The Night I Nearly Got My Clock Cleaned
By: Pat Dingle
I’ll bet most felt like I did that first year in patrol, working with seasoned officers who always seemed to know just what to say or do with those we encountered in the streets and homes of North Las Vegas during the sixties and seventies. For me, a young officer of 21 years of age at that time, nothing had a more confidence building effect like working with guys the first time out like Tom Fay, Dick Warrilow, Ray McGuffee and the cop’s cop, Bob Smith. With partners or back-up like these men, there was nothing we couldn’t do or accomplish. I’ll give you an example of that “can do” confidence in this story and you’ll see just how naive young coppers can be.
During the summer months on swing shift, we’d often have one two man car to take the hot calls like bar fights, burglaries in progress, robberies, or any felony in progress etc. on Friday and Saturday nights. We would also do normal patrol duties but we wouldn’t be dispatched to a report taking call. We were the heavies at those times and couldn’t be bothered by piddling police work. It felt pretty good.
It was on such a night that I was partnered up with Bob Smith. We hit the streets after the 4 PM briefing and toured the city, waiting for “the call” or to come across a JDLR situation ( just don’t look right ). As I recall it was around 8 PM or so when Ray McGuffee radioed he was making a DUI stop at the Shell gas station, Las Vegas blvd. North & Civic Center. Shortly Ray called for a tow truck and a cab. Bob and I looked at each other, knowing that was very unusual, Ray never cut anyone slack when it came to DUI. We were already heading up the Blvd so we decided to drive by and see who Ray had stopped, this had to be good for him to call for a cab. As we drove pass, we saw Ray standing in the parking lot of the gas station with a very big black man, about fifty feet away from a truck and Ray’s patrol car. That was enough for us to make a U-turn and go back up Ray.
Parking behind Ray’s unit in the street, we walked up to them as Ray was saying to the man, “Sir, I’ve called a cab for you, you can’t drive, wait a minute and your ride will be here”. Sir? ride? what’s going on? The big black man was older than us, perhaps in his late forties or early fifties and in really good shape. I looked at his hands hanging at his side, I’ve never seen hands that wide before and his knuckles were the size of walnuts. He was swaying slightly back and forth and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that three cops were standing between him and his truck. All he kept saying was “I wants my truck” and then take a step towards it. That’s when Bob Smith thought enough of this BS and told the guy ” You heard what the officer said. If you go for your truck again, you’re going to jail”. The man thought a minute then said “I wants my truck” and took a step forward. Bob pushed him back by one hand on his chest, I took hold of the sap in my back pocket, ready to go, thinking he’s really big but what the hell, there’s three of us, and Ray pleaded “Sir, your cab will be right here, don’t”. It was a tense moment, here was a very big man, not taller than us (me) but much wider, heavier and he looked stronger than any one of us. His arms looked like tree trunks ( ironwood trees ) But, so what? there were three of us and only one of him. It’s now up to him, his call. He said “I wants my truck” and took a step towards it. Bob said you’re under arrest and the all out fray…….didn’t happen. At the words “you’re under arrest”, the man just stopped and dropped his hands to his side.
Just then, Bob and I heard the dispatcher calling us with a report of a bar fight at Al’s Liquors so we hurried to cuff this guy, grabbing his arms, and get on our way, only it couldn’t be done. The man was so big, his arms wouldn’t bend back far enough and he was too wide to get a pair of handcuffs on his wrists. We had to use my cuffs and Ray’s, hooked together, in order to cuff this guy, then try to stuff him in the backseat of Ray’s unit. It was finally done with much effort huffing and puffing. We rushed off to the fun of a bar fight at Al’s Liquors which of course was over by the time we got there and none of the multitude of intoxicated hard-hats seen nothing and the bartender just rolled his eyes at us “never when you need them” cops and continued to wipe the bar counter, wondering why the fuck he was working in a joint like this.
Bob and I resumed patrol, wondering aloud if we’re going to have any excitement tonight. After a while, we started talking about Ray and the weird stop he made, why did he call a cab? why didn’t he just bust the guy and be done with it? We couldn’t figure out this puzzle so we decided to stop by the station and ask Ray, he would still be there writing his report. As we walked in the squad room, Ray was sitting there at the long table writing. He looked up at us and yelled “What are you guys trying to do? get us killed? Bob and I looked at each other, now more baffled than ever, saying what the hell are you talking about? Ray, pissed off big time, said “do you know who that was?” we shrugged our shoulders, no. Ray, now more pissed and standing, shouts “That’s SONNY LISTON”…. no shit?, says we. Then we rushed to the drunk tank, opened the small metal window and there he was, Sonny Liston, passed out on the padded floor, fully dressed, including his lace up boots. Seems nobody wanted to enforce the jail rules about no street clothes in the drunk tank this time.
Soon everyone on the shift, all five or six of us, was in the station taking a look through the small door of the drunk tank at Sonny Liston, this was cool. We all knew about the time in Denver a few years prior when Liston beat up a bunch of cops, maybe ten of them, breaking one’s leg, and here he was, the Heavy Weight Champion of the World ( former, but we played that part down that night ) in the North Town jail, arrested by three unscathed North Town cops. That’s right, we bad, we tough,….. we lucky, he would have cleaned our clock if he wanted to or had just reacted to his life of fighting in the ring and streets. We kept going back and taking another look, just to made sure he was out cold. We collectively, Sgt. too, decided that it would be best if we just let the Heavy Weight Champ of The Entire World sleep it off and then the day shift could try to take his boots away if they wanted to. We’ll take our win and not push it. This was neat stuff, don’t fuck it up now.
Bob and I went back out on patrol that night, to crunch crime, with me thinking we coulda taken Sonny Liston and Bob Smith looking at me like a father looks at a dumb son you’re stuck with, both of us wondering if we’re going to have any excitement during the rest of the shift. McGuffee held a grudge until he was cleared for code 7. The other officers arrested several more drunks that night, who were placed in felony cells instead of the drunk tank. We all agreed that was probably a smart move. We all took a last look at Sonny Liston at the end of the shift, still sleeping on the floor of the drunk tank, as did all the cops coming on the graveyard shift. I might have told a few fellow rookies on grave some trash talk about how I took Sonny down, but I don’t really remember now. I never saw Sonny Liston again but I remember he told the press during a court appearance a few months later, that the night in question was the best he had ever been treated anywhere by the police and he thanked us publicly for the kindly, gentle way in which we did our sworn duty. Yes Sir, we were gentlemen to the core on that occasion, Mr. Liston said so. Sonny died a few years later of a heroin overdose. I know where he was copping the dope and from whom, in the 1300 block of west Helen, over on the west-side, but that’s a North Town Police story for another time.