A True Mexican Palm Tree

Greetings once again dear readers to another saga of my life on the streets as a beat cop. I enjoy watching Corona beer commercials and for some reason, it brought back an incident that involved a Mexican Palm tree. Here we go folks:

I was preparing myself for another annual rip-roaring celebration of “Cinco de Mayo” in the “Golden City” of Santa Ana, California on that hot and humid evening back in the early 80’s. I was working the “south central” district as a drove a beat-up black and white hack with no air conditioning (As usual with the smells of stare coffee accompanied with old tobacco smoke and with back seat aromas that would shock your senses)  At least it was still under 120,000 miles on the odometer.  Lucky me!

The “central district” was commonly known as a “free fire zone” to us folks in blue due to the high degree of year-round gang-related shootings even on non-holidays.  Cinco de Mayo will only add more intensity to the evening’s festivities of carnage and mayhem. Dodge City and Tomb Stone had nothing to brag about partner!  Yeeha!  Ride’um cowboy!

As nighttime approached on this auspicious evening of revery that included one too many cold Corona’s or Budweiser’s and all too many guns (all calibers and types) in the hands of non-NRA members, (I suppose) I decided to keep my eyes open as well as my ears peeled for any incoming projectiles. The saying is true based on my real life police experience, alcohol and firearms don’t ever mix!

For reasons I have never figured out,(a definite head-scratcher for good old Gumshoe) what possesses the local denizens to recklessly fire their arsenals in numerous fusillades into the nighttime sky over a heavy concentration of inhabited multi-apartment complexes and sprawling residential neighborhoods with no thoughts of hitting people was beyond me? Bullets actually come down in an arc just as fast as they are shot out of the firearm’s barrel don’t you know.  (I sound like the sheriff from Fargo – “You betcha!”)

Note:  History factoid – Yes, but of course I knew that people with a proud Mexican heritage (Viva  la Raza!) celebrated the fact that an out-numbered Mexican Army defeated a superior French Army  (two to one) at the battle of Puebla on May 5th in 1872.  Viva Juarez!   The battle was won but the war was later lost though. Bummer!

This celebration was not Mexican Independence Day nor could it be compared to our Fourth of July.  Maybe a comparison to our Wake Island or the Alamo would be better. Definitely a source of pride and machismo!  Pass the cervasa – por favor – salute!

Okay, so much for the historical perspective.  Learn the culture and know the people I always said, it helps a lot, but stupidity transcends all cultures! Earlier that evening, our watch commander advised us during the patrol briefing that all reports of “shots fired” will not be dispatched to us field grunts unless there were reported injuries. No use chasing our patrol tails via fusillades of 911 calls.  God bless our watch commander! It was also noted that the local police choppers would be grounded so that they would not serve as airborne piñatas.  That just left us boys and girls in blue to be roving piñatas.  Whoopi!

Challenging indeed with a small hint of trepidation was commonly felt by all of us as we grabbed out go bags and Remington 870’s 12 gauges and we trudged to our mobile offices on wheels. I made sure that my trauma plate was inside my bullet (resistant) vest and that I had my ballistic helmet on my noggin as I cruised the barrios. I also had two worn out vests stuffed inside the storage compartments of each of my front door panels.  Just nice to have some extra protection to slow down an errant round or two me thinks.  (Sorry Shakespeare)

Yes, the distinct sounds of gunfire echoed repeatedly in the night air.  I actually saw tracer rounds arc sporadically from all directions of the compass.  Did I mention that there was also the unmistakable sounds of automatic fire to this former Marine’s practiced ear? Will wonders never cease?

Okay now, all of you get my word picture and the context of my evening’s adventure as it unfolded so far. It was about after midnight when I was dispatched on a call of two gunshot victims of whom resided in one of the multi-storied tenements inside my besieged barrio. My emergency lights and siren added to the cacophony of shots being fired as I raced to the location. The fire department paramedics were already at the scene when I pulled up next to their illuminated rig. They were wheeling out a young mother who was still clutching her crying infant.  It was readily apparent that both of them had been shot.  Both were breathing (thank God) and I whispered a silent prayer that their wounds would not be life-threatening nor life altering  (Prayer was later answered by the way).

I entered their apartment and I saw a bullet hole in the bedroom ceiling directly above where the mother and her infant had been sleeping.  There was fresh blood mixed with plaster debris on the corresponding blankets, sheets, and pillowcases.  An abandoned teething ring was on the carpet. (Funny how small insignificant things stick in your mind even after a substantial period of time.) Through the grace of God, the bullet had grazed the mother’s head and the arm of her infant daughter. The father along with the other young children was unharmed but visibly shaken.  The two young children were crying as they fiercely clung to their father’s legs. I walked out onto the outside front balcony of the victim’s residence to ascertain additional bullet holes and possibly the angle of the lone bullet trajectory.

I learned through experience that you just never know what you find if you never look. Simultaneously, a resident (one apartment down from my location) abruptly exited his dwelling (he apparently did not see me and he was oblivious to the outside commotion). He walked to the near-by railing (his back was to me) and he immediately raised a pistol and started firing off several rounds into the night air as he yelled out in some sort of a drunken hurrah. In that instant, my adrenaline over road my common sense and I charged at him.  He turned towards me with his upraised pistol as I physically pushed him back. He appeared confused and surprised at the same instant.  Hurrah for me! The force of the heel of my right hand to his inner right elbow of his gun hand caused him to release the pistol and for him to violently fall backward over the wrought iron railing and cleanly off of the two-story balcony. Adios mi amigo! I distinctly remember seeing the soles of his bare feet and I heard his continued shouting that same indescribable hurrah.

Amazing to think about on how too much alcohol alters one’s personal perspective. Through the additional grace of God, this airborne resident landed within the center fronds of a Mexican Palm tree that cushioned his fall and deposited him unceremoniously in the courtyard grass at the feet of several residents who actually cheered another hoorah upon his landing arrival. I recovered my senses momentarily and I collected this intoxicated subject who was unfazed physically.  I recovered his .357 caliber Colt revolver.  I booked him into jail on several misdemeanor charges that included drunk in public and discharging a firearm in a reckless and threatening manner.  There is no charge for being stupid in public by the way.

You may ask if I felt bad about my actions that night? NOT IN THE LEAST!

So there you have it, folks.  I bet that you will never look at another Mexican Palm tree without thinking of this temporary airborne resident from that Cinco de Mayo’s past. Remember to love the ones who love you and even the ones who don’t.  Until next time, Adios!

Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.
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Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

Great article and so matter of fact to what Law Enforcement these days would be strung up for, not given any credence to how many lives were saved, including yours!

Yvonne A. Jones

Great story. It’s so easy to focus on negative reports and forget that law enforcement professionals face danger every day and protect many innocent people daily.

Thanks for sharing an episode in your long career.

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