Friday’s Heroes: Remembering The Fallen

The Graveyard Shift extends our condolences to the families of these brave officers.

Deputy Sheriff Bryan Sleeper, 39

Burleigh County North Dakota Sheriff’s Department

September 28, 2011 – Deputy Bryan Sleeper suffered a fatal heart attack while assisting another deputy arrest a combative subject.

Trooper Mark Toney, 43

Iowa State Patrol

September 20, 2011 – Trooper Mark Toney was killed in an automobile crash while responding to an emergency. His patrol car left the roadway and overturned several times before bursting into flames. He is survived by his two sons and parents.

Deputy Sheriff Derrick Whittle, 39

Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office

September 18, 2011 – Deputy Sheriff Derrick Whittle was responding to a domestic disturbance when his patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree. He succumbed to his injuries a few days later. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Lieutenant Joseph Szczerba, 44

New Castle County Delaware Police Department

September 16, 2011 – After a short foot chase, Lt. Szczerba caught a wanted suspect. While attempting to arrest the man, he was stabbed in the neck and later succumbed to his wounds. Lieutenant Szczerba is survived by his wife and family.



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The Groceries Have Landed: Things Can Go Wrong…Really

Have you ever had one of those bosses who knew everything about everything? You know the type, no matter what you say or do, they know best.

Well, as bad as it is for you guys to work for one of these know-it-all’s, imagine doing so while working as a police officer where split-second decisions could mean the difference between someone living or dying. And the boss decides he wants to make those split-second decisions for you…over the course of an hour or so.

Well, I once had one of those bosses, and…

The bust promised to be a good one—cocaine, heroin, and a boat load (just an expression) of shrooms and pills. I’d worked on the case for a couple of months, spending lots of undercover time hanging out with this group of doofuses, and I’d reached the point where I was ready to get warrants for everyone, including search warrants for two properties.

One property was the single-story modest home of a guy, Carey D. Weight, who held most of the group’s dope. He also did most of the packaging and transporting. The other search warrant was for the home of the top dog in the operation. In this case, the top dog was a female—a young, somewhat attractive female, Betty Bigbutt, who lived with her elderly grandmother and her grandmother’s full-time healthcare worker. Oh, and I should mention that the female’s family was very much a high-profile family. Quite well-to-do with a very famous relative.

So, the plan was for one team to search the packager’s home, which was basically a dump, while the other team was set to paw through some extremely expensive items inside an elegant and ornate southern mansion. However, just before executing the warrants, an emergency developed and members of one of the search teams were forced to respond to assist the patrol officers. Therefore, left with only one entry team, I had to change my plans, deciding to go for the top dog first, sending one officer over to guard Weight’s home in case he decided to suddenly depart. I had no idea that the chief of police and one of his captains were out, together, snooping around.

Our team was in position, ready to knock and announce at the front door when a faint voice crackled in my earpiece. I held up my hand, indicating I wanted everyone to stand down. Thinking something had gone wrong I backed away from the front steps. I heard the voice again, but couldn’t make out what the person had said. So I turned up the volume.

The barely-above-a-whisper voice of our chief of police came through, and he said, “The groceries have landed.”

I turned toward the officer standing next to me to make sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard. He shrugged. He didn’t know what our fearless leader’s words meant, either.

So I keyed my mic and softly said, “Repeat your traffic.”

And again, “The groceries have landed.”

Remember, an entire entry team, all dressed in black and armed to the max, were hanging out, attempting to hide, in a yard in a prestigious neighborhood. Our vehicles were parked a couple of streets over. And here we were, trying to figure out what message our chief was trying to convey, on a radio frequency monitored by everyone in the country who owned a police scanner.

Finally, the colonel says, in a loud bass tone of voice, “Capt. Ding Dong and I are parked across the street from Carey D. Weight’s house, watching it for you until you finish serving the search warrant at Betty Bigbutt’s place.”

So much for the element of surprise. And, it would only be a few minutes before every media truck in town would be parked in front of Weight’s house, hoping for an action-packed “film at 11:00.”

Well, since the entire city, county, and state had just learned of our location and plans, I told the team to back off and keep the house under surveillance until I got back. Then I made a beeline for the chief. My hands had already formed a tight circle, one I’m sure would have fit nicely around my bosses neck.

When I turned onto the street where Weight lived, the first thing I saw was the chief’s white car backed into a large group of head-high hedges, standing out like a sore thumb. It was as out of place as the underwater police car in the top photo. The nose of the unmarked car was a mere six or seven feet from the sidewalk, almost close enough that passersby could slap its hood with the palm of a hand. And the blue lights in the grill and on the rear-view mirror glowed hotly, reflecting the light from the streetlamp they’d parked under. Yep, Barney and Gomer were incognito, big time.

