" Think About it..."
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True Police Stories
"Courage is the ability to move;
when all around you are frozen in fear
My Name is Steven Johnson
I have been a police officer
In 1983 and1984 I spent some time in Korea as a missionary in the Seoul South Korea mission. Serving a mission was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and one that I will always cherish. During my missionary service I witnessed miracles and saw the workings of the Spirit. I have felt the presence of heavenly beings surrounding me, walking with me and protecting me. Those experiences have instilled in me a deeply rooted testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and our Heavenly Father's love for us. Heavenly Father must have found some favor with me because He has blessed me with the most wonderful wife I could ever have imagined.
Not only was she my high school sweetheart,
I was not a person that always wanted to be a police officer. In fact it really never entered my mind. Iíll admit that when I was young I did dream of being a secret agent or spy of some type. But that was just kid stuff. About a year before testing for the department, I knew that I needed to make a career decision and was exploring several different options. I started praying for guidance in this decision. After all, Heavenly Father knows us far better than we know ourselves. With His direction, I soon found myself in the testing process for the police department. A short time later I was hired and in the academy. As the academy ended, I found myself at the top of my class. Soon I was on the street with a training officer and couldnít wait to go to work each night.
It was only then that I fully realized that this calling
Since being hired and as with most police officers, I have had many experiences that raised my adrenaline level and forced me to make split second decisions. Some I donít remember, but others are indelibly printed in my mind because I know that those experiences were part of my purpose of being a cop. Here are two of those stories.
In March of 1990 I had just completed my training and was working on my own. I felt comfortable with the job, but I was green behind the ears. I was assigned to the graveyard shift in a beat in the Falcon district, which at the time was in the outlying eastern part of our city. At that time there just wasnít a lot going on in that part of the city on the grave shift. The streets were virtually bare, so most people out at that time of night were usually up to no good. After about a week on my own, I was dispatched to a 911 open line call. The call was actually in a neighboring beat, but I was called in because the officer from that beat was called away for a barking dog disturbance. Unbeknownst to me, he had been waiting for this particular 911 call to come out.
At about 2330 hours, he had previously responded to a call at a Circle K convenience store on east Main Street. The 20-year-old female clerk was having problems with a 31 year-old male customer that she hardly knew. This particular guy had taken a liking to her and decided he wanted her for his wife. He leaned against the counter and told her that he loved her. He also told the other customers in the store that they were married. She told him several times to leave, but he refused. He also was a very jealous guy and took offense to her speaking to any other males, even the customers she had to help. Two of those male customers saw that she was scared and made him leave. Fifteen minutes later, the same guy came back and quizzed this poor girl about the two guys that had kicked him out of the store.
Despite her insistence that she did not know them,
The officer told her to call 911 if the subject returned and to leave the phone off the hook. He would be listening for the call to come out and would be close by. Well the call did come out a few hours later at 0320 hours and I was dispatched instead of him. As I was enroute to the call, the dispatcher told me that she could hear a male and a femaleís voice. The female sounded scared. As I pulled up across the street from the store, I could see a male subject wearing a baggy gray sweatshirt coming out of the door. He was looking at me and had a strange smile on his face. The female clerk then came to the door.
She had her arms crossed in a way that said;
As the guy in the sweatshirt walked away, the clerk pointed at him and stated he was the one. I watched as this guy walked north from the store into a small motel yard behind the Circle K. The road in front of the motel was dirt, with a few scattered light poles on it. There were several very large bushes lining this yard and blocking the view from the street. There were no lights from the motel to help illuminate the yard. I really expected that this guy had taken off running once he had been out of my sight. I was scanning the yard with my flashlight, but I really did not expect he would be found in that yard. To my surprise, he suddenly stepped out from behind a large bush about fifteen feet away from me. He was still wearing that same evil grin on his face. It was then that I saw what alarmed me the most.
Tucked in his left waistband was a semi-automatic Ruger handgun.
