Dangers and conflict are faced by police officers everywhere. In a huge metropolis those threats are multiplied. Law enforcement must depend upon dedicated men and women bravely working together to keep each other safe. Or so one might expect.
Sergeant O'Leary and the L.A.P.D. tells a different story.
This is the truth authorities in the City of Angels did not want printed. It is the story of a Los Angeles police officer who battled internal harassment and threats to his life yet refused to be run out of the L.A.P.D.Why was Sergeant O'Leary faced with such problems? Because other police officers thought he was gay.
"I better never have to work with a queer. If I do, I'll wait until some night when there's a burglary call and we're in a dark building," states a Los Angeles patrolman. "My .45 will accidentally take care of him. One shot to the head. No more fag. No more problem. This will be a better world."
Such threats are not idle. Homophobic officers provide drama and suspense. Uncontrolled cops in Rampart Division beat Hispanics and blacks. There are gunfights in 77th and a storm at Venice Beach. Yet, parts of O'Leary's story are genuinely funny. Here are tales of a deer shot and killed in the bloody back seat of a speeding patrol vehicle, of a too generously endowed academy recruit, of cops playing chicken with squad cars in Beverly Hills after midnight, and married men in blue looking for easy dates. It's all entertaining.
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SERGEANT O'LEARY AND THE L.A.P.D.
By Tom Swicegood
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Tom Swicegood
All rights reserved.
The incident that started it all happened three weeks before my transfer to Rampart Division. I'd completed the a.m. watch at Pacific and, off duty from patrol work and having spent an hour body surfing at Venice Beach, was happily driving my Camaro convertible inland along Santa Monica Boulevard. It was a little after nine on Sunday morning. I was heading toward one of Hollywood's athletic clubs where other policemen and I worked out with weights.
The day was already warm, over eighty-five degrees, and I drove in my bathing suit with my shirt off. Men as well as women turned to look. More men than women, actually, because I was slowed down in traffic as I passed through West Hollywood, a small city well known for its profusion of gay male residents. With all the years of work I'd put into building up my arms and chest, I didn't mind people looking. Getting attention was a sort of reward. I was six feet tall and muscular with short dark hair and blue eyes. Muscles in my legs weren't wonderful but I was working on them.
I became aware of a motorist staying alongside my Camaro, pacing me. The man was naturally blond, in his mid-twenties, and close to my own age. He was all smiles, so friendly that I thought I must have known him. He began gesturing for me to turn left at Norton Street. Intrigued, I did, parking behind him near the French Market where breakfast was being served. The establishment was filled with people who were openly lesbian or gay.
That simple act of pausing in West Hollywood would prove to be one of the most fateful events of my life. I wouldn't do it again but I had no premonition of things to come as the blond stranger got out of his car and walked in my direction.
"Good morning," he said when he was close. "Where are we going?"
His words seemed too friendly.
"I'm heading for the Athletic Club," I said, almost immediately deciding to abort the conversation.
"Oh, dear," sighed the blond, "I hope I haven't taken you out of your way. Well, no matter. What you should do now, anyway, is park and have breakfast. We can get a table in the Market and get to know each other. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"I don't think so."
"I mean thanks, but no," I replied quickly, not wanting to be rude, but hoping to make the man clearly understand that I wasn't interested.
"Why not?" he persisted. "Wouldn't you love to coddle a soft continental omelet?"
I had no idea what he was talking about. "I'll be taking off now," I insisted, turning my steering wheel. I was carefully beginning to ease away from the curb when a West Hollywood sheriff's patrol car appeared, made a U-turn, and screeched to a stop behind me. The lone occupant, a severely overweight, prematurely balding sheriff's deputy, a sergeant, jumped out, pointedly unsnapping the strap on his gun holster. He yelled, "You, stay where you are. Stop now!"
I hit my brakes and stared in amazement. My heart pounded. Even a policeman gets nervous when suddenly stopped, especially by a boisterous officer with authority, a badge, and a loaded gun.
