Saturday, July 12, 2014

Failure Became A Blessing

Sonoma County Deputy Erick Gelhaus “…shot a 13-year-old boy holding a replica AK-47…” in October, 2013.  The District Attorney is not criminally charging Deputy Gelhaus in the death. Predictably, people are calling for the deputy’s head, and the FBI is considering an investigation.  Deputy Gelhaus’ profession bequeathed to him a high stress fate.  I was in a similar situation, and the outcome was totally different.

In the late 1970’s, I was a patrol officer working as a one man car for the Pasadena Police Department. My day was like many other days until I was dispatched a call of a large truck repeatedly smashing into a residence on the SW side of the city. 

Arriving at the location, the truck was parked in the driveway with the diesel engine idling. Proceeding up the driveway, I saw no evidence that there had been any “smashing” into anything.  An older man was encountered at the front of the truck. Suddenly, a shirtless 16 year boy jumped out from behind the truck into a two hand shooting stance aiming a 45 cal. pistol directly at the man standing next to me.  Drawing down, I ordered the kid to drop the gun and to get on the ground.  He continued to aim the gun at the man.  I ordered the boy a second time and then a third time before he complied by throwing the gun down and proning himself out. Holding the suspect at gunpoint, I put out a radio call for assistance. The kid rose to his hands and knees and began to move toward the gun which lay three or four feet in front of him.  Holstering my revolver, I drew a baton and delivered a powerful blow to his back driving him to the ground just short of reaching the gun. I quickly cuffed him.

To this day, I know that I made mistakes. I should have pulled the trigger when the kid jumped out from behind the truck.  I should have pulled the trigger when he got off the ground and moved toward the gun.  My failure in both instances needlessly risked the life of the older man and myself.

There is one significant point; the 45 cal. pistol turned out to be a lookalike bb gun.

The kid had the nastiest looking welt that ran on a diagonal from his right shoulder blade across and down his back.  Momma showed up and began screaming about police brutality and lawsuits. She did not understand that if I had done my job properly she would have had a funeral to attend.

My failure was significant.  I now doubted myself and wondered if I posed a future risk to the public and my brother officers. A sergeant trying to mollify me by saying that it is hard to shoot a kid was for naught.  I know that I failed. 

I left the department in 1980, not because of this incident.   I do think, however, that it helped set the stage for me to be vulnerable to recruitment and a job offer from outside of law enforcement.

When I reentered law enforcement with Simi Valley PD, I still had the concern.  But, training techniques vastly improved through the years with interactive shoot, don’t shoot scenarios.  Doubts are well vanquished.  If I were to be transported back to the shoes of that officer in the 70’s, the incident would end in a double tap or a failure drill.  As it turned out, I don’t carry the emotional burden of Deputy Erick Gelhaus. And, I was subject to neither potential federal inquiry nor civil lawsuits. 

A kid who made a big mistake lived another day.

It is ironic how failure became a blessing.

Uu-ah, Sheepdog!  Hunt the Wolf and the Jackal!

Links in this Blog:
Calif. Deputy Shoots And Kills Teen Carrying Toy Gun

Double Tap

Failure Drill

Monday, October 14, 2013

I Met Eric Poe on Friday

Do you think it strange that I met a man on the day of his interment?  I began to get a sense of the man at his mortuary visitation the night before.  He was resplendent in his dress uniform.  It is the way of Marines.

The next day, the Marine Corps honor guard, spit polished and creased, performed their duties with a solemnity that honored the passing of a warrior, one of their own. Seven rifles spoke as one. The crack of each volley quickly followed with the loading of another rifle round and then another volley. The American flag, removed from the casket, was folded with painstaking precision in preparation for the presentation to the widow. 

Last Friday, Gunnery Sergeant Brian Eric Poe, USMC, Ret., was eulogized at his services held at the Airman’s Chapel, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Later that day he was laid to rest with full military honors at Miramar National Cemetery.

GySgt Poe, Eric to the world except for the military that insisted upon using his first given name of Brian, played the French Horn traveling the world with the Marine Corps Band for 22 years. He also competed both nationally and internationally on the Marine Corps shooting team.

I had the honor of participating as one of the motorcyclists who escorted Gunny on his last ride.  I rode to offer support for Mala, Eric’s wife. She and I met when we worked together for a number of years on a route safety motorcycle team for a national breast cancer walk. Eric fully supported Mala’s participation in this important charity work. 

