On a muggy Saturday evening, May 26, 1973, I was driving the scout car with Deputy Ken Crowley in Edward Hines Park. We were approaching Cass Benton Hill, an eighteen-mile-long parkway running northwest from the City of Dearborn to Northville Township. Hines Park was notorious for drug and alcohol abuse, and Cass Benton was one of the main hangouts for hundreds of young adults from Detroit’s suburbs.
I had worked this location before as an undercover narcotics officer on a motorcycle. It wasn’t difficult to find people selling marijuana, LSD, or heroin. Overdoses weren’t all that uncommon in the park. Neither were gang rapes. It was the early 1970s, and the drug culture was in full swing, with violent crime and property crime soaring nearly fivefold in the past ten years.[i] People from my age group were self-destructing every day.
Three cars usually patrolled Hines Park on weekend nights, but this evening it was just Ken and me. Ken was a former captain in the US Army Twelfth Special Forces Group, and I was a former Army Ranger, both of us with combat experience in Vietnam. We both were married and attending college, and I was also serving with Company F, 425th Infantry (Ranger) in the Michigan National Guard. We were young but battle tested and confident. I was the senior officer.
As we reached Cass Benton Hill, the parking lot was crammed, and cars overflowed onto the shoulder and hillside. There were people staggering and boom boxes blaring. But parking infractions and spaced-out idiots weren’t our concern. We wanted the drug dealers who frequented the park and blended anonymously into the crowd.
One way to flush them out was to appear suddenly and slowly approach the crowd with overheads flashing and spotlights on. Most people would just move out of the way, but those holding drugs or wanted on warrants would often bolt and run. Ken hit the lights, and I swung the car cautiously up the hill, watching for those “special-interest” characters dashing away. Sure enough, a guy and a girl took off running. They looked like promising targets. (Drug dealers often used women to carry the stash in their bra or pants, because women appeared less suspect and were more problematic to frisk.)
I stopped halfway up the hill and ran after the two while Ken stayed with the car. The girl dropped a bag of little cubical white tablets—most likely LSD. I grabbed it and caught up to both of them. I cuffed the guy’s hands behind his back and started leading them to the car, holding the links of his cuffs in one hand, and her arm in my other.
The crowd, more than two hundred strong, started yelling, “Let her go, you fuckin’ pig! You ain’t shit without your gun!” Ken was outside the car, and beer and wine bottles started flying at him. A bottle hit the back of his helmet and shattered, sending shards of glass into his neck and head. I made it back to Ken with the prisoners as bottles continued to rain down on us and our car.
We put both prisoners in back, and as we started to get in, we saw a guy brazenly throwing bottles at us from the edge of the crowd. Ken and I both ran the distance and grabbed him just as he ducked back into the crowd. And suddenly, we had several people on us, punching and kicking. It happened so fast, all we could do was defend ourselves with our heavy four-cell Kel-Lite flashlights and our portable radio, but we were quickly overwhelmed and shoved to the ground, wrestling one person after another.
As the battle continued, the crowd swarmed around us and we lost the bottle thrower we had just arrested. Meanwhile, others freed the two prisoners from our car. Somehow, Ken and I managed to get on our feet again. We drew our revolvers, and the crowd backed away. We were hurting, and although a few catcalls and profanities continued, for the most part there was only an eerie silence. Ken had already called for backup, but help had to come from other areas of the county.
Ken was bleeding quite a bit, and we made our way back to the car, our uniforms tattered and dirty. Ken fell into the passenger seat, and I grabbed a couple of Kotex pads from the trunk, where we kept our emergency medical gear, and put them on his head and neck to soak up the blood. I fired up the engine, and we sped the fourteen miles to Wayne County General Hospital, humiliated and defeated. Other cars were en route to Cass Benton, and we radioed an all-points bulletin about the escaped prisoners.
Everything we ever fought for seemed lost. Our neighborhoods in Detroit and Lincoln Park were going to shit, South Vietnam was falling fast to the Communists, and our peers hated us because we were cops, just as they had despised us when we were soldiers.
Ken got stitched up at the hospital, I was treated for minor injuries, and we both reported for duty the next day. Sometimes, cops and soldiers don’t win the battle, but they just keep showing up for the fight.
[i] Blumstein. Alfred, "Crime's Decline-Why?" National Institute of Justice Journal, US Department of Justice, Oct. 1998, 7-20.