Life wasn't easy for Charles Eugene Hastings, but the parolee wasn't above complicating his life even further. Hastings was the original hard-luck kid. At 39, the recently paroled Hastings had been kicked out of his Las Vegas home by his wife, and was about to be evicted by the friends he'd been staying with in Reno. A convicted armed robber should be accorded more respect than that.
If he'd had a more developed sense of irony, Hastings might have gone by the name "Lucky." But the only sense he apparently had was a belief that things might be better back in prison. He wished he could go back there. Given his current situation, he knew that he was in pretty good position for going back.
But he'd also put himself in a pretty good position to get shot if he wasn't careful. If only he could get the officers to arrest him under his terms and conditions. That's when Hastings got what passed for an inspiration in the criminal world.
As a special informant to Dave Spencer of the Reno FBI Bureau, Hastings had access to the man virtually 24/7. He walked to the Fireside Lounge on the corner of Fourth and Lake Streets, dialed up his favorite federal agent on a pay phone, and fessed up to having some 13 stolen antique knives and a stolen Beretta on his person. Oh, and he wanted to turn himself in to Spencer.
Spencer agreed to the meet.
Having done his civic duty, Hastings hung up the phone. He felt good; optimistic, even. He'd been honest and forthright with Spencer on everything but one little matter. The moment the federal agent showed up, Hastings was going to put that Beretta to bad use: He was going to shoot and kill Dave Spencer, thereby ensuring himself a one-way ticket to a federal institution.
At least, that was his game plan.
Hastings made himself comfortable in the Fireside Lounge. He introduced himself and his stolen firearm to its patrons, and advised them that nobody was going to leave until he said so.
Unbeknownst to Hastings, a motorist driving by the intersection noticed the paunchy little man with the handgun trekking toward the corner of Fourth and Lake Street. The motorist continued home, slipped off her shoes, and called the police.
When the call went out, Officer Tim Dees of the Reno Police Department happened to be at that very intersection visiting Kathie Bradley, a former deputy cum reserve officer who worked at Fireside Liquors, which sat adjacent to the Fireside Lounge nestled in the parking lot of the L-shaped Fireside Inn.
In 1984 prior to the wide availability of mobile phones, it was a given that the call was already several minutes old. Armed with this knowledge, Dees left the liquor store and began checking the vicinity in his patrol car. What Dees did not know was that the subject of the call had walked right past the liquor store and gone into the Fireside Lounge just minutes earlier.
While Hastings drank and commiserated with his newfound acquaintances, one of his "hostages" snuck through an inner connecting door to the liquor store where he gained access to a telephone and called the police. Hastings' lack of vigilance over his captives was such that even the bartender was able to sneak in a call to the police. They weren't the only ones.
After receiving the call from Hastings, FBI agent Dave Spencer also made a call to the Reno Police Department. He stopped by the station on his way to meet Hastings and asked that Reno PD's Special Operations Response Team (SORT) roll to the location with him. It was about this time that the hostage call had come into Reno PD dispatch. The only problem was, neither Spencer nor the SORT team had any knowledge of the situation.
[PAGEBREAK]The Wrong Place
There was an additional complication. Instead of patrol officers being sent to the "Fireside Lounge," the call's location went out as the "Fireside Inn." The call described a man threatening patrons.
It was now past 6 p.m. The registration desk for the inn closed at five and after-hours registration was handled at the liquor store. So it made sense to Dees that the man had actually made his way to the liquor store. This dispatching mix-up would prove significant in the moments that followed.
Knowing of the inner connecting door between the bar and the liquor store, Dees had intended to make his way through the bar to secure the common door so as to isolate the problem presumed to be on the other side.
But what he did not know was that fellow officer Jim Johns had already contacted reserve officer Kathie Bradley inside the liquor store and advised her of the situation. Officer Johns quickly figured out that the suspect was actually inside the bar and advised of such over the radio. This transmission was followed by another officer's advisement that Officer Dees was already inside the bar.
Everybody was on the same page-everyone except for Dees. As he walked into the back of the bar with his gun drawn, he felt a momentary sense of beguiling peace. The ambient mix of jukebox music and overlapping conversations in the smoky low-rent room suggested that everything was as it should be. But Dees was about to find out the suspect's current whereabouts the hard way.
As Dees neared the bartender, the man hocked his thumb in the direction of a man at the opposite end of the bar. Almost as an afterthought, the bartender informed Dees, "That's him. That's the guy with the gun."
Dees and Hastings spotted each other almost simultaneously. Hastings, who had been holding a female patron by the neck, apparently decided he couldn't wait for Agent Spencer and raised the stolen Beretta in Dees' direction.
But as Hastings' arm rose, so did the Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver that Dees had removed from his holster prior to entering the bar. Dees fired a reflexive, one-handed grip shot. The 125-grain round did its job. In a split second, blood splattered the man's face, and he immediately fell out of view.
For a split-second, a thought ran through Dees' mind: I just shot a man! This thought was followed almost as quickly by another: Good shooting-in every sense of the term.
With his mind focused, Dees rounded the bar, his gun covering the man. Hastings was face down on his stomach. Dees looked for the Beretta. Nothing. Officer Kim Gibson approached, rolled Hastings over, then recovered the gun from the ground where it'd landed beneath the man. Dees noted a speckled pattern on Hastings' shirt. At first, he thought it was where the bullet had struck the suspect.
It wasn't until much later that the officer who accompanied Hastings to the hospital told him that Dees' round had caught Hastings' left hand as he'd braced for a two-handed shot at Dees. The round had shattered the man's wrists, sending shards of bone into the man's face and chest.
Later, Dees was interviewed by investigating detectives. They repeatedly asked if he had said anything to the suspect before firing the shot. He was adamant that he had not. He was advised that seven witnesses reported that Dees had yelled at Hastings twice to "Drop it!" before firing a shot.
As for Hastings, the man recovered from his wounds, was sentenced to 10 years, paroled, re-arrested a couple of times, then termed out.
As Dees reflects back on the shooting, two things immediately come to mind. The first was that his visual acuity was dialed in. A sudden adrenaline-pump had dilated his pupils, allowing him to see everything he needed to see in that split-second. The other was that what he would've expected to sound like a cannon sounded like little more than a pop. There was no immediate aftermath of a ringing sensation in his ears.
Dees was thankful for something else. Only a month before, he'd attended a Street Survival seminar. While there, instructors had driven home the point that if an officer anticipates the need of a firearm, he should have it drawn and ready before the need becomes apparent. Dees believes this is what ultimately saved his life.
Editor's Note: Retired Reno PD officer Tim Dees is a frequent contributor to POLICE Magazine.