First in a three-part series about drug enforcement…
“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes…” – John Prine, singer-songwriter
Somewhere on the Banks of the Bosque River – Sheriff Parnell McNamara can’t contain his disgust as he explains why his department takes an extremely hard-nosed approach to drug enforcement.
He and some trusted members of his posse are sitting at an aromatic and roaring fire built of oak and mesquite and cedar in a pit lined with blocks of stone beneath a massive antique wrought-iron spit and rotisserie made of oilfield pump-jack “sucker rod” that uses horse shoes welded at various heights to hold a rod long enough to roast a cabrito or a fatted calf, or hang a pot of beans, or bury a dutch oven full of biscuits or chicken and dumplings in the coals.
It’s an item that his family has owned for more than one or two generations after a Rocky Mountain outfitter and hunting guide “gifted” it to his father, the U.S. Marshal. In fact, McNamara’s life is filled with items of great value, venerated family objects of utility that are cherished and used by generation after generation of McNamaras.
“We work these drug cases anywhere,” said Sheriff McNamara. “They don’t have to be out in the county. We work them right in the city – in Waco, McGregor, Robinson. Anywhere. We don’t care.” He gestures expansively.
Clearly, the others, each one with hair as silvered as the Sheriff’s, don’t much care, either. They know drugs are drugs, and their use brings grief into the lives of families everywhere they are found. Used. Bought. Sold. It’s axiomatic in the annals of human suffering, and it’s just down the streets, and around the corners where they were raised – and have raised families of their own.
In this circle, nothing else matters anywhere near as much as results.
Then he began to talk about a case involving a young woman who lost her life in the bathtub of a sprawling luxury mansion constructed of Austin stone on a fashionable stretch of Rock Creek Road in Bosqueville – very near where his family has lived since McLennan County, Texas, was first organized, when in ante bellum times it was carved out of a much greater area vaguely labeled on Spanish maps as, simply, “Bosque,” or woods. It’s an ancestral home, a redoubt for a tribe of lawmen who have served as Constables, Sheriffs, Deputies, U.S. Marshals – men who rode with the fabled Texas Rangers – and every kind of federal cop you ever heard about – and some of which you will never learn. He and his brother Mike followed in his father’s footsteps, serving the U.S. District Court at Waco for almost four decades, as Deputy U.S. Marshals. They started as guards, helping transport prisoners before they got out of high school.
“This girl hauled off and died in there in that bath tub, and she’d been in there for four or five hours,” he recalled. The others listened very carefully. He had their full attention. “So he called this other girl and she went in there and came right back out, said, ‘She’s dead in there. You’d better call the cops.'”
That didn’t happen right away. “When we were taking her out of there, we had a lot of trouble bending her arms and legs – she…” He stops himself, shrugs helplessly.
“What did he do? He sat there and played his guitar for quite awhile before he got around to calling it in.” As the hours passed, the drugs disappeared. “We had to wait for Waco Mortuary Service to get there, and he sat there on that couch and pIayed that guitar. I finally grabbed him, told him, ‘Look, man, there you sit playing that guitar and this woman has died…’”
“When they called me, it was in the middle of the night. When I heard the address, I said, ‘Well, that’s right down the road,’ and I got up and got dressed and went down there. We found her there, dead, and there wasn’t much doubt what had happened. She got some kind of old hot shot, but there wasn’t any evidence. Then, we got to looking, and here’s two empty syringes laying there on the bathroom sink.”
The perception of the growing horror began to appear on the mens’ faces. The young woman was no older than some of their grand daughters. She died a thoroughly ignominious death – alone – in a bathtub, naked, after injecting some kind of drug, and no one helped her. No one got her any medical attention while the man of the house, a man not her husband, sat and played his guitar.
These men do not travel that way. They don’t know anyone who does; in fact, you can tell from their affect and their startled expressions that they have never even heard or thought of such a thing.
This story represents as much of a culture shock to them as it would if Officer McGruff of the D.A.R.E Program (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) had paid a call at an elementary school to talk to little kids about any similar problem involving addictive drugs, or what those drugs do to people who use them. They don’t know it in their world. It’s like looking into some thoroughly exotic but decidedly filthy back alley in a land far, far away – in a place where time stands still, and God Almighty seems to have forgotten all about it.
