Twenty-one feet. That was the edged weapon guideline on the Use of Force Continuum. Anyone with a knife or other edged weapon that was closer than twenty-one feet was a candidate for justifiable use of deadly force. But sometimes the neatly printed charts, guidelines and rules just don’t work out that way in real life street scenarios.
Several days earlier I had received word that I was being promoted to detective and today would be my last night in the Patrol Division. I was working a one-man car and the assignment was a domestic disturbance in a basement apartment just west of the Old Town area. I got there first but I dutifully awaited the arrival of my assist car who turned out to be Mike Beatty. Mike and I had about the same amount of time on the job and although we never worked as regular partners I knew him to be a good cop. We had survived the Martin Luther King Riots and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In our three years on the streets of the 018th District we each had regularly worked the nearby Cabrini Housing Projects. Along the way Mike had picked up an Award of Valor. Needless to say we had passed beyond the rookie stage and I knew I had a solid assist for this “routine” assignment.
It was a cold winter night and we zippered up our leather jackets as we approached the basement apartment. We could hear loud voices and as we entered we found an elderly couple engaged in a heated argument. Charlie Jefferson looked to be about eighty years of age and he was seated in an overstuffed easy chair. His wife Mattie, about the same age, was standing over him shouting.
“Listen to me ol’ man!”
“Get out a’ my face woman!”
Mike and I looked at one another and grinned. It wasn’t often we had senior citizen combatants. Mike eased Mattie, still shouting, into the small kitchen while I engaged Charlie in some meaningless conversation. If we would get them to calm down, kiss and makeup, our job would be done. If not, one of them would have to leave for the night. Simple. It was one of those situations where even the most experienced cops tend to let their guard down a bit.
I don’t know exactly what happened in the kitchen, but suddenly Mattie came rushing out knife in hand, with Mike in close pursuit. In an instant she was atop her husband knife flashing, blood flying.
Just as quickly, there were four pair of arms intertwined; Mattie kept slashing, Charlie vainly trying to defend himself with his forearms, and Mike and I trying to disarm Mattie without getting cut ourselves. At some point the tip, of Mattie’s knife raked across my chest but I was unaware, common when adrenaline is flooding your system.
After what seemed like several minutes but was in reality probably just seconds, Mattie was subdued and handcuffed. We called the zone on the private access number from the landline (no personal radios in 1970) and requested an ambulance for Charlie and a wagon for our prisoner. While one of us watched Mattie, we each went into the kitchen, rinsed the blood from ourselves and our leather jackets and checked for personal injury. Miraculously, neither of us had a scratch.
District units monitored the dispatch of the wagon along with the advice that fire was on the way and other squads swung by to assist in any way that might be necessary. The small apartment filled with police and paramedics.
Mike followed the wagon to the station to complete an arrest report for Mattie. I headed over to the Henrotin Hospital to check on Charlie’s condition.
Charlie had several stab wounds and while many would require stitches only a few appeared to require closer attention. He would be admitted at least overnight and kept under observation for any complications.
I rejoined Mike Beatty at the station and together we worked on the case report and awaited the detectives to prepare Aggravated Battery charges. Things wound down as we completed the paper and the Watch Commander stuck his head out of the office.
“Padar! Go home, get the hell out of here—I don’t want to see your face around here again!”
Mike looked up with surprise.
“It’s my last night here Mike. I start detective school on Monday.” Smiling, I turned to the Watch Commander.
“I’m going to come back and haunt you, Lieutenant.”
Mike congratulated me and the Lieutenant laughed.
Downstairs, alone in the basement locker room, it was a bittersweet moment as I emptied my locker of the few remaining items. I had started my police career here three and a half years ago and it seemed like an eternity, but now I would begin a new chapter. What it would hold was an unknown. “Detective.” It would be like starting all over again.
I removed my star from the leather uniform jacket for probably the last time and I stopped short. Across the raised brass numerals was a deep, fresh, bright scratch. I rubbed my fingers gently across the numbers as I placed the badge in my wallet.
I never buffed out the scratch. It was a symbol of how two good cops screwed up. Over the next several months it tarnished to the hue of the rest of the numbers and years later, when I turned it in for my sergeant’s star, the scratch was no longer visible.