Needless to say, the bust didn’t take place that night. And I learned that “the groceries have landed” meant that our suspect had arrived home. I also learned to never, ever, tell the chief of my plans. He could learn about them like everyone else…by watching the films at 11:00.



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2011 Golden Donut Winner And Runners Up

I’m so glad that I wasn’t a judge for the 2011 Golden Donut Short Story contest, because each of the entries were absolutely wonderful. But, after a first round of screening, the top ten stories were submitted to our judge, editor Kristen Weber, who had the difficult task of picking a winner. (All stories were submitted to the judges as blind entries—no names were attached to the stories, only randomly selected numbers).

In case you don’t remember the contest rules, the stories had to feature the picture above and be exactly 200 words, including the title. With that in mind, here are the top three stories beginning with the winning story written by Rick McMahan. The Golden Donut Award was presented to Rick at the WPA during the Saturday night banquet.




Rick McMahan

“When I was little, I used to dance and pretend I was a ballerina,” the chained woman said.

He knew she was trying to get sympathy. He held a flashlight in one hand, a gun in the other. “You said you would cooperate,” he said.

They stood in front of an old rambling house, overgrown with weeds. It was a place Norman Bates would find appealing.

“I will,” she whispered, struggling to raise her shackled hands to push her blonde hair behind her ear.

On the roof, a row of crows and took to flight.

She didn’t try to run. “On stage, I hold my eyes closed against the neon and pretend I’m a ballerina.” Her voice and steps faltered as he opened the door.

The flashlight’s beam pierced the dark interior. The smell of spoiled blood filled the air.

A sturdy pole stood in the center of the room. The flashlight illuminated the overlapping bloody footprints circling the pole.

“How did you pick them?” the cop asked.

She stared at her collection arrayed along the wall.

“Their age, dark hair and the whiskey on their breath, just like Daddy did when he came for his tiny dancer.”




Elizabeth Bryant

“OMG!!!!” squealed Courtney. “This place is SO awesome!”

“Cool, huh?”

Jason turned the lock on the door behind him.

“How’d you find this place? It’s like a haunted house out of a

movie or something.”

“Came across it one day. Nobody lives here, so I figured ‘what the


Jason placed his hands on either side of Courtney’s waist and

looked into her eyes.

“Man, I’ve got to call my BFF Heather and tell her about this

place. It’s sick.”

Courtney wiggled away and started digging in her humongous purple hobo bag.

“Call her later.” Jason smiled, coming toward her. Courtney’s back

was against the wall.

“So are you legal Courtney?”

“What kinda legal?”

Jason placed his palms against the wall on either side of Courtney’s

head. Her hand still in the hobo.

“How old?”

“I’m 16. You?”

“I’m a little older,” he whispered, “but I like making love to

pretty young girls. What do you like?”

Courtney giggled. “You’re going to think I’m such a freak!”

“No I won’t. Tell me.”

Courtney whipped a pink handled Bowie knife from her hobo bag and

giggled again as she plunged the blade into his chest.

“I like watching things bleed.”




Nancy Sweetland

The house was a beauty, all right. It looked regally traditional, nestled so prettily in waves of blooming flowers. Everyone raved about those flowers, and about my dear auntie Heliotrope (just a little dotty, we all thought, but harmless). Who would have guessed her penchant for taking in derelicts wasn’t for the greater good? “I just give them a chance to contribute,” she often said. “Isn’t that nice?”

The day I went to check on her she answered the door with her grey hair all screwed up on top of her head, stuck through with a lethal-looking pair of knitting needles that I swear could skewer a small dog. Her apron was spattered with something unpleasant I couldn’t identify.

“Why, Sissie,” she said. “Thanks for coming but I can’t have tea now. I’m busy.”

“Doing what?”

“Just turning my compost. Come see.” She led the way to the cellar door and threw it open. The stench that billowed up was unbelievable. She flicked on the light. All I could see was a floor covered with bones and rotting bodies.

Heliotrope’s smile was proud. “See? At last they’re contributing. You think my flowers get that beautiful without good fertilizer?”

*Thanks to everyone who participated in the short story contest. Your support is greatly appreciated!

*Photograph by Sunday Kaminski




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Castle: Heroes And Villains – A Review

Heroes and Villains is the title of this week’s episode. I think, however, that someone must have grabbed the wrong reel from the film archives. I say this because I’m almost certain that what we witnessed last night was not an episode of Castle. Please, somebody tell me I’m right because I’m pretty sure what I saw was a repeat of Dumb And Dumber. Anyway, I’ll hold my tongue while Melanie discusses the mushy stuff.

Melanie, are you out there? Or, are you still exhausted from attending last weekend’s Writers’ Police Academy?

