Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Experience With San Rafael PD – Part I

By Richard Douglas, Captain (Retired) with editing help from Gene Pennington, Captain (Retired).

Please note that Dick’s article was sent to me in May but it is just now being published.  Sorry for the delay.

May 1, 2009

My name is Richard A. Douglas, AKA Dick Douglas. My ID number is 111, which I believe is the second oldest issued number, still alive. Lou Foster (#106) has the oldest number who is still alive and kicking. Jim Carlton (#110) may also still be alive but I haven't seen him in 15 - 20 years. He moved to Oregon and became a sheriff in Josephine County.  When the numbering system was first started, about 1970, Joe Brusatori was given the very first number, #101. I will try to name as many of those old timers as I am able (not necessarily in numerical sequence) who received numbers following 101. There was Capt. Tom Stevenson, Lt. Jay Fletcher, Lt. Link Borba, John Rosentangle, Jim Carlton, Earl Christensen, Lou Foster, Carl Selby and Ray Bleasdale.

I was married with two daughters in late 1958 and was attending College of Marin in my final year. My wife's income was the money we had coming into the home and I needed a job very badly. I saw that SRPD was going to have a test to select two or three officers from that test. The Chief at that time was Frank Kelly (photo on blog cover). When the test was completed, two officers were selected - Jim Carlton and Leo Schwab. That was in January or February of 1959. In June, The department called me and Jerry Souza in for additional interviews. From those interviews, Jerry and I were both selected.

I started work at 4:00 PM on 6/15/59 because I had two more weeks of college to complete to get my AA Degree. (After I graduated I went straight to graveyard for the next 6 years) Jerry started at 12:00 Midnight, on 6/16/59. Even though I took the test to become an officer while Frank Kelly was alive, in November of 1958, there was another election and this election proved successful for Charlie Chiesa, who had been a lieutenant under Kelly. So Chiesa was the Chief who actually hired me.

That election may seem strange to some but in those days there were still two cities who still elected their chief of police. One was in the East Bay and San Rafael was number two. When Chiesa retired, the City Council wanted to have control of their chief so they made a deal with Joe Brusatori. They needed to have approval from the voters to do away with the elected chief and asked Joe Brusatori if he would support the vote and he agreed. Joe was then appointed to fill out the rest of Charlie Chiesa's term and he served until his retirement in 73-74. The council then appointed the first chief from outside the department.  He was another Kelly. This time it was Larry Kelly. More on Larry later.

My FTO (in those days they were not called FTO's. They simply called them training officers) was John Kingston aka Whitey. Whitey stayed with the department for a number of years before he decided he could make more money as an investigator for the Marin County DA's Office. About seven days onto the job, just after 4:00 PM when we started our patrol, we got a call to respond to a home on Belle Ave. because of unknown suspicious circumstances. It was then I experienced my first homicide/suicide. A school superintendent shot his wife and then committed suicide while their two boys listened upstairs.  I also got a chance to witness first hand, how callous newspaper reporters are. At midnight, they were calling people connected to the school system, waking them and asking how they felt about their superintendent shooting his wife and committing suicide. Anything to juice up a story.

In those days there were no separate positions for dispatcher on the swing or grave shifts. If you were hired as an officer, you were also expected to fill in as a dispatcher, on occasion. I forget the name of the officer who was the dispatcher on swing shift but he was one of the most powerful officers on the department because he made out the schedule and you were not allowed to argue with him.

On the graveyard shift, Roy Conyers was the dispatcher most of the time. However, on occasion, Roy would man a beat and handle it very well. I remember on one occasion, we had a near riot at the King Cotton Restaurant. We were always having problems at two teen age hang outs in town. One was the King Cotton and the other was (I believe Foster's) Drive Inn. Each at opposite ends of town. Anyway, Roy was working the beat where King Cotton was located and the dispatcher told him that the rest of the department was on the way. We heard him go out of service there and before the rest of us could get there, Roy had the situation in hand and was bringing one out in hand cuffs. We asked him what he did to calm every one down and he said all he ever does in those situations, is to find the biggest guy there, walk up to him and cold cock him on the spot. He said that everyone else then gets real meek and quiet.

