Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Game Warden Files--Deja Vu All Over Again

Yeah, I know, that's not an original title, but it will have to do for now.
One of the great things about my history as an EnCon Officer is the tradition of inviting the "old guys," the retirees, to a regional meeting once every year--sometimes even twice.The current sector officers will pick up the retired guys living in their sectors and drive them to the meeting. It's a good time of the old mingling with the new.
This morning I was picked up by two of the local guys and off we went. The ride was an hour and a half of laughter over cases handled, arrests made, bad guys humbled. That's the way it should be, the way it's been for years.
My years with DEC were largely great times; however there were tough times--lean years of running old vehicles held together more by the determination of a few good mechanics than any real structure. Been there and done that before--sorry to see that those times have returned. There were years of having no equipment, then things changed and we had enough to go around. When I retired, the equipment situation was pretty good; but now it's back to the old ways: officers without equipment to do the job. A sad thing to see, especially having lived through it and recalling how we often were hampered by the same problems.
The good thing is that despite all the things that hamper the work, the officers are, by and large, working hard and accomplishing the mission of the agency.
It was good to reconnect with the guys I'd worked with--especially those also now retired--and laugh over the old cases, the old bosses, and catch up on the kids and grandkids that have come along since the last time we'd spoken.
We tell each other "we need to do this more often" even thought we know we won't see each other until next year, but that's the nature of the beast. After lunch, the meeting is over and we head back to our homes.
See ya' next year guys!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Game Warden Files--More Northampton Beach

Most of the campground complaints were related to the weekends; but occasionally there would be a mid-week event that got everyone's attention. Early one summer morning the Caretaker of the campground called to tell me that he had a pile of complaints about a particular site. The occupants had been up all night, people coming and going, loud music, foul language...all the big things. Of course, no one had bothered to come to his cabin during the night to get him up so he could deal with it, they had just sucked it up and waited until morning, knowing that they'd get to watch the show when the group got tossed.
The caretaker got into my car and we drove into the site, finding two guys looking very hung over trying to get a fire restarted. It turned out that they were not even registered to be on the site, so they were in trouble already. We asked to speak to the permit holder for the site and were told that he had just gone to sleep and we shouldn't wake him up. Yeah, that worked well.
We dragged the permit holder out of his tent and told him that they were going to get tickets. He would be charged with allowing a disorderly site, the other two for being unregistered, and a few other charges that were appropriate for the event (park rules gave us a lot of tools to fix problems like this) and then one of the young men spoke up, telling us that he had "studied law" and that we "could not give them tickets" for that. After hearing that, the park caretaker went over to my Blazer and started clearing out the back seat, knowing that I carried at least three pair of handcuffs for just that reason.
Now that they had expressed a contempt for our authority I had our dispatcher call for a judge and we set a time for an appearance in town court an hour or so later. In spite of their belief that I "couldn't do that," the young men decided that they'd clean up the site as we directed them to and then agreed to follow us to the court rather than be handcuffed together and crammed into the back seat of my Blazer.
We arrived at the court a few minutes before the judge and when she came, the young men were somewhat amused by at seeing a middle aged woman casually dressed and then having me identify her as the judge. When I escorted them into the courtroom and they saw her robed and behind the bench they started to change their tune a bit. The judge looked at me rather quizzically and commented that it was rather unusual to request an immediate arraignment in the middle of the week. When I explained that the men had clearly indicated their thoughts about my authority, so I had thought it better that they be under the authority of her court she gave them a very stern look and said "I SEE!" That started to get my young miscreants to lose some of their cockiness and get a bit nervous.
After reading the charges and advising them of their rights--of course they wanted a supporting deposition in support of the charges--the judge started talking about bail. Did any of them have any money? Cash money? Now they started to sweat just a little bit.
After letting them stew for a while, the judge placed them on 200 dollars personal recognizance bail--if they did't show up, they owed the court $200 each--and sent them home.
I went back to the campground and collected written statements from all the complainants and made one large deposition which the court then provided to the attorney for the young men. Rather than return to the court, they plead guilty via the attorney and paid hefty fines.