Melanie Atkins

This episode was much lighter than last week’s tense season premier. Much lighter, and kind of weird. I caught several procedural uh-ohs I expect Lee to jump on, so I won’t mention them here. And yes, the case was kind of convoluted — but the episode as a whole was rich with relationship subtext even if the plot was thin.

Huh? I can just hear Lee now. Rick was all broken up about Alexis’ plans to graduate high school early and join Ashley (her boyfriend) at Stanford in California in January, and he talks to Kate about it. Her words to him mirror their relationship — or at least what it’s been in the past: “You two are not on the same page” and “If you hold her too tight, you’ll drive her away.”

Then, as they pursue the masked crusader suspected of cutting a man in half in that alley (is that even possible?), Kate mentions that she likes Electra… and Rick picks up on the fact that the character is a woman who buries her emotions — just like Kate. And later, he mentions that their suspect and the comic book character share a symbiotic relationship. Yin and yang… one can’t live without the other. More relationship symbolism, anyone?

Suspects fall like flies, one after the other, until they zero in on Officer Hastings, a uniformed cop who was at the crime scene. Her situation mirrors Kate’s — she’d lost her father to murder — and she craves vengeance. Her words to Kate, “Nothing I do will ever be enough”, seemed to strike her, too. Did she see herself in the other woman?

I hope so… and I pray she takes to heart her words to Hastings after the real killer was finally caught and the officer is released from custody. Hastings looks at her boyfriend, and Kate says, “You’re a good cop. You’ve got somebody who cares for you. Don’t be so driven by the past that you throw away your future.”

Rick gets it. He looks at Kate as they prepare to leave and says, “A writer and his muse. Just like us.” Uh huh. Then they witness a kiss between the comic book writer and his muse as the elevator doors close, and I know Caskett fans everywhere were hoping for a kiss. I was, too, but didn’t figure we’d get it this early in the season. And I was right. Marlowe was just taunting us, making us want more.

I didn’t care too much for this episode, except for the conflict between Rick and Alexis and the tiny Rick-Kate moment at the very end. Too much silly case and not enough give and take between our two leads. A filler episode, if you will. I’ve come to love the drama… and the whacky episodes that work. To me, this one did not. Hope next week will be much better.

Okay, my turn… Better, Melanie? Really? The next episode HAS to be better because down isn’t an option when you’re sitting at the bottom of the septic tank. And that’s exactly where this WTF episode belongs. Where do I start? Let’s see.. How about cutting a man in half with a freakin’ sword…

Even The Three Stooges wouldn’t insult their audiences with this garbage. Sure, I think the writers were going for a bit of humor, something they manage to pull off once in a while, but it definitely fell flat this time around. It would take someone with superhuman strength to pull off something like cutting a man in half with a single blow from a sword. The problem with this scenario is that the bad guy of the week was a weasel, not someone with comic book strength. Not even close.

Lanie’s blood spatter (bloodstain pattern, by the way) comment could be right. If the guy had been hacked in two, first, then the wrist and hand would not exhibit any spray from the arteries. Cast off, probably. So not too bad. Not so sure about the sword tip in the body, though.

How about the “ice-princess-assault-victim? I mean, just how cool is she, to be able to stand there and calmly drink a cup of morning Joe while discussing her near rape/death experience while watching some guy in tights hack up her attacker like he’s slicing a pork chop off the hog? And why did they make her stay there for hours with the victim’s blood all over her? And, by the way, what’s wrong with Beckett?

Someone needs to feed that poor child. She’s practically skin and bones this season. My guess is that she was allowed to see all the scripts for the upcoming episodes and now she’s so worried about the show getting cancelled that she can’t eat. Somebody please toss the lady a doughnut.

I absolutely can’t stand the new captain and the way Beckett is so passive around her. That’s not the Beckett of the first few seasons. And that’s the Beckett the audience likes.

Beckett was sporting some pretty tall heels last night, so I’d like to ask all the women who attended last weekend’s Writers’ Police Academy…what did the female detectives say about wearing heels while at work? All together now…”NO!”

Beckett tells one of this week’s suspects, “I will keep you safe and get you placed in segregated housing.” Just an FYI, folks. Cops have no say over where an inmate is housed once they’re assigned to a prison. Even judges don’t have that authority. It’s strictly up to the prison officials as to where they place their inmates.

Capt. Iron Pants asked Beckett, “Any reason you’re not pressing any charges?” A cop would probably use the terminology “issuing warrants,” not pressing charges.

