Thursday   November 16, 2006


Liberty County Marine Patrol
Photo 2006, Robert Cook. All Rights Reserved

During the last days of pre-production on EvenHand I had two weeks of rehearsal scheduled for the principal actors, Bill Sage and Bill Dawes. But, the prospect of actually rehearsing didn't thrill me. I felt that their performances would benefit more from the spontaneity of filming unrehearsed. Besides, I was too busy getting ready for production to have time to spare for what I considered an unnecessary and possibly counter-productive exercise. I wanted the Bills to be busy, though, so I made arrangements for them to spend the first week of rehearsal in the SAPD Police Academy and the final week doing ride-alongs with SAPD officers. This turned out to be the smartest thing I could have done, for a couple of reasons. One, both actors got to learn the basics of police procedure, just like their real counterparts. Second, they got to experience first-hand what it was like to spend the day--or night--in a patrol car, doing what cops do every day. An added benefit was that the Bills and I became friends with several of the officers, which helped every day as we had several expert consultants happy to share their knowledge and wisdom with us.

The experiences the Bills had during those two weeks informed the script, the story, and the characters in a very meaningful way.  For example, on day four of filming (Blood, Swat & Tears), I asked the Bills to ad-lib some dialogue while waiting for Lisa's mom to answer the door.  They said that all the cops they had spent time with in the last few days had been talking about Dale Earnhardt, who had just died, and were comparing notes on how to find die-cast models of his car. It made for the perfect bit of incidental dialogue and, as the days passed, a sub-theme that I felt added another layer of authenticity to the film. (The additional moments in the Earnhardt thread were added on Day 11 (I Can Have a Brick if I Want It!), Day 26 ("Morning, He's Got My Gun") and in post-production ADR for scene 71, which we shot on Day 17 (A Rough Start). But, the most important benefit to the film was the subtle way the Bills learned to "act like cops."

As I got to know some of the SAPD officers better, they would occasionally offer to take me for a ride-along, but while I wanted to do it, I never seemed to have the time. So, I left Texas never having experienced a patrol shift with a police officer. I had to make do with the second-hand experience of my actors and their respective characters.

I finally had a chance to experience my first Texas ride-along on Saturday, September 30th, courtesy of Patrol Deputy Frank Longoria of the Liberty County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Greg Arthur. Frank and I had begun a correspondence as a result of him having seen and enjoyed EvenHand. We traded police patches for a while, and along the way Frank wrote several excellent journal entries for this site. When I was made an honorary Deputy by Sheriff Arthur, I promised that I would make a real effort to visit the Liberty County Sheriff's Office soon. The opportunity presented itself when Tim Bohn, one of my partners in developing our new four-picture deal, and I were on a trip to Texas to meet with potential investors. Even though our business was largely in San Antonio, we made sure to fly to Houston so we could meet up with our buddies in the Liberty County S.O.

I never did tell Frank, but Tim and I managed to get lost in Liberty, TX, on the way to the Sheriff's Office. A pretty impressive feat. For a dollar, a kindly old drunk told us which way to go (how did he know?). After the introductions and greetings, Mark, Frank, Tim, and I set out for a quick bite to eat at Joe's Italian Restaurant.

Tim rode with Sgt. Mark Allen Davidson, "Maddog," and I rode with Frank. Before we started, I asked Frank about protocol; what did he want me to do and not do?  He suggested that I stay by the patrol car when he made traffic stops, but otherwise he would be fine with me tagging along for other business. He then flipped open the glove compartment, revealing his back-up gun, "In case you need it." After a quick survey of the "rechargeable night sticks" (flashlights) we were ready to roll.

