Go Ahead, Shoot!

21

Good judgment comes from experience,
and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

—Will Rogers

It was December 23rd and Tony and I were working midnights on Beat 1801. Each of us had less than four months on the street, but the department in their infinite wisdom saw fit to pair us as regular partners. Make no mistake, we were sharp—at least we thought so—but woefully inexperienced. We did however have an excellent beat sergeant who shepherded us in an almost fatherly manner, not to mention a field lieutenant who I would later come to recognize as fitting the true definition of the word “mentor.”  But that being said, as fine as these two supervisors were, they were certainly not able to be nearby at all times, and in urban law enforcement, situations can turn disastrous in a split second. For Tony and me, it very nearly did so this particular night.

We reported for the 11 PM roll call and by 11:30 we were on the street. In those days, 1801 was probably the largest beat in 018, covering the far northwest corner of the district, roughly North Avenue to Fullerton and the river east to Halsted Street. We started a lazy zigzag pattern, cruising the nearly deserted streets. Aggressive, preventive patrol was the department mantra but the word “aggressive” always seemed to be a non sequitur to me.  There was nothing exactly aggressive about leisurely driving the streets and chatting about nothing in particular.   At 1:15 AM I was driving slowly northwest on Clybourn toward the triple intersection with Sheffield and Willow where we were stopped by a traffic light.

Clybourn-Willow—© Google Maps

Clybourn-Willow—© Google Maps

On the far northwest corner of Willow and Clybourn was Ke-K’s Drive-in, a non-descript sandwich shop on a triangular lot set back from the street with a small parking lot out front. It was just past their closing time and dark except for the glow from the neon light. The proprietor was at the cash register collecting the night’s receipts. I turned on our spotlight and swept it in his direction—just a friendly hello, we’re here gesture. We would be looking for a return wave. My grip on the handle slipped a bit and the light momentarily swept across and then past him. I changed my grip and brought the light back to the cash register. There was nobody there! Tony and I stiffened and leaned forward in unison.

“Did you see him?”

“Yeah, where the hell did he go?”

“Maybe he’s not who we think he is!”

Our pulses quickened as I killed the lights on the squad and coasted silently into the parking lot. It was only then we saw the gaping hole in the broken plate glass window. Tony beat me to the mic.

“1801 emergency!”

“Go 1801,” was the dispatcher’s immediate response.

“Yeah, squad, we have an on view burglary in progress in Ke-K’s drive-in, Willow and Clybourn. Offender in the store—we’ll need an assist to cover the building.”

“Attention cars in 18 and on the city-wide, 1801 is calling for an assist… that’s a burglary in progress at Clybourn and Willow.”

Well… we really only needed one or two cars to cover the building while we entered and searched for the burglar, but with that city-wide call we knew Ke-K’s lot would be full in less than two minutes. Tony and I stationed ourselves at opposite corners of the building, but there did not appear to be any other entrance or exit except the front door…and the broken plate glass window. In moments the scene was a madhouse of squads and very shortly Tony and I found ourselves inside the sandwich shop, revolvers drawn, with several other officers.

The cash register drawer was open. The store was small and cramped but there were a lot of nooks and crannies in which to hide. Slowly we cleared them all, save for one. There was a washroom door behind the counter and the door was either jammed or locked from the inside. Tony and I pounded hard on the door.

“Police! Come out and keep your hands where we can see them!”

The restricted area leading to the door made it impossible to stand to the side. Standing directly in front of the door was not a good tactical situation and Tony and I struggled to keep ourselves as much to the side as possible. Was there more than one bad guy? Did they have the owner in there with them? Were they armed? Were they high on drugs? All unanswered questions that only added to the extreme pressure of the moment.

Silence. More pounding.

“Come out a’ there, asshole!”

Silence.

There were no supervisors on the scene yet, but from behind us came the voice of a senior and more experienced officer we both recognized.

“Put a couple of shots through the door,” he said. “Go ahead, shoot!”

I glanced at the door, at my revolver and then at my rookie partner. He glanced back at me, his rookie partner. I can’t say how long I may have considered the suggestion—perhaps only for a split second, but it was wrong on so many levels. It was a two-bit burglary of a hamburger joint, a forcible felony to be sure, where deadly force might possibly be used. But department policy strictly prohibited shooting through doors. Deadly force was a last resort measure in life or death circumstances. This did not qualify, no matter what we might think… unless something happened to escalate the situation.  Tony and I were sharp enough to know all that. Our inexperience and the adrenaline coursing through our veins was fortunately not enough to cloud our judgment in a moment stress. There was a pause for a second or two and then a canine unit pulled to the front door of the building, the dog barking excitedly.