During my 6 years on the graveyard, I made many friends with the younger generation. There were about 8 of these young toughs who hung out till about 2:00 AM. When I found them loitering on my beat, I would pick them up and let them ride around with me while I spot lighted buildings. We would talk about everything from soup to nuts. They were not what I would call thieves or crooks, but just teenagers (they actually were 18, 19 and 20 year olds) with nothing else to do. I became friendly with them and before long, when a crime occurred in town, these guys would come to me and tell me who did it. I passed the information onto Nick Giampoli or Tom Cheetham and we had another case solved. (For your information, Tom Cheetham was the Chief Criminal Investigator and Nick Giampoli was his assistant) The act of driving these young guys around in my car soon became a no, no. When the City Manager found out, he put a stop to it. He was concerned of my exposing the city to excess liability. Eventually however, the city sanctioned "The Ride Along Program".

During this time there was another officer on the department named Richard "Dick" Camper. He was the fraud investigator. In those days, the biggest fraud problem was housewives stretching their budget by writing NSF (Non sufficient funds) checks. Dick decided he had seen enough of law enforcement to last him for the rest of his life, so decided to move on to something more lucrative. (When I started law enforcement, my salary was $365 a month) Partly because I had assisted our Chief Criminal Investigator and partly because no one else wanted to be stuck with an office job, trying to get housewives to make restitution, I was appointed to fill the Fraud Investigators slot.

During this time period, Nick Giampoli (he had been a lieutenant) had opened his own business. He and his wife started a Telephone Answering Service. Nick also had aspirations of becoming the next Chief. He decided he didn't need to go to work so used up all of his sick time and vacation time. So that made me Tom Cheetham's assistant.

On Labor Day, 1965, at 3:00 AM, two ex-cons from San Francisco, decided they were going to rob the Mission Inn (Bar & restaurant) on B St. in town. The owner was Leo Albertoni and his bartender was Mario Ferrari. Mario tried to run out the back door and was shot in the back. He died at the scene. As it would happen, Tom Cheetham was on vacation and out of town. So I was called. This is one of those cases where the blind led the blind. I had no training in homicides, in fact no training in criminal investigations what so ever except fraud. Well, guess what? I got lucky.

There was once an officer who worked for SRPD who thought he could get a better deal by switching to the Marin County Sheriff's Office. He happened to be on duty that night and, when he heard the broadcast of the shooting go out on the air, he took a position at the entrance to US 101, on 2nd St. He saw a car about to leave town, so stopped it to see where they had been. They said they had to go to the bath room so decided to pull off the road. They found a deserted spot and peed.

Matt took their names and addresses and later turned them over to me. As it turned out, they were living in a "Half Way" home in San Francisco. They had been convicted of some crime and were released on parole and living in the half way house. After a couple of days I went to San Francisco and contacted the two. One was a male, the other a female. At first they stuck to their original story but later, when I threatened to have their parole revoked they agreed to tell me what really happened.

I then called Ernie Zunino (he was a deputy DA in those days) and he agreed I could bring the two over for a taped interview. During the interview they both told a story of being threatened by two paroled ex convicts that if they didn't assist them they would be in for some big trouble. They were to drive the two to the Mission Inn, let them off about midnight wait for them to come out later and then drive them back to San Francisco. They went on to say that when they heard the shots they panicked and took off. They never went back. They then identified the two as Jack Gorman and Mark Osuna. We had a warrant issued and later arrested them. So I looked good as a homicide detective when all the glory should have gone to Matt Conlin. I was even honored as Police Officer of the Year by the Ross Valley Kiwanis Club. Being good is one thing but being lucky is even better.

From that point on, my career sort of blossomed. Within 5 years I was given the title of Chief Criminal Investigator. Joe, who was the Captain and Chiesa, the Chief, wanted to make me a lieutenant but since I had been elected as the Police Officers Association to be their negotiator for salary, working conditions and benefits, I couldn't accept a promotion, under the table, when we (Association) had been fighting for some time to only promote those people who could pass a test. Besides I argued, Lou Foster had been the Chief Juvenile Officer for longer than I had been a detective and if anyone was to get a promotion under the table, it should be he. After more haggling, we agreed to split the extra money Nick Giampoli's lieutenant's position offered, giving half to Lou and half to me. We became sort of super sergeants.

End of Part I – Parts II through IV will be published one a week.