I love doughnuts! Especially big cream-filled ones covered with powdered sugar. And that’s exactly what I was having, while chatting with Joe Porcarelli, the owner of Amy Joy Donuts on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, when I glanced outside and saw a raggedy blue Chevy with a defective brake light pull up next to my scout car. Joe was handing me my glass of orange juice as Ishmael Ahmed, 27, stepped out of the car. It was Monday morning, September 6, 1976.
I had first met Ishmael three years earlier, attending classes at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn. I was walking through a crowded hall of students—wall-to-wall tie-dye, bell-bottoms, beads, beards, and Afros—when he approached me and asked if I wanted to buy some grass. He was soft spoken and would have remained unremarkable if he weren’t a repeat criminal. Perhaps he felt safe because I looked even grungier than he, or because he could see I was a fellow Arab. But Ishmael didn’t know I was an off-duty undercover cop, assigned to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Metropolitan Narcotic Bureau.
Proud of his grass, Ishmael discreetly opened a bag to let me have a sniff. I smiled and said, “Decent, man! How much?”
“Ten bucks,” he whispered.
I could have arrested him on the spot, but college campuses in ’73 were hotbeds of civil unrest. And in Michigan, multiply that by a factor of three. Crime was skyrocketing, and all across America, campus uprisings and riots were still erupting over the Vietnam War, drugs, and the recently developing Watergate scandal. With the antiauthoritarian sentiments prevalent on campus, a simple arrest could escalate into something ugly. I knew I couldn’t arrest him by myself.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m getting together with some people this Friday. Can you get six lids?”
“Yeah, sure, I can do that. What’s your name?”
“Kamel. What’s yours?”
“That’s cool! What’s your number?”
Ishmael didn’t seem like a big dealer, but one bust often results in that person ratting on another, all the way up to major guys, so when he gave his number I hoped for bigger things to come.
I called Ishmael the next morning, and he wanted to meet where he felt safe. I suggested Vernor Highway and Riverside, on the Dearborn side of Patton Park. I figured that being an Arab, he had to know the area since it was next to the mosque in the largest Arabic community in the country. I lived on the Detroit side of the park, so I knew the area, too. There were no homes nearby—just the park, a cemetery, a gas station, and some stores—so people could meet without arousing suspicion. As a bonus, surveilling officers could easily watch our moves. And it didn’t hurt that two of our officers were from Dearborn PD, so getting an arrest in their city was good for stats.
Ishmael gave me a description of his car, and as I pulled up in a Mustang that Friday afternoon, February 2, 1973, he was waiting. So were members of our Narcotics Bureau, who had already taken positions. Ishmael sold me six bags for fifty dollars. A few seconds later, he was arrested and charged with violation of the Controlled Substances Act––unlawful sale of marijuana, a four-year felony.
Ishmael ratted on a petty dealer, so we released his car, but then he never showed for district court, and a warrant was issued. Our county was one of the ten most populous in the United States. It included all of Detroit and over thirty other cities, and our detective bureau had file cabinets full of warrants: people wanted for everything from hot checks to rape, robbery, and murder.
Ishmael wasn’t important enough to get the attention of detectives, but I kept track of guys like him because he was my arrest. Besides, once a warrant goes out and a person doesn’t show for court, the statute of limitations no longer applies. Sure enough, four months later, Monday, June 4, 1973, I learned where he lived. I was working uniformed patrol on the seven p.m.‑three a.m. shift with Deputy Ken Crowley. What with court and college classes in the morning, it was a difficult shift, but it’s also the most exciting—criminals tend to sleep in during the day and come alive at night.
We had just pulled out from the county jail in Detroit after transporting a prisoner. I said, “Hey, Ken, there’s a little shit I know who’s wanted on a felony warrant.”
“What’d he do?” Ken asked as I turned onto Gratiot Avenue.
“Sold me some grass when I was working narcotics.”
“Oh, yeah? Where’s he live?”
“By Patton Park. Upstairs apartment next to Roman Village.”
“Yeah, I have his number. We can drop a dime from Roman Village, and if he isn’t there, we’ll grab something to eat.”
Twenty minutes later, we parked at Roman Village and I called our station from the public phone inside to let them know we might be executing a warrant. Then I dialed the number I had for Ishmael.
“Hello?” a young woman answered.
“Hey, this is Bakastello. Is Ishmael around?”
“Uh . . . yeah, I’ll get ’im.”
I hung up the phone. Ken radioed the station, who notified Dearborn PD, and Ken and I ran west two buildings, raced up a flight of stairs, and kicked in the door. That’s how it’s done for felons who don’t show for court. You never know if the guy’s armed or who else is there, but you know that surprise and speed mean more safety and greater odds for success.