Jury Duty

You could say I've been lucky to have escaped all these years. In as much as I'd had jury notices before but had never had to set foot in the courtroom for any, you'd be right. The summons always seemed to come on or right before the opening day of a deer season, an out of town assignment, or a scheduled vacation and I always seemed to get excused. This time however, I dutifully set aside all my plans and showed up as required.
And so it began. The commissioner of jurors greeted us and got us working on filling out questionnaires. Early in the process, fifty jurors were called away to a second court room for another trial. After about an hour had gone by, and the administrivia had been completed, the presiding judge entered and greeted us. He briefly informed us the nature of the trial--a medical malpractice case pitting a reasonably well known local family against a well known physician--and then asked all who had legitimate reasons to be excused to line up and be called forward. It was a long line and he did excuse the majority of those for whom this trial--expected to last well over a week--would be a hardship.
Then we moved to jury selection.
Jury selection is arguably the most important part of a trial. The process is centered around something called voir dire, a time of face to face discussion between the attorneys and prospective jurors. This is a long and arduous process in which the lawyers attempt to select those persons who will be honest and give their particular side a favorable, or at least a fair, hearing of the evidence and will adhere to the instructions of the judge.
Though I'd taken a book with me, to deal with the boredom expected from and during the process, I never picked it up. The question and answer period between the two attorneys actually impressed me. The questions usually started pleasantly with background information including experience with the medical profession in general, this doctor in particular and some other aspects that would be specific to this case. The candor of the prospective jurors, their honesty in revealing things about themselves that may have been difficult for them to address was striking. Some honestly admitted that certain things in their backgrounds might cause a problem for them and color their opinions as they deliberated. The skill of the litigators was exceptional. I read people pretty well, but these guys were amazing in their abilities to know when to ask a deeper question or change subject then go back later to dig more deeply into something. They were able to open the candidates up show their emotions, and maybe even their biases.
Though some prospects were dismissed by the judge in open court, all for reasons that were obvious from listening to the question and answer process, only the judge and the lawyers know what went on in chambers when they met to discuss whether to keep or release the jurors according to the requests of the the lawyers.  
It took well into the afternoon of day two to pick the eight member jury for the case. In a way, I'm disappointed that my name was not called, though a conversation with another judge suggests that my experiences with both parties (both favorable experiences) probably would have been a disqualifying factor and I'd have not been allowed to serve.
By the time the 8th juror was seated, the jury pool (199 had been summoned, about 40 were left) was all getting a bit itchy to get going, but most were patient with the process in spite of our itchiness, and were happy that the judge kept the process on track and moving pretty well. One man, however annoyed me to the point that I pointed him out to a court official. His continual snide remarks and visible appearance of frustration made me fear that neither party would get a fair hearing of the evidence from him. Fortunately for the integrity of the system, he was not called, though I'm sure the court officer would have brought him to the judge's attention, and I'm sure one of the attorneys would have found a reason to remove him.
In the end, a good mix of men and women, older and younger was chosen. I'm sure that they will give the evidence a fair hearing and that justice will be served.
For any who think that jury service is an inconvenience, it is. However, it's part of our process and we must be in the process to have any right to complain about it. I just spent two inconvenient days. Next time it might be your turn. Show up, don't make excuses to get out of it and enjoy the education.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Keep Trying--Maybe You'll Get it Right

