Tuesday, August 16, 2011


OVERLENGTH ALERT:  3 flag rating.  This might be the perfect time for an Oallaberry scone.

UPDATE:  See "Eagle Mountain" post for further information.

 Aware I

Today, even when one closely studies Google Earth, it's well nigh impossible to determine the exact location of the former Kaiser Steel Company's big dormitory and dining hall at Eagle Mountain. An extended administrative complex was built there back in the "olden days", the late 1950's, and for quite a number of years that area was a beehive of activity. Then, after mine operations were shut down someone thought that property would be a great place upon which to build a prison, so everything before that was ripped out and today only the remnants of the prison seem to be left.

Recent aerial view of Eagle Mountain.  Working mine was entire gray area in center.  Company town subdivision layout is still visible below mine.  Prison/former admin area is cluster of tiny white buildings at left upper edge of subdivision.  Several tailing ponds to recover heavy metals separated in mining process are shown on right.

But that prime area of high, level ground adjacent to the upper end of the rail line used to be the center of Kaiser Steel's Eagle Mountain "Iron Chief" mine's administrative and governance area, and for quite a time hosted several bachelor dormitories and a giant "mess hall" serving all the food a worker could handle, up to four meals a day, all for the outrageous daily cost of $1.25. So virtually everyone that ate in the hall, or lived in the dormitories, was a Kaiser employee or dependent thereof. There was also a large residential area in town for married workers and their families, but this story is about the dorm area.
At the time, Grandpa Dwight was the only non-Kaiser employee in bachelor housing. And that's because I was "the law".   As a deputy sheriff of Riverside County normally assigned to the Indio station, in 1958ish I was given the special duty assignment of Eagle Mountain Resident Deputy*. Which means I was the only lawman for an area that went north and south to the San Bernardino and Imperial county lines, and east and west from Cactus City to twenty miles the other side of Hell, California. That area was larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. To perform this assignment I had to either live at Eagle Mountain or risk taking from 50 to 90 minutes extra to respond to each call emanating from the "camp" and its environs. Since Eagle Mountain generated about 75% of my workload in that area, living elsewhere was not practical. So I found myself housed in a VIP apartment near the company dormitories, in a 2 bedroom street-side unit that doubled as my "office". It was the only private non-Kaiser space at Eagle Mountain available to an outside resident, and it gave folks living in the camp with Sheriff's office business a way to contact the deputy discretely, without coming to the unnecessary attention of "camp management' - supposedly.

And it came to pass that while I was there I was assigned to serve a routine civil process notice, called a "Summons and Complaint", on an unfortunate - I supposed - resident of one of the dormitory rooms. An "S&C" is a legal notice the person being served is being sued. Sometimes people are expecting the service, sometimes not. So each service attempt is a tiny thrill all its own.

At any rate this particular service was for a divorce. I timed my contact for about an hour or so prior to shift time for the guy and was not surprised when he promptly opened the door and calmly stood there while I "served" him, handing him the many-paged document as I did so. To say he was surprised is an understatement. This was the early part of the week, and I later found out he had spent the past week-end with his wife having a great time, and now he was being served a notice of pending divorce prepared by his wife's attorneys three or four weeks earlier. In fact, he had spoken with her by phone that morning and had - he said - absolutely no inkling anything like this was afoot. I believed him.

Aware II

I haven't mentioned until now the guy in question was a world class body builder. He stood about 6-5, weighed close to 280, and had shoulder's out to Reno, Nevada. The guy was built. In a word, "brawny". Have no idea what he did up "on the hill" at the mine, but he could have pushed around the loaded ore cars to make up outgoing "trains" as far as I could see, he was that buff.

So the dynamic of Grandpa Dwight standing there wearing a badge and a smile to ward off the wrath of a fellow that size being served with bad news seemed overly optimistic, if you see what I mean, but I was trying to do a world-class SRIWPDWUS move, you know, supportive-but-remaining-impersonal-while-professionally-dealing-with-an-unfortunate-situation peace officer impression. The one I'd seen in movies so often portrayed by Stewart Granger or Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck. The strong, silent type. Perfect typecasting, by-the-way. At any rate,  by now I am sweating bullets.

