The Wheel: Page Two of My Spiral Notebooks

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My career in law enforcement started in the prison system working as a corrections officer in a maximum security facility. The aged institution was a series of old, weathered and worn brick buildings that were probably ten years past the demolition stage. Ironically, that description fit many of the prison’s residents—old, weathered, and long past their prime.

As a new employee, and someone who didn’t know what to expect, once I was permitted inside the endless fencing and razor wire, well, I was a bit apprehensive to say the least. During our orientation period (the prison system is a revolving door of both inmates and employees—neither seem to want to stay for very long), we were told the prison housed many hard-core inmates, even brutal murderers who’d never again set foot in society.

It didn’t take long to discover how many of the prison inmates survive in such a harsh environment. Some, like feral animals, hunt and stalk their prey, zeroing in on the weak, culling them from the herd before moving in for the kill. The difference between this type prisoner and a lion is that the lion hunts for food, while the prisoner hunts the meek, hoping for favors, liquor, drugs, cellphones, women, and possibly freedom. His prey—new, weak, unsuspecting prison guards who can be manipulated and conned into granting those wishes.

Thankfully, I’m not weak or meek, so I never once fell for any of their clever con games. However, there’s another type of prisoner that did seem to get to me at times—the old-timers with the sad stories who seemed to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They could have been anybody’s grandfather, even mine. And such was the case of…

The Wheel: Page Two of My Spiral Notebooks

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Tired eyes.

Skin, wrinkled like grooves etched in wet sand.

Working man’s hands.

Nails bitten to the quick.

“They tore down the mill,” I said.

Anxious eyes.

“The one near my place?” he said.

I nodded.

“I once caught a citation catfish at the base of that old wheel.”

“Over twenty pounds, it was.”

I offered another nod.

“What’re they gonna do there?”

“Convenience store’s what I heard.”

A gaze into the distance.

Staring into the past.

A deep breath. A sigh.

A tired voice, nearly a whisper.

“The wheel was turning that night, you know.”

I’d heard the story a hundred times before.

“I heard the water running over it when I crossed the road.”

Trembling hand through white hair.

“She screamed, but I still heard the water pouring off the wheel.

And the metal squeaking and creaking.

It was loud. So loud.”

His eyes meet mine.

“Still hear it, you know. Every night, in my head.”

“I know you do.”

I know because I hear his screams.

The ones that wake him late at night.

“I went over to her trailer to see about all the racket.”

Hand gripping hand.

Wringing and twisting.

“She was my little girl, you know.”

Deep breath.

“I opened the door.”

Eyes growing wide.

The memory.

He was there, again.

In his mind.

“He…He was sittin’ on top of her…”

Voice quivering.

“She was naked. Lips bleeding. Down there, too …”

Old eyes fill with water.

“I tried to pull him off.”

Knuckles white.

“Too big. Too strong.”

Anger creeps in.

Teeth clenched tightly.

“I went back across the road to my house.”

Almost a growl.

“To get my shotgun.”

I didn’t want her to marry him. Never did like the guy.

A drunk and a bum.

Never worked a day in his life.

Beat her all the time.

Bruises and black eyes.

I seen ‘em.”

More hand-wringing.

“Loaded three rounds of buckshot. I did.

Get off my little girl!

Mind your own business, old man, he says to me.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

“He’ll never touch my precious angel again.

No sir.

Never again.”

Police.

Arrest.

Jail.

Court.

Murder.

Went home to get gun.

Premeditated.

Life sentence.

No parole.

A beat of silence passed.

“So they tore it down, huh?”

“Yep.”

Sigh.

“A convenience store, huh?”

I nod.

“I’ll always hear that water running.

And the metal screeching and squealing.”

A tear on his cheek.

“I know you will.”

“I’d do it again tomorrow, you know.”

I nod.

Another beat.

Announcement from speaker.

“Count time in five minutes.”

“All inmates report to their cells.”

