As a young detective in Dade County, my job was to access arrest warrants, then locate and arrest wanted individuals. Often, I hunted fugitives from other states. Such was my assignment on December 1st, 1965. I had found John Ratimore, age 22, wanted for Auto Theft in New York. He was living in a second floor apartment with a 37 year-old woman and her child. He had no history of violence. My partner, Robert, and I proceeded to the house.
We assumed positions outside the apartment door and knocked. A woman cracked the door open. A small child was holding on to her leg. “We have a warrant for the arrest of John Ratimore, ma’am. Please let us in.” I displayed the warrant.
“He’s not here,” she replied tersely, then proceeded to shut the door…but my hard-soled shoe was already in the jamb. “Get away, she hollered.”
We bolted inside. Robert went toward the bedroom while I checked behind the door. “Get out!” she screamed.
I looked back and saw she was waving the barrel of a rifle toward me in a frenzy. I will never forget that moment. In a split-second, my world turned into utter confusion. I wasn’t thinking about department rules and regulations, nor training exercises, nor the media, nor what color, age or sex she was. I thought about Death! My Death! I was suddenly shrouded in panic. “Get out,” she screamed again. Before I could reach my revolver, I heard a “pop.”
Robert steamrolled into the room while I crouched behind the door to retrieve my pistol. In an instant I had gun in hand, while my partner quickly wrestled the rifle from her. A sharp, strange feeling gripped my thigh. Then came the pain.
Had the trajectory of that muzzle waved an inch higher at the moment she pulled the trigger, I would have been another name on the Miami-Dade Police memorial plaques, some of whom are named below. We didn’t have guns drawn because; 1) there was no information that the suspect was dangerous and 2) we knew a small child was present. Had guns been drawn, the woman would have been killed and the child would have been motherless.
It shows how life and death decisions cannot be readily judged by armchair critics those who never experienced those instantaneous life-death moments.
I was luckier than others. One-hundred fifty cops are killed on average every year. In my own 30-year career, I have personally known ten officers who lost their lives to sudden violence. Here’s a short tribute to those friends:
Officer Simmons Arrington, age 31. May 21st, 1974.
Arrington responded to a domestic disturbance call when he was confronted by a man with a shotgun. Arrington was shot dead.
Sgt. Harrison Crenshaw Jr., age 33, May 18th, 1974.
Crenshaw was ambushed by a subject who he had just pulled over. Crenshaw’s responding officer was Simmons Arrington (see above) who was killed three days later.
Officer William Cook, age 25. May 16th, 1979.
Cook was shot at point blank range as he arrived to a domestic call. The bullet traveled into the seams of his bullet proof vest. Two other officers were shot in the same incident, but survived.
Officer Clark Curlette, age 28. April 1st, 1976.
Curlette, along with two other officers, was ambushed by a crazed man with a shotgun from a motel window as the three cops were checking out a stolen car in the lot.
Officer Frank D’Azevedo, age 31. April 1st, 1976.
Ambushed and killed with Officers Clark Curlette and Thomas Hodges, in the same incident.
Officer Thomas Hodges, Jr. age 32. April 1st, 1976
Ambushed and killed with Officers Curlette and D’Azevedo in the same incident.
Officer Joseph Martin, age 28. April 27th, 1990.
Officer Martin, the son of a career police officer, was shot in the neck as he and his partner approached a suspicious vehicle.
Officer Cheryl Seiden, age 32. July 28, 1982
Officer Seiden, was accosted outside her apartment building by two suspects, one of whom shot her before she could fire her own weapon.
Officer Carlos Stuteville, age 28. August 27, 1964 (no image)
Officer Stuteville was transporting a dangerous criminal when he was overpowered and shot with his own gun.
Officer Robert Zore, age 25. December 25, 1983. (Christmas day)
Following a violent struggle with a suspect, Zore was overpowered and shot with his own gun.
The racial components in each of these police killings were varied. Nevertheless, there was no evidence that racism had anything to do with any of them. It was all about thugs and criminals, and the inability for the cops to survive the attacks. Had Ferguson’s Officer Darren Wilson made a split second error in judgment, he may have been added to the long list of deceased officers on the national memorial.
The Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri, made the right decision in the face of intense (and undeserved) political scrutiny. Some say the head prosecutor should have tried the officer for murder. But, in truth, prosecutors never bring someone to trial unless strong evidence indicates they will win a conviction. In Ferguson, with all the witnesses who corroborated the officer’s account, there was no chance of gaining a conviction. Thus, no trial.
Time to put this all to rest.