I was aware that Eric was a former Marine but knew scant more of him.  It stands to reason that Eric was a quality person.  After all, Mala chose him as the love of her life.  By all accounts, he returned her love in spades. At his wake, the descriptions of his love for Mala and his fellow man were numerous and palpable. The passion, joy and heart wrenching anguish, whether signed or audibly spoken, engulfed and washed over the listener compelling recognition of this man’s humanity.

During the chapel service, Alan Poe delivered a commanding tribute to his brother. Alan recounted that if you knew Eric in one of the many facets of his life, there was a good chance that he called you “brother,” a sign of his respect for you.  Eric, it seems, had many extended brothers and sisters.

In addition to the Marine Corps Band, Eric played in the Marine Corps Brass Quintet.  Trombonist and fellow quintet member GySgt Adam Pezdek was best friends with Eric. Adam recounted a trip that the brass quintet took wherein they played a CD by Canadian Brass that included a track entitled, “Quintet” by Michael Kamen. Adam said that they kept coming back to “Quintet” replaying the CD selection over and over despite the fact that none of these tough Marines wanted the others to see that the piece moved him to tears.  Eric requested of Adam that “Quintet” be played at the forthcoming chapel service, and it was performed by Adam and the other four members of the Marine Corps Brass Quintet. 

During the performance of Eric’s beloved “Quintet,” I was in a highly suggestible condition.  That is my excuse for the tears that slid down my cheeks. Others were seen dabbing at their eyes. Later when I confessed to Adam, he said that he had tears too.

I have a soft spot for our combat warriors and especially one who played a brass musical instrument.  In my youth, I played the French Horn and the trumpet so I was immediately drawn to Eric.  Unfortunately, that was last Friday. I really wish that I’d met him earlier and had the opportunity to earn his respect and thereby be called brother by him.

Gunnery Sergeant Brian Eric Poe was more than an outstanding representative of the Marine Corps. He was more than a man’s man. He was more than a man of excellence. He was a faithful, loving husband, talented musician and a brother to everyone.

I believe that a statement in the funeral program must be true, “Brian Eric Poe was an example of the best of America.”

Rest in peace, Brother! You have loved and been loved in return.

(There is a link in the body of this blog to a performance of “Quintet” by Canadian Brass or use this address
After listening to “Quintet” open a second browser and play again the music that Eric so loved as a background to rereading this blog.  Perhaps you too will feel a connection with Eric.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Mid-February, 2008.

Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, California.

We, civilian sheepdogs, often journey to majestic Death Valley to re-cement relationships spanning decades.  This time it was a long weekend riding off-highway dual sport motorcycles. My god, what a weekend!

Our group enjoys a special kinship with military warriors.  Have you ever heard of warriors referred to as sheepdogs?  Well, probably not. Put succinctly, sheepdogs run towards the gunfire and sheep run away from it. Three sequential photos taken in Iraq illuminate the notion.  An American soldier was walking through an Iraqi village when something happens; perhaps it is a bomb explosion or maybe gunshots.  Whatever happened, the soldier continues to stride forward purposefully while the Iraqi crowd flees in pandemonium in the opposite direction.

During the Vietnam War, an American colonel postulated the concept that humans are sheep, sheepdogs and wolves.  Sheep symbolize the majority of humans. Wolves predate upon the sheep, and the sheepdogs, both military and civilian, protect the sheep from the wolves.

My buddy Russ announced that he was packing a 5 foot by 3 foot American flag to display and thereby honor military sheepdogs should an American military jet fly nearby. That fired-up everyone’s enthusiasm.  Russ’ plan was a fine token of appreciation for our military sheepdog brethren. And, the plan was not far-fetched since military jets routinely fly the Panamint Valley skirting the western edge of Death Valley National Park. The valley is part of the military’s Special Use Airspace Complex.

For several days we negotiated dirt/gravel byways occasionally clogged with snow. The roads did their best to topple us if we slowed too much allowing the front wheel to plow and lose steerage. It is as if someone kicked the wheels right out from under you.  One second you’re upright, and the next you are down, or struggling to keep the motorcycle from pitching you head over heels.  Through all of that, we failed to spot a close military jet.

Homeward bound, two pick-up trucks loaded with motorcycles, we headed southbound through the Panamint Valley. The Panamint Mountain Range, home of Ballarat, the former mining town and now virtual ghost town, and Barker Ranch where Charlie Manson once hung out, graces the eastern flank of the valley with Telescope Peak rising to 11,049 feet. Clear, dry and tranquil it was. No wind. No birds flying.  Maybe a lizard hunkered under a bush or skittered about. We were tired and mellow.  Russ drove and I relaxed.

