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Working the graveyard shift on weekend nights comes with a special worry … closing time of local bars. Before streets and highways become obstacle courses for pin-balling drunk drivers, comes last calls and the traditional bar fights. And, with those last calls for alcohol and final, desperate pitches for late night encounters, some inebriated patrons find themselves involved in physical altercations.

Sometimes barroom brawls are nothing more than shouting and shoving matches; however, there are times when the action involves weapons and bloodshed and even murder.

Club brawls are a unique breed of fighting. They’re where typically everyday people who, with the irresistible goading of alcoholic beverages, are suddenly transformed from the meek and mild of fuzzy kittens to someone who believes they’re ten-feet tall and bulletproof. And why wouldn’t they feel so invincible? After all, they’ve spent several hours chugging drink concoctions with names such as Cobra’s Fang, Mind Eraser, Corpse Reviver, and Death in the Afternoon.

The transformation from quiet librarian or gentle mystery writer to a beast who eats rusty nails for breakfast”is a slow one. Their speech grows louder and their eyes wilder and wilder as time and drinks pass. Tongues grow thick and nerve grows bold.

Vision becomes blurry. Rooms spin and sometimes the transformers even see things that aren’t there.

Live bands and DJs add to the frenzy by playing music that turns even the tamest hearts into pulsating and throbbing, blood-pumping workhorses.

The combination of noise, music, alcohol, drugs, flashing and blinking and whirling lights, and people frantically dancing like a gathering of rabid Tasmanian devils, stimulates emotions and hormones to chart-topping levels far beyond the tolerance level of the average man or woman.

Bar fights are caused by, well, anything and everything, or nothing at all. When inside a drinking establishment, people don’t need a justifiable reason to punch another person. This, my friends, is an unwritten rule. People feel free to punch, bite, scratch, kick, or whatever, as long as they do so within the four walls of a club that serves “adult” beverages. At least that’s the belief of bar-goers who take offense to whatever they deem is the offense du jour.

Bo Bo Juice

Could be that they, the bar fighters, don’t like the way you belt out the chorus to Peter Framptom’s “Show Me The Way.” You know, instead of “I want you, to show me the way,” you’ve always, for your entire life, thought Frampton was singing, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” Or they don’t like the way you left eye wanders toward their significant other while the other attempts to focus on the mole in the center of their forehead. Whatever.

(80s rocker Greg Kihn once told me that, for years, he thought Frampton was saying, “Bo Bo Juice, show me the way.” True story.).

Anyway, to get to the point of this tale, nightclub fights often involve multiple people and such was the case one particularly warm Friday night (early Saturday morning) at 2 a.m.

Fight in Progress!

My partner and I were wrapping up a drug deal, a buy-bust, in a pretty bad section of town when we heard the call come in over the radio.  “10-10 in progress. Billy Bad Ass’s Bar and Grill (name changed to protect the guilty). Weapons involved. Shots fired.”

Buy-Bust – a police sting-type operation where undercover officers purchase drugs from individuals and then arrest the dealers once they’ve handed over the drugs.

By the way, in our area 10-10 was a fight. In the neighboring locale 10-10 was code for “negative.” This is why agencies shy away from 10 codes.

Imagine the confusion if you were on the other end of a radio when you heard someone say, “10-10. 10-4?” Now, in plain speak, to his coworkers this officer stated, in 10-code, “There’s a fight in progress. Do you copy/yes, you understand my message, right?” However, you being an officer from an agency whose 10-code is entirely different, heard, “Negative/No. Yes.” Therefore, your hope for backup to respond would go unanswered.

I know, I’m rambling and I’m all over the place, but I see things in the telling of this event that could add tidbits to your fiction, such as the term “buy-bust, so I stop to emphasize and explain.

Okay, back to the fight. My partner and I were pretty close to the scene so we activated our emergency equipment (that’s cop speak for we turned on our blue lights and siren) and headed to the bar. When I turned the final corner and the bar came into view, I saw several small fights—two to four people here and there, and one large fight—at least thirty people in a big pile—and all were in full slug fest mode.

I pulled my unmarked car into the middle of the lot and gave a couple blasts of the siren. The piercing and unmistakable sound normally clears out a few people, especially those who are holding contraband, such as dope and illegal weapons. It also sends the probation and parole violators running like scared rabbits. In their wake are the people with outstanding warrants. Siren blasts are an easy and effective way to cull the herd.

