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Departments : The Beat

The Last Laugh

Turns out most crooks aren't as smart as they think they are.

November 01, 2005  |  by Jim McDevitt

February in New York City can bring plenty of snow if the conditions are right. This particular day in February the forecast was for snow accumulations of eight to 10 inches before midnight. My brother, Det. Henry McDevitt, worked in the Four-Eight precinct in the Bronx.

He was working nights and the snow was just starting to fall when the crime stoppers tip line started ringing. He picked up the phone, announcing, “48th Squad, tip line, Det. McDevitt.” A gravelly voice on the other end said, “Just the man I wanted to speak to,” and the caller started laughing. Henry knew the voice sounded familiar but couldn’t immediately place it.

“Do you know who I am?” The voice asked.

“You sound familiar but I can’t place you,” Henry said.

“Well maybe this will refresh your memory. Do you remember the guy who tried to push you over the railing on the stairs outside of the court house?”

Now Henry immediately recalled the incident. The man was Clifford Barnes who stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 290 pounds. He was big enough to be in the NFL.

In a drunken rage, Barnes had trashed his mother and sister’s apartment, breaking furniture, windows, lamps, and anything in sight, throwing dishes, and taking a knife to an expensive leather couch. He left the couch in tatters, scaring his mother and sister to death, and he vowed to be back if they called the police.

Henry caught up to Barnes later that day on a corner three blocks away, stumbling out of a bar. It was Washington’s birthday, a holiday, and the courts were closing early. But my brother made it to court with his prisoner just before the doors closed.

The paddy wagon pulled away and my brother was marching the prisoner up a very narrow, long flight of stairs to the back door for housing court prisoners. Near the top of the stairs the huge prisoner stopped. As Henry reached around the man to push the bell to summon corrections personnel, the prisoner caught him at the edge of the narrow railing and leaned his big frame into him. The railing only came up to Henry’s lower thigh and as the prisoner leaned into him, he could feel himself slowly being shoved over the railing. There wasn’t much time to act. Henry reached up and put his arms around the prisoner’s neck and whispered into the handcuffed man’s ear, “If I go, you’re going with me.”

That ended the prisoner’s resistance and he straightened up; Henry released his grip and Barnes stepped up to the door. The arraignment was held and when Barnes failed to show up for the start of his trial, his bail was revoked and a warrant was issued for his arrest. That was two weeks ago and now Barnes was on the phone.

“Yeah, I remember you now,” said Henry.

“Good, I’m glad you remember me. Well here’s a tip for you. I just robbed a liquor store and I’m sitting here counting the money, Einstein. I’m leaving town to start a new life of making easy money. While you’re still looking for me, I’ll be relaxing some place living the life you can’t afford. I’ll be back someday to pay back my mother and sister and you can deal with that.”

“Now hold on a minute,” Henry said as he motioned to a fellow detective and handed him a note.

“No, you hold on! I know you can trace me if I stay on too long,” Barnes said as he started laughing again and then hung up.

Henry wished he could have been there 30 minutes later when a team of detectives and uniformed officers from the 83rd Precinct on Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn arrested Barnes as he emerged from his friend’s apartment. As the detectives snapped on the handcuffs Barnes growled, “Who gave me up?”

“You did,” Det. Donovan said. Then he whispered in Barnes’s ear, “Detective McDevitt, Einstein. The tip line you called in on has caller ID and the best part is that the calls are recorded.”

The last I knew Clifford Barnes was still in jail facing many more years behind bars. His temper got the best of him and he killed a cellmate with his bare hands when the man started laughing at him after hearing the story of how he ended up in the joint.

Jim McDevitt is retired from the New York Police Department and now writes a column for Texas Highway Patrol magazine.

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