Lest We Forget – Officer Richard Kent – December 8, 1960

 

wreath

 

lestweforget

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A STREET COP
Interview by Officer Jane Russom

My name is L. Jeff Poor. They called me “Cowboy” because I always wore cowboy boots. My Arkansas accent probably helped that too.

It’s been 37 years. I was working the Mid-PM shift in 77th Division that night. It was early December, December 8th, 8:05 PM to be exact.

My usual partner was Harley Hunnel, but on this particular night I was working with the new kid in the squad, Richard Kent. Richard and I were assigned to work the felony car. This was a plain clothes assignment in an unmarked car.

Richard was 30, and was a veteran of the Korean War and had several years on the department.

We finished roll call and were beginning our routine for the night (get a cup of coffee, check out our hot spots for wanted suspects and attempt to locate fugitives). With the amount of time we had, we were up on our tactics. When responding to “hot calls,” if some problem came up like a foot pursuit or felony stop, as partners you knew: the driver went left, the passenger went right, and you never crossed in front of each other and you never got in each other’s line of fire.

As we set out that night, neither of us knew that what was about to occur would literally change our lives forever.

Since I had driven the night before and Richard was an experienced officer, he drove and I kept books. Richard shined his flashlight to the floorboard and said, “I think I need batteries.” His batteries were so dim that you needed to strike a match to see if his flashlight was on. As we pulled up to the Lucky Auto Parts store (at that time located on 86th Street and Broadway), Richard said that he knew the manager in there and he would get some batteries and be right back out. It was not unusual for one partner to stay in the car and listen to the radio while the other one went and brought back coffee or whatever.

This was considered to be a safe place of business because we knew the people there. We had parked at the red curb at 88th Place, just north of the store. I filled in the daily activity log with our names, serial numbers, roll call information, the car we were in and the area we covered. Dick went in to get batteries. All at once, I heard what sounded like gunfire – numerous shots. I was north of the auto parts store. I jumped out of the car and headed towards the store. I saw a young man run out of the store with a gun in his hand. I didn’t have all the facts, but I knew that I had a felony, at least an ADW.

I was 37, prematurely silver and was overweight, weighing 220 lbs. I considered myself fairly old, and out of shape. As the kid ran across the street through traffic, I was right behind him. There was about 50-60 feet between us. I never yelled at him, but I was gaining on him. I chased the suspect (later identified as Charlie Luther Pike, a convicted ex-felon) west on 87th Street, then to Grand Avenue where it dead-ended to the freeway. As he turned, all I had in front of me were parked cars, the freeway embankment and Pike. I yelled, “Police Officer – Halt!” and fired one shot. He slowed and got into one of the parked cars. I went running up to the driver’s side of the car. The driver jumped out of the car and said, “Who is that crazy guy you got in my car?” I made him lay down in the middle of the street. (Actually, I told him that if he didn’t get down I’d kill him; the adrenaline was real high). He got down. When I looked back up, I could see Charlie Luther Pike standing on the passenger side of that car with a gun pointed at me. As I picked up my feet and dove behind a parked car, I could hear that a shot had been fired. I didn’t see the flash of the gun or anything, I just heard the shot. I landed on my shoulders, rolled over to get up and pulled my second gun. At that time I was carrying my 4″ Colt Police Special and a 2″ Smith and Wesson. When I raised up, I could see Pike was standing there with his hands up, and the slide of his automatic (.380) locked open. He said, “I give up, I give up!” I told him to throw the gun away. He threw it away. I ordered Pike to lie down next to the driver. At any moment I knew Dick would be coming up behind me; I wanted to hear his footsteps. I began cuffing the suspects’ right hands together so one would have to walk backwards. This prevented them from escaping.

As we were going back to the auto parts store the driver kept complaining that he hadn’t done anything. I told him that if that was the case he would not have to worry. However, this other man had done something. I had heard gunfire and he had a gun.

I later found out that the driver, Cisneros, was Pike’s getaway driver and partner in crime that night.

When I got back to the store, I saw Kent lying on the floor, trying to breathe, gasping for air. Meanwhile, I had a citizen come in with me that I knew, who was trying to get on the Police Department. He had taken the test a couple of times but was just a little bit short. I told him to watch the two guys. I went to Dick. I tried talking to him but he couldn’t talk. I told him that I had got the guy that shot him. There was a little life left in his eyes; I yelled at him that if he could hear me to blink his eyes. I know that I had just caught him. I waited there, longing to see a movement. Dick never blinked his eyes.

Witness accounts indicated that Officer Kent walked into the middle of a robbery in progress; shots were fired and Pike was wounded. As Officer Kent was reloading his service weapon, Pike shot him.

The coroner said that thirty seconds after Officer Kent was shot that he was dead. I found out that the shooting occurred in the rear of the store; when I found Dick he was in the front of the store. After he was shot, Kent was driven purely on will and training. He was still fighting, after all of his time had run out. Kent was a good officer.

When Pike had that gun aimed at me it looked like it was a 40mm cannon. After thirty some odd years, I still dream about it now and then, especially if I’m overtired when I go to bed. The only thing that has changed in that scenario is that caliber of the gun has gotten smaller; it’s down to a 45 now.

Pike got the death penalty; Cisneros got life.

A few years later Pike was paroled and moved to Texas where he tried to kill another police officer.

It is so important for partners to discuss their tactics and situations that they might confront, both together and as solo officers. When you least expect it that’s when something happens; you’re right in the middle of it. You have to think about situations and what you are going to do. You always want to have that tactical edge over the suspect. Use your lag time to your advantage. My partner got killed as he was getting flashlight batteries. Never let your guard down.

After all these years, I still hope to hear Kent’s footsteps running up behind me, but I know they never will. I still feel the pain and loss of my partner that night. December 8th, 1960, was a day in the life of a street cop that this cop will always remember.

Note from Author:
The Department’s Medal of Valor was first awarded in 1925 to Sergeant Frank S. Harper in recognition of Harper’s actions during a shootout and capture of a bandit.

Officer Walter Kesterson’s actions would have deserved this small recognition of his courage and devotion to duty. However the award of the Department’s Medal of Valor was suspended from 1936 through 1952.