“For this story, while the events are true, the names of individuals and cities have been changed to protect confidentiality and privacy.”
I got the call at home on Christmas Eve. Eve, or evening is the time of day between six p.m. and bedtime, so in reality it was only my eve, as the rest of the family had retired for the night. The girls of course had been in a rush to go to bed, their theory being, the faster they went to sleep, the faster that Santa would arrive and the sooner they could rise for freshly baked cinnamon buns, empty their Christmas stocking and scope out the bounty that was under the tree. Simple needs in a complex world.
My wife Terry on the other hand cut her evening short for different reasons. One, she’d been shopping all morning to ensure that Santa would live up to his benevolent reputation. Two, she’d been baking all afternoon; special traditional treats that only appeared one time each year, and this was the time of the year that they were due to appear. And three, she’d been arranging this Christmas without me; she was tired! In my defence, I had just returned from seven days on the road, coincidentally called out by the very same person currently on my phone. My wife actually preferred the word predictable to coincidental, as in every time Dave, a colleague at Thompson City Detachment, called I predictably left the house and family for an unpredictable period of time. Complex needs in a complex world.
Dave opened with his predictable greeting, “So how’s it going?”
“It’s Christmas eve.”
“I’ve got something really interesting for you.”
“It’s Christmas eve.”
“Yeah, I heard you the first time, are you suggesting that I have a hearing problem or a comprehension issue?”
“What I’m saying is that nothing important happens on Christmas eve Dave; we stand down, take a break, everybody goes home.”
“Yeah, well this is a carryover from last night, it can’t wait until next week and it’s something you would really be pissed off missing.”
Dave had me at the crossroads, he knew it, I knew it, and even my sleeping wife knew it. The outcome was as predictable as the next question I asked.
“What’s it about?” I asked.
“Gary and his crew have been sitting on the Franklin drug syndicate; 24/7 surveillance at two locations. Gary had an informant tell him that a female courier would be bringing a shitload of cocaine in from Winnipeg on the train this week. They met the train last night but missed the courier. About an hour later, this dude shows up one of the residences. The surveillance team had never seen him before. Then the informant calls Gary and asks if we got the courier, who was switched from a girl to a guy just before train time in Winnipeg. So Gary arcs all over the informant and asks him doesn’t he think it’s a little late to be calling? Anyway, the informant was scared he’d be burned if he called ahead.”
“Yeah, you’re right, I would be really pissed off at missing that. But how does that concern me now?”
“So, ok, Gary makes the call to get a search warrant, no harm no foul if it doesn’t pan out right? They hit the place and do the search and guess what?”
“Ahhh let me guess, nothing is found?”
“Well almost nothing, there was a warrant to arrest on the courier, so he was taken into custody. Gary hoped to flip the guy into telling him where he delivered the cocaine shipment. But guess what?”
“If wishes were horses, then beggars would fly?”
“Exactly, so Winnipeg PD will be here in the morning to pick him up.”
“On Christmas morning?”
“Two single guys are coming; double time-and-a-half overtime.”
“So, can you come in?”
“Interview the courier. Give this guy one last shot at redemption. You have a knack.”
“ I have to be Santa at 7 am.”
“So be the Grinch until then.”
“I started being the Grinch by leaving a note for my sleeping wife, hoping I’d be back before she wakened.”
Driving to the office was not an onerous task at the best of times in Thompson, Manitoba. Located above the 53rd parallel in the center of the most central Province in Canada, Thompson was a planned town, isolated from larger cities in the south by some 500 miles of isolated terrain. A mining town carved out of the Canadian Boreal Forest in the early ‘60s where few but the indigenous peoples could survive and and none but the earliest explorers dared to roam. Everything brought into this new area was in support of mining the area’s rich nickel deposits and Thompson’s earliest occupants were there at the pleasure of the Inco Mining Company.