"Turn off your engine," the deputy ordered. I complied. He came closer and stood beside me. I thought I smelled beer on his breath. That didn't help. He was staring belligerently, first at myself and then at the blond stranger. The deputy began rapidly jabbing his finger in the air, alternately aiming the point of it at one of us or the other. "Are you guys lovers?" he demanded.
My jaw fell. I was stunned by being asked such a question. I'd been a police officer for nearly four years, since early in 1982 when I'd graduated from the police academy, and I'd never heard of approaching any kind of suspect in that manner. All I could think of was that whatever was happening was totally wrong and had to be a mistake, or some kind of setup like being on Candid Camera, only not amusing.
"What's the problem?" was all I could think of to say.
The big deputy snarled. To the man beside my car he said, "You! Sit on the curb and wait!" Then he turned to me. "Okay, mister, what's your name?"
"O'Leary. Charles O'Leary."
"Okay, O'Leary, where do you work?"
That was the last thing I wanted to tell him.
"Downtown," I said, trying to remain calm on the outside. Within I was desperately afraid. Did this West Hollywood officer think I was gay? It was no secret that homophobia in Los Angeles' law enforcement agencies is widespread. I knew having even a rumor around that I might be gay could destroy everything I'd worked for. That was my reason for the evasive answer. And it didn't work.
"Don't you be smartass with me," cautioned the deputy, raising an eyebrow and setting his jaw. "Don't give me that downtown shit. I'll put your butt in a wringer if you mess with me."
"Now, I asked where do you work?"
"For a law firm," I answered, but my truthful yet unspecific evasion only served to enrage the sergeant.
"Oh, is that so? Then you get out of the fucking car!" he ordered, sounding increasingly unpleasant.
I knew I had rights, but I was too terrified to protest. When the L.A.P.D. hired me my first interviewer had stated with absolute certainty that any cop discovered frequenting gay areas would be summarily fired. And there I was! I hadn't done anything wrong. I didn't intend to. I'd innocently been driving through minding my business. But the man on the curb who had spoken to me was obviously gay. The French Market was notoriously gay. To make matters worse, West Hollywood has an international reputation for being one of the major gay population centers in the U.S.A., like the Castro in San Francisco, Fire Island in New York, and down on the Florida Keys, Key West.
Just being in any one of those places can be incriminating.
I seethed with indignation but was too frightened to do anything. I knew I could be in the right and yet lose everything. I was having my eyes opened, barely beginning to realize how vulnerable someone can be up against an officer with an agenda. The sheriff's sergeant had no probable cause to search through my gym bag, but he did—thoroughly—and in the bag he found my callbox key, standard issue for Los Angeles police officers.
A gleam came into the sergeant's eyes. "Sonofabitch!" he exclaimed, triumphantly holding up the key for everyone to see. "Kiss my ass if you're not an L.A. cop!"
I looked directly into the big man's eyes.
He laughed. It wasn't a friendly laugh. "Yeah, you got the stare. You're a cop. And you told me you work for a law firm? A law firm! The police are a law firm! Ha, ha. Who do you think you are? A comedian?"
My heart sank. The sergeant was pleased with himself. "You told me you work downtown," he muttered, casually flicking an excess of sweat from his brow.
"I used to work downtown. Now I'm at Pacific Division."
"I'll tell you some place else you are, mister. You're in deep shit."
"For what?" I managed to ask.
"You'll find out. Go sit on the curb with your fairy friend but I don't want you two fruits talking," the deputy said, enjoying his intentionally imposed indignity.
He began taking my car apart.
My fear turned to anger. "Don't tell him anything," I warned the man seated beside me. "Anything you say can be twisted and held against us. Don't give this jerk information. The less said the better."
