Episode 5 Transcript: Chapter 5: Big Guns
A Quick Warning: Some of this series includes descriptions of graphic violence
LAST WEEK ON NORCO 80
Radio Traffic:[shouting] We need the highway blocked...321 have them send about five units at this time.
George Smith: We’re in Lytle Creek, what we’re trying to do is hit the engines on the police vehicles to stop them. I wasn’t trying to kill people...
Jim Evans: We’re being fired upon.
Radio Traffic: hit!
DJ McCarty: He him instantly...
Radio Traffic:Mary [Evans]: He sent many memos to the sheriff that last
year before he died. Radio Traffic: Jim Talk
Mary: He told them “we need military assault rifles.” it’s almost like he could see it coming. He’d tell me: something big is gonna happen.
We request that you maintain minimum traffic. We have a very hazardous situation. Several officers shot.
AFTER THE ROBBERS SCATTERED INTO THE FOREST, AN EIGHT MAN SWAT TEAM FROM SAN BERNARDINO BEGAN TO MAKE ITS WAY UP THE MOUNTAIN IN THE FADING DAYLIGHT. THEY WOULD TAKE OVER THE OPERATION TO SEARCH FOR THE ROBBERS.
DEPUTY SHERIFF DJ MCCARTY, WHO HAD BEEN THE LAST OFFICER TO FACE OFF WITH THE SUSPECTS AND HAD SEEN JIM EVANS KILLED BEFORE HIS
Edward 20 unit with Evans? That unit’s been
took a round in the right eye which killed
Evans you there?
VERY EYES WAS LEAVING THE SCENE AND WALKING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN WHEN HE SAW THE SWAT TEAM.
ASC: I'm curious if this is true and why you said it, that you told the SWAT team to not try to capture the robbers, to just fucking shoot them.
DJ: Yes. I don't think it was exactly that way. But I remember the guys that were walking by, and you got to understand, what I was trying to tell them was, don't warn him as soon as you see them open up on him because they're going to do it to you.
DJ TOLD ME HE WISHED THAT HE HAD BEEN BETTER TRAINED, SO THAT HE COULD FULLY USED THE POWER OF THE AUTOMATIC WEAPON HE HAD THAT DAY.
DJ: Might have been a different outcome.ASC: What do you think the outcome would have been?
DJ: I think I would have tried a hell of a lot harder to kill all four of them.
ASC: A nd you think that would have been justice served?
DJ: Well, Antonia, it's kind of hard, I realize where you're going with that, but when people are trying to kill you, when they've shot eight cops, civilians, robbed a bank... and they're shooting at you? Yeah, I want to kill them. I don't want to capture them.
And that’s just being flat honest. They made the decision of what they’re going to do.
ASC: You know, I hear that I just wanna say. I'm very moved by your story. And I've been very moved hearing you speak. But I do want to talk about some tough stuff because I mean, hearing you say that. For instance, for me, my first impulse is, you know, it's not your role to say what the punishment should be.
DJ: Well, would I... if I had the choice of the death sentence or multiple life sentences, which would I choose? Is that what you’re saying?
ASC: No, the point I'm saying is that I think that it is the court system that decides what punishment should be levied on those men, you know. So whether they die or not is, you know, it makes me sad to hear you say that you would like would have wanted to kill them, because ultimately that's not your role.
DJ: No, it’s not. It’s not my role to go out and kill. But when like I said, I think you're missing my point. They made the choice of what they're going to do. They planned this out very, very meticulously. So when it got to me after six cops at this shot, I think three civilians blown up half two counties... when it got to me and they opened up on me? I'm not thinking about incarceration. I'm not thinking about capturing. I'm thinking about defending myself and killing them. Not wounding. Killing them. Stopping the threat. I know that sounds terrible, but I've been retired for a long time, so I can tell you the truth. I was not there to capture them. Now, if they threw their hands up in the air and dropped their weapons and laid on the ground. I'm not going to execute them. That's not me. But as long as they're shooting at me, I'm going to kill them.
