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Departments : The Beat

Blood Trail

A rookie discovers that crime has a very human face.

September 01, 2004  |  by George Eliseo

My first graveyard as a rookie cop, I'm driving around aimlessly, trying to figure out what a crook looks like so I can catch one. It's a weeknight and absolutely nothing is happening at 2 a.m. in Pacific Beach, California. The radio is dead silent and every other cop on my squad is restless.

Then suddenly a call comes over the radio for 121 King, the only two-man unit. And what a call it is!

It's a home invasion robbery. Two men were forcing entry into a house and the victim had just fired a shot at them when the connection was lost.

The dispatcher assigns only one unit. It's OK though, because every cop in the beach is flying down the empty streets to cover this call.

Everyone makes it to the location minutes later, and we quickly stage in the alley that runs between the rows of two-story townhouses.

The veteran officers are going to make entry into the townhouse, where they think the action will be. Someone tells me and another rookie, a female officer who has even less time on than I do, to follow the trail of blood leading down the stairs and away from the townhouse.

We start following the trail through the alley. It's dark and eerily silent; nothing is moving out here tonight. Not a dog, not a bicyclist, nothing.

My 9mm pistol is out and in the low-ready. My flashlight is the only illumination here. The red blood on black asphalt glistens like wet paint.

The blood trail leaves the alley now and turns into an empty parking lot. We follow across the lot.

Holy crap! A man's body lies crumpled between the corner of a building and a steel post.

The body is face down, not moving. OK, I found him. Now what the heck do I do? All the veteran officers are back at the townhouse. We call for an ambulance. I worked on an ambulance before joining the PD, but I never had to worry about being the first on the scene of a suspect wounded in a robbery. Real cops were always there first.

Police training is telling me to be cautious, but they never went over this particular scenario in the academy. I decide to cuff the guy, just to be safe. After he's cuffed we turn him over. A pellet pistol is on the ground beneath him. I grab it.

The guy's young, in his late teens or early twenties. He looks in bad shape, obviously in shock. He's unconscious and his breathing is very shallow. A circle comprised of many smaller circles perforates his black leather jacket in the upper right chest. He was obviously shot close range with a shotgun. He's no longer bleeding out, which is a bad sign. It's just the other rookie and me with this guy.

I always figured it was poetic justice when some criminal paid the ultimate price for his crimes. But being there on the scene, in real time, not just reading about it in the papers or hearing it on the news, was a whole different ball game. I found I didn't want this young man to die. I knelt down next to him and started yelling, "Come on man, hold on! Live!"

The medics show up just then and we get the guy (his name is Andy, I find out later) on the gurney and take off. I ride along in the back. The medic has me do CPR while he starts an IV and runs it wide open. Andy's heart never actually stops, but he gets pretty close.

We get to the hospital and they wheel Andy away. I take his clothes and boots for evidence. Pretty wild night for a rookie. The whole division is buzzing about this caper. I get to tell the story several times.

Months later, we're all in court. Andy's defense attorney has me up on the stand taking me back over the events of that night. I tell him the whole story, including the ride in the ambulance and the CPR. (I leave out the bit about me yelling at his unconscious client to hang on.)

After I answer the last question, the lawyer smiles at me. Not one of those, "Ah ha! Now I've got you!" shark smiles, but a genuine smile.

He says simply, "My client thanks you for saving his life." Andy, sitting at the defense table, smiles and nods his head.

I smile back and say, "Sure, no problem."

It was just another night in the beach.

George Eliseo served 11 years as a patrol officer for the San Diego Police Department before retiring in 2000.

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