To ensure company compliance, Inco contracted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Canada’s national police service) as its law enforcement service provider. In these early days, RCMP officers ruled a mostly predominant single male work force with an iron fist; people arriving without a legitimate purpose or those that were causing serious problems in the community were quickly shipped out on the next train South. In the ensuing years, Thompson had become more “civilized”; diverse in both population and commerce. In 1986, Thompson was the economic hub of the North. Civilization softened the town, families became the norm within the workforce and law enforcement lost its paramilitary edge. I, as a newly promoted RCMP Corporal, was expected to problem solve all challenges in a moral, ethical and legal way; something I was raised to respect and trained to do.
On this Christmas eve, the roads were primarily snow-covered. A near zero visibility blizzard had blown through the city two days prior, and while the city had worked hard and long to keep all roads open during the height of the storm, the residual cleanup was going to be relegated to normal working hours, meaning not before the end of “Christmas week”. Notwithstanding the fact that many residents had 4X4 trucks and SUVs, my two-wheeled drive Ford Explorer had no problem navigating the 10-minute drive to the office.
Even in that short period of time, I had time to reflect on my new duties in the North and the impact that it had made on our family. December 1986 and 13 years of service. In just five short months we had moved from the South, purchased a new house, enrolled the kids in school and extracurricular activities and started rebuilding our social network. Our two girls had adjusted well to school and were finding new friends in our neighbourhood. Terry, a public health nurse, had secured yet another new job, this time with the Provincial health department and I was in charge of a small but devoted drug enforcement section responsible for coordinating drug enforcement or helping with on-going investigations in all locations North of the 53rd parallel. Such was the case tonight when Dave, in charge of criminal investigations for the City of Thompson, called to request my assistance.
I arrived at the office at 11 PM and there was an unusual amount of activity going on. In normal times a drug enforcement office can have some pretty bizarre activities happening, but I expected that on Christmas Eve the tone of the office would be a little more subdued. Constable Frank Underhill, one of the City investigators, was standing in the middle of the main office floor, surrounded by his shift colleagues and a scattering of investigators from other squads. All had pulled up chairs or sat on desks in a hastily arranged circle around him. As I drew closer to the group, I could see that Frank had been out on the street earlier with his enforcement team.
At 5’8” and 190 lbs., Frank was often mistaken for many of his drug trafficking clientele. Overweight enough not to be perceived as a threat to any living being, scruffy to the point where 90% of the population would fear inviting him into their homes and smelly to the point where the other 10% would only associate with him if there was some type of reward involved. That population ratio was who Frank dressed for on any given night that he took to the streets as part of his lawful drug enforcement duties. On this night he was dressed in black jeans and T-shirt with a dark grey hoodie and black and silver converse runners. Even with the temperature below freezing, this or a variation of that was his working uniform. He felt that it made him look high enough in the upper percentile of poor and low enough in the lower percentile of smart that would validate his role-playing persona as a homeless street person. He further rationalized that the odd shiver or two only added to his credibility as a user of illegal substances. As an added bonus, except for his runners, few tried to steal his clothes.
Frank was known within the office as the one who frequently stepped into mostly humorous and sometimes-serious situations. In fact, on the rare occasion that anyone else got on the wrong side of practice or protocol, the situation, even amongst management, was known as a “Frank”. If you pulled a Frank that got the attention of management, the outcome was always painful and the impact was quickly felt. If you pulled a Frank within the office peer group there was less pain but the teasing and untimely reminders usually lasted a longer period of time.
I knew from that morning’s briefing that Frank’s team had done some recent arrests around a group of apartment buildings known to house active drug dealers and frequented by addicts and recreational users alike, willing to buy the commodities proffered. I knew as well that Frank had been the surveillance leader for his team; watching the area from the rooftop of 100 Centennial Plaza, a building with the highest vantage point over three drug-active smaller buildings in the group. Unknown to Frank at the time, he was observed entering 100 Centennial Plaza by one Walter Dozier, a resident and active drug dealer himself. Joining the circle I listened as Frank, in an excited and humorous tone, relate his most recent tale.
“So I get a call this afternoon from one of my informants, he’s a city taxi driver. He tells me that he’s at the city dump with a guy he picked up at 100 Centennial Plaza. The guy got in his cab and told him he needed to go to the dump. So my informant, performing due diligence, demands a cash deposit up front and asks why this guy wants to go to the dump? The guy says, ‘to pick up something’, which my informant thinks is very strange. But hey, he has the time and payment in advance, so he drives to the dump.”