I’M ANTONIA CEREIJIDO AND FROM LAIST STUDIOS AND FUTURO STUDIOS THIS IS NORCO80, A SERIES ABOUT GOD, GUNS, SURVIVALISM AND THE BANK ROBBERY THAT CHANGED POLICING FOREVER.
CHAPTER 5: BIG GUNS
IN RESPONSE TO THE NORCO BANK ROBBERY AND SUBSEQUENT CHASE, AN ANGRY POLICE FORCE WOULD DEMAND CHANGE.
Rolf: When they talk about the arming of police in America it starts here, it starts with the Norco bank robbery
GEORGE SMITH HAD BEEN SHOT IN THE FIREFIGHT OUTSIDE THE BANK. AND HE WOULD TELL THE DETECTIVE THAT ONCE THEY GOT UP INTO THE MOUNTAINS HE WAS LOSING SO MUCH BLOOD, HE COULDN’T FIGHT BACK ANY LONGER
George: Yeah I was so badly hit I lost [beaucoup] blood. Detective: But you had your gun.George: Yes and I gave it to the other guys.Detective: And you were firing.
George: No like i said i was too bad hit, I was feeling very weak. Chapped lips like I had lost too much blood.
WHEN THE ROBBER’S YELLOW TRUCK GOT TO THE DEADEND AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN, THEY ABANDONED THE VEHICLE AND GEORGE SMITH TOLD THE OTHERS THEY HAD TO GO ON WITHOUT HIM.
George: And then when they jumped out of the van I told 'em - out the truck I told 'em I'm too bad hit. You guys have to go on without me. So then I jumped off to the side.
AS THE OTHER ROBBERS SHOT BACK TOWARDS THE OFFICERS, GEORGE SAID HE SLIPPED AWAY AND LAYED DOWN ON THE COLD DAMP GROUND.
Detective: Do you know what happened to the others? George: No. That was all up to them then cause I figured
I'd had it.Detective: Did they say where they were going? George: No.
THE REST OF THE ROBBERS THEN DISPERSED INTO THE FOREST FIGURING THAT IT WOULD BE HARDER TO CAPTURE THEM IF THEY ALL WENT IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS.
AS NIGHT DESCENDED UPON THE MOUNTAIN - FAR UP AND AWAY FROM CITY LIGHTS - THE OFFICERS ON SCENE DECIDED WAIT TILL THE SUN CAME UP TO BEGIN THE MANHUNT.
THROUGH THE NIGHT GEORGE WAS SO WEAK AND DELIRIOUS HE LOST HIS GRASP ON THE CONCEPT OF TIME. HE TOLD THE DETECTIVE HE LAID IN THE RAIN FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS WHEN IN REALITY HE HAD BEEN OUT IN THE WOODS FOR LESS THAN 12 HOURS.
George: I laid in the rain for a couple days. I was in kind of half a daze getting ready to pass out.
RUSS HARVEN, CHRIS’S YOUNGER BROTHER WAS STARTING TO GET ANTSY SITTING IN THE PITCH BLACK WILDERNESS ALONE. HE WOULD LATER TELL A DETECTIVE ABOUT IT.
George: I started walking down the road because I figured I’m not gonna sit here and freeze. I’m gonna find Chris or go to jail, you know? where it’s nice and warm.
RUSS SAID “I STARTED WALKING DOWN THE ROAD BECAUSE I FIGURED I’M NOT GONNA SIT HERE AND FREEZE. I’M GONNA FIND CHRIS OR GO TO JAIL WHERE IT’S NICE AND WARM.
Russ: I found Chris had a little fire going down there and I saw this fire.
RUSS SAW A FIRE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE MOUNTAINSIDE AND FOLLOWED IT. IT TURNED OUT CHRIS HAD STARTED IT. THE BROTHERS WOULD SPEND THEIR LAST NIGHT OUT IN THE WORLD TOGETHER.
AT DAY BREAK, THE OFFICERS SET OUT TO SEARCH FOR THE ROBBERS. A LITTLE AFTER 8AM, FOUR OFFICERS FROM THE SAN BERNARDINO SWAT TEAM AND THREE SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES WERE COMBING THROUGH THE CANYON WHEN THEY HEARD A VOICE YELLING.