So the humongous guy is looking over the papers and I can see realization dawning on his face. He now understands why his wife was so nice to him recently. Why some of their disagreements no longer mattered to her. It dawns on him he has been played. And that "breaks" him. His spirit just wilts. I can literally see him throw in the marital "towel". Smack dab in front of me he turns into a bucket of mush. He is no longer fearsome. At least for now.

Each "S & C" contains explicit instructions as to the "defendant's" [ie: the poor sap in front of me] legal rights and responsibilities, which are - in order - scant and myriad. He has a certain number of days and ways to respond or the suit is assumed by the judge to be OK with both parties, just the way it was written up. Law suits are prepared by lawyers. Lawyers have a legal duty to fiercely represent their client's interests. To a lawyer that seems to mean go for the money. All the money. So anytime a suit is filed it's always in a defendant's best interest for another lawyer representing the sued party to promptly intercede.  Else someone's goose is probably well-cooked.

Here I can see that's not gonna happen. In fact, the guy starts saying very quietly, "She can have everything". He is an emotionally whipped puppy and spends most of his time in a remote mining camp, so I can see the chance of him running into a lawyer-type person to represent his interests in the time available is nil. He has given up on life and I can sense he intends to go into a lengthy emotional slump. It being a mining camp, beer might be involved.

So what happened next took me by surprise. For some reason I was aware of his sudden potential victim-hood and began to "counsel" him.  I don't know why.  Call it a character flaw.  But I urged him to make the effort to speak to a lawyer. I went on for several minutes about a few of the justice miscarriages I had heard of, world traveler that I was, and explained about his wife's lawyer's duty to go after EVERYTHING the couple had so his own lawyer could earn a fee by getting a little bit of it back. And after several minutes of that kind of "encouragement", wished him "luck" and took my leave, still under the impression he probably was not going to "respond". That was the end of it, or so I thought.

Aware III

Except that several months later it also came to pass I received one of those dreaded calls lawmen of all ages and climes - think of "the bobbies of Tottenham" - hope to never hear:
"333, Indio"
"Report of 415~ numerous subjects Eagle Mountain mess hall"
               "Is there any backup available?"
"Negative. Your ETA?"
"Indio copy"
And that's the very low-key way in which I began my very own "twin towers moment". I got out of the car outside the building and prepared to enter the noisiest, rowdiest mess-hall-that-could-pass-for-a-wild-west-saloon-on-payday scene one could possibly imagine. Crockery and chairs were criss-crossing through the air. About - and this is only a guess - 120 or so miners were attempting to settle some type of issue by causing mayhem and bloody trauma on the persons of their multiple fellows. It was a madhouse. I had no way of telling how long it had been in progress, but the fight was still apparently far from over. One could barely hear oneself think for all the din.

As I peered through the open doorway I tried to come up with a plan, any plan, to quiet things down and keep me from being battered and beaten when these guys eventually turned on me - which I knew they would do as soon as they became aware of my presence. About this time one of the cooks noticed me in the door and ran over, seriously demanding that I "stop them". [pause here for several laconicly mirthful moments].

I realize the Texas Rangers have a policy where they only send one ranger per call. But Riverside County hadn't issued me a horse or spurs, so in my mind I was not properly equipped to singlehandedly calm this storm. And although I didn't burst out laughing at the cook, I sure wasn't impressed by his application of logic and common sense.  However, there I was. And just as when some fool burns out at a stop sign right in front of a sheriff's car and literally forces a deputy to pull him over and write him up, I was there, a riot was in progress, and I had to do something.

Have I mentioned I have a loud and compelling "command voice"? I'll talk more about it sometime, maybe, but for some reason I have the ability to project my voice over and above other voices and noises in a manner that usually compels, at least for a moment or two, attention. And so, throwing caution and common sense to the wind I stood just inside the mess hall door with my back to a wall and using my command voice said something like this:
  • "By virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of California and the County of Riverside I hereby declare this to be an 'Unlawful Assembly'. I order forthwith that all occupants immediately leave these premises. Cooks, you are hereby ordered to lock and secure all doors, except for the two main doors from this hall. After five minutes those two doors shall also be locked and anyone remaining in this hall who is not on duty in these premises shall be arrested and charged under the full extent of the law."
At least that was what I think I said, but who really knows?  I may have added a "cease and desist" or two in there.