Voices approaching.

Chatter of dozens.

Feet shuffling on concrete.

“I wish she’d found somebody like you.

Maybe we could have gone fishing together.

Before they tore it down.”

A pat on my arm.

Liver spotted hand.

“I’da liked that. I really would have.”

“Me, too.

Me, too.”

* The Wheel is a true story that crosses my mind from time to time. Today is one of those times…

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Friday’s Heroes: Remembering the Fallen

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Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, 45

Tacoma Washington Police Department

November 30, 2016 – Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez was shot and killed after responding to a domestic disturbance call. After shooting Officer Gutierrez, the suspect barricaded himself inside the house where he used two young children as human shields until a SWAT sniper was able to terminate the threat.

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Trooper Cody James Donahue, 34

Colorado State Patrol

November 25, 2015 – Trooper Cody Donahue was struck and killed by a vehicle while investigating a traffic crash. He is survived by his wife and two children.

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The First Cut Is The Deepest: Stabbings Are Not Fun

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There’s a common sentiment among cops and other people whose business sometimes forces them to “place their hands” on another person. And that opinion is generally that they’d rather be shot than stabbed or cut. I, too, agree.

You see, bullet wounds normally occur quickly and they’re inflicted from a bit of a distance, whereas  wounds caused by edged weapons are sometimes prolonged by an attacker’s repeated strikes. And, the attacker is always close enough for the victim’s senses to become involved, making the experience very personal.

When a victim is stabbed, they often feel the blade as it first punctures the skin. And, since I’ve been stabbed a couple of times, I can relate. You know the sensation you experience when opening a package of meat (chicken, hamburger, etc.)—the “pop” that occurs when the material first yields to the pressure that’s used to tear the plastic wrap? Yep, that’s sort of what it feels like.

And then there’s the interaction with the attacker. He’s often close enough that his victims are able to detect his personal odors, such the lingering smells of cologne, shampoo, soap, his breath (onions, tuna, stale beer, etc.). He may grunt as he stabs and slashes at the victim. He may even talk or mumble to his prey as he inflicts the wounds.

A stabbing victim’s natural reaction is to hold up their hands, attempting to block the incoming blade. That’s why victims of edged weapon attacks are often found with wounds (defensive wounds) on their palms and forearms.

Victims of stabbings feel fear during the attack. They see the weapon coming at them over and over again, and they see the eyes of the person who’s trying to kill them. They sometimes feel hopeless and helpless. There’s time for a full range of emotions to run the gamut.

Civilian stabbing victims (those people who are untrained in defensive tactics) often give up after receiving a couple of wounds. Cops and people trained in martial arts, or even street fighters, probably will not. In fact, their survival training would most likely kick in, therefore, they’d fight even harder at that point. That’s if they even realize that they’d been wounded. In fact, the will to live and to do the job that they’re trained to do is what keeps many officers alive.

I was once dispatched to a bar where the owner called to say that two bikers were fighting and had pretty-much wrecked his establishment. Once inside, it was clear that one of the behemoths was getting the best of his opponent. So, dummy me, I grabbed the one who was winning the fight. As I did, he pulled out a knife and lashed out at me. Long story short, as I was handcuffing him—he was face down on the hardwood floor at that point—I saw quite a bit of blood spattered about. I figured the bad guy had fallen on his knife, so I helped him to his feet (bouncers had the other guy under control), called for EMS, and then begin to search for his wound(s). That’s when someone in the crowd pointed out that it was I who was dripping blood, and lots of it, too.

Apparently, as I reached for and took control of his knife hand, the biker slashed my right palm from the tip of my thumb to the middle of my little finger.

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The cut was a serious wound—to the bone. In fact, the flesh of my middle finger could be pulled over the tip of the bone at the end of the digit, like a small glove. I never felt it. Well, that is, I never felt it until I saw it. Then it hurt like all get out. It took several stitches to patch me up that time, and I still have the scar as a reminder. Of course, the scar on the left hand serves as the opposite bookend (another knife incident, but fewer stitches).

