Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Amazing Case of "Skinny Dude", the Hyperventilating Prisoner

Nearly 40 years ago, I worked for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement branch of the Postal Service. I went from being a Postal Police Officer to working in the Mail Fraud section in the Los Angeles Division and eventually ended up in charge of screwing up the expense account reimbursements for the Postal Inspectors there. I also messed up business card orders and pretty much proved that I my heart was not in procurement or administration. It was somewhere else. Hence, I became a journalist and haven't regretted it since. I  have fond memories, however, of some of the colorful characters who were chasing down the crooks who committed Postal Service-related crimes.

My fondest memories are of Inspector Boyd Manes, a "good old boy" from Texas who had (and still has) a knack for telling stories about his adventures and misadventures. Today he sent me an e-mail with a story of two long days on the job. He gave me permission to share it with my friends. I took the liberty of removing any names, except for his, that is.  The ending belongs in a film comedy. Enjoy:

Shortly after my female partner was assigned to work with me at Orange County, CA, we encountered a somewhat bizarre case that was in a nutshell HYPERVENTILATION!  It all started with a phone call, as a lot of cases did.

A Huntington Beach Letter Carrier called my office to report that a man had driven off in his Postal Jeep while he, the carrier, was in a store delivering the mail.  He was quick to tell me that the Postal Jeep was visible to him thru the glass front of the store at all times. The rules are to take the keys, and lock the vehicle door while away from the vehicle.  Could he describe the thief?....Not really, he was a man; Have the local Police been notified?  Yes, the store owner called the Police as I was calling you.

I asked my Secretary to telephone the Huntington Beach Police Watch Commander, and advice that we were en route, and we would like to be notified through my radio dispatch if and when Patrol spotted an errant Jeep.  At that point neither the carrier nor I knew the number of the Jeep.  My office was about 10 miles from the Shopping Center where the theft occurred. My partner and I headed out within minutes.

The missing Jeep was found soon after the theft. A Mall Security guard spotted what he thought was a young kid driving a Postal Jeep vehicle erratically through the Mall toward Beach Boulevard, with no apparent attempt to stop and deliver mail. 

We never made it to interview the carrier as we learned via 2-way radio that the Postal jeep had been stopped and the driver was being transported to the Huntington Beach jail.  We did not get to see, or participate in the chase, either.  We heard the story of the chase when we arrived at the Huntington Beach Police Dept. a few minutes later.

The thief had progressed to Beach Blvd, a major highway, with 3 and sometimes 4 lanes on each side of the raised Blvd. There are also turn lanes at all intersections that are controlled by traffic signals.  The arresting Police Officers told us the chase never exceeded the 40 mph. speed limit; however, they had a hard time stopping the Jeep. It was surrounded by other vehicles, and the driver was oblivious to the red lights behind him.  The first responding patrolman did not want to jump out of his vehicle while everyone was stopped at a red light. But soon back-up arrived. 

Within a few more blocks the policemen positioned four patrol cars in front of, to the rear of, and one on each side of the suspect Postal jeep.  The citizens all hung back when the 5-unit caravan slowed to a stop.  The offender was removed from the Postal jeep.  The jeep was pushed aside to allow traffic to move again.  I never did know how the carrier got connected with his vehicle and mail to resume delivery.  Maybe the Postmaster fired him.  He should have.  Anyway, I was busy with a mail thief and/or a postal vehicle thief, as I learned later that the Huntington Beach Police wanted no part of this guy. They had handled him before.

The offender had two prior incident reports by Huntington Beach PD.  Each occurred when the offender ordered a meal in a restaurant and had no money to pay for the meal.  In both cases, the offender “became faint” causing the proprietor to call an ambulance, after which the offender was hauled away. We decided not to try to interview him in that he had told the police: “I took the car to drive to the Immigration Office to tell them I was ready to be deported to my country.”  This was a pretty profound statement for one who is caught red-handed in a stolen vehicle.

After getting all the information we needed for a complaint to present to an Asst. US Attorney, we went to the jail and placed a "Hold for Postal Inspectors" on the offender.  By doing this, the offender could not be released on payment of any bond for up to three days.  We either had to pick the prisoner up within three days or remove the Hold.  Also within the same three days, the Police would have had to file charges with a local district attorney and set bond or release the prisoner. We told the jailer that we would pick up the prisoner the following day at 8:30 am.

That afternoon, I roughed out notes that would make up the Complaint.  It is a signed and sworn to statement of the probable cause to make the arrest and began prosecution.  A final copy would be completed later at the Asst. US Attorney’s direction.  I telephoned a complaint attorney at Los Angeles Federal Court House. He readily authorized prosecution. 

The next day, we saw the offender for the first time, when we picked him up. “No, sir, you are not going to the Immigration Office; you are going to Federal Court  for arraignment, i.e. (1) setting of bond, and (2) setting a court date for your prosecution  on charges as yet to be determined, but relating to theft of US property, namely the U.S. Postal jeep”.  There was no need for any other talk.

I cannot recall the arrestee’s name.  I will call him Skinny Dude.  I later learned he weighed only 80 to 85 pounds.  I believe he was of Far Eastern descent, but I do not recall the country he wanted to “get back to.”  The 45-minute ride to Los Angeles was uneventful. I drove the government vehicle; my partner and Skinny Dude rode in the back seat, which is the approved way to transport prisoners.  I don’t think we handcuffed him, but prisoners are required to be handcuffed when they are turned over to the US Marshals, who maintain the jail cells in the Federal Court Building.