“Nah,” I said loudly. “Let the dogs go in and get him,” intentionally using the plural. Just how the dog could accomplish that through that locked door was unanswered of course.

“No! I’m coming out!” cried a weak scared voice from behind the door.

Dogs were more convincing than bullets?

“Keep your hands in the air where we can see them!”

A scared, slightly built 17 year old stepped out with his hands above his head.  He wore a thin, ragged winter coat covering nothing more than a tee-shirt and jeans.  He exited without incident, crying and shaking with fright. We cuffed and searched him then turned him over to the wagon men. The young man was about to spend his first Christmas away from home. We never asked him why the dog frightened him more than a couple of shots through the door.

Tony and I talked about the incident at length later. We agreed that the suggestion of the senior and far more experienced officer was completely out of order, even if it was said in jest, or as a bluff for the benefit of the burglar. How could he have possibly known that, in the stress of the moment, we two rookies wouldn’t have thought it to be a reasonable course of action? It could have been career ending for us of course and maybe life ending for the 17 year old. But in that split second, without benefit of discussion or deliberation, we made the correct decision and we survived to serve and protect for several more decades.

The incident turned out to be our first Honorable Mention and a Salute from the Burglary Unit in the Daily Bulletin, even though, for just that instant, it could have become a complete disaster.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” is the name of a play by the great bard, written over 400 years ago. It still rings true today.

Showing 21 comments

  • Mary Rita Shull
    Reply

    Well done, Jim! This is another great story and more proof that you need to publish. Thank you.

  • Bill
    Reply

    I have no experience in law enforcement but I could not imagine shooting and think you did the right thing. Why would the “experienced” officer tell you to shoot???

    • Don Herion
      Reply

      Being a retired Chicago cop I commend the two rookies for using common sense. The “Experienced” cop was an idiot, because a cop had a few years on the job doesn’t mean jackshit. I worked with some guys that were as dumb as a rock & they were on the job for over 20 years. Whoever put two rookies together on the midnight shift wasn’t to bright either, if they would have shot through the door and hit that kid that Lt. would have been in a world of trouble. The dope that told them to shoot through the door would probably say that he meant for them to shoot the lock off the door or some other stupid remark.

  • Barry Felcher, NBC 5 News, retired
    Reply

    Jim,
    Thanks for another well written Story. I remember that neighborhood well, having lived at 1946 N. Fremont during 1966-67. In 1968 the alderman’s office at Halsted and Armitage was bombed around midnight. There wasn’t anybody present to get injured. On the Northeast corner was a lot where a group called the Young Lords set up a small shantytown for themselves and other radicals. And you probably recall a tripple murder around 1969 or 70 a block or so west. As far as I know it was never solved. All were stabbed. It happened in a church or next door, but my memory is blurred. Getting back to my Fremont apartment, the owner had just bought the building, a two-flat for $12,000. He sugested I do the same as he felt the values would soon shoot up. I told him he was crazy. Just 12 years later those buildings were selling for three-quarters of a million dollars.

    .

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      Thanks for the read and comment Barry.

      My partner Mike and I were urged to buy a dilapidated greystone in the early 70’s, somewhere around Adams and Morgan(?). It was going for around 10G. Unfortunately neither of us had that much money rattling around and I had my doubts that it would ever be worth anything. It was rehabbed into a “professional building” and sold a few years back for 1.2 mil!

  • Greg Bernacki (RET CPD)
    Reply

    I almost think I could name the guy who said shoot. It’s a long time since I was in 018 but we did have some unique fellow coppers. And this one Jim reminded me of one on Goose Island a few years later. While going through a broken window at a tavern I sipped and cut my kneecap. I was still green and wanted to go back to work. Doc Whiteside (head)? at Henrotin looked at me and said “take it easy kid, it’s gonna hurt”. He was correct and sometimes it still hurts 40+ years later.

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      It was Whiteside… if you worked in 018 you had a Doc Whiteside story. I have a cinder “tattoo” on my right knee. Whiteside was preparing to clean the wound with a small wire brush. “No way.” said I. “You’ll have a permanent mark,” said he. He was right!