My early years in law enforcement were a mix of three jobs.  I started part-time in Chatham in 1975, added the Park Police in 1977 and was appointed full-time in Chatham in 1980, still working for the Park Police for a while after that. Along the way, I worked for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office a little bit also, mostly to fill in for special details or cover vacations...that sort of thing.
One night another deputy and I were working a two man car during a weekend of special events in one of the smaller towns. I might add that the event was one that often involved copious amounts of alcohol. In the wee hours of the morning we came through one of the hamlets in the town and found a pickup truck in the middle of the road at the end of a long driveway. In the truck we found a young man trying unsuccessfully to get it started. To begin with, the guy was hammered. He could hardly stand up. We got his license and when he couldn't produce his registration we asked if it was his truck. "No," he said, "It's Mike's truck," pointing to the house at the end of the driveway. About that time, Mike came out the door in his pajamas to see what all the commotion was about. He looked down at us and figured it out pretty quickly. "Hey, you stole my truck!" Then he came down the driveway a bit further and realized who the guy was. "You did this last year, didn't you."
Yes indeed the same guy. Three interesting observations here: 1) the first attempt was during the same weekend-long event the year before, 2) they thief didn't get any further the first time either and 3) the truck owner had continued to leave his keys in his truck.  Apparently, neither of them had learned a lesson from the first time.

Be Vewy, Vewy Qwiet...

...weerh huntin' wabbits. Actually, my imitation of Elmer Fudd sounds better than it looks in writing, and I've had a lot of fun with it over the years...had a couple kids at a summer camp once think that I was Elmer Fudd; but being quiet has been a necessary part of my tool box over my years of law enforcement.
The skill of sneakiness developed out of necessity when I served with the New York State Park Police, Taconic Region, from 1977 to 1980. There was a lot of ground to cover, often on foot, and being quiet was one of two ways to be effective. The other way was to be as visible and as loud as possible, which set the stage quiet well for being sneaky.
It wasn't hard to sneak up on a car at night when the occupants were engaged in amorous pursuits, but some things required skill beyond that. Part of my beat for the Park Police was Clermont Historic Site, a beautiful site along the Hudson River. The grounds closed at sunset, and I generally made a point to make a swing through sometime well after dark. The nice thing was I could make the last several hundred feet of my drive without headlights, pull into the employee parking lot and walk the rest of the grounds from there. I often found people in the park, just enjoying the view of the river after dark and told them to move on. I found more than a few lovers and ran them out also.
So it was one warm summer night that I parked and began my walk across the grounds, ducking in and out of the long shadows cast by the lights from around the building as they were occluded by the hundred-plus year old trees that dotted the landscape. There was one car in the parking lot and that was empty, so I started walking the large expanse of lawn. Way down on the south lawn I saw the silhouettes of two people sitting on a picnic table, passing something back and forth. Though I couldn't smell it, I believed by their actions that it was a joint. After a stalk of a couple hundred feet, I very quietly walked up behind them and as the young man took the joint from the young lady's hand, I removed it from his--and placed him under arrest. It was as though I'd dropped from the sky. Of course, he was more than willing to take all the responsibility and give me the rest of his dope if the young lady didn't get charged. Deal!
There was, however, a much better event. Late one summer night I had pulled into the Taconic State Park, near Copake Falls, and found a large cluster of cars, vans and motorcycles parked in the area reserved for a group camp site. The group site was not occupied by any large group, so I went exploring on foot. Loud music, especially well after dark, is generally a sign of a problem, so I headed for the source of the noise. Quietly working my way through the woods to the campsite, I was able to see several tents scattered around a few nearby sites and three or four pretty rough looking people sitting around a picnic table with one of them just starting to snort a line of cocaine. I stepped from my cover--announcing my presence clearly, and apparently loudly enough to be heard well across the campground--and caught the guy in mid-snort! He succeeded in dumping the coke, and tossed his mirror and straw into a wooden box. In one of those maneuvers that can never be explained I got him cuffed, off the picnic bench and moving down the trail toward the rest of the campground with the box of yet unknown drugs under my arm before anyone else there could react. By the time the rest of the crowd was up and moving, my prisoner and I were well away and back to my car, parked in a part of the campground where I had friends who had heard me yell and were waiting to see what had happened.
In the end, we found that my prisoner's box of goodies contained cocaine, hashish, amphetamine and marihuana. Not a bad haul for one sneaky Park Patrol Officer!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Frequent Flyers