The adrenaline level had just risen and all the training had kicked in. I suddenly found that I had drawn my gun and had it pointed at the guy. I didnít even remember pulling it from the holster. Thank goodness for all those hours of training that automatically kicked in. I identified myself as a police officer to this guy and told him to keep his hands away from his gun.
Those words were like a cue to this psychotic individual
At that point I remember a myriad of thoughts racing through my mind. I couldnít believe I was in this position after only one week on my own. I felt I was mentally prepared to take a life if I had to and I definitely knew that I was going to do everything in my power to go home at the end of my shift.
The foremost thought in my mind was that this guy
The gravity of that decision was suddenly very real and weighed heavy on my mind. Somewhere among all those thoughts going through my mind, I remember saying a quick prayer for Heavenly Fathers help. As I watched this individual pull the gun from his waistband, I yelled at him to drop the gun or I would shoot him. I picked out an imaginary line and told myself that if his gun were raised to that point, I would shoot him. It was obvious to me that he was not in his right mind as he started talking about how he hated the cops, swearing and telling me how he wanted to kill all the Mesa cops. While he was talking, he was grinning at me in a way that made me certain he had an evil spirit in him. He continued waiving his gun around, still not raising it to that fatal level. Every few seconds I took mental note that my front sight was right on his vitals and I was preparing to take the inevitable shot. All my senses were heightened and time seemed to slow to a crawl. The dispatcher was calling me on my radio, but my hands were both full with my gun and flashlight and I didnít want to divert my attention from him to get to my radio. I saw cops driving past me on that dark road from the corner of my eye, but they couldnít see me through all the bushes lining the yard. Just as this manís psychotic babblings became more aggressive, I started to put more pressure on my revolver trigger knowing that I had no other choice than to take the shot before he did.
Suddenly I felt an overwhelming peace come over me
Those words were repeated to me over and over as a constant reassurance as the peace of the spirit continued to envelope me. I felt an overwhelming love for my Heavenly Father and I knew that He would be with me and protect me then and throughout my career. More than that, it was a testimony to me that He is keenly aware of each of us and loves us, even this man in front of me that wanted to shoot me.
Finally Officer Bollman, one of the officers that had driven past me, came slowly back up the road. This time he saw me and came running to help. Officer Bollman was one of the "old salts" on the department and I was glad to have him there. Now there were two of us with guns pointed at this delusional young man and yelling at him to drop his gun. I could tell he was thinking about using the gun, but finally did set his gun on the ground. Both of us pounced on him and yet he still struggled with us as we tried to take him into custody. I was finally able to get one of his arms cuffed and behind his back. As I pulled on his other arm, I suddenly saw a gun on the ground that he had been lying on. I couldnít believe that he had been hiding another gun on him all that time! I yelled, "Gun, gun" to Officer Bollman, to which he replied, "Oh shoot, thatís my gun." Somehow his gun had come loose during the struggle and fallen out of his holster. Because I still had a lot of adrenaline flowing, I just shook my head and laughed even though that mistake was a very dangerous one.
As I later transported that man down to the jail, he kept babbling about how he intended to shoot that cop and he didnít know why he hadnít shot. I was the cop he was talking about and he didnít even realize it. I knew why he hadnít shot and now I was the one with a smile on my face. I knew that had I not been sent on that call, this manís life most likely would have been taken. As I drove to the jail, I was filled with both relief and anger. Relief that all had turned out well, and angry that this man had placed me in that position of danger and potential anguish. As my Sergeant debriefed me later on, he told me he felt I should have shot the man. I was grateful I didnít have to make that decision on my own.
There was a reason that man was supposed to live.
This next story, an unusual homicide, occurred in June of 1992.