Saturday night in Liberty County started out pretty slow, at least in our district. Frank pointed out that the county is more than 1176 square miles, and each patrol district within is around 300 square miles. With the S.O.'s current manpower, it is not easy policing an area that large. Our first stop was a guy complaining about the neighbor's dogs. I was already feeling like I was on an episode of "Cops." The dogs, a pit bull and a Rottweiler, were running loose and apparently the neighbors that owned them had abandoned their trailer some time ago. The complainant was assured that if the dogs came on to his property and were threatening, he would have the right to shoot them. He didn't seem all that happy with the proposed solution. Maddog and Tim joined us as we rode over to the trailer to see what was up. The trailer definitely looked abandoned. Mad Dog tentatively stepped out of his patrol car just in time for Frank to issue a gruff bark over his P.A. causing Mad Dog to beat a hasty retreat. Seconds later, the two dogs came bounding out of the darkness, tails wagging. The trailer may have been neglected, but the dogs weren't; someone had left a bag of food. We admired their silky coats for a few moments, then were on our way.

Frank made several traffic stops during the course of the night, resulting in no arrests or tickets. In a couple of cases there were registration or insurance irregularities, but Frank said he gave warnings in these cases unless they were accompanied by a more serious infraction. Liberty County is not the home of many high net worth individuals, so there is an element of compassion, with a dash of pragmatism, at work here. I was reminded that good police work is about constantly making judgment calls.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the ride-along was hearing the stories of Frank's experiences on the job, usually triggered by passing a particular house or neighborhood. One involved a friend, a Gulf War veteran, with a troubled son. Frank responded to a call at his house. Pulling the father aside, he said that under the circumstances, all he could really do was arrest the kid. His friend nodded, and said, "Okay," so off the disrespectful son went in handcuffs. Sometimes that's what it takes.

Another story unfolded several months ago at a bar we passed. Frank was engaged in other business when a loud, drunken voice in the background kept referring to a "fucking cop." Frank looked around and saw no other officers in the vicinity, so he had to assume the reference was to him. He ambled over to assess what the problem was. The ultimate result was a belligerent, drunken man and his equally ornery girlfriend, who insisted on interfering, both in the back of the patrol car in handcuffs.

About a half-hour after telling me this story, Frank turned the patrol car into a driveway to make a U-turn. At that same moment, two kids on an ATV were just about to pull onto the road. Frank rolled down the window and said, "You aren't going to drive that thing on the public road, are you?" "Well, officer, we were just going to go down about a quarter mile--" "Maybe you didn't understand my question. You aren't going to drive that ATV on a public road, are you?" Suddenly, it all made sense: "No sir." "Park it over there on the side of the road." We got out to chat with the driver and his companion, who had a case of Bud nestled in his lap and smelled like he had been marinating in beer for the last couple of weeks. As we walked over, Frank exclaimed, "Hey, that's the guy!" None other than the kid who had caused all that trouble in the bar parking lot was swaying on the back of the ATV. He gave Frank a little wave.

Later, I asked Frank how big a coincidence that was, seeing the kid so soon after he had told me the story. Frank said that in 15 years policing Liberty County he had seen that particular character only twice; once in the bar parking lot and once on the ATV. In short, quite a coincidence.

The most interesting event of the night was the call to the oil pump. The dispatcher said there had been a report of a fight with weapons at a remote location down a dirt road. We were about 10 to 12 miles away when we got the call. Lights, siren and speeds of up to 120 MPH got us there fast. Frank's practiced driving skills made the trip not nearly hair-raising as it could have been. Two other officers were en route, but we were the first to arrive. Incongruously, after speeding down the county roads, we then had to drive 5 miles down a jarring, rutted dirt road at a top speed of no more than 10 MPH before finally arriving at the oil pump. There we found five vehicles and about 20 kids milling around in the pitch black.

I have to say, they found a great spot to party. It was so remote that no neighbors could possibly complain about noise. Not a great spot for trouble with the law, though, with only one way out. As we got out to piece together what had happened, a white pick-up sped out of the darkness. Frank made it clear that he would not be happy if they left, so the driver stopped the car and got out to join the rest of the kids. Soon after, two other officers joined us and licenses were collected from everyone and the sorting out began.

