Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person. The actual officer’s initials follow each story.


While working as a sergeant for the California Highway Patrol in a large city during the graveyard shift, we received a call of a pedestrian hit by a car on a major freeway. I responded to the scene and observed a man lying on his back. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The officers told me that witnesses advised he fell out of the car and was struck and killed by passing vehicles. I asked for the whereabouts of the victim’s vehicle. There was no vehicle or driver of that vehicle at the scene. Getting suspicious, I called the city police for a possible homicide investigation.

When the lieutenant arrived, I told him that I believed it was probably a homicide. He argued that it was just a car accident. I explained that if someone just fell out of a car, the driver would have immediately stopped and would be there for him, but no one stopped. He insisted it was a car accident and left the scene.

When the coroner arrived and rolled the body over, we could see the “accident” victim had three bullet holes in his back. When the lieutenant returned to the scene, I pointed out the bullet holes and said, “What do you think now?”

— B.S.


As a cadet at the Highway Patrol Academy, it was drilled upon us to be constantly aware of our surroundings. Fast forward 11 years and I was assigned to the athlete transportation unit at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

With time off between details, I was reading the paper and enjoying a hot cup of coffee in my patrol vehicle at the Santa Monica Beach. Off in the distance, I observed an elderly male scavenging through the trash dumpsters. Being totally engrossed in my paper and coffee, I lost track of the man going through the trash until he rapidly approached my driver’s window. He was sweating profusely and attempted to throw a wrapped object through my open window. All the while he kept repeating in a frantic voice, "Take it, take it."

Spilling coffee down the front of my pants, I attempted to scurry from my patrol car. He was still trying to pass the object through the open window, but I was able to convince him to back off so I could exit my car. With my leg burning from the hot coffee, I exited and retrieved the wrapped item.

The wrapped item turned out to be a shotgun. The man found it while he was rummaging through the trash can. I called the police agency responsible for that jurisdiction. It turns out the shotgun was used in a murder and the detectives were able to solve the crime and get a murder conviction from the discovery of that shotgun.

I always used that story to train other officers on the importance of being aware of your surroundings. Of course, I never told them that I was the officer who was inattentive. I finished a 31-year career by being totally conscious of my surroundings from that point on.

— J.S.


In 1997, a city police officer was sent on a suspicious vehicle call in an apartment complex in the early morning hours. It was very foggy. The officer located the van driving through the complex and activated the red lights. The van turned off its lights and took off at a high rate of speed through the dense fog.

The officer lost sight of the van, but later found it parked next to an apartment complex across from a high school. The officer started to get out of the patrol vehicle when the driver leaned out the driver’s window and shot at the officer. The bullet struck the front windshield where the officer’s head would have been behind the wheel. The officer called for backup and several units arrived. The suspect was ordered to surrender, but he refused.

I responded as a SWAT team member. The hostage negotiator tried talking the driver into surrendering, but he again refused. At one point, the side door of the van opened and he let his dog out.

While the negotiator was doing his job, our team formed a plan to physically remove the suspect since the school would be opening in a few hours and that would really complicate things. Without discussing our tactics in this article, the plan was to distract him and rush the van. The fact that he let the dog out of the van made us realize that he was not messing around; things were going to get real.

The suspect then started a fire, which grew rapidly, inside the van. In a short time, the suspect couldn’t stand the flames and smoke and he rolled out of the van onto the ground. We grabbed him and attempted to force his hands behind his back to handcuff him, but his wrists were badly burned and the skin rolled off in our hands. That was a new experience.

He was taken away in an ambulance while we stood back and watched the van burn. During this time, we could hear live ammunition exploding. We started to evacuate nearby residents and used vehicles and buildings as cover. After a few minutes, there was a deafening explosion and a large fireball. The concussion was incredible. When the smoke cleared, the only thing left was the frame. The rest of the van was all around us for several hundred yards, and the hood was blown a quarter of a mile away.

There was an apartment alongside the van, about 12 feet off the road, where we had removed the resident who had been looking through a window while sitting on his couch watching the events unfold. His wall had been heavily damaged and the couch he had been watching from was shredded from the window imploding. He would have been killed instantly.

It was a very surreal situation and as I was standing there taking in what had just happened, I thought about how my SWAT team could have all been killed if we followed our original plan. The fact that he set the van on fire and fell out altered our tactics. We learned the guy was en route to a church to blow it up. He had the same explosive materials that were used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

— G.B.

Brian Smith served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and retired as an assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol. He resides in Bakersfield. If you have a personal “Cop Tale” to share, please contact Smith at

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