Okay, I’m tired of being negative. Unfortunately, that’s how I feel about this episode. In my book, it was horrible. And, I think I see something coming toward us from the horizon… Yes… It’s getting closer… It’s…






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Writers’ Police Academy: The Recruits

Another Writers’ Police Academy has come and gone…and it was FANTASTIC! Sure, the faculty was comprised of some of the top experts in their fields, but the real superstars of the event were the recruits. And all the instructors were quite impressed by your eagerness to learn and your desire to “get it right.”

WPA attendees traveled from nearly every state in the U.S., and from Canada, to have a peek inside our lives. And what a peek that was…from reciting the Law Enforcement Code Of Ethics (as a group), to seeing a hostage situation unfold and terminate in real time. This event is a one of a kind event. There is no other like it, anywhere!

The weather didn’t exactly cooperate, but that didn’t stop anyone from braving the downpour to have a look at Professor Bill Lanning’s shallow grave crime scene. The victim, “Sonja,” waited patiently as recruits photographed her in the spot where her killer attempted to cover his tracks.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland (with WPA event bag) joined recruits in photographing the crime scene

Reciting the Law Enforcement Code Of Ethics is how the day begins at many police academies. We maintain that same long-standing tradition.

WPA recruits took the event seriously, and for that they were rewarded with “behind the scenes” tips not normally seen by civilians.

A disgruntled employee takes Sandra Neal hostage during the Saturday morning briefing.

I dialed 911, and within seconds, a hostage negotiations team was on the scene.

But words weren’t enough this time. A loud “CRACK” echoed throughout the auditorium. Instantly, the threat was terminated by a single rifle shot to the suspect’s head. It was Lt. Randy Shepherd, a sniper for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, who delivered the threat-ending shot.

Lt. Shepherd is a nationally renowned expert sniper.

WPA recruits tested their newly-acquired fingerprinting skills.

Chester Campbell is now ready for his first crime scene.

EMS instructors showed recruits the proper way to enter an active crime scene to treat a gunshot victim. Their goals are to preserve both the life of the victim, if possible, while protecting the evidence from contamination and destruction.

Luckily, our gunshot victims were able to enjoy lunch between receiving bullet wounds to the head.

Even “Sonja’s” best friend, Chris P., stopped by to say hi to WPA defensive tactics and arrest techniques instructor Stan Lawhorne. It really burns him up to see Stan getting all the attention…

More WPA fun on Wednesday. Tomorrow, Melanie Atkins and I once again play good-cop-bad-cop in our review of Castle. Until then, I’m getting some rest. You guys wore me out last weekend!

*By the way, in case you haven’t heard the news…Lee Child is the keynote speaker for the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy!


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2011 Writers’ Police Academy: The Beginning

The 2011 Writers’ Police Academy is well underway. Registration opened Thursday afternoon at 2pm, with many folks anxious to get the formalities out of the way so they could begin tours of the county jails and ride-a-longs with deputy sheriffs.

WPA recruits receiving briefing from a Guilford County, N.C. sheriff’s lieutenant, the shift commander, prior to climbing into patrol cars. The recruits were told of an on-going standoff with a kidnapping suspect that was already underway.

Heading out on patrol.

Receiving final instructions. WPA recruits were permitted to accompany deputies on actual calls and traffic stops.

Sgt. Catherine Netter teaching workshop on conducting jail searches. WPA recruits were then permitted to search the cells looking for hidden contraband, such as weapons and other illegal items.

EMS workshop

Learning about EMS equipment and ambulances.

Author Dana Stabenow (left) catching a brief rest between workshops, while Dr. Denene Lofland (top right) answers bioterrorism question from WPA recruit.

Corporal Dee Jackson teaches about personal safety for women.

On the way to an emergency call in the driving simulator.

Partners working together to navigate an emergency vehicle through an intersection. One drives while the other activates the emergency equipment (lights and siren).

Lots of accidents during the day, including one person (not the drivers above) who slammed an ambulance into the back of a police car. Fun and excitement all around!

Field sobriety testing (“walking the line”) while wearing DUI goggles. The pair of goggles worn by this WPA recruit simulated a level of .o6 blood alcohol concentration, an amount that’s well below the top of the legal limit. She failed the test miserably. Drunk as a skunk without ever drinking a drop.

No one passed the tests.

Police canine, Joy, delighted the crowd with a couple of fantastic demonstrations. She even allowed her handler to join in on the action. But Joy quickly stole the show.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland wound up the Friday program with a session called “Psychological Sleuthing and the Tools of Forensic Psychology.”

Then it was off to the reception where the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Sisters in Crime (It’s SinC’s 25th anniversary).

I finished up the day with a night owl session called Smelling Elephants: The Demons Inside My Head (you had to be there).

Time for a little sleep and then back at it bright and early on Saturday.

Wish you were here!

*There was far too much excitement on Friday for one blog post. More on Monday.






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