Well sir, my command voice worked just fine as far as grabbing the attention of the fist-swingers and chair throwers, but I could sure sense a hundred or so sets of eyes swiveling my way in the next few moments, so before much else could happen I moved from the wall next to the doorway - through which I had just foolishly ordered them to leave - to a side wall and corner spot nearer the serving line that seemed a little more defensible. Faint hope as it was.

It was there I had chosen to meet my Waterloo. To take my final stand. To go out in a blaze of crockery. So I drew myself up to my full 5'11¾", put my hand on my holstered weapon, and prepared for the worst. From the look of things and the crowd beginning to move my way, I hadn't long to wait.
Except I suddenly sensed another person next to me, facing the rabble. Lo and behold, it was the humongous body-builder. He of the divorce papers. And then a few other hefty types separated themselves from the riff-raff and joined the two of us with our backs to the wall - facing down the crowd. The "body builder" yelled to the crowd, "This cop is a friend of mine. Anybody thinks they're going to take him on has to come through me". In no time at all he and his weight-lifting pals, because that was indeed who they were, had formed a picket line of sorts around me and suddenly the "disturbance" was over.

Within ten minutes the hall was empty and the cooks were cleaning up the mess. Fifteen minutes later the mine superintendent and four of his security agents arrived to take charge of - what was by now, nothing. The next shift came on less than an hour later and couldn't tell anything had happened. Nor did the company want to press it. Since it was their stuff that had been trashed, their employees who had black eyes and cuts and bruises, and no other public harm had occurred, I closed everything out as "No Complaint".

The "body builder" had indeed contacted an attorney and it turns out had provided quite liberally for his now ex-wife, but had still managed to retain ownership of two classic cars inherited from his grandfather, and a few other family heirlooms. He told his lawyer in Indio what I had said and how I had encouraged him, and that contact paid off a second time when the attorney - who was known to be a nasty bulldog when opposed to officers in court - cross examined me almost gently on a major case a couple of years later.

Two other things about this call were sort of neat. Indio station personnel were aware of how bad the call was thought to be and several deputies - including two former Eagle Mountain resident deputies - had loaded up three cars of back-up cops and were even then on the road, leaving Indio to come to my aid at the very time I called back in.

And when I did call in, I merely said "10-98" which means "finished with assignment" but offers no explanation. That was good "stuff".  Since the deputies were aware the call had been of a large scale riot - they knew the office had received multiple calls and the one from the chef had included loud riot noise and voices yelling in the background - they were extremely puzzled as to how I had "calmed the troubled waters" so quickly and "effortlessly".   And until I explained things many, many days later, I was well on my way to developing a reputation of being a go-to guy for future violence calls of that type. This is not a reputation, by-the-way, a fun-loving peace officer wishes to encourage.

MORAL: See "Stones" for further explanation of the "Morals" section.
A.1    The thinking individual will remain aware of all that goes on even though one's primary mission seems completed.
A.2     It is never unseemly to take a moment to encourage the discouraged.
A.3     Somehow the "impossible" usually becomes "possible" if one but tries. Conversely, if one gives up the probable will never be accomplished.
A.4    Courage is overrated. Duty is more important and provides higher job-security.
A.5    Treat individuals as you wish to be treated.  Someday that "idiot" might be your boss.

*This is marginally interesting because the only other Resident Deputy in the county at the time was Brady B., of Idyllwild, who had been the resident deputy up on "the hill" during my teen years and had lost most of his hair dealing with the wilder activities of the kids I hung with less than a dozen years earlier. To say Brady was less than happy one of his "hill" kids had become an officially recognized compatriot is to understate the issue by hundreds of magnitudes of peevishness. But after I made sergeant - and when he was still only a detective - he seemed to learn to live with it and eventually survived, or so they say.

   ~415="big hairy fight"
~10-97="arrived at scene"

1 comment:

  1. Sorry this is so long. As smart as I am, I have difficulty writing "short". I will try to do better, but you know how long winded old geezers become when they ........;.;.;;;