    • Jim W
      Reply

      Reminds me of a story I was told . When a new detective saw a suspect start running . The very senior T. ( Area 5 Robbery ) grabbed his wrist and in a Taylor Street accent told him ” you don’t shoot at God , He is on your side ! ” He fired down without looking , missing the dirt , fragmenting off the concrete , and hitting their right rear tire .

      • jimpadar
        Reply

        I don’t know if I grasp your entire meaning, but I like the phrase “don’t shoot at God , He is on your side!”

        Thanks for the read and your comment Jim.

      • Tull
        Reply

        No “warning shots” into the sky… the damned bullets keep falling down somewhere! At least a blown tire is less paperwork. Man, those were the days. I rememeber being on the tarred roof of an old warehouse west of Chinatown along the river, and it looked like the floor of a firing range… more bullets than pigeon shit. Probably more New Year’s than warning shots, though.

  • jim brown
    Reply

    ” All is well that ends well” another ” whatever works” Some time when i was a kid i saw a movie where the cowboy was looking for the bad guy and he took his hat off and waved it so the bad guy could see it. The bad buy saw the hat and shot at it and the cowboy then sprang upon the bad guy. When Fillmore ran to 16th street we had a guy inside a pawn shop and I took the hat off and waved it in the direction of the bad guy.. He did not shoot and gave up a short time later… ” whatever works” ” all is well that ends well

    Jim Brown (retired cpd)

  • alfromchgo
    Reply

    John Montgomery???

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      No guessing Al.

      • alfromchgo
        Reply

        Well, I tried. I have stories spanning more than 30 years…..a minor legend.

  • Bill Blethen
    Reply

    Jim, I would like to send a copy of this story to your Mom and my Mom but I can’t .

    Bill

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      Hey Bill!

      Thanks for the inquiry. I assume you are talking about printing a hard-copy for snail mail or other purposes. Up until ten minutes ago it was very difficult, but now I have added a “Print” button. Go to the bottom of the story and click the “Print” button under the “Share” button. If you just print to your default printer, it will print all the comments also, adding a few extra pages to your printout. You might want to look at your particular print destinations and choose one that would enable you to select only the story and not the comments. Hope this helps you and anyone else out there who might want to share a hard-copy.

      P.S. If you want to send a copy to my Mom, I am pretty sure the Post Office doesn’t serve her present address. But then she doesn’t need a hard-copy… I don’t think. A nice thought, my Mom reading what I write. Warm, fuzzy kind of thoughts! 🙂

  • Richard
    Reply

    Another great story Jim. The stabbing murder Barry Felcher is probably referring to was a minister and his wife in their apartment at 2036 N Seminary in 1969. Their children were unharmed. His church on Armitage was turned into a sanctuary for the Young Lords with his permission. I handled the paper on the double murder. Still unsolved.

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      I found it in the Tribune archives; Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife Eugenia were brutally murdered on September 29, 1969. They were apparently loosely associated with Students for Democratic Society (SDS)and the Young Lords street gang through Rev Johnson’s United Methodist Church at 834 Armitage.

      We had a similar double homicide in a hardware store in Area 4 in the early 1970’s (on South Blue Island Avenue I believe). Another brutal case. The investigation led to some very big names in the SDS but we were never able gather enough hard information to even justify interviews. Very frustrating indeed.

      People forget that the extremist groups of the 60’s and 70’s were, in part, comprised of vicious persons responsible for many bombings, deaths and general mayhem across the country. Some of the worst are now elected government officials and “respected” university professors. Aggravating to say the least.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Richard.

    • Barry Felcher, NBC 5 News, retired
      Reply

      You are correct, that is the homicide I was refering to. A few months later, my girlfriend, Lois, asked to ride with me on the midnight shift. I was a Chicago Daily News reporter. We stopped by Area 6 homicide, then at Damen and Grace for a visit with the sergeant, who I knew. When Lois asked him about the unsolved homicide on Seminary, he pulled the file and showed her the crime scene death photos. Lois was about 20. Not surprising, she never asked for another ride along. Eventually, she married a guy with a normal job. I don’t blame her!

  • robin
    Reply

    ‘Life is the sum of your choices’ quote by albert camus… but I always like to add to his quote ‘so make good choices’.

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