Six months after I was sworn in as a police officer, someone tried to kill me.
I hadn’t been to the police academy yet. In 1978, an agency had up to 18 months after hiring a new officer before it was required to send the candidate to the academy.
As a result, most of my training for the better part of a year came from veteran officers’ advice, a few training classes and making painful mistakes, including the one that almost ended my life.
On that day, I was in the office doing what eventually would contribute to my voluntary departure from law enforcement — writing reports, the boredom of which cannot be measured.
Terror, on the other hand, was mere minutes away.
A caller alerted me to a transient entering cars parked on Grantsville’s Main Street. It was close enough that I could look out the window and see it.
The transient, a feral-looking guy with a lot of road grime, got into a pickup, started it, then got out and looked around to see if anyone was watching.
Even in my inexperienced state, this seemed suspicious. I drove over and confronted the man. I asked him for identification. He gave me a booking sheet from the jail in Lincoln County, Nev.
We were sitting in my patrol car when things went bad. The sheet described the suspect perfectly (including “condition upon release: filthy”). But the name on it was different than the one he gave me.
I was holding the paper in one hand and the radio mic in the other when I said the wrong thing.
“Either tell me your real name or you’re going to jail.”
Snap. The man went from sullen wretch to full-on werewolf in less time than it takes to blink. He struck me in the side of the head with something — nightstick, flashlight, metal clipboard — and was on top of me, biting and snarling.
Then he started pulling at my gun.
Through the haze and blood, I flashed to my wife and daughter. Clarity returned along with fear. I grabbed his hand as my gun came loose. We fought over it, taking turns pointing it at each other and arguing over the trigger.
The fight lasted for the better part of what might have been the rest of my life. In the process, we kicked out the radio and radar, and cracked the windshield, before ending up in the back seat.
Several times the gun’s muzzle brushed my face before I could get it turned away and pointed at his.
In the end, I think it came down to me having more to lose than he did. I got on top of him and, using my weight, forced the gun around, pressing it into his snarling face.
About to pull the trigger, I thought to myself: “I’m going home. You’re not.” After a loud noise and the splatter, it would all be over.
That’s when I noticed the windows of my ruined patrol car were lined with the faces of horrified school kids on their way home. They had stopped to watch.
Instead of shooting, I beat the guy into submission, dragged him out of the car and handcuffed him. Then I kicked him into the back seat, locked the door and slammed it.
Bloody, torn and addled, I then realized that the keys still were in the ignition, and we had locked all the other doors during the fight. My prisoner couldn’t get out, and I couldn’t get back in.
Fortunately, someone had called county dispatch. Leaning against my car, I listened with relief as the sirens of backup approached. That’s when I told myself a lie: “It’s over.”
You see, some things that happen to cops never stop happening. Just ask West Jordan detective Brent Jex, whose ordeal is detailed in this paper’s “Officer in Distress” series.
I still get snatched awake in the night by the feeling of a gun muzzle pressing against my face 40 years ago.
It’s not over.