Suddenly, blasting over the mountains and dropping into valley, coming northbound toward us like the birds of prey they are, two Fighting Falcons, fast and low.  Dwight and Tim stopped ahead of us.  Russ stopped.  Bailing out from the shotgun side, I struggled to deploy Russ’ flag. The lead F-16 passed just to our west.  I’m not sure that I got the flag out in time for the lead pilot to see it. But three seconds later, Ol’ Glory was fully displayed for the Wingman.  He came straight up the road directly at us a mere 500 feet over our heads. If you have not had a close-up experience with a low flying military jet, let me tell you this, it is an incredible sight and sound to behold.

Russ and I were still high-fiving when both birds banked to an eastbound and then a southbound heading. Two black specks rocketing down the valley, back the way they came. When the leading jet turned westbound toward our partners, I realized that they were going to come around for another pass. I envision the radio conversation that might have occurred between the pilots.

Wingman to Leader: “Did you see those guys holding up Ol’ Glory?  Let’s go around.”

Leader to Wingman: “Roger. There are two stopped vehicles about a mile apart. I’ll take the first, and you take the second.”

Wingman to Leader: “Roger that.”

Lead jet buzzed Dwight and Tim, climbed out of the valley, and departed away to the southwest. Seconds later, Wingman turned northbound and descended this time to about 100 feet off the deck thundering up the road directly at us. Russ and I, holding Ol’ Glory stretched out between us, were head-on eye-ball to eye-ball with Wingman piloting his fifty foot bird with a thirty-two foot wing span and weighing up to 42,000 pounds.

Wingman’s first fly-by was routine.  But, not this time.  Now, it was personal.  Wingman did not know that we were fellow sheepdogs but he certainly recognized the respect that we accorded to him.  There was a connection between a pilot and two patriots standing steadfast in the desert. My feet were anchored to the ground like I had grown roots. Destiny deemed that I had no other function than to stand there with Ol’ Glory. It was as if we and Wingman were engaged in an intertwining dance, playing integral parts in the same play; a mutual salute. We were one. The tension was intoxicating.

The Fighting Falcon’s maximum speed at sea level is 915 mph.  I don’t know what speed Wingman was doing, but he was cooking. Whooom, he passed over us and immediately pulled a high-g ascent as straight up as an F-16 can do, propelled by the flaming jet engine. A barrel roll and Wingman was gone as fast as he arrived leaving us with the mist and smell of jet fuel and a memory of a lifetime. The tension released and Russ and I went nuts, like a couple of kids. When we regained our composure, it was so quiet.

Saddling up and continuing toward home, the desert and mountains once again paned by giving testament to their endurance, as if frozen in time but not. We drove mostly in silence for quite awhile.  I was absorbed in my thoughts; I suppose that Russ was too.

That is the way it happened when we said, “Thank You.” And, they said, “You are Welcome.”

Uu-ah, Sheepdog!  Hunt the wolf.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jon’s Freedom Ride 2011

I bought a T-shirt today. It’s a gray shirt with three blue stars inside blue circles on a white backdrop. To the right, streaming out from behind the stars are swooping parallel lines of red and white. Underneath reads, “Jon’s Freedom Ride 2011. The shirt cost me $22, a pittance. The money went to a good cause.

Who’s Jon? That would be Jon Seyster, a 26 year old Simi Valley man with cerebral palsy. He intends to ride a hand propelled tricycle 530 miles from Ground Zero to the Pentagon starting on 9/11/11. Jon is participating in the Ride 2 Recovery’s 9/11 American Challenge ride. Jon is raising money to assist our Wounded Warriors.

I strained to understand Jon as he spoke from his wheel chair. He explained that it is his passion to “give back to our military.” Jon is going to ride side by side with our Wounded Warriors.

Jon said on his website, “I can’t think of a better way to begin my new chapter in life by first giving back to our military. It is because of them that I was able to go to college and be what ever I want to be. Riding side by side with them will be such an honor.”

Who is this severely handicapped man reaching out to his heroes in a real grueling and physical way? He is a man, perhaps better equipped than most of us, to know personally the challenges facing our wounded.

I don’t know a lot about Jon, but I do know this; he’s a man with a huge heart and buckets of courage. We can learn from him.

Perhaps you might be interested in helping Jon by financially assisting to make his dream come true. Go to Jon’s website, Jon’s Freedom Ride and sponsor him as a rider at the Ride 2 Recovery site,

Links in this Blog:
Jon’s Freedom Ride

Ride 2 Recovery

Sponsor a Rider

Friday, May 6, 2011

On the Path to a Police State

When the government formulates laws and regulations targeting a minority, everyone’s liberties are in jeopardy. Here’s the background story.