The sergeant couldn't have heard but he had an excellent idea of what I was saying. "You shut your yap!" he shouted. A minute later, using his car radio, he called the sheriff's dispatch center. He said loud enough for everyone in the vicinity of the restaurant to hear, "Notify the L. A. police that I have one of their men detained. It's a 647b caper."
He was really barking up the wrong tree. I urgently wanted to tell him so but I knew it wouldn't help. Instead, I asked, "Can I put my shirt on?"
"I want your supervisor to see how you are."
"What do you mean 'how I am'? What are you talking about? Since when is it a crime not to have a shirt on?"
"Listen, sucker, you're in trouble enough. Don't make me have to tell you again—keep your yap shut! I don't want to hear beans out of your mouth."
There was no choice other than to comply, but while the name and address of the man beside me were being taken I kept thinking about the deputy declaring the ridiculously simple situation to be a 647b caper. That's prostitution! It's listed on the same page of the Penal Code as 647a—lewd conduct—a catchall charge often thrown at gays. The similarity of numbers was sufficient for anybody to suspect I could be homosexual—or a hustler—or a homosexual hustler—which obviously was what the sergeant intended. That possibility struck me with unsettling apprehension. I'd faced murderers with guns and crazy men with knives, but none scared me more than the possibility of being labeled "queer." Not in Los Angeles. The L.A. police can engage in all kinds of anti-social activity, including bully beating suspects like Rodney King and otherwise harassing minorities, but they were not allowed by the Chief of Police, or by his Assistant Chief, or even by the department's thoroughly indoctrinated rank-and-file to be anything other than red-blooded heterosexuals!
A second sheriff's car arrived. "Which of these guys is the cop?" the driver asked immediately. He was alone, a tall, capable looking lieutenant.
His deputy pointed at me.
"Why do you have him sitting on the curb like a common criminal?
Why don't you treat an officer with some respect?" asked the lieutenant.
The sergeant shrugged.
I recognized the lieutenant. He didn't recognize me. His name was Kramer. He had been at his job for a long time and had a reputation for fairness. "Get up and put on your shirt," Lieutenant Kramer said. While I pulled a T-shirt over my head he asked the sergeant about the other seated man. "What do you have on him?"
"Nothing. He's a witness."
"This guy was soliciting him."
I couldn't take much more. "Bullshit!" I snorted.
Kramer snapped his head in my direction, considered my response, and then pointed at the other man. "Did that guy solicit you?" he asked.
The lieutenant turned back to the sergeant. "Kick him loose," Kramer said without hesitation. Grudgingly, the sergeant let the man get up from the curb. He left in a hurry.
"This other fellow is different. He's the L.A.P.D.'s concern," said the lieutenant. "He's their business. Don't do anything more until they get here. This sheriff's department's not getting involved with L.A.'s people."
The sergeant nodded. But when Lieutenant Kramer was satisfied and had driven away the sergeant's attitude reverted to where it began. "Lieutenant said we should leave you for your own people. Well, I disagree," he said, then proceeded to open the trunk of my car and began ripping out its contents, tossing my possessions everywhere with a vengeance. Plastic credit cards were pulled from my wallet. When the deputy found my personal telephone book he went through the entries page by page. "I'll find something to prove you're a fag," he growled. "I know I'm right."
There was little to say. My complaints went unheeded and the search continued until my police supervisor arrived. It was Sergeant Belding from Pacific Division. He parked across the street and walked toward us. There was a quizzical expression on his face. I didn't know whether to be relieved by his arrival or not. Belding and I had never had much contact and knew little about each other.
"What you got?" he asked the deputy who was now wet with perspiration.
"Your guy's a fruitcake."
Belding glanced at me and cleared his throat. He was clearly uncomfortable. "What makes you think so?" he asked.
"This is a 647b."
"Are your serious? What did he do?"
"I saw him staring at another guy's crotch."
"Really? You're certain? And what else?"
The big sheriff's deputy grimaced. "I don't like his kind," he said. "I spot them a mile away."
