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The Gumshoe – Protecting Governor Reagan

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] THOUGHT IT WAS TIME to go back to what I love the most – telling you the “story behind the story”.  In this episode, I was a California State Police Officer working out of the Los Angeles Field Office at 107 South Broadway, Los Angeles, California back in the early 1970’s.  Keep in mind, this agency no longer exists because it was absorbed (adopted, usurped, whatever) later on in 1995 by the California Highway Patrol, “The Original Chippies” or, commonly known as “Triple-A with a Gun”.

This was really the very first time I was actually a uniform police officer and a state police officer to boot!  Wow-wee!  I wore a tan uniform with a brush beaver (mind you) “Smokey the Bear” hat that set be back $40.00, but it was coooooool!

The duties of the California State Police were to protect the Governor as well as patrol state property.  Accordingly, I was assigned to work the graveyard shift which entailed my patrol area to be the entire 300 square mile Los Angeles basin (did I also mention that us State Police guys also patrolled the aqueduct?).

This was sort of fun for the first few weeks, but after checking the numerous graffiti marked doors on the National Guard Armories; Department of Motor Vehicles and other numerous state office buildings, it readily appeared to me that I was just a “glorified security guard” or a “Barney Fife” of Mayberry, rather than a “true-to-life police officer” hooking and booking the bad guys!  Blaaah, I needed some excitement and some police experience (or so I thought?).

ronald-reaganWell, sometimes you get what you wish for (or pray for) in spite of yourself.  Soon thereafter, I was advised by my supervisor, Sergeant Rose, that I was being re-assigned to 1669 San Onofre Drive, Pacific Palisades.  Before I could ask him what was at this address, he told me that they (the brass) were doubling-up the protection detail at the residence of Governor Ronald Reagan because there had been credible threats by the outstanding members of the Manson family to kill everyone at the governor’s residence.

Excellent!  I have now been volunteered to be a credible target and suddenly those past thoughts of “door checking” did not seem so bad.

Let me now advance my story after several weeks of me working the security detail at the governor’s digs.  First of all, I lived in the City of Anaheim at the time and it was about 37 miles (one way) in my own private vehicle to Pacific Palisades.  The state police officers did not have “take home police vehicles” so I had to use my own car (a 1966 VW) to make the commute; park it discretely away from the duty site and take up my post in an unmarked, dirty, white 1968 Ford cruiser that smelled of stale coffee; old tobacco chew (apparently the officer missed his spit-cup), and a heater than would mix the engine exhaust with carbon monoxide.  Well, if the Manson family renegades didn’t get me, that car would without any doubt!

Now for those of you who have never frequented the beautiful and lush and very exclusive Pacific Palisades, let me tell you that the streets are very, very narrow and all of the homes are situated on hills with very steep driveways.  Once you reach the crest of Pacific Palisades, you will have a breath-taking panoramic view of West Los Angeles overlooking Beverly Hills, West Wood, and the vast Pacific Ocean.  The governor’s place backed up to an expansive undeveloped green-belt area with variously named rustic parks.

The state cut a “fire trail” directly behind the governor’s house which allowed at least two of us State Police Officers to cover the rear of the property in separate police vehicles.  Our posts in the rear gave us a view over the governor’s house and we could also see the “ceremonial” entry post – which was a small wooden kiosk that housed a Class-A uniformed (long sleeve shirt, tie, Smokey the Bear campaign hat) State Police Officer who was a BIG KISS ASS named “Uberley”.

Officer Uberley earned his “KISS ASS BROWN NOSE” title for good reason.  Night after night, as we shivered in our cars in the very frigid cold, intermittently using the heaters of death that we had to turn off lest we die; Uberley (did I mention he was a kiss ass?) would be comfortably sitting inside his heated kiosk while he watched his unauthorized portable black and white TV.  More often than not, he would let his Smokey the Bear hat slip down over his forehead while he knocked-off the “zzzzzzz’s”.  He had the additional benefit of having the officer who was assigned on the street post down from the governor’s driveway (sitting inside his unmarked police unit) announce by protocol, on his radio if our Sergeant or Lieutenant would appear for a security check which was designed to see if we were sleeping or dead.

“Kiss Ass” Uberley would never share his post with any of us simply because he was the “senior” officer on the scene and us peasants were not worthy of a night’s respite in the kiosk of warmth.

One last point that you must know before my yarn continues.  The kiosk was equipped with two “bat phones”.  One of the phones was a direct connection to the State Police Headquarters located at 107 South Broadway, Los Angeles and the other phone was a direct connection to LAPD West Valley Division.  If either of these phones were even taken off their respective hooks (with no verbal sounds); protocol dictated an immediate response by several units of State Police (door shakers) and from several units of LAPD (the real-deal cops) not to mention Highway Patrol and any available air units (helicopters).  Please keep this in mind.

It was a cold winter night (even by Southern California standards) and myself and my partner, Tommy Shino (name changed, obviously to protect me) who was also known as “Half-Jap” due to his American father and his Japanese war bride, were on the adjoining fire trail post behind the governor’s residence.  Tommy was just as cold and tired as I was, so we would meet in the middle of the fire trail outside of our unmarked units (unsafe even when parked) just to talk and agree with one another on what a screwed-up detail we were on.

