This is the third and final installment, at least for now, of “True Tales of the Mojave Desert” as told to me by Mark A. Ward, who worked as a patrol officer for the Needles PD in 1968-69. Here’s proof:
Whatever you do, do not tell Ward he bears a remarkable resemblance to MAD Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman. He HATES that.
The Mojave can get quite cold at night in the wintertime. Dry air and sand don’t hold the daytime heat through the long night. So that January dawn in 1969 was downright frosty when 21-year-old Officer Ward, working the graveyard shift, responded to a domestic dispute in a residential neighborhood. He found a modest desert hacienda with a wooden fence around the backyard and a California Highway Patrol unit parked in front.
Ward unholstered his .357 magnum as he hurried toward the sound of angry voices from the backyard. At 6’4” he didn’t need to stand on tiptoe to survey the scene.
What he saw was a white male – 5’9”, 150 lbs., late 20’s – swearing a blue streak and brandishing a double barrel twelve-gauge shotgun, double cocked for immediate action. On the far side of the yard, behind the fence, was a young CHP officer brandishing only a sixgun.
The white male was directing his curses at a blowsy woman in her late 30’s who returned the favor from a back window. She appeared unarmed. From their back’n’forth Ward determined that they were a one-night-stand gone wrong.
Both Ward and the Chippie continued chanting, “Drop the weapon, drop the weapon,” without success.
At one point the guy whirled and pointed his shotgun at Ward’s face. Ward, a rookie at the time, hesitated an instant though he was within his rights to pump all six rounds into the guy.
A good thing he did because NPD patrolman Bruce Weekly, who arrived to provide backup and would later become Chief of Police, chose that moment to step into Ward’s line of fire. Weekly had gotten inside the backyard fence and approached the shotgun-wielding guy, apparently unaware that Ward, behind him, was a breath away from opening fire.
The white male seemed to run out of steam once the cops had him triangulated. He dropped the shotgun and got cuffed without a struggle, saying, “Aw shit, I shouldn’t never drink.”
They placed him in the back of Ward’s squad car and all three cops drove separately to the Needles Police Department as pink dawn crept over the horizon.
When Ward opened the back seat outside the booking station the suspect, whom Ward described as “a scrappy, hard-muscled railroad bo,” was curled into a tight ball against the far door.
“I saw the face of the devil for the first time that morning,” says Ward. “All three of us stood at the open door as this guy lowered his voice like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and hissed, ‘You’ll never get me out of the car.’”
And it took three cops, all of whom were considerably larger than the handcuffed suspect, a good fifteen minutes to extricate him from the back seat.
The cops booked him and placed him in a holding cell. The man was lethargic during this process, presumably exhausted from his long night. But Ward didn’t take any chances and shoved the prisoner into a cell with his hands still cuffed behind his back.
“Ward, you know the rules, no cuffs inside a cell, “said Weekly.
The prisoner put his hands through the server hole and Ward reluctantly uncuffed him. The two cops walked halfway down the hall toward the parking lot when they heard an ENORMOUS explosion.
“I thought a plane had hit the building,” says Ward.
In fact the prisoner – 5”9‘, 150 lbs. – had ripped the one-piece porcelain sink and toilet out of the wall and thrown it against the cell bars where it shattered into a million pieces.
After they recovered from the shock, Weekly told the rookie cop, “Get back in there and cuff the prisoner!”
Ward says it was only time he ever disobeyed a direct order.