How Smart Could He Be?

"Listen, man! Give yourself up! It's no good! There're a thousand cops out here!" he yelled toward the building in exasperation.

One February I was working a day tour in the Central Park precinct of New York City when I was assigned to "fly" to the 28th Precinct to help with crowd control. It seems a guy had held up a cabby at the corner of 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue. A beat cop chased him on foot into a building at 98 West 123rd Street.

By the time we arrived at the location, the suspect had barricaded himself in a first-floor apartment. Tenants had been evacuated and the hostage negotiating team was expected to arrive soon. The standoff was entering the third hour as we moved crowds from in front of the building toward Lenox Avenue where they would be out of the line of fire should the suspect start shooting.

Part of my job was to keep the crowds back and under control. In the inner city, you can have a thousand people on the street in minutes in a crowded neighborhood-even in the dead of winter at 10 in the morning. All in all, the crowd was cooperative and no problem at all.

There was one guy, however, who kept pushing on the yellow-and-black plastic police line hastily strung up across 123rd Street. He even attempted to go under the tape a couple of times. He kept yelling at the guy who was barricaded.

"Listen, man! Give yourself up! It's no good! There're a thousand cops out here!" he yelled toward the building in exasperation. When I stepped over to push him back from the tape so he wouldn't break it, the smell of liquor from his breath almost knocked me over. Over the next hour the crowd watched, lost interest, and moved on. But Mr. Liquor held his spot, even though it couldn't have been more than 10 degrees out with a wind making it even colder. I suspected he had a bottle on him somewhere, but I never did see him drinking out of it. He somehow managed to stay inebriated as the morning wore on.

A sergeant from the two-eight precinct was in charge of the corner and kept warning the drunk spectator to back off from the police line and stop shoving against it. The guy was polite but drunk as a skunk, not that I've ever seen any skunks in New York City with their load on. Meanwhile, the hostage negotiating team arrived and set up their space on the other side of a radio car in front of the building. They were unsuccessful in reaching the occupant of the apartment by phone and now were using a bullhorn to encourage a dialogue while urging the man to surrender.

The guy was still yelling for the barricaded man to come out as I walked over to talk to him.

"You know the guy in the apartment on the first floor?" I asked.

"Yes, I do," he said through slurred speech.

"How do you know him? Are you related?" I asked. He was pushing on the tape and swaying back and forth. He didn't answer any more questions but, with tears in his eyes, continued yelling to the guy in the apartment to surrender.

"Ya got no chance, man! Come on out! They gonna shoot you!" he yelled louder and louder, growing more and more agitated. Then, he broke the tape. The sergeant in charge finally lost his patience.

"Lock him up. Disorderly Conduct," he ordered. A cop from the two-eight and I moved in on the guy and grabbed him. He assumed the position over the hood of a nearby car, which prevented him from falling flat on his face. As I tossed him, my hand came across a gun in his waistband under his coat. I removed the gun as the cop from the two-eight snapped cuffs on him. Pulling his wallet out of his back pocket, I identified the man as Mr. Jack Daniels with an address of 98 West 123rd Street.

"Say, what's the name of the guy holed up in the apartment?" I asked another cop.

"Jack Daniels," he replied.

When the standoff started, the guy must have slipped out of the back of the apartment, gone over the back fence into the courtyard, and circled around to the front of his building to join the crowd that was assembling. He was so drunk out of his mind that he thought he was being cute. Instead, he took a collar for holding up a cab driver and possessing a loaded gun. Now, there's a guy who should've joined AA. The last I knew, he had a new residence in Attica, courtesy of New York State.

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

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