It’s the heat of the moment, the will to survive, and the training officers receive that keeps them fighting until they have suspects in cuffs. That’s what cops do. They’re survivors.

So, when writing your story about shootouts, car chases, and explosives, remember, it’s the edged weapons that make most cops cringe. However, they’ll still dive into a pile of knife-fighting bad guys to do their job. That’s why they’re a “cut” above the rest…

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Sheriffs: Who Needs Them?

The duties of a county (or city) sheriff differ a bit than those of a police chief. In fact, not all sheriffs are responsible for street-type law enforcement, such as patrol.

In many areas the sheriff is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county.

Remember, this information may vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another.

Who is a sheriff?

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1) Sheriffs are constitutional officers, meaning they are elected into office by popular vote.

2) Generally, sheriffs do not have a supervisor. They don’t answer to a board of supervisors, commissioners, or a county administrator. However, any extra funding that’s not mandated by law is controlled by county government.

Sheriffs are responsible for:

1) Executing and returning process, meaning they serve all civil papers, such as divorce papers, eviction notices, lien notices, etc. They must also return a copy of the executed paperwork to the clerk of court.

2) Attending and protecting all court proceedings within the jurisdiction.

– A sheriff appoints deputies to assist with the various duties.

3) Preserve order at public polling places.

4) Publish announcements regarding sale of foreclosed property. The sheriff is also responsible for conducting public auctions of foreclosed property.

5) Serving eviction notices. The sheriff must sometimes forcibly remove tenants and their property from their homes or businesses. I’ve known sheriffs who use jail inmates (supervised by deputies) to haul property from houses out to the street.

6) Maintain the county jail and transport prisoners to and from court. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting county prisoners to state prison after they’re been sentenced by the court.

7) In many, if not most, areas the sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement of their jurisdiction. Some towns do not have police departments, but all jurisdictions (with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut) must have a sheriff’s office.

8) Sheriffs in the state of Delaware do not have police powers.

9) In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroner of their counties.

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10) In the majority of jurisdictions, sheriffs and their deputies have arrest powers in all areas of the county where they were elected, including all cities, towns, and villages located within the county.

*In most locations, deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, meaning they can be dismissed from duty without cause or reason. Remember, in most areas, but not all, deputies are appointed by the sheriff, not hired.

The above list is not all inclusive. Sheriffs and deputies are responsible for duties in addition to those listed here.

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Footprints In The Snow: Preserving The Evidence

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The familiar phrase above is actually from an ancient Greek work of Herodotus describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers. The phrase is also inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York City, and is sort of the unofficial creed of letter carriers across the country.

Another group of people who closely adhere to those words are criminals. Yes, this menagerie of lawbreakers—pickpockets, robbers, rapists, murderers, and the like—pay no attention to the weather when planning and plotting their devious acts against property and their fellow humans.

And, when the criminals do their dastardly deeds, even in bad weather, law enforcement officers must do what it takes to bring the offenders to justice. Unfortunately, crime-solving often involves traipsing around the woods in the mud, snow, sleet, and freezing rain while trying to find a footprint or two.

One way of identifying and locating a bad guy is to do as they did back in the old west, and that’s to track the thugs back to their hideouts. Sure, following broken twigs and disturbed vegetation is one method. Finding and making castings of footprints and/or tire tracks in the dirt and dried mud is another.

But what about prints in the snow? After all, we know that casting materials generate heat, which causes snow to melt and deform the impressions left by footwear.

So how do investigators overcome the challenge of melting snow in and around footprints?

Well, our good friends at Sirchie have the perfect solution to the problem.

A squirt or two of Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax provides an insulating medium between the heat-generating casting material and the surrounding snow. Once the spray contacts the snow it locks in the impression details while the casting material hardens.

