Student Story #4

Fourth in a series of student-involved incident stories from his time in law enforcement in the 1970s.

The Burglary

6PM to 2AM is a great shift if you don’t mind handling trouble. A lot of bad things happen after 9PM when most people are at home watching the news. I worked 6-2 for several years at HPD and at the time of this incident, we lived in an apartment off Memorial Drive west of Kirkwood. I was headed home from work around 2:30AM in our family car. It was a 1976 Mazda station wagon.

As I approached the “T” intersection of Kirkwood and Memorial, I saw a vehicle backed through the glass storefront at the Kirkwood Pharmacy. There had been about 60 such burglaries in recent months. These burglary crews were in and out before we could respond to the alarm call. This crew was still in the pharmacy.

I shut off my headlights and entered the strip center parking lot from Kirkwood. As I closed on the pharmacy, they were coming out to their vehicle . . . . and they saw me.

Like a fool, I blocked them in with the driver’s side of my vehicle. There just was not enough time to do it any other way. Their engine was running of course and I exited my vehicle as they entered theirs – two in the front seat and one in the back right seat. So there I was standing between the two vehicles with their engine running and their driver entering the vehicle. My 1911 was trained on the driver. We had words.

The passengers were screaming for the driver to run me down. I was fixated on the driver advising against it and his gaze was fixed on my gun. The verbal exchange lasted perhaps 30 seconds when the driver looked at the passengers briefly, moved his head down a bit behind the steering wheel, and then reached for the column shift. When he put it in drive, I fired one round aimed at his forehead.

The driver lurched back into his seat and then forward again to the steering wheel. To my amazement, he put the car in park and slumped in the seat. I turned my gun on the other burglar in the front seat and said, “get out of the car”. He replied, “yes sir” and immediately did so followed by the burglar in the back seat. I used two sets of handcuffs to secure them around one of the pharmacy awning supports. As I was doing this, and again to my amazement, the driver exited the car holding his chest. He clearly was in no condition to fight or run and so I helped him to the ground.

He asked me if he was going to die and I replied, “I think so”. I was not trying to be cruel, but I just finished thinking I was going to die. I did not care about his feelings; I just spoke the blunt truth – I thought he was dying.

There were no cell phones back then and there was no one around to help. It was deserted. I did not want to leave these burglars to find a phone. I knew the night shift would eventually respond to the burglar alarm. Some time passed and no one arrived. I was concerned with the burglar’s wound. I saw headlights on Memorial drive, but it wasn’t a police car. The driver did not slow down despite my frantic attempt to wave him down. I needed to get his attention and did so by firing two rounds into the grass nearby. He slowed but kept going. I found out later that he did call this in to the dispatcher. Finally, help arrived. Again, supervisors, patrol units, and paramedics were all over the scene. The wounded burglar was transported. I went home and got some sleep. My supervisors said I could make my written statements the next day.

These burglars were teens. The driver was very lucky. My bullet was deflected by the windshield and struck the underside of the steering wheel. The bullet went down into his chest entering just to the left of his sternum and between two ribs. It did not exit and was stuck between two ribs in his back. It did not puncture his lung and pushed all of the arteries near his heart aside doing no real damage except trauma. The doctors were able to remove the bullet at his back with a minor incision requiring only a couple of stitches.

This crew of three was just one of several crews hitting pharmacies all over Houston. They were primarily students and former students of Memorial High School. They were spoiled rich kids selling the stolen drugs to their fellow students. I believe the detectives were able to arrest all 17 burglars in the gang.
A detective in the Homicide Division handling this incident told me that the mother of the boy I shot thought he bought his Porsche with the money he saved from his school lunch allowance.

The River Oaks Rotary Club rewarded one officer a month with a plaque and a free lunch. At this lunch, the owner of a River Oaks car dealership approached me with a “brother-in-law” deal on a car if I was interested. Coincidentally, I had priced a used VW at his dealership a week before at $350. This was to be our second car, but I could not quite pull the cash together. Acting on his offer, I went back to the dealership. The owner called a salesman up to his office overlooking the swank showroom and told the salesman to give me a “brother-inlaw” deal. That deal price was $750 for their previous price of $350. I left having confirmed the car salesman stereotype in spades.

I went to the examining trial for this incident at the JP court in Bellaire. The boy’s father was there with his corporate attorney. There is not much to an examining trial, but defense attorneys try to use them for “discovery”. This case was “cut & dried” and so I was off the stand in just a few minutes. My wife was with me that day in court along with my two young boys, 8 and 5. As I was walking my family back to the car, the father and his attorney stopped me on the sidewalk.

The attorney stated they were considering filing a lawsuit against me. I asked why. He said that he heard no testimony regarding a warning shot. I replied; “I did fire a warning shot – it hit him in the chest”.
They never sued.