“So my informant stays in the car with the heater and meter running, and the dude goes into an area of the dump that has recently received city garbage. My informant watches as he pulls out a cardboard box and then a set of scales and then some plastic Baggies. Boom! He’s on the phone to me and I and the team scrambled out to the dump. Actually we met the cab coming back into town, so we stopped it on the highway and identified the passenger as Walter Dozier, a resident at 100 Centennial Plaza. On the seat beside this goof is a box containing a set of balance scales, a book with a list of customers and 41 quarter-pound bags of high-grade marijuana.”
“So now, everyone is happy. We’re happy because we got a good pop, the taxi driver is happy because be got his fare and pending reward from me. But Walter is visibly unhappy, kicking the doors and banging his head against the car door from time to time as we head back to the office to process him. And every once in awhile we hear Walter exclaim to himself, “I’m so stupid, I’m so stupid”. Not willing or able to argue the point with him, I waited until we got back to the interview room before my curiosity of this strange afternoon event was satisfied with a Q&A session with Walter.”
At this point Frank was unable to continue, he started giggling and jiggling, and as concerned as we all were as to where this activity might lead, we had experienced it enough times to know that it could not be rushed. Frank need to be waited out. Gaining control he continued.
“So, he tells me that he saw me go into 100 Centennial this morning and he thought I was there to get permission from the caretaker to kick his door in. I asked him what made him believe that first of all, I needed permission from the caretaker and second that I was going to kick his door?”
So then he says, “I don-know”.
So then I ask him, “then what happened?” and he says.
“So then I got scared ‘cause I had a new stash and I thought someone had ratted me out and you were coming to kick my door. So, I got my stuff together in a box and carried it down the back stairway and out to the parking lot. I didn’t know where to hide it, so I put it into the big metal trash container, down in the corner where nobody would see it. Then I ran back upstairs to wait for you to kick my door in. But I unlocked my door because the last time you guys kicked it in it cost me $700 to fix it and I almost got evicted. So I left it unlocked and even a bit open so that you’d know it was unlocked and wouldn’t kick it in. Then I waited. But you never came.”
Frank started giggling again, but of course by this time we didn’t want to discourage him from finishing his story.
Frank continued, “So, OK Walter, then what happened?”
“I fell asleep.”
“You fell asleep?”
“Well yeah, I was expecting you so I was just sitting, and when you didn’t come, I fell asleep. Then I got awake when I heard the truck arrive.”
“The garbage truck! You know the sound when it backs up, BEEP, BEEP BEEP, when it’s backing up to warn everyone that it’s backing up?” That woke me up and I ran to my balcony and saw the garbage truck dumping the garbage container into its box. And all my stuff with it, I was so stupid! So then I called the cab and we went to the dump and I found it again. Then you caught me, I was so stupid.”
Franks’s story seemed to be concluded at this point and by the looks of those eyeballing each other around the room, the general consensus appeared to be one of admiration for a good investigation on Franks’s part. As the pause became uncomfortable, one of the officers sitting on a desk asked Frank,
“So what did you say to him Frank?”
At that question, Frank’s demeanor visibly softened and in a noticeably quieter voice he replied,
“Well, I sorta felt sorry for the little guy, it being Christmas and all and he’s in jail feeling stupid about what he did. I told him that this wasn’t the first time he was caught selling dope and it likely won’t be the last time. Today he wasn’t stupid, he just got caught again, a different way.”
That was a win-win on Christmas eve as far as Frank was concerned, and as the quiet crew broke up to go their own ways, I could sense that they felt it too.
In many ways and for many crimes, a successful conclusion is both personally and professionally satisfying. Frank accomplished that for sure; but he left Walter with a clear opportunity to hold onto his dignity and face the consequences of his actions.
Another lesson learned! A good investigation will never be better or stronger through denigrating a suspect, accused or sentenced individual. I can count many times in my service, especially while working alone in isolated environs, where a previous”client” has intervened from within a group to save me from serious confrontation or harm.
That is my most memorable “Frank”.
…………… to be continued