Suction dredging for gold is a mainstream (pun intended) activity for small mining operations. It is the goal of radical environmentalists to terminate all suction dredging. To that end, suction dredging is currently halted in California pending new regulations following a recently released environmental impact report conducted by the Department of Fish & Game.

The public comment period on the report and proposed regulations ends 5/10/11. Enclosed below is my public comment addressing the proposed regulations, which provide draconian police tools to target law abiding citizens.


Mr. Mark Stopher
California Department of Fish and Game
601 Locust St.
Redding, CA 96001

Comments Regarding: Suction Dredge Permitting Program
Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report
California Department of Fish and Game

Dear Mr. Mark Stopher,

When I read California’s newly proposed suction dredge regulations, I immediately began to see red flags. My law enforcement background and sense of justice is sounding a red alert.

Although I’m not a suction dredge miner, I am a miner and these proposed regulations are just plain wrong — and unjust. As a former law enforcement officer, I easily recognize the threats contained in these proposed regulations to suction dredge miners specifically and to the public in general.

The Department of Fish and Game intends to impose on suction dredge miners a class of permit requirements and restrictions that it does not impose on hunters and fishermen. There are four notable areas of unique requirements:

1. a maximum of 4,000 suction permits are to be provided

2. dredging equipment must be itemized, “A list of all suction dredge equipment that will be used under the permit, including nozzle size, constrictor ring size (if needed), engine manufacturer and model number, and horsepower;”

3. a maximum of six dredging locations are allowed per license and a list must be provided with an exact geographical location for each site

4. an approximate date for dredging must be provided for each location

Historically, there has been no limit to the maximum number of suction dredge permits that can be issued. According to DFG, the previous number of annual permits issued is in the area of 3,000 or so.

The current plan to limit the maximum number of permits to 4,000 is unsupported by data indicating the necessity of the requirement. Whether or not it is an intended consequence by the DFG or not, the plan presents the possibility that environmental activists may purchase permits with the expressed purpose of locking out suction dredge miners from exercising their federal statutory rights to mine. Buying up most of the suction dredging permits is far cheaper for the environmental activists than filing lawsuits. The State is, therefore, aiding and abetting a radical environmental agenda.

There are only three dredging equipment specifications in the regulations:
1. the diameter of the suction nozzle;
2. the intake hose diameter;
3. and pump intake screen specifications.

Why is it necessary for the state to force the miner to disclose a list of all unregulated equipment used to include engine manufacturer, model number and horsepower? Changing any of the equipment without the onerous modification of the permit is impermissible and citable. Clearly, the listing of all equipment, for which there are no State permit requirements, is a selective enforcement tool for DFG law enforcement, a polite way to say harassment.

The requirements of location and dates reveal another State agenda, which will impede and make difficult the lawful activity of suction dredging.

The proposed regulations would make it unlawful to dredge anywhere other than the maximum six locations listed on the dredging permit. The limitation to number of dredging locations, without justification of supporting data, clearly limits the opportunities to suction dredge.

Why does the State need to know the whereabouts of suction dredging locations? And, why does the State need to know the “approximate” dates that each location is intended to be dredged? These requirements are clearly designed to assist law enforcement to easily locate a suction dredging operation.

Civil law enforcement operates in two modes, reactive and proactive.

Reactive enforcement is when law enforcement learns of a potential violation of law and responds to address the specific violation by specific violators.

Proactive enforcement is when law enforcement targets a class of suspected violators of law with specific actions. Unlike reactive enforcement, proactive enforcement presumes violations by a class of violator.

These regulations clearly announce that suction dredgers are a specific class of potential law violators that requires that law enforcement be provided the proactive tools to deal with the violators. Therein lays the rationale for the location and approximate date requirements for permitted suction dredging. These regulations provide no data to support a de facto assertion that suction dredgers are a specific classification of law violators justifying the specific proactive targeting of them by law enforcement.

Unintended consequences of the requirements of location and dates are even more ominous. DFG license data is public information and thus discoverable via a public records information request. The data will be extremely beneficial to anyone desiring to locate a dredging operation for purposes of robbery, theft or vandalism. In addition, it tells criminals when the suction dredger’s residence may be vacant and more vulnerable for burglary and/or home invasion robbery.

Characterizing suction dredgers as potential criminals, these regulations provide law enforcement with specific and unique proactive tools to target the miners. By formulating unjustified regulations, the State is deliberately limiting freedoms and creating an environment ripe for the encouragement of law enforcement excesses. Incentivizing police abuse of citizens, whether intended or unintended, is a step forward on the road toward a police state.