The woman screamed as we charged in with flashlights and guns out, hollering “Police!” We found Ishmael in a back bedroom with his hands up. He had a .22-caliber rifle by the front door, so we confiscated it. We noticed stacks of posters with the image of a raised arm clutching an AK47, calling for the overthrow of Israel, and other posters showing a map of Israel with a swastika above.
“What’s with this?” I asked.
“They took our land,” Ishmael replied.
“So you sell drugs?”
“Just that time.”
“Sure, and you don’t show for court, either.”
We patted him down and transported him to our station for booking. Dearborn PD was notified to pick him up.
Two months later, Monday, August 6, 1973, I appeared at Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit, Judge Irwin Burdick’s courtroom, for Ishmael’s trial. Ishmael didn’t stand much chance, since he had sold drugs directly to a police officer, witnessed by other officers, and had pocketed funds with prerecorded serial numbers. The failure-to-appear didn’t help his case, either. But everything is relative, and courts in Detroit are overwhelmed with violent crime. Faced with an inevitable guilty verdict, Ishmael took a plea and was released on probation.
That was the last time I saw Ishmael until that Monday morning three years later, when he stepped inside Amy Joy Donuts.
I gave him a big smile and said, “Hey, what’s happening, Ishmael?”
“Uh, not much.”
“Still selling drugs to college students?”
“No, I got a job.”
“That’s good. Where?” I asked, finishing my cream-filled frosted doughnut.
“I heard about that place. You know your left brake light’s out?”
“Yeah, let me see your license.”
He handed it to me, and I ran a warrant check with my portable radio. Sure enough, it came back with a hit.
“Hey, guess what, Ishmael,” I said. “Today’s your lucky day!”
“Dearborn has an outstanding warrant on you for driving while suspended.”
“I paid that ticket.”
“That’s what everyone says. So I’m trying to decide what to do. I could write you a ticket and let you walk, or I can arrest you and do an inventory search of your ride. Lemme see . . . Okay, I decided. Got any drugs in there?”
I patted Ishmael down and cuffed him.
Joe Porcarelli stepped out from back and said, “What’s going on, Bob?”
“He’s wanted on a warrant.”
“Okay. Get him outta here.”
I placed Ishmael in the backseat of my scout car and called for a wrecker. While I waited, I did an inventory search of Ishmael’s car and found a bag of grass in the glove box. I walked back to my car holding up the bag. “Hey, look what I found!” I said. “What are the odds?”
“That’s not mine! A friend was using my car.”
“I don’t get it, Ishmael,” I said, getting in the car. “You park right next to my car and walk up to me like we're friends.”
“Um . . .”
“I tell you what: you got one humongous pair of clangers. Either that, or you’re the most shit-for-brains dumb-ass I ever met! With jihadis like you, I’m thinkin’ the Israelis won’t have too much to worry about.”
* * *
I never saw Ishmael again, but in 1980 I returned to the Narcotics Bureau as a sergeant and crew chief. In cooperation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, using wiretaps, we arrested three Canadian citizens and two men Ishmael had associated with from the same Dearborn neighborhood. They were trafficking large quantities of marijuana, hidden inside spare tires, across the Detroit-Windsor Ambassador Bridge. The arrests were deliberately made on the Canadian side of the bridge, where the penalty for trafficking was more severe.
* * *
Amy Joy Donuts was on the far west side of the city. Frequented by cops from Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Inkster, and the Sheriff’s Department, it had to be about the most crime-free establishment in the county. Joe Porcarelli, the owner, never accepted a dime from any cop for his doughnuts or drinks, and I enjoyed talking with him over the years about the Second World War. Joe was wounded on Tuesday morning, June 6, 1944—also known as D-day—when he and other paratroopers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, liberated Sainte Mère Église, the first French town secured in the Normandy invasion. He later jumped into Holland, in Operation Market Garden, and served in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Joe has three accomplished sons: Jim, John, and Joe. Two years after I moved to Grosse Ile in 1979 I met John, a Golden Gloves champion and clinical psychologist, when we crossed paths running in negative-six-degree weather. I became a friend of his family, and John was instrumental in motivating me to go for my PhD. Jim is an advertising executive in New York City. The youngest son, Joe, is the police chief of Grosse Ile. He picked me up at home many times after I retired, so I could once again hang around cops and ride the scout car. Joe senior passed away on Tuesday, February 14, 2012.
 Seven weeks later, on Monday, September 24, 1973, Deputy Ed Reedy and I arrested two men at Amy Joy Donuts and confiscated a .32-caliber Czech CZ model 27 pistol, thirty-nine packets of cocaine, and some grass. Both Ed and I had worked narcotics and had information from four people we had arrested the day before with 400 tabs of LSD, along with packets of cocaine and heroin, in Cass Benton Park. We arranged the transaction at Amy Joy Donuts because it provided an inconspicuous location and Dearborn’s court was much closer to our homes. The two men were waiting in their car, expecting to meet a buyer, when we rolled up in our scout car.