"Yeah, fags are taking over. They cruise this area in the day and all night."
I could see Belding becoming mildly annoyed. That gave me hope the deputy's madness would end. "What more do you have?" Belding asked him, irritation audible in his voice. "What do you have that's real?" There was nothing.
When Belding was certain he dismissed the deputy. The two of us remained standing on the sidewalk. It was hotter now and everything except palm trees seemed to be wilting in the Southern California sun. "O'Leary," Belding said, "I realize you really haven't done anything. This is a waste of my time and yours. That deputy seems to have a vendetta against people around here. That's his problem, not ours. Nothing for us to worry about. No sweat. I just have to write a short report for Captain Gaines because of your contact with a neighboring law jurisdiction."
My spirits that had begun to rise, sank. "A report? What for?"
"It's just routine, O'Leary."
"But I haven't done anything," I pleaded. "Please, let's drop all of this. Why not save the paperwork?"
My supervisor smiled. "There has to be a report, Charley. You know it."
Belding's words struck me harder than a physical blow. I searched for a reply. "You don't know what you're starting," I finally said.
Belding laughed at my fears. Hitching up his gun belt, he said, "You're making too much out of this, Charles. Forget it. It's not like you were detained in a toilet or lined up in a gay bar. It's nothing like that. This is a public street in broad daylight. Come on now! I know you're straight as an arrow. Don't let this worry you. Everybody has a perfectly good right to be here."
"Listen, Charles, I have to make a report. Okay? I'll yellow sheet it, you know, hand write it on legal size notebook paper. The captain can crumple it up and dump it in his trash can if he wants, which I imagine will be what will happen. That'll be the end of it. Finish. Kaput."
So there was a glimmer of hope.
"You're free to go," Belding said at last.
I was more than ready to move on. Still, I was plagued with serious doubts. "I have a bad feeling, Sergeant. If you write out that yellow sheet," I said, unable to quash my anxiety, "it could mean the end of my career. I sure wish I hadn't gone to the beach this morning."
Belding shook his head. "You're making a big thing out of nothing," he insisted.
Somehow my brain knew better.
A day later Captain Gaines called me into his office. "This business will stay yellow sheeted," Gaines assured me. "It won't go any further than my desk. I've ordered Sergeant Belding not to speak about this so there's no reason anyone should ever know. However, if somebody does find out, I want you to understand that I do not tolerate any form of muck raking or harassment within my division. It's against department policy."
"Yes, sir. I hope so, sir."
"I'm serious, O'Leary."
"If anything happens you come tell me."
The only problem was that Captain Gaines was not as good as his word. He said all the right things but he had a warped sense of doing the right thing, along with an unfortunate desire to gossip. I was being transferred from Pacific Division in several weeks, a move that had long been in the works, but before I left the poison of my detention had already seeped down from Captain Gaines' office to the entire division. In a few days every policeman at Pacific knew I was detained in West Hollywood for a 647b. The immediate conclusion was that Sergeant O'Leary was caught hustling gay men for money and sex.
Nearly two years before I had scored high on an examination for promotion to training officer (P3), a normal career stepping stone. Now, after several great assignments, including a year and a half shuffling papers at L.A.P.D. headquarters in Parker Center and briefly working in Pacific Division, I was scheduled to be transferred away from Pacific for a second time to accept the coveted P3 rating available in Rampart Division.
I hoped ugly stories about me would all be left behind. I was feeling good. That feeling was not to last. On my first evening at Rampart, several weeks following the West Hollywood incident, I stopped before roll call to retie a shoelace. As I bent over I couldn't help but overhear officers dressing behind me.
"Is it true we're getting a fag on the a.m. watch?" a matter-of-fact voice inquired.
Excerpted from SERGEANT O'LEARY AND THE L.A.P.D. by Tom Swicegood. Copyright © 2013 Tom Swicegood. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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