IT TURNED OUT TO BE GEORGE SITTING BEHIND A MANZANITA BUSH WAVING HIS HANDS AND SURRENDERING.
WITHIN THE HOUR, DETECTIVE ROSS DVORAK WOULD BE ON THE SCENE READY TO INTERROGATE GEORGE.
Dvorak: George, I’m Dvorak from Sheriff’s homicide. Do you understand that? What’s your full name?
George: George Smith...Wayne Smith.
AT THE SAME TIME - ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN - ANOTHER GROUP OF OFFICERS WERE ROLLING THROUGH IN A JEEP WHEN THEY CAME UPON CHRIS AND RUSS HARVEN. THEY WERE QUICKLY HANDCUFFED AT GUNPOINT.
GEORGE, CHRIS AND RUSS WERE ALL ARRESTED.
NOW THE ONLY ROBBER LEFT ON THE MOUNTAIN WAS MANNY DELGADO. MANNY WAS THE OLDER BROTHER OF BILLY DELGADO THE 17 YEAR OLD DRIVER POLICE HAD SHOT AND KILLED OUTSIDE THE BANK.
John: W e were searching for the outstanding suspect.
JOHN PLACENSIA WAS ONE OF THE HELICOPTER PILOTS WHO WAS RADIOING DOWN TO THE OFFICERS ON FOOT. HE TRIED TO GRASP WHAT WAS HAPPENING AS HE HOVERED ABOVE.
John: A s we searched the area in the helicopter we spotted yellow gloves. dishwashing yellow gloves, and apparently it got so cold during the night that this guy wore those gloves to keep his hands warm.
We directed the SWAT officers from L.A. County towards where we had spotted the gloves.
WITHIN THE LA SHERIFF’S OFFICE, THE SWAT TEAM WAS OFTEN CALLED THE “HUNT AND KILL” TEAM.
MANNY WAS LYING ON HIS STOMACH, UNAWARE THAT TWO OF THE SWAT OFFICERS WERE APPROACHING HIM. ONE OF THE OFFICERS REMEMBERS
YELLING FREEZE AND SEEING MANNY LIFT UP ONTO ALL FOURS, WITH A GUN IN HIS HAND. THE TWO OFFICERS BEGAN TO SHOOT.
John: A nd shortly thereafter, we heard on the police radio that shots were fired and that suspect was down.
THE FIRST SHOT, SUNK INTO MANNY’S RIGHT SHOULDER. THEN A SECOND BULLET WENT STRAIGHT THROUGH HIS HEART AND KILLED HIM INSTANTLY. HE WAS SHOT A TOTAL OF FOUR TIMES.
THERE REMAINS SOME MYSTERY AROUND THE FATAL BULLET. THE AUTOPSY SAYS THAT THE GUN THAT KILLED MANNY WAS TOUCHING HIS SKIN WHEN IT WAS FIRED.
A THEORY WOULD CIRCULATE IN THE PRESS THAT IN HIS LAST MOMENTS, MANNY HAD ACTUALLY SHOT HIMSELF.
BUT IN AN INTERVIEW, THE CORONER SAID “WE REALLY CAN’T SAY IF DELGADO DIED FROM HIS OWN GUN.”
THE BULLET THAT KILLED HIM WAS NEVER RECOVERED.
BOTH DELGADO BROTHERS HAD LOST THEIR LIVES TO THIS HEIST GONE TERRIBLY WRONG.
THE CHASE WHICH COVERED OVER 40 MILES AND ENDED WITH 11 INJURIES AND THREE FATALITIES WAS OVER.
BUT WHAT HAPPENED IN UNDER A DAY, WOULD SPARK A SERIES OF EVENTS THAT WOULD SPIRAL OUT FOR YEARS.
STARTING WITH AN OUTCRY WITHIN THE RIVERSIDE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT. WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK.
THE SHERIFF OF RIVERSIDE COUNTY WAS AN, IMPOSING MAN, WITH CLIPPED WHITE HAIR NAMED BEN CLARK.
ASC: Can you describe Ben Clark, what did he look like?
Cois: I don’t know, Short hair, slightly overweight.