Paul Coambs

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bare Your Breasts but Don’t Mention Them

Yesterday, I read that high school girls at Baltic, SD, are forbidden to wear “I Love Boobies” bracelets, which are designed to raise the public’s awareness of breast cancer. The bracelets are considered “in poor taste” and perhaps offensive.

It is absurd that anything as innocuous as the message on a bracelet could cause such an uproar. The community of Baltic should be praising its young women, who are actively promoting the awareness of a disease that strikes one in eight of American women.

The picture accompanying the article was of 16 year old Amelia Atkins, who is wearing a “I Love Boobies” bracelet and a Susan G. Komen For the Cure breast cancer shirt saying, “Save the Ta-Tas.” Lord have mercy, she dares to wear the phrase “Ta-Tas” too.

In Clovis, CA, the boobie bracelets have also run afoul of educators. “The school district's dress code outlaws jewelry with sexually suggestive language or images…” So, I guess anything to do with a breast, even mentioning it, is sexual. How about breast feeding? Then again, Clovis is in Central California, don’t you know?

We are much more sophisticated in Southern California. Yesterday, in Simi Valley, CA, I saw a young girl leaving a junior high school with a low scooped blouse revealing a major portion of her bare upper breasts. She didn’t have a lot of protuberance, but what she had proudly jiggled as she walked. This girl is apparently not violating any school dress codes. Of course, she didn’t have on anything saying boobies or ta-tas either. But, I’ll bet that more than one of her male schoolmates experienced a surge of something relatively new to them, testosterone. Do you think that might be distracting to the school’s educational mission?

What gives? Well, clearly we Americans don’t have a consensus on the matter.

To the moral guardians and limiters of free speech in Clovis, Baltic, Colorado, Idaho, Florida and Wisconsin, I know that the courts have ruled that you can limit free speech of students at school. But, I say, “get a life.”

To the complacent educators in Simi Valley, get a backbone and address the issue about your young female students becoming sex objects before their time?

To the rest of you, support the breast cancer awareness movement. You owe it to all the women in your lives. Oh, and say “well done” to Amelia and her cohorts.

Link in this Blog:
Schools ban bracelets promoting cancer awareness

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Incumbency Trumps Free Speech in Simi Valley

The City of Bell, CA, gets caught dolling out megabucks to its top political leaders and suddenly the media eye is scrutinizing the expenditures of cities in their own neighborhoods. You can bet that city fathers all over the country are squirming at the exposure. But, the awarding of full time employment benefits to part-time city council personnel is every day fare. But, how about writing a city ordinance which benefits the city council incumbents to the detriment of aspiring city council candidates? Simi Valley did it. It gives me a warm feeling to know that my city fathers have only the public’s interest at heart.

I submitted a letter to the editor on the subject to the Simi Valley Acorn, which published an edited version under the title of, “Sign ordinance is bad for democracy.”

Below is the unedited piece that I submitted.

City of Simi Valley Prohibits Political Signs In Favor of Incumbency

In 2006, the City of Simi Valley enacted a city ordinance prohibiting the placing of temporary signs, including pre-election political signs, on the public right-of-way.

The ordinance asserts, “The placement and accumulation of temporary signs in the public right-of-way, on traffic and utility devices, upon public sidewalks or on public easements presents dangerous conditions to the free and safe flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Such areas must be preserved for official traffic signs and official utility notices in order to assure the safe flow of traffic.” The ordinance justification offered no proof of hazard existing in the City.

The only proof of justification stated within the ordinance concerned aesthetics. The 0rdinance states, “Prior to the adoption of the ordinance, the City of Simi Valley has permitted temporary signs in the public right-of-way, which has resulted in substantial unsightly conditions, as illustrated in evidence presented to the City Council during its consideration of this ordinance.”

The ordinance further states, “A limitation on temporary sign display is directly related to the objective of aesthetics.”

It goes without saying that a sitting member of the city council enjoys a considerable political incumbent advantage over an election challenger. That advantage is the result of name recognition and opportunities to interact with the residents and business community in the course of conducting city business.

One of the main mechanisms to gain name recognition is the time honored tradition of posting temporary political signs in advance of an election. There is no greater venue for political signs than the public right-of-way.

By improving the “aesthetics” of the city and forbidding the posting of political signs on the public right-of-way, the council voted a political advantage for themselves.

Limiting candidate free speech robs the public of the opportunity to learn about their prospective city leaders.

City Council challenger Keith Mashburn wants to amend the city sign ordinance to correct the political injustice. Vote for Keith Mashburn, a man of integrity.

Link in this Blog
Sign ordinance is bad for democracy