by R.T. Lawton
To continue my last post on state of mind or psy-ops while working undercover, here's a tale from the streets of getting into an opponent's head and staying alive. Remember, what you're doing out there may not be real, but you're portraying it as reality so the other side believes it.
Snake (his street name) was a state agent working a large river town known for its criminal past. That evening, he was setting up to do a buy-bust on a cocaine dealer we'll call Sammy Di Luna, a real hardcore street criminal. Snake needed a money man to guard his flash roll, so he invited me in on the deal. All I would probably have to do was sit in the car across the street from the dealer's house until the go-down. Surveillance was made up of local police detectives I hadn't worked with before this deal. They were supposed to set up a couple of blocks away as back up. Everything ready, Snake went into the house, while I waited in the undercover car with my 9mm automatic in one hand and a .357 revolver in the other. All was well.
Ten minutes later, Snake was back to the car. He told me that Di Luna had called a runner to bring a pound of coke to the back door at the side of the house. When the back porch light went off, then Snake was supposed to go back in the house to see what he was buying. He also warned me that standing just inside the kitchen door frame, Di Luna had an AR-15 with the sears filed down so it would operate as an automatic assault rifle. Stuff like that is always comforting to know.
Pretty soon, we observed someone appear at the side door, then leave. The back porch light went off. Snake went inside to see the goods. I got on the concealed radio and warned the surveillance cops about the altered rifle. But then those guys were already aware of Di Luna's rep for violence.
When Snake returned to the car, he said the coke was there. Time for the go-down. I got on the radio and told surveillance to hit the house. In the meantime, to get a head start, Snake and I got out of the car. Di Luna now showed at his front window watching us, so I flashed the money over the top of the vehicle to allay any suspicions on his part. Apparently satisfied, Di Luna left the window and closed the front curtains. Snake and I headed across the sidewalk, up the cement steps, across the short front lawn and onto the front porch.
Surveillance arrived and took up positions. Turned out, they weren't keen on hitting houses containing violent felons. They positioned themselves behind trees and cement objects well away from the door, leaving Snake and I as sole occupants of the porch to make any entry. Not the type of gung-ho cops I was used to working with. By this time, Di Luna looked out the window to see what was taking so long to give him his money. He quickly locked his front door.
It wasn't any time to delay entry and give Di Luna opportunity to flush the coke. Snake held the screen door open while I started kicking at the door and hollering FEDERAL AGENTS at the top of my lungs. Damn door was solid oak. Took several kicks to crack it open. By now, Di Luna had retreated to the back of the house, probably where his rifle was located. I finally stepped into his living room with a big pistol in each hand and bellowed that he was under arrest. Don't know if his mind got frozen by all the loud noises, he thought the situation out and decided to go with the live-to-fight-another-day philosophy or if he firmly believed he had suddenly met someone as crazy as he was even though he clearly had superior firepower. (I picked the last.) In any case, his head slowly appeared around the kitchen doorway. He peered into the living room, then his empty hands showed. Shaking his head, he surrendered.
Snake and I cuffed him, took him down to the police station and into the processing room, a small enclosure with one door and no windows. After fingerprinting Di Luna, Snake let me know he wanted to have a conversation with the prisoner to make sure his informant didn't get harmed later. I stepped back and those two had their conversation, but it didn't go well. Snake looked at me, so I figured to give it a try. Using short words and direct speech, I made it plain that the informant was to come to no harm. Di Luna smiled and said, "Yeah, well what about...?" and he brought up the name of an informant used by the city cops in this same river town against a motorcycle gang president, but who was killed later in a different state while working for another agency. In his own sly way, Di Luna was trying to tell us something we didn't want to hear.
I tried a different tack. Using the speech that Don Corleone used in the Godfather to let his enemies know that as part of the truce he was bringing his youngest son home and would not accept any accidents, even lightning or being shot by a cop, I told Di Luna we too weren't accepting anything that even looked like an accident. Same reply from this hard core criminal still being sly.
Last resort, I took off my long-sleeve denim shirt and bullet proof vest. (In those days, the vests did not protect the wearer from rifle bullets, so it wouldn't have done me much good in Di Luna's living room anyway.) Then I handed my pistol to Snake and asked him to wait outside. At that point, Di Luna let us both know he understood what we were saying. This time he was serious, the slyness was gone.
How far would I have gone? Not far. We weren't and aren't allowed to beat up prisoners. Worst case scenario, I'd have had to come up with some kind of snappy retort that movie heroes have screenwriters for and then found an excuse for not following through on an implied threat. What the hell, I had two things going for me on the way in. One, people in the past have told me I have hard eyes. It's a look that unsettles some people, criminals included. Two, I'd already bluffed out Di Luna in his own living room. Figured I had the mental edge to do it one more time. Call it a second round of psy-ops. I'm not a tough guy, I merely projected that image once upon a time period in my life.
There's probably some of you out there wondering now if maybe Sammy Di Luna wasn't as tough as his reputation led others to believe and that's why he backed down. Maybe he was hard on the outside and all soft jelly when it came to actual blood letting. So, here's the rest of the story as I got it from detectives years later.
Shortly after Di Luna served his time and got out, he and his old partner in the cocaine trade were playing pool in a dirt floor bar in that same river town. They had a few beers and walked out into the parking lot with Di Luna's arm around the shoulders of his old friend. Turned out Di Luna had been holding a grudge for his old partner having brought Snake into the fold even though his partner was not the informant. Whipping out a long-blade folding knife, Di Luna cut his old partner's throat and bleed him out in the parking lot.
Hey, on second thought, maybe I just got lucky on using a quick psy-ops concept on that crazy guy in his own living room, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time. In any case, the winners get to tell the story in their own way and go home at night. The losers, well they usually get to walk around muttering to themselves in a confined space.
Ride easy until next time.