Tales from the Asphalt Jungle: Rodney’s story

Rodney was a burglar. He wasn’t a very good burglar, which is why all the precinct cops knew him.

And he was not the most detailed of planners. Along with a hefty substance problem, Rodney just didn’t like planning out things — like his escape. One night he burglarized a liquor store, then celebrated by sitting on the cardboard boxes behind the store enjoying the fruits of the crime. We found him passed out with an empty bottle of Prince Ivan Vodka in his hand and $27 in his pocket — all the money that was left in the till.

Every time he was arrested, Rodney would claim his innocence and then, after the laughter, he’d proclaim that he was done with crime and would get his life in order. That was met with a stark silence — then more laughter.

He tried his hand in residential burglary. The first arrests came after a local drug store called the cops to report a roll of film that contained pornographic images. The detective went by, looked at the film, then called the burglary detectives. Rodney was arrested a day later after detectives matched the film to the person who dropped it off. It just so happed that the owner of the film had been a recent burglary victim. Rodney had forced the back door to the home open, entered and bagged up a few items. When he saw the camera, he decided to do some X-rated glamour shots. He later told the detectives that he intended to steal the camera but forgot to pack it.

Later, Rodney was suspected of attempting to rob a man after the man left a check-cashing store and was walking to his car. The robbery victim said he was approached by a man who had his hand in his coat pocket as if he had a gun. The victim said he punched the gunman in the side of the head and he ran off. There was no gun. Coincidentally, Rodney claimed he had hit his head against the bathroom sink the night before the detectives came to see him. He was never charged with the attempted robbery, mostly because the victim left town and had no interest in pursuing the case.

Over the years, Rodney tried his hand at many things, few of them legal, and failed at most of what he did. He tried his hand at stealing from cars, but landed in the hospital after he broke a car window, reached in and, when he opened the door, he was bit on the face by the dog that had been left in the car to ensure no one broke in. Rodney was well described by witnesses who saw a man “bleeding profusely from the face. “

Rodney, No. 1 on the list of “usual suspects,” was picked up and later charged with the theft after detectives failed to believe that Rodney suffered a deep bite to the bridge of his nose “during rough sex.” The case detective did allow Rodney a tiny piece of dignity when he didn’t confront a piece of the confession when Rodney said he was bitten by a pit bull. The detective knew all along the dog was a small mutt, about the size of a large purse.

Futile attempts at going straight

Rodney tried his luck at legitimate work, but successfully ended up fired from all, mostly from stealing from the till or the product. On Saturday nights he would often end up at one of the old all-night diners, drunk, mad and loud. His tirade scared the hell out of the customers, but he always surrendered to the officer who responded to the call.

Many times I found him standing on the table screaming racial obscenities to a terrified group of late-night semi-drunken customers in the wee hours of the morning. Rodney would finish his last bitter, obscene comments, and then he would step down. I would cuff him, and off we would go.

I took him home more times than to jail. But, God forbid, if he interfered with my Waffle House break, I would send him to the clink.

Rodney always said he was going to get straight, but he never did. He never improved his trade, either, logging arrest after arrest for petty crimes, including the age-old faking-the-choking episode in a restaurant. Rodney would choke and then collapse. His plan was to recover in time to shake the owner down for a few bucks, threatening a call to his lawyer. Once the 9-1-1 center dispatched a “person choking” call at one of the restaurants, we knew it was most likely Rodney.

We’d find him on the floor, sometimes giving a slight kicking of his feet to heighten the effect of his pending death. Amazingly, Rodney would cheat death and return to the living after the arriving officer stepped outside, squirted a tiny bit of Mace on his finger, and then returned — holding the finger under Rodney’s nose while softly telling him he would next open Rodney’s eyes with the same finger.

Rodney would rise from the dead and curse his way out of the door and into the patrol car.

Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, Rodney refused to die. He had many chances to die, including the time his girlfriend set him on fire after he passed out in a chair — revenge for beating her up a week before. She waited for him to drink himself into a stupor, then poured lighter fluid on him and lit him up. He woke up in flames and ran out of the door, then right smack into a phone pole. He said later she had a bad temper but a good heart.

She left him after she got out of jail.

Eventually, Rodney’s lifestyle caught up with him. He died one night in the back of a car, in a car-repair parking lot. We knew he and several other homeless often slept overnight in unlocked cars when the weather was cold. He didn’t like homeless shelters because they wouldn’t let him drink. And they would put them out early in the mornings. He liked to sleep late.

Sad story.

There was no happy ending involving some social worker who turned Rodney’s life around. He didn’t meet the right girl and got straight.

