Though it had been an unseasonably hot month, the overcast May sky outside Troy Burnett's window did little to buoy his spirits. Normally, the spring rain would be a welcome relief for the Ogden, Utah, police sergeant.
But caught literally between the weather and his ballistic vest, the skin on Burnett's back had developed an insufferable rash and he suspected that the dampness in the air would be of little help. Burnett glanced at the culprit vest, that same vest that he'd donned thousands of times before, and something chaffed within him at the thought of putting it on. He knew that if his irritated skin was going to breathe, it needed a break.
Burnett had worn the vest religiously throughout his career, but on this day he told his wife that for the first time he would go to work without it. She wasn't happy with his decision, and as he left his house he thought he heard her say he was being "a dumbass." He wondered if she didn't have a point.
Shortly after noon, Burnett rolled to meet some fellow officers for lunch when he noticed that a Utah state trooper had stopped a Ford Probe near the intersection of 12th and Porter. He flipped a U-turn to assist.
Burnett recognized the trooper as Chris Turley, recently off training. Turley explained to Burnett that he suspected the female occupant had been lying to him. By mutual accord, the officers approached the Probe, Turley on the passenger side of the vehicle, Burnett on the driver's side.
The sleeved tattoos of the driver's arms were the first thing Burnett recognized as he approached the driver. Billy Maw was a high-level white supremacist with Secret Aryan Warriors (SAW), a prison gang.
Burnett's and Maw's paths had crossed before when Burnett worked Narcotics. He'd been to the con's residence several times in response to complaints of Maw's drug activity.
In the two years since Burnett's last contact with Maw, the man had finished another prison stint. Now, he was out and under a federal indictment behind a wiretap. So Maw knew one thing that Burnett didn't—just where this traffic stop was headed.
Turley resumed his conversation with the female passenger. Like Maw, she was a methamphetamine addict, as well as a parolee at large.
As Turley dealt with the woman, Burnett observed that Maw—apparently oblivious to his presence—was digging between his seat and the center console.
Burnett yanked open the driver's door of the Probe.
"Hey, Billy, you need to put your hands on the steering wheel."
Startled, Maw greeted Burnett and complied. A conversation developed between the two men, the kind of agreeably stilted dialogue commonly shared between cop and con.
Meanwhile, Turley asked the passenger to step out of the car. He spoke to her long enough to get the information he needed to cross-check her story, then told her to get back inside the Probe. Turley returned to his patrol car, leaving Burnett to maintain vigil over the two.
She immediately started digging through her purse, and Burnett yelled at her to put her hands on the dash. She complied.
We Need Backup
Burnett was becoming more than a little frustrated. As a matter of practice, he preferred to exert a strong command presence during contacts, to keep control of situations in the manner he'd become accustomed to. He also had a fundamental philosophical disagreement with Turley's decision to place the female passenger back in the vehicle.
But it was not his stop or his call—it was Turley's.
Still, Burnett knew just what they were dealing with. If only he could have communicated as much with Turley, then the trooper would probably have taken the stop to the next level. But with the trooper inside his patrol car and no shared radio frequencies between the two agencies, there was not much he could do to get Turley's attention without compromising his standing with Maw.
He also knew that if he could get a third set of eyes at their location, he could get back to speak with Turley. Keeping the driver's door of the Probe open and his eye on the two occupants, Burnett keyed his mic and made his latest request for backup. After several attempts, a unit finally acted up, just minutes out.
Slightly relieved, Burnett continued his conversation with Maw. For a con, Maw had proven to be as respectful as one could expect, even deferential on occasion. Burnett had even come to expect a kind of casual chitchat from Maw.