At a private door on the first floor, I handcuffed Skinny Dude. I rang the door bell, and announced, “Two Postal Inspectors with a prisoner!”  The door opened; we went in to a brightly lit room with rows of jail cells along one wall, containing prisoners awaiting a court date, and a host of U.S. Marshals, all wearing the standard dress blue jackets.  I marched Skinny Dude forward to a steel bared door held open by a US Marshal. I turned to show my  partner where to find the paperwork to fill out while the U.S. Marshal patted down the prisoner and took off my handcuffs. 

I turned around just in time to see the U.S. Marshal sliding my handcuffs under the cell door on the cement, and just in time to see Skinny Dude suddenly stiffen and fall over backwards just like a tree in a forest falls when the chain saw makes the final cut at the bottom of the tree.  It seemed as if his buttocks, shoulder blades and the back of his head all hit the floor simultaneously. It was about 9:30 am.   Paramedics were called.  Skinny Dude was not bleeding; his vital signs were good.  He had HYPERVENTILATED, they said!

Even though Skinny Dude was in the U.S. Marshall lock-up, and I had my handcuffs, the U.S. Marshal would not take custody and said that one of us had to stay with Dude, until he recovered on his own.  The paramedics had no idea when or how that would happen.  My partner had not done a federal complaint before, and also did not want to go into a cell with Dude and baby-sit while I did it.  Bottom line was it had to be one or the other. So I dragged Dude into a cell and the Marshals locked us in while my partner went upstairs to complete the paperwork for the arraignment. Dude was not talking; he looked as if he was only sleeping peacefully.

The sitting U.S. Magistrate usually closed the court for lunch and reconvened at 2:30 pm.  Around lunchtime, my partner showed up with a sandwich of some type for me and one for Dude. Dude was still out.  My partner reported that a complaint atty. had promised to help her with the complaint during lunch, and we may make the 2:30 pm docket.   At 2:30, I was still sitting in the cell, and Dude was still lying on the floor, totally immobile.  However, I was beginning to steam.

When the docket was called, my partner tried to arraign Skinny Dude while he was absent.  The Magistrate would have no part in that and continued the matter until 4:30 pm. Maybe Dude will wake up by then.  We were not that lucky.

At about 5:00 pm, the court closed and everybody but my partner, Skinny Dude, and I, went home, I guess.  The Marshals would not transport Skinny Dude to the Los Angeles, county jail, only about 15 blocks away for overnight lodging. So my partner went to get our government car, brought it to the prisoner loading dock, rang a U.S. Marshal, to let me out, after which I physically carried Skinny Dude to our car, and gently put him in the back seat.  He did not wake up.

The LA County Men’s jail had a huge fence around the rear entrance.  We went in, parked in the spots for automobiles, whereupon, I asked my partner to help me carry Dude in.  She refused; “You can do it Boyd, you carried him out of the Lock-up.”  I was still steamed, but now I am also getting upset.  I grabbed Dude by the belt, drug him out of the car, and carried him as if he was a sack of potatoes into the booking area with Dude’s hands and feet dragging the ground.  I was fast losing my compassion for Skinny Dude, and my patience with my partner.

While I was trying to explain to the Deputy Sheriff booking officer why Skinny Dude could not stand up on his own, but he will be all right, I heard my partner exclaim, “Boyd , look at that; look at all those nice looking butts lined up against the wall.”  I turned to see that my partner was looking beyond two sets of bars to a wall where two Deputy Sheriffs had 40 or more inmates lined up facing a wall with their pants and shorts dropped.  One Deputy was carrying a box of plastic gloves and a wastebasket;  The other was systematically donning a fresh glove, inserting a finger into the rectum of an inmate, checking for drugs or illegal  items, as the two Deputies moved down the line.  These inmates had just arrived from court.

That really ticked me off.  Furthermore, the booking officer asked me, “Who in Hell is that?  Is she with you?  In his next breath he told me to get Dude out of here. "We only accept walking inmates.  You need to go to the County Hospital, 13th floor jail ward to book this prisoner."  I grabbed Dude, the potato sack, and headed out to our car.  By this time, I did not care if my partner went with me or not. I considered her to be useless.  She caught up, however, and dutifully got in the back seat with the potato sack.

I had never before booked anyone into the Hospital jail ward, but it was a funny, and memorable, experience.  That is why I am writing this story.  Anyway, at the back dock of the Hospital, I rang the bell and was directed to place the prisoner on a wheeled gurney that was parked nearby. This was a big help for me. I complied, and we were admitted to an elevator.  On the 13th floor I saw that a view of the back dock was recorded on camera.

The jail ward was a busy place.  A doctor came up and made a quick examination of Dude and then left.  We were told to leave Dude on the gurney until the nurses had time to look at him. Hours later, I think at about 9:00 pm, two nurses showed up.  One unbuckled Dude’s belt, and then pulled his pants and shorts down to below his crouch.  The other patted Dude’s cheeks.  The two nurses preformed a trick in concert, which tickled the heck out of me.  While one opened Dude’s mouth and inserted a small flat board down Dude’s throat momentarily, the other Nurse grabbed Dude’s testicular area then jerked them downward towards Dude’s knees.

Just as if on queue, Skinny Dude sat up, looked around at the two nurses and said something to them.  The nurse with the flat board left immediately.  The other nurse swung Dude’s legs off the side of the gurney, asked Dude to stand up, kind of pulled Dude’s pants up, and held them up with one hand while putting her other arm around Dude’s shoulders, and together they slowly walked down the hall, talking to each other as if they were old friends, to where I do not know.  But, I knew one thing; I was mighty glad to see Skinny Dude walk away.  The end of HYPERVENTILATION!

The Sergeant at the booking desk had been chatting with my partner for quite some time at this point. He told me, “OK we have him; you can take off.  I can imagine that the approximately 45-minute trip back to Orange County was pretty icy.  I was not very happy!

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