Shake-N-Cast (center in photo) is a kit containing a pre-measured water pouch and dental stone. Apply pressure to break the water pouch and shake to mix the two ingredients. No messy containers and no casting material on a detectives shiny shoes. There’s enough material in a kit to cast an adult-size shoe up to 15″ long.

Metal casting frames are adjustable to fit all shoe sizes and most tire treads.

While we’re on the subject of impression evidence, the spray in the can on the left in the above photo—Dust and Dirt Hardner—is used to strengthen impression evidence (tire tracks, footwear impressions, etc.) found in loose or sandy soil.

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The material keeps the soil intact under the weight of the casting material.

Finally, liquid silicone is often used for producing exact replicas of various impressions, including tire and footwear, jimmy marks, and even fingerprints.

Liquid Silicone is incredibly temperature tolerant, and can withstand cold down to -70F and heat to +500F. The material sets within three to five minutes.

So there you go. Now your fictional CSI team need not worry about collecting evidence in the snow. Well, as long as they keep a can Sirchie’s Snow Impression Wax handy.

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Gunshot Wounds: Are Your Stories Riddled with Hollow Points?

Experts are often asked what kind of entrance and exit wounds are produced by police ammunition. The rounds (bullets) in the photograph below are hollow point rounds similar in design to those fired from the pistol pictured above. This is what they look like before they’re fired.

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They’re about the diameter of the silver Sharpie pens I use to sign books. That’s pretty close to the size of most entrance wounds caused by these rounds—the size of the bullet. However, the angle of impact could alter the size and shape of an entrance wound.

Before moving on, I suggest listening to Cher’s version of Bang Bang while you read the balance of this short article.

By the way, a photo of a gunshot wound appears below. If this is something you’d rather not see then please stop here. Otherwise, well, BANG, BANG!

Pictured below is an entrance wound caused by 9mm round at point blank range, a close contact gunshot wound. Obviously, this was a fatal wound since I took this picture during the autopsy of the victim. Note the post-autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision (above right of the photo).

Also notice the charred flesh around the wound. This was caused by the heat of the round as it contacted the victim’s skin. The bruising around the wound was, of course, caused by the impact.

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To illustrate how a bullet fragments and expands when hitting a solid surface, we fired a round directly into the range wall. Keep in mind, this was a controlled experiment conducted by professionals inside a facility designed for such testing. Please DO NOT try this yourself. Again, DO NOT point any weapon at any object you do not intend to shoot. When at a firing range ALWAYS point weapons downrange at designated targets.

The next picture is of a round after it was fired from a distance of two-feet directly into the wall inside the specially-designed firing range (see top photo). The round passed through the self-healing wall tiles, striking the concrete and steel wall on the the other side. Hitting the solid surface head-on caused the bullet to expand and fracture, a result that often creates the large and flesh-torn exit wounds we sometimes see in shooting victims.

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Once inside the body, those bullet slivers/fragments can break off causing further internal damage. The size of an exit wound depends upon what, if anything, the bullet hits while inside the body. If the bullet strikes only soft tissue the wound will likely be less traumatic, unless, of course, it compromises a major blood vessel. If it hits bone, expect much more damage.

Easy rule of thumb—the larger the caliber (bullet size), the bigger the hole.

Bullets that hit something other than their intended target, such as a brick wall or a metal lamp post, could break apart and send pieces of flying copper and lead fragments (shrapnel) into crowds of innocent bystanders. Those flying fragments are just as lethal as any intact, full-sized bullet.

FYI – Bullets don’t always stop someone, nor do they always kill. I’ve seen shooting victims get up and run after they’d been shot several times.

Bullets Don’t Always Kill: Sometimes being shot does no more than to make the person really mad, so LOOKOUT!

And, for goodness sake, people don’t fly twenty feet backward after they’ve been struck by a bullet or shotgun blast. They just fall down and bleed. They may even moan a lot. That’s if they don’t get back up and start shooting again.

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