Sometimes there just is no happy ending.

18 comments Add your comment


May 21st, 2010
2:05 pm

Wow, that kind of sucked. I was reading and reading hoping there would be some kind of “happy ending” or at least a moral to the story. But this was just a sad story about some poor loser.


May 21st, 2010
2:17 pm

I know a few ‘Rodneys’ …….a well written, true story from the guy who knows


May 21st, 2010
4:02 pm

Sad story….except the Keith Richards refusing to die comment….That was fantastic :)


May 21st, 2010
5:07 pm

Glad Rodney died. I have been burglarized and didn’t like it.
If he had come into my home or place of business and I had caught him, he would have died sooner.
Too bad the Cops & Court System just kept putting him, and people like him, back on the street to do more crime.


May 22nd, 2010
2:13 am

Yep, I “grew up” in my LE career with some one resembling Rodney. He was a functional orphan, and he was one of the first I met when I started as a dispatcher/jailer many years ago. He was in and out of jail/prison many times. Once, between thanksgiving and Christmas, he went into a convenience store, took a six pack from the cooler and some candy, waved toward the camera and walked outside and sat on the curb until the police arrived. I asked him why, and he said he wanted to come home. I’m still on the job, but not down in that area. If he’s still alive, I’m surehe’s

Arizona Ann

May 22nd, 2010
7:51 am

Thanks for this great column. I check the AJC every day to see if there is a new blog.

Oh brother.

May 22nd, 2010
10:50 am

Hey Goober (how apropo) – correction to your last sentence.
Too bad the cops have to waste their time DEALING with him over and over, when it’s the COURT system who keeps letting people like this out. There is no effective rehabilitation in place for career criminals and the mentally ill. So this pattern will continue until we do something about it. Instead of blaming the cops, you should be thanking them.


May 22nd, 2010
12:20 pm

Hey Oh brother (how apropo) – correction to your comments. If you re-read the story, you’ll see that many times Steve (the cop) just took him home so he could break into someone else’s house that night or the next day. Steve thought he was doing Rodney a favor – instead, he was putting a known thief back on the street to rob again.

So, yeah, cops are to blame as well so take off your blinders.

Mrs. Norris

May 23rd, 2010
12:11 am

Just think, had he been in jail, where he belonged, he might still be alive today.


May 23rd, 2010
2:10 am

Sorry Mrs. Norris, but the cops were too busy that night dolling out traffic citations to do their job.

Protect and serve? Nope. Entrap and generate revenue- the new police.


May 23rd, 2010
2:13 am

How much time DOES Sandy Springs PD spend asleep in that Publix parking lot? Not much left to do once the old monthly quota gets filled, and you’ve tanked up at the local Awful Waffle, right Steve-o-rino?!


May 23rd, 2010
2:10 pm

Booyah is an ass. Just thought i’d mention it.

jackie baines

May 23rd, 2010
10:54 pm



May 24th, 2010
10:10 am

Chances are pretty strong that Rodney was self-medicating for a mental illness, unfortunately there’s no effective way to ensure that those who are not an immediate danger to themselves or others get treatment, so they continue to clog the judicial system and commit large numbers of crimes, usually petty ones like Rodney’s.


May 24th, 2010
1:23 pm

As always, thanks for sharing Detective Rose. I hope that you read the commentors to your blogs loosely and ignore the negative. WE appreciate you. Don’t be a stranger, hear!?

Old School

May 24th, 2010
2:36 pm

Totally off the subject but: Congratulations to Brian Kelly up in Gainesville, GA on his being made Chief of Police! He’s a former student of mine and one of the finest young people I’ve had the honor of teaching. I have the utmost respect for Brian and his entire family- finest folks you’ll every meet.


May 24th, 2010
5:49 pm

Steve, are you saving these blogs? You should because they would make a good book. I told my brother, who works parttime as a limo driver, to tape record after each ride what took place, when, and where. He has had us on the floor laughing because of some of his customers/clients and their antics. Keep up the good work and writing.

Oh brother.

May 26th, 2010
11:36 pm

Dear Prof,
If it was evident that Rodney committed a crime, he was arrested. Lt. Rose says in the post that Rodney was indeed arrested many many times. Cops don’t make the rules. They just enforce them. 1)I suggest you work on your reading comprehension, 2)or “Bitter – party of one??” The ONLY people who don’t like cops are the ones who have been busted for breaking the law, or who expect them to be psychics and solve every crime. If you were the victim of an unsolved crime, I’m sorry, and hope it will be one day.
Otherwise, you and Booyah might want to consider enrolling in traffic school for a refresher course, if your issue is a traffic citation.