Officer John "Rocky" Rojas

SAPD REFLECTIONS                                         2/25/01

We have engaged the services of a veteran SAPD officer to serve as a consultant on the script and also to tutor our two lead actors on correct procedures for arresting a suspect, approaching a stolen car, dealing with domestic disputes, etc. In the context of describing handcuffing procedures, he told me the story of Tiny. Tiny was, of course, a giant of a man. He was so huge that his forearms wouldn't fit in ordinary handcuffs. Tiny could only be restrained with leg irons on his wrists.

But, Tiny had a problem. While he was frequently arrested, he just couldn't bear being restrained. The cops who had encountered him before knew that he would get in the patrol car without a problem and ride peacefully to the substation -- as long as you didn't try and put handcuffs on him.

One night, Tiny was arrested by a couple of officers who were not familiar with his idiosyncracies. Every time they tried to subdue and cuff him, he brushed them away like annoying insects. In spite of his assurance that he would get in the car peacefully as long as they didn't try and cuff him, the officers called for backup and soon, Tiny was knocking down cops left and right. Finally, a sergeant who knew him arrived on the scene and told the other officers to back off. He politely asked Tiny to get in his patrol car and took him, without further incident, to the station for booking.

Some of the officers on the scene suggested that Tiny be charged with assault, but the sergeant wouldn't hear of it.

Tiny died from a single bullet wound. A police officer that didn't know him shot him after Tiny pushed him to the ground. Tiny didn't mean any harm; he just didn't want to be handcuffed.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fernando and I met recently with a man who told an anecdote about his student days in one of the local high schools. There was apparently a police officer who routinely took some of the boys from the school to a nearby water tower and beat the crap out of them. I assume these beatings were not entirely unmotivated; surely the boys had done something to attract the ire of the cop. I am also quite sure that he was stepping beyond the strict parameters of proper behavior for a police officer.

One day, the student and one of his buddies were chosen for the honor of having the crap beat out of them. With some delight, he told us that they, instead, beat the crap out of the cop. Street protocol being what it is, both kids had to disappear from the scene for a while for fear of severe retaliation.

The water tower has long since been torn down. The cop retired years ago and is now a frail 80 year old. The former student is now a public servant.

And times have changed in the San Antonio Police Department. Rouge cops are not tolerated. Now, all a police officer has to do to be fired is lie about his off-duty employment or provide false testimony. In today's world, beating the crap out of high school boys would make headlines in the paper.

But one thing that hasn't changed is the inherent danger of police work. Over the years, 43 SAPD officers have been killed in the line of duty. John Rojas, pictured above, was mortally wounded a couple of weeks ago. The murder weapon was his own gun. The suspect was apprehended within days, although that was little comfort to the wife and children and friends he left behind.

There will occasionally be Tinys in the world, odd characters that can't seem to stay on the right side of the law but that still manage, in their own strange way, to maintain their dignity. There will sometimes be people who abuse their authority for personal gain or just to scratch the unnatural itch. And somewhere in the middle of all that, there will always be men and women brave enough to risk their lives every day to serve their communities. Here's to the memory of the ones that have died on the job.

- Joseph Pierson


Copyright 2001 Cypress Films, Inc. All rights reserved.