Sluggo’s Salvation

It was a full moonlit night as well as a seasonally cool summer in Santa Ana, California late night as the back portion of his head was directly inside the front sight of my Smith & Wesson 645 semiautomatic pistol. The tip of my right index finger was gently tightened on the trigger to achieve a squeeze to ensure a smooth clean trigger pull and not a “jerk” shot off of the center of my point of aim, his brain stem.

No rush Danny, concentrate, “BRASS“ (breath, relax, aim, sight, and squeeze) – the trained police shooter’s acronym. My elbows were “locked” to control the .45 caliber recoil. Funny, my palms were dry on my rubber Pachmayr pistol grips. I slowed my breathing in order to maintain a steady sight picture.

The “gun hand” of my right wrist firmly sat upon the flashlight hand of my left wrist. My flashlight was off since it would not only illuminate the back of the knife-welding suspect, but it would have “night-blinded“ my partner Mike.

Mike was just about to knock on the front door of the unidentified caller’s apartment that was tucked within the narrow front entrance alcove to the caller’s apartment.

It would be an easy and immediate kill shot for me from my stealth position within the shadows of an adjacent Mexican palm tree that was less than fifteen feet away from my pistol’s barrel to the subject’s noggin.

No sweat Danny, easy-peasy, piece of cake.

The subject was backlit from the inner porch lights as well as from the apartment’s first-floor stairway lights as well as from the ambient alcove light.

I was the “back-up officer” for Mike, the assigned-handling officer (and he was also my close personal friend) on this dispatched 911 call of “suspicious circumstance, unknown trouble”. It came from an unidentified female caller from the first (ground) floor of the apartment complex. The caller immediately hung up but not before she said that an unknown male adult was loitering outside the inner alcove of her ground-level apartment.

Her apartment alcove faced the main parking lot entrance to the complex. This must be the place we thought. Mike would make contact and I would cover him. “Routine” officer safety protocol.

Funny, nothing is ever “routine” on the streets. “Routine” thinking puts cops planted in the ground during the Amazing Grace echoes of above ground bagpipes. A street cop never knows what to expect nor what to prepare for with “unknown trouble” calls—from the muddled mundane to the murderous mayhem. Sometimes both, sometimes neither, sometimes the worst but never the best in most cases.

I often thought that’s why John and Jane Citizen just positively knew that we cops make the “big bucks” and live on the “adrenaline highs”? Right. Just donuts and coffee. But of course, folks living inside their urban bubble.

This suspicious “night stalker” did not see me (GOOD!) as he slowly crept down the last few steps from his “hide” from the upper second-floor stairwell to the ground level alcove. “You never can defend against the weapon you can’t see Danny” my sensei related to me during my many hours at the dojang each week.

The suspect slowly turned to his left side that caused a momentary “reflected glint” from the large-silver-colored bladed knife that he firmly clenched in his right fist. He started to walk down the alcove to follow behind in the recent footsteps of my partner Mike.

My job was to cover Mike’s “180” (rear) and definitely prevent this ass**** from ambushing Mike from behind. This was never gonna happen! Damn straight buckaroo!

My target acquisition was fast and sure and I had already anticipated the awful loud sharp report from my pistol shot. I could actually smell the odor of spent gunpowder and anticipate the coppery smell of the fresh blood. I could taste it on my dry tongue.

Stay focused Danny! I already made the decision to shoot the instant the armed suspect stepped towards Mike. Somehow my inner silent voice morphed into a very loud demanding shout, “HEY SLUGGO!”

(Where did that tactic come from Danny?)

By God, it worked! This “startled” the “dear-in-the-headlights” suspect who instinctively faced me, froze, and he simultaneously dropped the butcher knife down onto the asphalt sidewalk. It bounced with a tinny metal “twang” sound. My cell light silhouetted him like a “frozen evil gingerbread man”.

Mike immediately “bounced” the confused “creep-a-zoid” onto the pavement with a “thump” sound. Mike saw the grounded knife and exclaimed “Oh sh**!” Thanks, Danny!

The grounded and “cuffed and crumbled” adult “gingerbread man” exhibited a “thousand-yard” glazed-over eye stare and he reeked of sweat. He just mumbled a jumble of gibberish from his drug fevered brain. Definitely a drugged-nighttime-zombie on the prowl with a blade. Scary!

We later learned that he lived in the complex and that he followed our caller from her late-night apartment laundry room run. Just imagine what this misanthrope’s intent was?