We parked near the largest pile of fighters who looked like an army of ants, all squirming to get inside their hill at once. We tried to pull off the outside layer but didn’t have much luck because new people dove onto the pile every few seconds. So, we began to spray the entire pile with pepper spray. In fact, we let loose like we were spraying a large infestation of insects.

A nice side-to-side motion of the canisters worked well because the mound of people slowly began to dissipate. Lots of moaning and groaning, tears, and mucus. Remember, before you say our actions were overkill, there were only two of us and 30-40 of them. We had to even the odds.

When that group finally had enough we turned our attention to a smaller, but more dangerous fight that had erupted to our right, near the front door of the club. An older, biker-looking guy was waving a knife of sword-like proportion at two younger men.

My partner and I gave our cans of pepper spray a couple of good shakes to make sure all the good stuff hadn’t settled to the bottom, and headed toward biker dude.

We’d worked together for so long that our arrest techniques came naturally. I went for the knife hand (I’m still not sure how I always got stuck with this duty), and he went for the other. I quickly disarmed the guy and took control of the knife, but he was a little stronger than we’d bargained for. Actually, he was a lot stronger than we’d bargained for because, as they say, it was on! We had a real struggle on our hands. Getting cuffs on that clown was really tough.

Fortunately, like the finely-tuned arrest team that we were, we each went for our pepper spray. Unfortunately, the biker dude saw it coming and ducked. Yep, we sprayed each other squarely in the face. Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever been pepper-sprayed, but let me be the first to say it ain’t pretty.

Neither of us could see, so we just held on to our guy and slowly slid to the ground, maintaining our grip on biker-dude, and waited for backup to arrive. Of course our fellow officers gave us a really hard time. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

By the way, the effects of pepper spray stop immediately if you dunk the affected body part in ice water. However, once the ice water is removed the burning starts all over again.

Lee Lofland

Help, my name is Lee. I’ve been pepper-sprayed. 

I think I’ll stick to writing. It’s much safer …

 

 

Saturday 2345 hours – It was not at all unusual for the sheriff to schedule his patrol deputies to work the graveyard shift alone, covering the entire county with our nearest backup—a state trooper or a police officer from a nearby city, or a deputy or two from the next county over—sometimes 30-45 minutes away, or more.

At first, the thought of covering such a vast amount of real estate was a bit daunting. But we did it without complaint. After all, to question the high sheriff, a man as rough and gruff as any typically stereotyped southern TV sheriff, was practically a death sentence. Or, at the very least, a guaranteed trip to the unemployment line.

The boss seemed to enjoy applying pressure, holding his employees held tightly beneath his thumb. Needless to say, at times conditions, were a bit stressful, to say the least.

So this particular Saturday night, after enjoying a nice, hot TV dinner (single dad with daughter away for the weekend), I did the usual routine of walking to my driveway where I took a seat behind the wheel of my milk-chocolate-brown patrol car. I checked the light bar and wig-wag headlights to be sure they were working properly, moved a pair of cheap sunglasses from the dashboard to the center console, and then used the radio to let dispatch know I was on duty.

10-41, the 10-code in our neck of the woods for “On-Duty”

A few minutes later I was deep in the county, making the rounds to the various businesses—hotels, restaurants, bars, convenience stores, nightclubs, etc.—to let the night shift employees and partiers see a police car cruising through the parking lots. Not that it was any real crime deterrent, but it made the lonely clerks feel better. Seeing another human let them know they weren’t alone in the world. Those of you who work the late-night shifts know the feeling.

I also drove through the lots of businesses that had closed hours earlier, shining my spotlight through storefront windows and into alleyways, checking doors, and calling in the license plates and VIN numbers of cars that shouldn’t be parked where they were (sometimes a quick check revealed a stolen car or one that was used while committing a crime).

0115 hours – A little over an hour into the shift and I’d already covered a lot of ground. Nothing major had occurred. I’d checked a vehicle I spotted a hundred yards down a dirt path—a couple of half-dressed teens who’d steamed up the windows in dear old dad’s station wagon—, stopped a car that  suddenly veered from one side of the road to the other (the guy, a sort of rough boy with a large scorpion tattoo on his neck, said he’d dropped a Twinkee onto the floorboard and was trying to retrieve it, causing him to jerk the steering wheel).

I was heading to the north side of the county to make my rounds there when dispatch called to report a disturbance at a south-side hotel next to the interstate. She said she’d heard yelling in the background and then what could’ve been gun shots. I was at least 20 minutes away.I made the trip in fifteen, driving like a bat out of hell with my foot jamming the accelerator to the floor.