They are nonplussed – spellbound. The Shireve – that ancient and honorable figure of the English common-law method of organizing a county, has their attention. He is instructing the men of his constituency in the lingua franca of that which they must know for themselves in order to make an informed decision. It goes with the territory, the lanes and channels, far-flung fields and dim thickets trod by the Shireve and his men, and it’s a very rough neighborhood, very abusive toward women. They and their children are thereby enslaved, neglected, deprived of nutrition and medical care, education, held accountable for the actions of others by a world unkind, harsh, unforgiving, a world with little time for mistakes, and even less pity for the mistaken.
Everyone knows this. After all, these are the men who meet the payrolls, pay the taxes, develop the properties. They are not ignorant. It’s just not their job, and this is the only law enforcement official who is truly selected by their preference, the only elected cop in the entire system. What they know about the problem is its cost, and its cost is as abstruse and complicated and incomprehensible by design to them as the problem itself – and the system of police departments and federal grants and court bureaucracies and jails and penitentiaries and legislative committees and commissions and blue ribbon panels. Because that’s the way it is. And it is that way. What this man is saying is simple enough. Utilize. Don’t analyze. Use it. It’s the only way to get results.
He’s very good at this thing of signing them up. This is the moment, the time when there is no turning back. This is the hour when the posse is formed. There are ways of doing things, and this is how this particular thing is done.
“Well, he bonded out, so we waited a few days. We got us a warrant and we went back a few days later,” the Sheriff continues. “Got in there, and there it was. Black tar heroin, all kinds of drugs. Just laying out in plain sight. And there were girls there, too. Young girls, underage. – I mean,” and at that, he’s overcome with emotion, I just hate these people!
“So, we’re processing the evidence, and there he sits in the living room, playing his guitar. Looked out in the driveway, and here’s a BMW. Asked him whose car is that, and he said it was his, so we said, ‘Thanks for the BMW…Confiscated it. You can do that, you know. Then we had to go back again. His family wanted to evict him, so we called ______ Brothers and boxed all his stuff up and moved it out in the front yard. He said, ‘You can’t do this to me,’ and all along it was his mother who signed the eviction order.”
His listeners cheer up on that note.
Then there is the story of the microwave ovens – big, shiny, stainless steel outfits that look like the most expensive, el rancho deluxe model of Magic Chef in the catalogue.
“I looked at the menu for the commissary, oh, it’s way more than a page long, it unfolds; there’s more than a hundred items on there, and here’s chicken cordon bleu, of all things, stuff like Alberto VO – 5.”
The problem was that the individual wings and tanks at the county lockup – an installation with a population the size of some small cities – were frequently without electrical power because the big, shiny microwave ovens would overload the circuit breakers, and corrections officers often had to wait for building maintenance supervisors to come and reset the system and check for any damage or overheating.
“And that wasn’t all. They had TUPPERWARE. You could order tupperware, and they were bartering bowls of this and bowls of that, and I don’t know what all.”
It was either get the electrical grid upgraded at great expense, or just take the microwaves out. The McNamara administration decided the jail can get by without microwave ovens and elaborate cordon bleu menus.
His friends start to crack up. It’s a treasured McNamara story, one that won’t be forgotten soon – on either side of the bars.
“Other Sheriffs bring prisoners in here from other counties, and those boys tell us, ‘This is just no fun, anymore. This is just no fun.’”
He mugs. His posse laughs even harder. Someone speaks up, says, “Sheriff, you of all people should know it. They are crying big, salty tears about the hard time y’all are giving them out there on the streets – and in the jail, once they’re busted.”
McNamara grins; his eyes twinkle. Then, of a sudden, his affect becomes dead serious.
“Good!” He spat forth the word, as if it is an expletive laced with poison.
Later, he leads a beautiful little pony, a noble little mare with pink ribbons woven into her mane and tail, and she’s saddled with a small brown piece of tack specially designed to fit little bitty rumps, and bridled with a hackamore, and given as a gift to his grand daughter Emmy at her birthday party.
“You remember that picture of me in the cowboy clothes and with the cap guns and chaps? I have it on my office wall?” He grins. His opponent in the decisive Republican Primary that assured him election to this first term went negative and tried to ridicule him over that picture and his image as a horseman, a mounted lawman. He got clobbered for it.
“That’s the saddle that was on that pony.”
His daughter Amanda, the mother of Emmy, says, “I rode on that saddle, on my pony, too.”
NEXT: How warrants of search and arrest are obtained…