I was a patrol officer working the midnight shift. My beat was a busy one, just the way I liked it. I usually couldnít wait to go to work at night because every night was a new adventure. The beat was downtown Mesa which included several low budget apartment complexes and group homes. We had our share of gangs and the activity that comes with them. It was not unusual to get into a scuffle or foot chase at least once during the shift. However, amidst all the activity in that beat was one place that we usually did not get called to. That place was the Mesa LDS Temple. It was and still is a beautiful place with gorgeous lawns and gardens. It was a peaceful place that seemed to be void of any troubles that afflicted the surrounding area. It was nice to be able to drive past the temple or park in its parking lot to work on a report. I was glad to have the Lordís house in my beat.
One June night we were busy as usual. At about 0300 hours, I was in the jail booking a suspect I had just arrested when I heard the call dispatched. Someone had been shot at 525 E. Main Street. I was sure I had heard the address wrong, but then the dispatcher repeated it and confirmed what I didnít want to believe.
Someone had been shot in the temple parking lot.
I felt an ownership to the call since it was my beat and wanted to go help, but I was stuck at the station and had to pick up what details I could over the radio. As it turned out, that was exactly where I was supposed to be.
About 30 minutes prior to the call being dispatched, two security guards were making their rounds of the temple grounds. Iíll call them Norm and Phil. Both had worked together at the temple for several years and were close friends. Norm and his boys even went with Philís ward to father & son outings when he could not attend his own. Norm got along with everyone. He was the kind of person you could talk to for two minutes and feel you had known him all your life. He was a plumber by trade, but worked part time as a temple guard at night. Norm loved working there. He felt it a great honor to guard the Lordís house. Phil was a big man in stature and heart. Phil had prior law enforcement experience but had to take a medical retirement after being injured during a scuffle on duty. Phil loved working at the temple and was a natural for the job.
That particular night Phil and Norm were walking the outside grounds of the temple. As they did so, they were approached by a 16-year-old Hispanic male who told them some gang members were chasing him. The young man stood six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. He said his name was "Michael Lopez" and he seemed concerned for his own safety. Phil left Norm with "Michael" and went inside the visitorís center to call the police. He then returned to wait with Norm and Michael for the police to arrive. After about 15-20 minutes of waiting, the police still had not arrived. Phil again returned to the visitorís center to make another call to the police.
As Phil reached the office door, he heard two gunshots.
Phil then dialed 911 to report the shooting. A description of Michael Lopez was given out along with his name. The description that I heard over the radio was a Hispanic male, six feet tall, 180 pounds, black hair with shaved sides and a ponytail. He was wearing a blue/gray shirt, black jeans and black lace up boots.
Thirty minutes after the shooting I was just finishing up at the jail and anxious to get out. Another officer had just brought in a teenage Hispanic kid for a curfew violation. This kid was one of our local gang members and I teased the officer that his parents probably would not want to come pick him up. The officer told me that this kid might not be going home soon if his story was true. The officer told me he found the kid near the park, which is just north of the temple.
When he asked the kid his name,
However, this kid was smaller and did not match the description of the first Michael Lopez. Once the officer had him in the patrol car, this new "Michael" was listening intently to the traffic on the police radio. Fearing that he would be blamed for the shooting, he told the officer that his real name was Chris (last name withheld). Chris said that he knew who the shooter was and would give up the information if he were not charged with the curfew violation. Of course the officer readily agreed and Chris told him the shooterís name was Justin (last name withheld). Chris also said he knew several places that Justin might be and agreed to show the officer those places. I told the other officer I would follow behind in my patrol car in case we felt Justin might be at one of the locations.
Chris was placed in the back seat of a patrol car and directed the officer to a location about ĺ mile south of the temple. The officer with Chris radioed to me as we pulled in front of the house. For some reason I didnít feel that was where Justin would be found, so I copied down the address and radioed back that I would follow him to the next location. Chris directed him to a house about Ĺ mile further. This house had some older cars in the driveway and on the street. I could see that there was gang graffiti on the walls of the carport. The front window had a reflective tint applied to it, which I knew would make it difficult to see through from the outside. As I looked at this house the other officer radioed back that this house belonged to a friend of Chris and Justin. He also told me that Chris had a few other places to take us to.