From the under-aged kids crying at the thought of their parents finding out to the idiot who evidently lost the fight (and his nasty attitude surely didn't help his cause), there was a range of youngsters, mostly needing to take a leak and wanting to go home. I was impressed by the ability of three officers to assume and maintain control of a bunch of drunk and formerly disorderly kids (with no particular help from the fourth guy, me, who said and did almost nothing).

In the midst of this almost surreal scene, the radio crackled to life with a dry voice remarking that a blue pick-up truck just passed him at 105 MPH. Shortly thereafter, Cpl. Jon Dewey was in pursuit. A few moments later, he reported that the pick-up had "wrecked out." A moment after that, he reported that they were in pursuit again, at speeds of up to 115 MPH (I could actually picture that). Over the course of our continued engagement with the kids at the pump, the radio reported more news about the high-speed pursuit: he stopped; someone took the driver's keys; he snatched them back; he took off again; he drove over the spike strips; he's gone. A total of seven officers, State, County and local all joined in the chase, including Maddog and Tim. I will let Tim finish that story when he writes his guest journal entry, coming soon.

The final tally after the visit to the oil pump was one kid arrested for public drunkenness and one arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, both of whom Frank and I took to the jail for processing, allowing me insight into another aspect of the job; the paperwork. Less fun, but necessary.

As the night wore on, people got stranger, which is to be expected on Saturday night just about anywhere. The next call was to a house where a neighbor had reported seeing a little girl being carried into the house, kicking and screaming. For a second, I thought the call was to my house ten years ago. This one turned out to be equally innocent; apparently she had not wanted to take a bath. When we saw her she was squeaky clean and perfectly happy. But what should have been a quick in-and-out call got more involved. As we arrived, a police officer from Kenefick was getting an earful from Granddad, out on the porch, shirtless, with a world-class belly. He went on and on about the neighbors and how dare they call the cops on him while they're dealing crack, having drunken drag races, selling pot, fighting, plotting terrorist attacks, littering, etc. Every few moments, he would call into the house and say, "What's that guys name?" and his son would provide the information. Finally, without skipping a beat, he asked, "What's that guy's name? You know, the one that don't never wear a shirt?" Frank and I looked at him: big round belly, unrestrained, just hanging out there for all to see. It was all I could do to not blurt out, "Well, that would be you, grandpa."

The denouement to our night on patrol in Liberty County involved a second, considerably grimmer coincidence. One of the kids who was partying at the pump that Saturday night was killed in a car wreck just a few days later. Frank was called to the scene and recognized him from his license. The kid was 23 years old and apparently driving drunk. He crossed the divided highway and crashed head-on into another car, resulting in his death.

Photo 2006 Allen Youngblood, courtesy of

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

In other news, there were two recent references to the kind of justice that was liberally dispensed in San Lovisa (for the origins, please see Day 8 of the EvenHand production journal, A Good Plan).

The first was an article in the NY Times on March 30th, 2006. Greg Pringle was sentenced by a judge in Denver to stand at a busy intersection on US 36 for four hours with the dummy that he used to illegally access the high-occupancy-vehicle lane. He admitted to riding with the dummy, Tillie, for more than a year before being pulled over by the police. He also had to hold a sign reading, "HOV LANE IS NOT FOR DUMMIES" (pictured above). He sold Tillie on eBay for $15,000, which he was required to donate to the National Safety Council's "Alive at 25" campaign, which promotes safe driving among teenagers.

In a less light-hearted twist on the theme, Jan Jurden, a Superior Court judge in Wilmington, Delaware, recently sentenced Russell Teeter, who had been convicted of exposing himself twice to a 10-year-old girl, to wearing a T-shirt boldly printed with the words, "I am a registered sex offender." In addition to serving 60 days in jail, Mr. Teeter will have to wear the T-shirt while he is at work at his gardening business for 22 months after he is released. (Reuters)

Joseph Pierson


Read the 9/11/06 EvenHand Journal entry, "To Never Forget" by Kevin Boyle

                         Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Copyright 2006 Cypress Films, Inc. (except as noted above) Some rights reserved.

Cypress Films logo