A rash of you can't make this stuff up type stories about dumb crooks provoked an old memory from my days in Chatham PD, back in the 1970's.
We had our share of regular customers who were in our stations either as witnesses, complainants or suspects quite frequently. One afternoon, one of our best customers came in with a complaint of some type. I dutifully took his complaint--though I don't recall now what it was or what the outcome was--and then reached into the drawer of the desk I was using, pulled out an appearance ticket and, as we continued our conversation I wrote him a ticket for unlawful possession of marihuana. I told him to hand me the bag of marihuana that he had very obviously sticking out of his pocket, and when he did I handed him the ticket.
Folks like that are job security--and you just can't make that stuff up.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Game Warden Files--Don't Mess With Al!

Al wasn't his name, though most folks called him that, I believe. He was a retired military man--though he never told many stories. He was likable, pleasant, and liked all the police in the area which was a good thing as he always carried a gun. More than once he'd stop and watch an encounter until it was over, making sure that the officer--of whatever agency--wasn't having any trouble, then he'd move on without anyone ever really knowing he'd been there. Many of the younger police officers didn't even knew he was around, but some of did and appreciated his presence.
We had a an occasional cup of coffee together and he'd share a few stories. The one I recall the best was of a time early in the days of snow mobiles when he was out on snowshoes in deep snow. He saw two people on snowmobiles running in circles, chasing a small deer until the deer dropped from exhaustion. The operators got off their machines and went over to the now exhausted deer. When they did, Al raised his rifle and fired two rounds. The snowmobile had to be towed out of the woods!  Of course, Al being on snowshoes, he was long out of the woods before the operators of the machines got out and called the police.

By the time he told me this story, the statute of limitations had long since expired, so I was free to laugh with him, and he's gone now, so it's a moot point anyway. It's certainly not an activity I could condone or authorize, but once in a while it's fun to hear a story like that.

Game Warden Files--Yes, Still More winter memories

The renewal of our winter wars with snowmobiles in our tree farm brought back a memory of a time that doing basic good police work was trumped by just being in the right place at the right time.
It was a winter morning and I'd been headed back to the little community of Hope Falls, about the most idyllic spot in my sector. Driving down the road, you'd break over a little hill, look down into a valley where there was the perfect little farm, some open ground, a nice stream...a little slice of heaven looking like it had been left over from a previous century. It was a road that ended at a snowmobile trail head, it had a few homes and a couple camps so there was not a lot of through traffic back there.
I was headed down there one winter morning, when the guy who owned that perfect little farm flagged me down...and he was boiling! During the night, a few snowmobiles had come down the road--illegally, I might add--then come off the road onto his property and ridden down the outside of the snowbank which was right down the line of about a dozen small evergreens he'd planted just the summer before.  He hadn't even gone out to see how badly they'd been damaged, but the tracks ran right down the tops of them.
I assured him that I'd do anything I could to find the culprits, but didn't offer him any real hope. He didn't know how many machines there had been, had no description of them, he could only tell me about when he'd heard them go down the road.
I checked all the spots nearby where I thought I might get lucky and find a group of snowmobiles, but had no luck on that; so I was sitting at another trail head when a young man pulled up next to me in his car and started asking questions about where all the trails in the area came out. My curiosity aroused, I asked a few questions and found that he and his friends had been lost the night before while snowmobiling and had eventually found their way back to their starting point after wandering around that area for several hours. He was now out to figure out where they had been. The more he answered my questions, the more I was sure that he was one of the guys who had wrecked the farmer's trees.
I finally told him what I suspected he and his friends had done and he readily volunteered to follow me back to the farm and take care of any damages that they may have caused.
When we pulled into the farm's driveway, I looked back at him in and could see him nodding his head. They'd been through there the night before. The farmer came out, looking somewhat baffled and I told him I'd caught his snowmobile violators. He couldn't believe it. He was so baffled by the fact that I'd caught someone that when I left he and the suspect were talking like long lost friends. I don't thing he ever collected any damages...the heart-felt apology was enough.