pound man that had seen the whole thing that was standing near us, so as I had this guy in a headlock(bad idea) I bumped him with my hip straight into the 275 pound guy several feet away and they started brawling (LOL) . He fought that guy who was 100 pound bigger than him without blinking and may have even gotten the better of him. They were brawling outside when the police showed up and he took off running. Then he fought with the police and they had to pepper spray him. I don’t know how the police do it every day, that incident really shook me up, even though I got the better of the situation. I’m now completely uptight when around people whom look to be on drugs and crazed. If you see someone whom looks drugged out and crazed step back from the situation and call the police, because it can get out of hand very quick.

RL

August 6th, 2009
1:11 pm

I had a friend in the early 80’s that took a self defense course – they learned that to knock someone out on PCP you basically have to give them a knockout blow (4) times – i.e., what would normally knock one person out with one blow needs to be done four times to get someone high on PCP to stop. Very dangerous.

Linda

August 6th, 2009
6:13 pm

Jais, What planet are you from? If you are not out on the street every day dealing with all the crazy stuff that goes on how can you even assume to have the faintest idea of what officers go through to protect a bunch of ungrateful a..holes. I myself respect them and realize their job is not easy. Yes there are bad cops out there that break the law as well, but there are some really good guys too that deserve an occasional pat on the back. Thanks for the articles Steve. A lot of us really enjoy them!!!!!!!!!1

JaxFla

August 6th, 2009
6:48 pm

Well said, Linda.

Linda

August 6th, 2009
7:37 pm

I could answer all your questions one by one but bottom line is there is a hell of a lot more criminals now than in the 70’s. I doubt a criminal will have anything good to say about a cop. We as a society have lost a lot of our morals and could give a rats butt about our fellow human beings. As bad as it is now it would be much worse if we had no police. So there is little I can say to make you understand, and if the day arises when you need a cop I hope you will learn to appreciate what they do for us.

Linda

August 6th, 2009
7:40 pm

Thank you, JaxFla

big john

August 6th, 2009
7:48 pm

Jais are you on PCP? The whackjob ran two red lights and clearly had no respect or regard for anyone…thank God it was deserted at that time!

john

August 6th, 2009
11:36 pm

Jais you sound like someone whom has a problem with authority of any type. I’m guessing your some kind of anarchist. I’ll bet your a big hit with your bosses if you are even employed. Help, help Jais is being oppressed by not being able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. LOL!

Please help us understand why you are such a malcontent. It is quite fascinating to hear of your total disrespect for any laws or enforcement.

Jim Stipper

August 7th, 2009
4:28 am

I would *never* get into the back of a police vehicle until I was properly detained. That is just common sense. You should never have touched the man if he was calm and cooperative with giving you I.D.

As a citizen, I appreciate that you pulled him over (although it took two red lights and a realization that it was going to “have to be your problem” to do so), but there was no need to get him in the car. If you are going to put someone in a cage, charge them.

P'tree High Grad

August 7th, 2009
9:29 am

Richard Pryor–”Thank God we got prisons.”

Cubby

August 7th, 2009
12:38 pm

Joe Friday would have been proud of you not using deadly force (even though it was warranted).

Sandy Springs Resident

August 7th, 2009
3:01 pm

I am quite frankly amazed that officer Rose didnt dispatch this drug fiend. As a citizen I would not have been so kind. That druggie would have assumed room temperature that night. He would have been as stiff as my smoking barrel (apologies to Alice Cooper).

@ Jais
Like we used to say back in the ’60’s.. next time you need help call a hippy.

72 Ptree High Grad

August 8th, 2009
2:54 am

Great article Officer Rose. For a moment there I was on the parking lot hearing the desperate struggle.

Let me add after reading this discussion “Thank God we have police and prisons”. Both imperfect institutions but way better than the criminals and mob justice running things.

Officer Jim

August 8th, 2009
9:24 am

I feel your pain. I policed over 37 years, I learned about PCP the hard way. Five other officers and myself had to subdue a suspect high of PCP. He fought like a mad man throwing us around like paper weights. It wasn’t a good situation for none of us.

Daniel

August 8th, 2009
9:55 am

Two comments. First, when did it become acceptable for you, jais or anyone else, to place my life in danger because you wanted to drive while on drugs? And second, would you be upset if someone used a racial slur in a posting. If so then why is it acceptable to call someone a “hillbilly” or “redneck”. Think about it….

Billy

August 9th, 2009
6:38 am

Very good article.

Patrick

August 10th, 2009
8:49 am

72 Ptree Grad – not only was I almost there in the parking lot with Officer Rose, but I could almost hear the handcuffs scraping against the asphalt until coming to a stop under the car, and the radio asking for a status on the situation.

Steve, as far as comparing the people you encounter during early morning/midnight shift to a day at the zoo? You’re wrong. The animals at the zoo are far more civilized. Yes, even the monkeys. Especially the ones that do you-know-what.

Spalding Drive homeowner

August 10th, 2009
12:01 pm

Steve, we really appreciate all that you have done for our community; your maturity has turned into a wonderful sense of humor as well. As a teenager in Sandy Springs in the 70’s I remember the good ole simpler days.(I once totalled my car due to speed and a small bit of alcohol consumption and the officer drove me home, to talk to my parents) I changed my ways and realized the consequences. But because the office did not overreact, or exert frustation at his job or possibly fill some personality void, things have turned out okay for me, some 30 years later. However I had a recent encounter on the same road with an overreactive, overzealous young patrol officer that was way out of control on his part.(he was panicked about a tree down in roadway) When there are just simple encounters these young guys(PO’s) need to relax, get to know the community, most of love the police officers out there. Please try to tone things down around the station house, even with the loonies out there. Thanks.

Chris Broe

August 10th, 2009
2:10 pm

Things turned out okay for you thirty years later? Okay, who’s gonna break it to this guy?

SC

August 10th, 2009
7:33 pm

That’s a great story, Steve. Well told. I’m sorry that you had to experience it first-hand.

Tom T

September 3rd, 2009
6:46 pm

Steve, you were either a badass when you were younger, or extremely lucky. It took 4 of us one night back in 1980, all of us over 6-feet and 250 pounds, and this little 5-7, 140 pound dude was throwing us around like we were toddlers. Finally ended up with one of us getting behind him and choking him out. NOT the most fun I ever had while in uniform.

Donuts

September 8th, 2009
4:30 pm

Cops love me

^^ hahaha ^^

September 12th, 2009
11:11 am

“I would also just like to point out the fact that the supreme court ruled that is IS NOT illegal to BE on a controlled substance or drug. Fact- look it up.” Unfortunately, it is illegal to drive under the influance of “a controlled substance” or be in public doing so. HAHAHAHHAhAHaHhAHA. Seems like you hate the law because YOU DONT KNOW the law.