During our reverie, Tommy and I once again noticed KISS ASS Uberley sitting in his nice warm and cozy kiosk of comfort. It was obvious to us the bastard was sleeping again with his campaign hat pushed-down over his fat KISS ASS face.

Well, hells-bells, let’s see if one us awake and alert state police officers could help wake up the sleeping KISS ASS BROWN NOSER DOZER?  Thanks to the fire trail cut by the state, it was covered with yards and yards of gravel that we could easily pick up and toss over the governor’s residence and possibly glance off the bullet resistant glass of the warm and cozy kiosk of comfort that enclosed that KISS ASS LOSER Uberley.  He deserved to be rudely awakened.

Well, after some strong tosses of some kidney-sized gravel, thrown by me and southpaw Tommy, over the roof of the governor’s house and directly at the kiosk produced no result, we decided to return to our static vehicle posts to finish out the remaining hours of the graveyard shift.

Okay, just one more try, I thought, but this time maybe use a rock with some heft that would arch and cut through the wind unlike the puny-sized gravel that would lose its velocity!

I tossed it and forgot about it!

Within moments Uberley screamed on his radio that shots had been fired when the supposed bullet resistant glass (it was not) shattered; (he actually wet his pants). Uberley then fainted and knocked both of the “bat phones” from their respective wall-mounted receivers as he fell out of the kiosk.

The following series of events immediately unfolded – with practiced precision – I might add:  The street post officer saw Uberley lying on the driveway outside the “kiosk of comfort” (which was now the “kiosk of destruction and death and mayhem”) and he radioed – “Officer Down!”  “Shots fired!”  He then took a defensive position behind his unit until the black & white cavalry showed up.

Now when any officer shouts on his radio “Shots fired! – Officer down!”, it immediately elicits a tremendous and over-powering response from all police agencies and even the news media that pays people to monitor the police radio frequencies.  I did mention this was LA and that this was the home of Governor Reagan?  I also have to mention that the governor and his wife, Nancy, and their son, Ronnie Junior, were out of state at the time and only Consuelo, the live-in house maid, was home. (Thank God!)

From my lofty post on the fire trail, I could see a parade of red and blue emergency lights race from various locations from the valley below as well as several police and news helicopters flying in from the LA basin.

When the words “shots fired” emitted from the radio; Tommy “Half-Jap” grabbed his shotgun and decided to do a one-man kamikaze charge up the hill through the high chaparral since he thought the shot came from there?  He soon disappeared out of sight for the time being.

I waited a few moments and then I heard the loud report of a shotgun being discharged from where Tommy had fearlessly pursued the Manson Family ambushers!

I later learned that Tommy had slipped on the moist hillside with his finger on the trigger of the shotgun when he fell.  The barrel of the shotgun was not too far from his brain-housing unit (his head) which caused him to temporarily lose his hearing.  This prevented him from responding to our radio calls to him to check his status.

Well, down below the valley, as the patrol units and even a few motorcycle units made their way up those very narrow Pacific Palisades streets towards Ronnie’s house; one of the unfortunate and probably adrenalin-driven officers lost control and took out a fire hydrant which caused the unit behind him to also lose control and crash.  More radio calls of “Officers Down!”

This, exponentially, resulted in more cops, more copters, and mass confusion!

Finally, I was joined by at least another twenty or so well-armed officers from various agencies on the fire trail behind the governor’s home.  We formed a “picket line” (meaning we lined up side-to-side) and slowly and cautiously walked up the surrounding hills and through that damned chaparral looking for the non-responsive Tommy the “Half-Jap”.

We reached a plateau during our night’s sojourn and a police helicopter used its one million candlepower spotlight to illuminate a subject with a rifle crouched behind a large bush.  Appropriate and very loud commands came from the copter’s loudspeaker and within moments the end of a shotgun barrel with a tied white t-shirt waived from side-to-side from the bush as the now hearing-impaired, shirtless and shivering Tommy emerged shouting “DON’T SHOOT!”  Luckily, no one shot Tommy, and that was good for Tommy, but not for his future career with the state police.

Before dawn, one of the police helicopters spotted some illegal hunters poaching deer in the adjoining rustic park.  The accepted theory was that a wild, errant shot from one of their rifles must have ricocheted off of the NON-bullet resistant glass of the “kiosk of death and destruction and mayhem”.

I really kept my mouth shut about the rock and my great throw.  The end of the story is that none of the LAPD Officers who crashed their vehicles (one motorcycle and one car) were hurt (except for their pride); KISS ASS, BROWN NOSER Uberely suffered some wet pants and (well-deserved) embarrassment – he later retired out due to stress); myself and Tommy the “Half-Jap” were able to laterally transfer from the State Police to a local agency within Orange County with no one the wiser, not even the governor nor his wife Nancy.

Well kind folks, that’s the story behind the story as the late Paul Harvey use to say . . . until next time be safe, be alert, people love you!

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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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