Sunday, August 7, 2011

Part 2 of 3- Officer Down on the Streets of San Jose: A Tragic Day in 1970

Part 2 of 3

Back at the car stop, Coldiron had gotten out of his vehicle and approached Huerta.  After a brief conversation, Richard told the driver to sit in the passenger side of his vehicle while he got in on the driver’s side and closed the door.  Huerta switched off his “spot” and began writing the citation after turning on the interior dome light. 
After driving around for the last 10 minutes roaming the streets near the campus of San Jose State, Thompson sees a cop car on routine patrol and decides to begin tailing him.  Remaining a safe distance from the officer’s vehicle, Emile observes a Cadillac blow the light at Eleventh at Santa Clara and watches as the patrol car pursues the violator.
Now traveling on Eleventh Street approaching Empire Street, Emile sees the blinding beam of the spotlight come on and the Cadillac pull to the curb.  Seeing a possible opportunity to ambush Huerta, Thompson pulls to the curb approximately 250 feet back from the car stop under cover of the shadows of the tree lined street.  Contemplating his next move, Emile watches as Coldiron gets in the car with the officer.  Pulling a revolver from his waistband, Thompson exits his vehicle as does Najera from the Cadillac and both men approach the cruiser.   
As Thompson tactically moves towards his target, Najera, already at the patrol car, peers in the window to see both Huerta and Coldiron bent over the ticket book being written on.  While leaning against the passenger door, Najera suddenly gets violently pushed out of the way as Thompson takes aim inside the car.  Hearing the commotion, Caldiron looks up and to his right to see a man’s arm being shoved through the window holding a revolver.  Instinctively, Coldiron threw himself under the dash just has Thompson unloads his weapon into Richard.  The assailant emptied his revolver hitting the officer four times, one through the top of his head, one though his right shoulder and the remaining two in his back near the base of the neck as he slumped forward in the seat from the first two bullets.

Thompson wasted no time fleeing the scene.  Immediately the suspect bolted north down Eleventh Street and stopped at 572 North Eleventh long enough to try and jimmy a window.  Unable to break in, he runs east towards Twelve Street in a frantic attempt to get out of the area before the cops throw a net over the entire neighborhood.
With a dead cop slumped over the steering wheel, Najera grabs Coldiron and screams “Let’s get out of here!”  The two men jump in the Cadillac and head west towards city hall.  At the same time, residents living near the shooting scene hear shots and screaming then the squealing rubber of car leaving the area at a high rate of speed. 
Santa Clara County’s finest; Deputy Jaggers and Burnett were traveling on San Pedro towards Hedding when they observed a white Cadillac fishtail into the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office Headquarters across from the County Administration building. Wondering what that was all about, the deputies’ pull into the S.O.’s parking lot and approach the two men who are now frantically banging on the doors of the building entrance.  Both men yell at the officers  “A cop just got shot on Twelfth Street!”  Jaggers and Burnett quickly put both men in the backseat, punched the gas on their unit and point the nose towards the location given by the witnesses.  Speeding towards the area, the Deputy riding shotgun advises County Communications of an officer shot and down at the location reported. 

At 0201 hours, on the sixth of August, the first call from dispatch came over the airwaves “All units, via the Sheriff’s Office, officer down on  Twelfth Street!”  Now, I can tell you from personal experience as a police officer and a dispatcher, the words “officer down” are the most hair raising adrenaline pumping two words you will ever hear in your life.  As quickly as the words traveled to the beat cars on the street, the sleeping residents of downtown San Jose were awaken by the sounds of police sirens and high powered police packaged Plymouth’s and Dodge’s screaming towards the area. 
Immediately, the San Jose Dispatcher working the “Green Channel” which handled the primary radio traffic for the odd numbered beats in those days, started getting barraged with questions,  “Where on Twelfth Street?  Is it a Deputy or SJPD? Any description of the suspect?  Any direction of travel?” 
At this juncture, let me tell you that this is where a good dispatcher is worth every penny we pay them.  A sharp, competent dispatcher can make all the difference when it comes to the initial handling of an incident like this.  And in this case, the confusion started immediately by not having a specific location.  Twelfth Street runs 21 blocks long through the heart of downtown.  Picture this:  you have dozens of units racing towards an area, units are cutting off each other on the radio, and questions are coming so fast no one can be expected to process it all.  And then as calm as if it is just another routine call,  you hear on the radio that familiar voice “All units, B-3 had a car stop on Eleventh near Washington and Empire”
Remember the San Jose officer, Jack Morris, who rolled by Richard’s car stop to assist if necessary?  I couldn’t begin to imagine the shock waves that rolled through his body at that moment.  To realize later, that you were the last officer to see Richard Huerta alive must have been devastating for Officer Morris. 
Now at this time, the city switchboard began lighting up with calls from citizens in the area reporting the commotion on Eleventh Street.  Carmen McKenzie of 530 N. Eleventh, heard a police car stopping someone in front of her house.  A few minutes later Carmen heard gun fire and shouting and quickly went to her front window to investigate.  As she pulled back the drapes, Ms. McKenzie saw the silhouette of Huerta’s patrol car, red lights still glaring, but not a sense of movement from anywhere on the street.  Fearing that a police officer had just been shot, Carmen picked up the phone and dialed the police.
With an exact location now given by McKenzie, officers Lansdowne and Brocato instantly realized they were on top of the call.  Slamming the gas pedal to floor, the two San Jose Merge officers, the equivalent to SWAT units of today, quickly come to the intersection of St. John and Eleventh .  Lansdowne riding shotgun, looks down Eleventh and sees the flashing “yellows” on B-3’s car and Brocato again mashes the gas pedal.
By the time the two merge officers arrive at the scene, Huerta is already dead, his blood soaked ticket book lay on the front seat with his ballpoint pen still in his right hand.  Refusing to give up, Lansdowne and Brocato frantically pull Richard’s body from the car and with the assistance of Sergeant Doug Wright and Officer Stan Kephart, begin CPR.  But it is to no avail, Officer Richard Eugene Huerta becomes the fourth officer to die in the line of duty serving the citizens of San Jose. 

In part three, the apprehension and trial of Emile Thompson.

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