On the way, my alternating headlights, the rotating overhead lights, and the strobes in the back window, all winked and blinked and flashed at once, but were totally out of sync with one another. To add to the confusing light show, Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog spewed from the car speakers. John Bonham’s syncopated drumming, already sort but not quite of out of time with Page’s lightning-fast guitar licks, added a Twilight-Zonish back-beat to a constantly revolving kaleidoscope that should have been quite distracting. I, however, paid it no mind. Tunnel vision is normally a cop’s nemesis. This time, however, it kept my focus on the roadway and not the ten ring circus that was going on in and outside of my patrol car.

As I approached the chain hotel’s parking lot I turned off my lights and the radio (Zeppelin had long since finished their time on the turntable and the Beatles were then in high gear). I keyed the mic and signed 10-23 (arrived at scene).

The lot was packed with cars of all types, but I saw no signs of a fight. I decided to drive around the hotel to hopefully get a feel for what was going on before speaking with the night manager (often, callers exaggerate situations).

When I rounded the first corner I quickly realized that this was no exaggeration. I needed backup, and plenty of it. There must have 200 people outside, with at least 75 engaged in a massive fight. There were another 15 or 20 going at it on the upper walkways.

I told the dispatcher to send everyone and everyone she could find. A second later I heard the dispatcher calling for troopers and any other available help from the nearest city. Shoot, they could’ve sent every cop on the payroll and that still wouldn’t have been enough to suit me. At that point, I’d have welcome a boy scout troop and a church choir as long as they didn’t mind possibly loosing a couple of teeth.

I even saw one woman in the midst of delivering a flurry of punches to the head of another woman. The recipient of the vicious pounding was overdressed for parking lot brawling, to say the least. I say this because each time she was struck, the pearl necklace she wore whirled around her neck like a cowboy’s lasso.

10-33, our 10-code for “Officer Down” or “Officer Needs Assistance”

Delivering the “Hot Sauce.”

I checked my arsenal of weapons. I had my Beretta 9mm, a PR-24 (side handle baton), a riot-size can of pepperspray, and a shotgun. I looked back to the crowd. Then back to my little 9mm and tiny PR-24. Both seemed to be shrinking in size as the seconds passed. The odds were not in my favor.

I sounded a blast from my siren, hoping the masses would realize that the police were on the scene and ready to start kicking butt and taking prisoners. Nothing. No reaction whatsoever. Time for plan B, to sit in my car and wait for the cavalry, meanwhile, hoping the crowd wouldn’t turn my car over on its roof with me inside.

But doing nothing was just not in my nature. Instead, and sort of foolishly, I got out of my car with my trusty side-handle baton in my left hand and the other on my still-holstered gun. Somebody, and I didn’t care who, was going to jail.

Luckily, the troops began to arrive just as I hitched up my pants and waded into the pile, spraying a mist of pepperspray as I went. The other officers entered the fracas at different points, and we began to separate the instigators from those who really didn’t want to fight, but were because everyone else was doing it. Still, this was an all out brawl, the kind where police defensive tactics are often abandoned in favor of the ever popular “do-watcha-gotta-do” tactics. In fact, I remember seeing one officer using a baseball bat to prevent a group of men from attacking him. Where he got the bat, I haven’t a clue.

Eventually, the group’s size diminished and we were able to gain control with very few bruises, scrapes, and torn uniforms. Each of us arrested as many people as we had handcuffs and other restraints, and we had them packed in police cars like sardines. I’d arrived there alone, but left leading a long caravan of assorted police cars from several jurisdictions.

Once each of the little darlin’s had been booked and tucked in for the night, I thanked everyone for their help and watched as they all drove away. It was nearly 0500 when I headed back to the county for a final pass of the night.

0520 hours – Dispatch called to report a fight at yet another south-side hotel. Yes, she’d said, there were weapons involved and shots had been fired. Ironically, ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man was playing on the radio at the time I received the call. I looked down at the spot where my badge used to be attached to my shirt. My shoes were scuffed and my pants had streaks of ground-in asphalt across the knees and along the side of one leg. The knuckles on my gun hand hurt and my lower lip was swollen. Sharply dressed, I was not.

ZZ Top Was My Backup. Yes, “That” ZZ Top

I switched on my emergency lights and siren and mashed the gas pedal to the floor. Then I turned up the volume on the radio and I and ZZ Top headed south like a bat out of hell.

“Clean shirt, new shoes, and I don’t know where I am goin’ to…”

Man, I loved that job.

But these days, well, I’m 10-42 … Off Duty

Have mercy
A haw, haw, haw, haw