I felt that I should stay at this particular house
I radioed that I was going to stay at this spot to check it further and asked dispatch to send another officer to assist me. I parked down the street and waited for my backup to arrive. We then approached the house and I tried peering through the reflective tint on the front window. I found a spot in the lower corner that had been worn away and was able to see inside. I saw a Hispanic male sleeping on a couch right below the window. On the floor was a bare mattress, with another Hispanic male sleeping on it. The guy on the floor looked to be about six foot tall, 180 pounds and had his head shaved on the sides with a ponytail in the back. He was wearing black jeans and black boots. He did not have a shirt on, but I could see one on the mattress next to him. It was a blue and gray silk shirt with various designs. I was pretty certain at that point that we had found Justin and I was excited to say the least. We had dispatch send a few more officers to watch the back of the house.
Once they were in position I knocked on the door and then moved behind the corner. I really did not expect anyone to answer the door and further expected Justin to either run out the back door or barricade himself in the house. To my surprise, the subject from the couch answered the door. I could see he did not have any weapons in his hands and I asked him where Justin was. He pointed to the subject sleeping on the floor and pulled the door open to let us in. I entered and approached Justin while the other officer made sure no one else in the house posed a threat.
Inwardly I really hoped that Justin would fight with me as I tried to take him into custody. My wish came true and he did. Officers Germaine and Walz, both LDS officers, came in to help me take him into custody. Justin put up a pretty good fight. We later learned that he had alcohol and marijuana in his system, which alleviated most of the pain he normally would have felt during our struggle. I found a holster for a small caliber gun and some bullets lying next to Justin, but no gun. That gun was later found in a yard where Justin had tossed it.
It was a great feeling to radio dispatch that Justin was in custody. Itís not very often that a homicide suspect is located that quickly, especially when the suspect has no type of relationship with the victim. I felt then as I do now that the Lord had a hand in bringing this case to a close so quickly. It was amazing to me how smoothly the pieces fell into place.
I was grateful to have been able to help
Earlier that night when Norm came into work, he was happy and told Phil that he had just collected all the money owed to him from plumbing jobs. He and his wife were preparing to visit her family in Guatemala. In anticipation of the trip and during Norm's conversation, he talked as though he had all his affairs in order. As though all his earthly works were completed.
Ironically, Norm had told his wife just a few days earlier
Later on after Phil called in the shooting, several officers and paramedics arrived. One of the neighbors came over to see if he could help Phil. This neighbor was a priesthood holder and agreed to help Phil give Norm a priesthood blessing. The only chance they had to do so was when Norm was being wheeled to the air-evac helicopter. Phil felt inspired to bless Norm that his body would continue to function properly until he could be treated at the hospital. Normís body did continue to function for a period of time, but he did pass away from the injuries.
As it turned out, Norm was an organ donor and several of his organs were harvested and donated to others in need. As doctors inspected Normís heart before harvesting it, they found that Normís heart was damaged. The doctors thought the damage may have come from a fall or some type of trauma earlier in Normís life.
They estimated that had Norm not been shot,
Justin was convicted
for the homicide and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Normís cornea was donated to a 56 year-old woman. She has since written to Normís family to express her gratitude and says she is now able to enjoy seeing her grandkids. In Dallas Texas, a veteran police officer had been shot on duty. He survived the shooting, but his kidney was damaged and failing. Normís kidney was donated to him and saved his life.
I have a testimony that Heavenly Father lives and that His Son, Jesus Christ provided a way for us all to return to Him. He loves us. He is keenly aware of us all. Not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. I am extremely grateful for the gift of that constant companion, the Holy Ghost. He has been with me many times in my life. Heavenly Father has His purposes and there is no need to fear with Him as our guide.
He hears our prayers, great and small,
Detective Steven Johnson #9111
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