The judge slammed his gavel down. "Case dismissed due to lack of evidence."
I stared, open-mouthed, incredulous at such a miscarriage of justice. Even though I had done everything by the book, they were letting my prisoner go on a technicality. Because my main witness was too scared of the gang the prisoner was a member of to show up in court, he walked.
Once more I left the Seattle courthouse in a pissed off mood.
As I walked out, I was surrounded by the press, all seeming to ask questions at the same time: "Officer Thomas how do you feel about the Judge throwing out the case?" "What will happen now?" "Are you worried about the parents suing you for False arrest?"
"What is this world coming to when four punk kids can drive by, shoot and kill three young girls walking down a street and nobody tries to stop it? This is not why I became a King County Sheriff's Deputy." I had joined the Sheriff's Office five years ago when I was medically retired from the Marines due to injuries after spending six years in Force Recon.
"These kids act like a bunch of rabid dogs! You don't coddle a rabid animal. You put it down, HARD!"
"But these are just kids, the oldest just 17 and the youngest only 14!"
"Billy the Kid killed his first man when he was 13. These kids were old enough to know right from wrong, yet they still picked up guns and killed some girls who were doing nothing but going home."
"But what about these boys' families? Are you saying that they should get the death penalty or serve life in prison?"
"Are you saying that they shouldn't be punished? The oldest has already been in and out of Juvenile Hall four times!
"And what about the victims' families? Their daughters did nothing wrong and they will never go home! Three innocent young girls are dead! What of them? Did they deserve to die?" I exclaimed, walking away from them. I knew that I would be hearing about this later, but damn! What did they expect?
I got into my car and headed back to the Burien station. Burien was a small town just south of Seattle, too small to have their own police, so the job fell to us of the King County Sheriff's Office.
I slammed the door on the way in and sat at my desk, still pissed.
"What the hell's the matter now, Clay?" asked Dave, my partner for the last 4 years.
"Them bastards walked! I don't know why we even bother! It should be like it was a hundred years ago -- if they got caught, they hung. Now they scare the witnesses so bad that they are afraid to testify in court; or if we do get a conviction, they're under 18 so they just barely get a slap on the wrist! I've about had it!"
"What can you do? We don't make the rules; we just try to enforce them, but our hands are tied."
"Well for two cents, I'd tell the boss where to shove this job!" I said.
"Don't do that," Dave said. "Why don't you just take some time off? You have about 6 weeks vacation coming."
"Can you imagine when I get back? This place would really be a mess. We are all ready 5 men short. I just can't take off. This place is already a zoo."
"You can't keep this up, you'll burn out."
"I almost feel burnt out now"
"What about that fair you were talking about?"
"You mean Pioneer Days, back home?" I grew up in Hill City South Dakota, just a few miles South of Deadwood. Pioneer Day's is a big festival for all the surrounding area.
"Yeah that's it. Didn't you used to enter in some of the events?" asked Dave.
"Yup! Saddle Bronc, Wild Cow Milking, Rifle & Pistol, and Quick Draw; but I'm awful rusty."
"Bullshit! You've held the record in marksmanship here for the last 5 years."
"But this is different! Folks come from all over for these competitions. I don't think I'm still good enough."
"How do you know, unless you try? How did you used to do?"
"I was always in the top ten and won the Quick Draw the last time, but it has been awhile — years, even."
"Well Clay, if you don't do something you're going to lose it and shoot someone, so take the time off."
"I'll think about it."
"You do that, you need it."
Just then we heard the Sheriff holler, "THOMAS! GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!"
"Your bellowed, oh great leader?" I said.
"Just what the fuck happened in court?" demanded the Sheriff.
"The same shit as always! We make a clean bust and the witnesses are too scared to testify, or the court just gives them a slap on the wrist because they are underage and let's them go."
"I have been on the phone all morning. What's this about you telling the press they are just a bunch of rabid dogs?"
"I said if they are going to act like a bunch of rabid dogs, they should be treated like them. If they're going out and killing someone, then they should expect the same treatment in return, no matter their age. They are old enough to know right from wrong."
"For Christ sake you can't say that to reporters. The County Commissioners have been on the phone all morning trying to defuse this. They want your badge. They say you are some kind of loose cannon."
"FUCK THEM! They can have it! I quit! They are the first ones that complain that something needs to be done, but then they won't let us do it."
"Wait a minute! Don't be hasty. I don't want to lose you. Think this over before you quit."
"I don't know. The way our hands are tied by the courts and the press, it just don't seem worth it anymore! It should be like the old days when the law was respected."
"Well I don't want to lose you, but the Mayor wants you gone till this cools off."
"Dave thinks I should take some time off and go back home to South Dakota. I'll tell you what, why don't I do that and see if I still feel like quitting when I get back."
"That's a great idea! How long do you need?"
"Well I've got 5 weeks on the books. I'll take that and then we'll see if I'm coming back, but I must warn you: I may be looking for a better offer."
"OK, but try to make sure you come back. You're a natural born lawman -- it's in your blood."
What he said had a lot of sense to it. My great-grandfather was a U.S. Marshal, my grandfather and father were both Sheriffs, and assorted other relatives were lawmen. But what was really in it for me? I'm 32, single, 6'2", and been told I'm not bad looking, but with putting the job first I can't seem to keep a girlfriend and don't seem to find happiness out there. I just wish I were back in simpler times.
I got to thinking after I got home to my apartment. What was really keeping me here? I missed being back home on Grandpa's ranch and thought going home in time for the Pioneer Day's celebration might be a good way to get my head back on straight.
So the next day I called work, let them know that I was leaving for the next month, packed my guns and clothes in my old Dodge Power Wagon and headed back to the Black Hills.