Sometimes you know you're doing the right thing when the wrong people start to take notice. Such was the case on March 21, 2007, when Officer James Van Alstine of the Acworth (Ga.) Police Department had his patrol unit detailed by a couple of station inmates. Seeing his patrol car number, one of the inmates spoke up.
"You must be Van Alstine," the inmate said.
"Yes," the officer acknowledged. "Why?"
"They're fixing to shoot you up on Baker Road."
There was no elaboration, and Van Alstine wasn't concerned enough to press the issue. He figured that rumors such as this lived and died by circulation, and that by not humoring this one it'd die long before he did.
But when another inmate came out to detail the car's interior and also inquired of his identity, Van Alstine couldn't help but take note.
"They're going to shoot you up out there on Baker Road," the inmate told him.
This time Van Alstine pressed the man for an explanation.
"People talkin' that you're messing in too many people's business," the inmate confided. "They're talking 'bout taking you out."
As a narcotics interdiction officer, Van Alstine knew he'd put a damper on quite a few illicit operations. But when it came to speculating just which dope-slinger could be talking about killing him, he was at a loss.
Back inside the station, Van Alstine decided to do his due diligence. He logged onto a department computer and composed an e-mail warning other officers to be cautious if they drove his vehicle, especially if anyone approached them on Baker Road. Pressing "send," he shrugged it off and went home.
Van Alstine returned to work later that night with just four hours of sleep. Morning court had stretched into the afternoon and eaten up a good portion of his day. But the 29-year-old officer had accepted such aggravations as part of the job. Rather than piss and moan about them, he worked around such setbacks by keeping himself in shape and supplementing daily workouts with a healthy diet.
Perhaps that's why Van Alstine felt relatively alert at 3 a.m. when he found himself monitoring traffic in the Baker Road/Baker Grove area of his patrol jurisdiction. As time passed by, so did a Honda Accord with its high beam headlights on. Pulling onto the highway and behind the car, Van Alstine activated his rotators to effect a traffic stop on the Honda.
The car turned from Baker Road onto Baker Grove Road before making a right onto Northridge Drive. Not only did the Honda fail to yield, but it pulled off the service road into the north end parking lot of a Publix shopping center.
By the time the vehicle finally came to a stop near a CVS store, Van Alstine had requested backup. With his takedown lights activated, he stepped from his patrol vehicle.
Van Alstine recognized the driver as Brandon Foxworth, a man he'd arrested previously for marijuana charges. It was plain to see—and smell—that Foxworth was running true to form. The car reeked of pot and Foxworth was probable cause incarnate, with bloodshot and watery eyes whose saucer-like pupils regarded the officer warily.
"Sorry about the high beams," Foxworth said nervously. "One of my headlights is burned out."