Showing posts with label Tales of the Street. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tales of the Street. Show all posts

30 August 2013

Street Psyche, Part 2


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.

24 May 2013

The Bank Robbery


by R.T. Lawton

First off, know that drug dealers not only have no scruples about breaking the laws of society, they also frequently have no qualms about cheating their customers. Sad to say, there is no quality control when it comes to dealers and illegal substances. Caveat emptor.

Second, in the old days, if an agent got burned by buying a powder or tablet which turned out not to be a controlled substance, then the agent either got the money back from the dealer, or he made up the lost cash out of his own pocket. (NOTE: In more recent decades, the law was amended to make any distribution of counterfeit substances an illegal act under statutes governing the attempt to distribute a controlled substance or under the appropriate conspiracy laws. But, back then you had to get your money back.)

Third, there once existed an unofficial group known as the Gronk Squad, lads who were usually first through the door on any armed felon arrest. They also acted as backup when it came to making up a burn.

Fourth, we'll call the dealer Larry. It's not his real name, but Larry won't mind.

So here's the tale. A young cop fresh to the fed task force had bought what he thought was coke, but the lab report came back procaine, not a controlled substance. Time to repossess the money.

Late that morning, the young cop and his also young partner drove over to Larry's house. The Gronk Squad set up mobile surveillance on the outside. Young Cop went in alone and was back out in under ten minutes. He got into his car and drove around the block to update us. Seemed Larry was still in bed, wasn't inclined to reimburse the cash and maybe What's His Name should come back some other time.

My partner, a 15 year veteran of the streets, took this response as a brushoff, so he decided to go in the house himself with Young Cop. I had a fair idea what would happen next. Sure enough, two minutes later and out comes Larry, hopping on one bare foot while trying to get his jeans on. Larry gets in the back seat of the two-door undercover car, then he, Young Cop and my partner drive over to the residence of Larry's source of supply. Jake, me and Young Cop's partner follow in my blue Cadillac. We set up surveillance from a location atop a hill where we can see everything.

Larry, Young Cop and my partner soon return to the U/C car from the source's residence. Apparently, the source isn't home. Larry gets in the back seat again. Now, a car of young males shows up and parks behind the U/C car. The driver's window comes down and a long black tube slides out. Looks like they brought a shotgun to the curbside gathering. Larry's friends, who had been left back at his house when Larry got dressed in the front yard, have evidently decided to ride to Larry's rescue. The driver, holding the shotgun, tries to encourage Larry to get out of the car he's in and then get into their vehicle. Larry's not sure he should do that, so he wisely stays where he is. You could aptly call this a Mexican standoff, except only one side has displayed weapons up to this point.

To better balance the scales, those of us on the hill invite ourselves to the baile (that's Spanish for dance). The blue Cadillac rushes down off the hill and sandwiches the vehicle containing Larry's friends. Perhaps feeling a bit cramped in their options, the Friends of Larry abandon Larry to his fate as they depart the scene in great haste. The Cadillac gives chase. No lights, no siren. We don't have the money back yet.

After a few blocks and turns, the Friends of Larry stop their vehicle. I stop the blue Cadillac about sixty feet back. Their driver gets out with his shotgun pointed in our direction. Their front passenger gets out with a pistol. Not to be outdone, I crouch behind my driver's door, automatic in hand in my best Broderick Crawford style. Jake does the same behind our front passenger door. My veteran partner and Young Cop with Larry in their back seat pull up behind us. The tableau becomes a slice of very long Time.

Unfortunately, we are all parked beside a bank on the corner.

The security guard, an off-duty cop working his second job to make ends meet, has been quietly sipping his hot coffee up until now. It's just another slow day for him. He glances out the side window at what has been a nice morning. Startled at seeing all the men brandishing weapons in the street, he spills coffee on himself as he frantically punches the Panic Button. To him, it's obviously a bank robbery about to be in progress.

The tableau breaks when the Friends of Larry's driver declines to make a last stand on such a beautiful sunlit morning. he throws his shotgun into the back seat and prepares to drive off. A blur flashes by on my left side. It's Young Cop on a dead run towards the Friends of Larry. Guess Young Cop had some pent up feelings about how things were going, so he decided to take a more active hand.

Reaching through the open driver's window, Young Cop tries to grab the keys out of the ignition. Unnerved, the driver puts the transmission in gear and steps on the gas. Young Cop, supported by his elbow inside the window frame, is now going for a ride on the outside of the car. I'm not sure who turned the steering wheel, but the vehicle takes an abrupt right turn.

The bank, being on a corner, has its front door located on an angle at that corner of the building. A canopy comes out over the sidewalk from the door and there are large, low-growing evergreens positioned for landscape.

The Friends of Larry's car passes under the canopy and between the front door and the outer canopy uprights. Young Cop realizes there isn't enough room for him to safely pass through, so he dives into the nearest large evergreen. All I see is a pair of brown Dingo boots sticking out. The Friends of Larry disappear down the street at a high rate of speed. I recover Young Cop into my car and we ride off into the horizon.

Seems Larry has seen enough and no longer wishes to participate in further actions. At Larry's request, my partner takes him to Larry's own bank where Larry withdraws sufficient funds to repay the buy money. Larry is then dismissed with an admonition about selling bad drugs. He promises to do better in the future.

We never broke cover. (Didn't burn the informant for other cases, plus who knows, maybe Larry would sell good stuff to us the next time. Dumber things have happened.)

Local police respond to the bank alarm, but the street is deserted.

I still have the newspaper article with the headline: Bank Robbery Thwarted.

Those were exciting days. Fortunately, wiser heads soon prevailed and laws and policies were changed for the better.

PS~ I tell these tales of the street as factually as I remember, just as though we were all a bunch of cops sitting in a bar, swapping stories for laughs and learning from each other, a matter of survival on the street. However, if you as a writer get your muse jogged by anything you think would make a character, a scene, an action from any of these previous or future tales, then feel free to use it for yourself. One way or another, we're all in this together.