The Gumshoe – Just a “Flip-of-the-Coin”

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] HAVE OFTEN HEARD and read that the major decisions that we make in our lives require much thought, reflection and even some soul-searching.  However, it seems to me that sometimes our whole life can take an entirely different direction in the small, everyday decisions that we make without much conscious thought or consideration.

Once again, kind readers, I will enlarge upon this premise by taking you back to just such a case in my early law enforcement career that really “hit me in the gut” when I was a California State Police officer back in the early 70’s.

My duty assignment (as mentioned in some of my past articles) was at the residence of Governor Ronald Reagan which was located in the tawny neighborhood of Pacific Palisades.

I was working the graveyard shift in late October of 1974 and I was stationed at the rear of the governor’s residence where there was the “fire trail” post that was cut into the hill that overlooked the governor’s home.  On the same, but separate “fire trail” post that was closer to the access road, was my fellow state police officer, Dave Jack.

Dave was a very personable fellow who was relatively new to the job – at the ripe old age of 21, he had been on the force only six months or so.  I had him by two years, so I was his “senior” in life experience (or so I thought).

Officer Jack and I shared several late night shifts together and like all cops everywhere, we would “10-87” (police code for get together) in which I would join him at his unmarked unit or sometimes we would both meet in the middle of the “fire trail” so we could stretch our legs and exchange our thoughts to keep awake and alert.

Dave and I had a lot in common.  We were both single, we both wanted careers in law enforcement, and the state police was the very first police agency that hired us.  I had just completed the state police academy in Sacramento and he had an up-coming academy date.

You see, back then in law enforcement; an officer could work the streets but he or she would have to attend a certified police academy within one year of the date of hire.  Sounds kind of “backward” but the thinking of the great talking heads at the time figured that several months on the street would help the new police recruit gain some experience and would help “weed out” folks who decided that wearing a badge was not for them.

Both of us enjoyed music and Dave wanted to hear the latest “8-track” tape that I had just purchased to play in my portable, battery-operated tape deck/AM/FM recorder.  I pushed in Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sun Down” and it echoed in the chilly October air as we hummed along.

The tape had just stopped when Sergeant Hill arrived at our posts with the offer of an “overtime” shift that was available for one of us to work the following weekend.  It was a “graveyard” shift (from Sunday to Monday) at the state police headquarters that was located at 107 South Broadway (The State Building) in Los Angeles.

This “overtime” shift was considered pretty easy since it was “kick-back” duty which was basically sitting inside the state police office that was situated inside the lobby of the state building.  The on-duty officer merely had to monitor the state police radio and make some “walk-around-checks” inside of the building.

I looked at Dave and he looked at me and I did not consider it fair that I pull rank since I was senior to him, so we decided to have Sergeant Hill just “flip a coin” to decide who would be the “lucky officer” that would have this plum overtime assignment.

Up the coin went into the chilly air and Sergeant Hill let it drop back into the palm of his hand that he rotated over onto the back of his opposite hand.  Dave called out “Heads!”   Sergeant Hill said “You got it! Now get back to your separate units and stay awake!”  I called out to Dave as he walked back down to his post, “Best out of three?”  He just laughed and shook his head.  I smiled and laughed also and never gave it another thought.

Fast-forward to Sunday night, October 20, 1974. I had just turned on my TV to channel seven “Eye Witness News” when a very somber-sounding newscaster reported the lead breaking story, “Police Officer Shot and Killed!”  The announcer went on to say that a state police officer had been murdered at the state building in down town Los Angeles earlier in the evening.

I stopped listening and immediately telephoned headquarters and a very sober and tired voice from Captain Buckland advised me that Officer Dave Jack had been ambushed inside the state police office. Officer Jack had been executed with a single shot to the back of his head and that his duty revolver was still in his holster. Needless to say, I was “numb”.  There was no sleeping that night as my last conversation with Dave played over and over again in my head.

It was just “a flip of the coin” that decided his fate that possibly would have been mine.  Since that time and up to this present day, I have never taken any of my days on this earth “for granted” and I have never just “flipped a coin” again to decide anything – no matter how trivial.  I still, on occasion, hear “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot and it always takes be back to that October evening when I laughed and joked with Dave and just how lucky I was – not him!  Grace of God without a doubt in my heart.

Note:  I later learned that the killer (I WON’T PRINT HIS NAME) of my friend was a recent parolee who had previously assaulted police officers with firearms and that he had even crippled a college student in a vicious machete attack.  The parolee, according to his parole supervisor, said that he had “a delicate psychiatric condition” of paranoid schizophrenia.  So much for restorative justice . . . Until next time kind readers, this is the Gumshoe signing-off.  Be safe, be alert, people love you!

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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Jane Anderson

“I have never taken any of my days on this earth “for granted”” Danny, I know exactly how you feel. I almost died 2 years ago when I got trampled by a horse pulling a wagon full of people. I was with my granddaughter and her friend at the time. When I regained consciousness in the hospital I think I prayed a million times thanking God that it wasn’t them that got ran over. For many years I have lived thankful – but I realized that day how quickly life can end and how precious every breath of air is. So many things could have happened that day – but in God’s mercy and providence, not fate, and not coincidence, he chose to spare my life and protect two little girls and hundreds of people who were present.

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