Updated: Dec 22, 2019
Dave and I both enjoyed working the fifth precinct on the East side of Detroit, near the Grosse Pointe border. Especially south of Jefferson between Alter Road and Conner. It was where I grew up, went to school, fell in and out of love, and learned to excel in all manner of sports. It was where I swam and fished in the Detroit River and its canals in the summer, and skated and played hockey on them in the winter. It was where I walked to and from school and church. It was where I learned to drive – it was where I was “formed”.
Number Five, as the precinct was called, could be calm in some areas and it and could be hot as hell. “Hot” meaning there was enough cutting, shooting, robbing, breaking into homes and businesses, stolen cars, drugs and illegal handguns to keep us busy all day or all night. Dave and I were members of the elite Tactical Mobile Unit and our specialty was shutting down crime in the precincts we were assigned to. Find ‘em. Bust 'em. Lock ‘em up. Write the report. Get back on the street and start all over again. God, I loved working here. I knew every street, every alley, every store and business place for miles. And although the personal demographics of the area had changed significantly in the ten years since I was fifteen, the physical layout had not. Not yet, anyway. As I drove along my streets, memories flooded back. I felt moments of smiling recollection and of sad melancholy, for a time that is lost forever.
We were patrolling up Lakewood from Scripps toward Jefferson. Lakewood used to be a beautiful, quiet, residential street of all brick homes, once lovingly attended to as a matter of pride, maybe not as much anymore. Heading towards us from Essex was a rather ratty looking Buick 225, or deuce and a quarter as we called them. The convertible “rag top” was down and we could see inside clearly. The furtive look on the driver’s face was all we needed to know that something was up.
I pulled the distinctive white TMU car into their side of the street to halt their forward movement and motioned for them to stop. As we approached the car, the driver and the passenger raised their hands. Now that could be taken as a courtesy to us, or fear that they might become a “mistake” and get shot if they made a false move. It could also mean they had something to hide, knew we’d find it, and didn’t want any trouble from Tactical Mobile Unit guys.
There was obviously something amiss and we could see it right away. The driver’s forehead barely stuck up over the steering wheel, but he seemed a very large-framed guy. As I approached the driver’s door, I discovered that the front seat of the car had been torn out – it was completely gone! The driver was sitting on a wooden milk crate, set on the floor of the car! I didn’t know whether to laugh or worry. The passenger had begun to sweat profusely on this cool spring afternoon. The outdoor temperature didn’t warrant sweating through his shirt.
Dave noticed also and walked behind the passenger door with his hand hovering over his holstered gun – ready for anything.
I told the driver to show me his driver’s license and the registration for the car. He first asked permission to retrieve it from his side pants pocket, and then produced a fistful of loose papers, within which was a driver’s license. It was then that my desire to laugh got the best of me. He had given me the driver’s license of the passenger – the face on the license was clearly that of the passenger. I pointed that out to the driver, whereupon he admitted that his own driver’s license had been suspended, and so, to avoid breaking the law by driving without a license, he was using his friend’s. Perfect logic. Lacking one’s own personal license, while operating a motor vehicle was an offense requiring us to arrest him on the State violation. I told him to exit the car.
He opened the car door as I backed away to give him room and to create a space between him and me, in case he should act out. He began getting out of the car, and more and more of his massive frame continued piling out. He must have been almost seven feet tall and weighed every bit of three hundred pounds. He was barefoot, and his pants were barely secured around his waist by a length of clothesline rope. I asked him if he had any ID with his real name on it and he produced an expired Michigan driver’s license.
I read his name out loud – “Sweet Wine Meadows”! I was about to ask him what his real name was when he beat me to the punch. “Yeah, that’s my real name. My daddy said that he and momma made me after they had some really sweet wine and he decided that should be my name.”
I did not want to turn this situation into anything hostile, so I saved my sense of humor for later. I said, “Well Sweet Wine, are you wanted for anything?” He took a really deep breath and looked at me as if deciding what he should say next. “Well, I may be wanted for some outstanding traffic tickets I haven’t paid. They may also want me for not being in court when the judge told me to show up.”
I told him I was going to check with my radio dispatcher and to stay right where I could see him. As I called in his name and date of birth to our dispatcher, both he and his passenger got visibly more nervous. The dispatcher radioed back to us, “8-3, your man is wanted on a felony warrant for assault with intent to do great bodily harm, and several misdemeanor warrants for traffic violations.”
Sweet Wine heard that and began backing away from me as I walked towards him. I could see this hulk of a man had no intention of being arrested again. “Look Sweet Wine,” I said. “You’re under arrest for outstanding warrants. Lean against the trunk of your car with your hands out over your head, and spread your legs wide.” He stopped backing away and stood up tall – I mean real tall. I'm almost six feet tall and I was looking up another foot into his eyes. I could see he was evaluating me, Could he take me? He and I both knew the answer was “yes” and this was going to be trouble. I could see us fighting ferociously in the street, just a few blocks from where I went to school. I had to redirect his thoughts, real fast.
I reached up to my shoulder where the microphone of my radio was attached. “Radio, this is 8-3. Send two ambulances to the corner of Lakewood and Essex right away. There’s going to be a shooting.” I turned to face my suspect directly and said “Sweet Wine, I can see you’re wondering if you can overpower me. The answer is yes. But I know that I’ll have to fight you and that you’ll likely try to disarm me or kill me. And I will likely need an ambulance. The other ambulance is for you. Michigan law allows me to shoot you if I think you're trying to kill me and I can't overcome you. I’m a damn good shot and I'm not going to let you hit me first.”
I could see I had his total, undivided attention at that point, but he was still thinking it over, probably wondering if I would really shoot him. I drew my gun from my holster – it was a black, gold inlaid, .357 magnum, Smith and Wesson Model Twenty-Eight revolver, with a 6 inch barrel. It had combat grips and large, red-ramped front sites and white outlined rear sights. It was awesome just to look at in the box. It was horribly intimidating to look into the barrel of that thing. And the look on my face by that time was just as unforgiving.
Something must have clicked for him at that point, because Sweet Wine moaned, “Awww man, you don’t gotta kill me.” And he turned around and tried to put his hands behind his back. He was so big, and his arms, hands and wrists were so huge, that he could not get the front or the backs of his hands to touch. Dave and I had to link our handcuffs together to get them to join at his wrists. I could only get one set of teeth in the cuffs to ratchet around his wrists. I knew they were really tight on him and told him I would get them off him as soon as I could, but under no circumstances was he going to be manacled in the front.
We called for another car to assist us with the arrest of the passenger for allowing an unlicensed person to operate a vehicle. The car belonged to the passenger. As we ran his name by the dispatcher, the passenger turned up wanted on warrants as well. Sweet Wine and I stood talking in the street while we waited for a tow-truck for the deuce and a quarter, and for another TMU car to put their handcuffs on our passenger. Sweet Wine commented, “Officer, ain’t you gonna cancel those ambulances?” It was then I told him that I hadn’t really called the dispatcher – that it was all a hoax to get him to surrender. “Got Damn”, he said. “I think I saw that on One Adam 12.” Referring to a TV show of the 1970s.
“Yeah”, I told him. “Me too.”
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