Editor's Note: Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person.
One of the most unusual and dangerous traffic stops of my career occurred during one of the most boring early morning hours. In January 1985, I was a highway patrol officer working the “graveyard shift” and I was partnered with a new officer who was just finishing up his third and final phase of break-in training. Stephan was demonstrating good proficiency as a new officer and I thought it was an appropriate time to demonstrate how partners worked together during a typical shift. As such, we took turns contacting violators we stopped.
It was about 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning and the freeway was a “ghost town” (hardly any cars were on the freeway). We were both tired, and we were becoming drowsy inside the warm patrol car. I decided he needed to pull somebody over so we could stretch our legs in the cold climate to wake up, and possibly give a verbal warning to someone who was over the speed limit on this empty freeway. Soon thereafter, I spotted a solo sedan traveling down the freeway. The car was over the speed limit, but not excessively.
I activated the red spot light and the car pulled over. It was my turn to make contact. I approached the right side of the car and spoke to the driver. The first thing I noticed about him was that his arms were bigger than my thighs, so it was best to keep him in the car. The driver said he did not have his driver’s license number, and the car was not registered in his name. While conversing with the driver, the second thing I noticed was possibly the stock of a firearm tucked partially underneath the front seat and between the driver’s two feet. I wasn’t sure it was a gun, and I didn’t have a way to alert Stephan of the possibility of a firearm without the driver hearing me. Eventually, I thought the best way to decide was to ask the driver to step out of the car so I could check, and if I was wrong, I would apologize and send him on his way.
Using a ruse, I could tell he had not been drinking, so I told the driver I wanted him to exit his vehicle and perform a couple field sobriety tests and if he wasn’t intoxicated, I would let him leave without a citation. Rather than accepting the “no-brainer” offer, the driver hesitated and stared at me for a moment too long. Then I KNEW it was a gun. I stood at the passenger side door and stared into the car as he slowly got out of his car, readying myself to draw and fire if he reached down for the gun.
Thankfully, he did not. After he exited his car, I directed him over to the shoulder. I then drew my firearm, pointed it at him, and subsequently arrested him without incident as Stephan covered me with his gun drawn, too.
Stephan then ran the vehicle’s license plate number through Dispatch, and the results were quickly announced that the car’s driver was “Armed and Dangerous.” I took a big sigh of relief that we already had him in custody. And yes, the “possible gun” I saw was not only a loaded firearm, but also the firearm used in a DOUBLE homicide. After murdering one of his victims, he actually dumped the body off at a cemetery.
The law enforcement agency’s detectives took over the case and advised us that the suspect had conveyed to one of his family members that he “would never be taken alive.” I then took another big sigh of relief. I decided the next time we needed to stretch, we would just stop for a cup of coffee.
The lit cigarette
A week after one of the worst fires in Malibu, I was working patrol as a young 23-year-old officer when I observed a solo driver throw a lit cigarette outside his window. I couldn’t believe he would do something like that especially so close to the fires. I activated the red lights, but he continued to drive. I put the flashing headlights on and still no reaction. I then realized what he was doing. I knew he was taking a long time to pull over because he was lighting a new cigarette so he could say he still had his cigarette (It’s an old trick). He finally pulled over when I put on the siren.
I approached his car and told him I stopped him for throwing a lit cigarette out the window. He looked to be in his 40s. He immediately showed me the cigarette he was holding and told me he still had his cigarette (See, didn’t I tell you?). I asked for his license and registration. He continued to argue and denied he ever threw the cigarette. I took his paperwork back to my car and was about to write the citation, when he jumped out of his car. He continuously told me how unfair I was and how he was being given a ticket for a violation he did not commit. He just went on and on.
I then approached him on the right shoulder and said, “OK, I am going to ask you one time and I want you to seriously think about it before you answer.” I then asked him, “Did you throw a cigarette out the window? I want you to think about it before you answer.” He looked at me and said, “No, I did not throw a cigarette out the window.” I then asked him, “Do you have any children?” He looked at me strangely and said, “Yes, two of them.” I then replied, “Well, as you raise them, I want you to think about today, the day your integrity was tested and you failed.” He then looked at me, thought about it and said, “Ya know what? Maybe I did throw it out.”
I said, “Too late.” I then handed him his license and registration, got in my car and left him standing there. As I told that story over the years, some people have replied, “Well, at least he didn’t get a ticket.” But, I can tell you, he would rather have not failed that test.