Gumshoe wants all you readers to know that this entire incident happened in less than a minute although it played in “slow-motion” in Gumshoe’s adrenaline-fueled hyper-senses and mind. Time actually slows down and you develop “tunnel vision” laser-like focus.

Watch the hands! The hands hold the weapons! This would have been what is called in police talk, a “good shooting”.

Armed suspect, check! Prevention and protection of a serious injury or the life (murder) of my partner, Mike, check! All within the lethal use of force under SAPD policy, check! Justified homicide under the California State Penal Code, check! (Would later be determined by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office)

“Hey, Sluggo!” The voice of God funneled through Gumshoe. It was not the day for this suspect to die.

Sluggo’s salvation perhaps? Check!

There you have it, my readers. Surprised? You must understand that in Gumshoe’s entire police gypsy career, Gumshoe never met a “trigger-happy” cop who wanted to kill another human. It is just not what in any good cop’s DNA. Gumshoe had future occasions when a “good shooting” situation presented itself, but another “Slugger did not have to die that day”. Just because I could legally justify the use of deadly force did not mean I had to do it. That inner voice spoke again? Instinct? Gut feeling or just . . .

Maybe it was Gumshoe’s salvation as well? God smiles knowingly.

Gumshoe signing off for now dear readers. Remember to always love the ones who love you, and always try to love the ones who don’t. You might be surprised?

PS: Always listen to that inner voice, my friends.

Coram Deo


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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  1. Danny, great story. You did what partners are supposed to do. Assess the situation, make sure before you pull the trigger that you give the perp the opportunity to know that you were there and then if necessary do what you were trained to do. Finally making sure that both you and your partner go home safe at the end of the shift. These are split second decisions that a police officer has to make in an effort to make sure there is a justification for using deadly physical force. Those decisions can make the difference between life and death for not only the officer but the perp as well. I wish our good citizens out there would realize that no Police Officer gets up in the morning, straps on the gun and badge with the idea that they are looking to shoot somebody.
    Thanks again Gumshoe.

    • You’ve been there Tom and all of us brothers and sisters who wore (or still wear) the blue, march to the same truth.
      Thanks my friend for your comment.

  2. Ah, the story itself – and then there’s the telling of it. Real life experiences brushed on the blank canvas of a computer screen with artistic talent. Love it! Who knows what became of Sluggo……was he also listening to his inner voice? And if so…..what was the origin of that voice? I’ve worked with numerous ‘sluggo’s’ in the prison system who were afforded second (and third) chances like the one you describe – often got to witness the ‘rest of the story’ (as the late, great Paul Harvey would say)…..or at least a taste of the rest of the story. Some sluggo’s (albeit, not many in my experience) took full advantage of their new lease on life, while it seemed the majority did their time (the accepted price of doing ‘business’) and continued down their chosen path. As a correctional professional I made it a point to treat them all as I would want to be treated – like a human (the courts had already meted out their punishment – that was not my job) and as a Christian, I kept at the forefront of my mind that Christ died for them just as He did for me. Thanks again for sharing another one of your many stories Gumshoe!

    • Why “thanky” my brother for your gained wisdom and experiences with the incarcerated “sluggo’s”. True to form, many are called but few are chosen by their own freewill to change their behavior. Loving others more than themselves as more importantly loving God first is the real key to salvation for all of us “sluggo’s. Unlocking the cell of our own incarceration is true freedom.

  3. Danny, AKA Gum Shoe: I have always found instinct to be a good guide in a time of crisis. I’m sure no one knows that better than a cop on the street. Few civilians know what officers go through in the routine line of duty. Someone, perhaps you, should write a book on the life of a cop, maybe in the format of a diary. Just a thought.

    • Your right Ken, instinct (that gut feeling) is definitely a street cops friend. Those tiny hairs standing-up on the back of ones head are great radar antennas to a unconscious perceived threat. Possibly the breath of ones guardian angel at work? Thanks for your comment and advice about publishing a “cop’s diary” sometime in the future.

  4. I think in all my years in police work, working the streets, and coming close to firing my own weapon that I would have entertained the phrase “ Hey Slug-go”, and from the read of your story the suspect didn’t either. It was not his time to die by your hand, it was not Mikes turn to die by “slug-go’s” hand and it certainly wasn’t your time to let the bullets fly! Intervened by God? perhaps, but the word slug-go will always bring me back to this story by Gumshoe!

    • Thanks my dear Nightingale for your comment that was based upon your street-wise cop experience. We have both encountered plenty of “sluggo’s” in our cop lives who we chose not to prematurely sent them et al to their after lives. It is a blessing to have you ride shotgun as my life partner dear Nightingale.