COIS BYRD WORKED CLOSELY UNDER BEN CLARK FOR YEARS. A WELL-REGARDED POLITICIAN, CLARK HAD BEEN SHERIFF FOR THE LAST 17 YEARS, WON 4 ELECTIONS.
Cois: A nd had a steel trap mind that I admired all of my life and still do.
He was seen as somewhat stoic. When questioned, he could be very stone face, and he’d simply sit there for as long as he needed to sit there until the other person became uncomfortable. Kind of an interesting personality.
BEN CLARK DIED IN 2005, HE SPENT A TOTAL OF 36 YEARS IN THE DEPARTMENT. AND COIS REMEMBERS HOW THE DAY OF THE ROBBERY, BOTH HE AND THE SHERIFF WERE IN THE OFFICE, LISTENING TO THE DRAMATIC EVENTS UNFOLD ON THE DISPATCH.
Dispatch: [Beep] Riverside to Norco Units, we have a 211 in progressAndrew Delgado Monti: Suspects fled, yellow pickup north on Hamner
Rolf Parkes: Northbound, Go! Evans: We’re taking rounds...
AT THE END OF THAT LONG DAY - AFTER MANAGING THE BANK ROBBERY, THE CHASE, AND THE SHOOT-OUT. SHERIFF BEN CLARK HAD ONE MORE DIFFICULT TASK AHEAD OF HIM.
JUST AFTER 11PM, HE WENT TO THE HOME OF MARY EVANS, WIFE OF JIM EVANS, TO NOTIFY HER THAT HER HUSBAND WAS SHOT AND KILLED IN LYTLE CREEK CANYON. SHE WAS RETURNING HOME FROM THE BABYSITTER’S
Mary: And as soon as we come up the hill, my neighbors are outside and I say, Oh, brother. And there was Ben Clark and Ben Clark. You couldn't miss them because he was about six four, six five. It's a big man, OK? So I walked up to him. And I said to him, Where's my husband? Nobody will tell me
anything. I'm tired of this runaround. You tell me right now, where is my husband?
MARY WAS FRUSTRATED. IT HAD TAKEN THE SHERIFF HOURS TO NOTIFY HER OF HIS DEATH. AND SHE WAS ALSO MAD BECAUSE JIM HAD BEEN WORRIED FOR MONTHS THAT SOMETHING LIKE THE NORCO BANK ROBBERY COULD HAPPEN.
Mary: I was so angry at that man, I'll tell you, and I looked up at him and I said to him, well, let me tell you something. Your term was up. He said he was going to run against you and take your job because he knew what he was doing. But evidently you don't.
SHE TOLD THE SHERIFF - IF HER HUSBAND HAD LIVED, HE WOULD HAVE GIVEN HIM A RUN FOR HIS MONEY.
Mary: A ll the chiefs were standing there and I turned to them and said you get him in the car and get him the hell off my property.
JIM EVANS’ DEATH SHOOK UP THE DEPUTIES IN HIS DEPARTMENT
DEPUTY ANDREW DELGADO-MONTI WHO WAS IN THE FIREFIGHT OUTSIDE THE BANK REMEMBERS RETURNING TO THE STATION THAT DAY AND SEEING HIS CLOSE FRIEND.
Andrew: They took me to the station and as soon as we pulled up. We looked at each other and I thought he'd been shot. He thought I'd been killed. And we hugged each other.
We hugged each other for a long time.
And then he looked at me and said. Evans is dead. He was killed.
DEPUTY ROLF PARKES - WHO LED THE CHASE ON THE HIGHWAY - WAS ALSO EMOTIONAL
ROLF: T hat could have been me. Maybe it should have been me. You know, so I have a little survivor's remorse, that
Jim was laying there on the ground. He had been the last one in the chase and became the first...
Andrew: Had we had assault rifles, would it have changed things. I'm guaranteed you I guarantee you as a former Marine and as a former law enforcer, that would have made a difference. Those suspects would have never left that corner.
They would have never left that corner.
THESE EMOTIONS CRYSTALLIZED INTO CLEAR DEMANDS.
AFTER THE ROBBERY, OFFICERS ASKED FOR RADIOS THAT COULD COMMUNICATE BETWEEN DIFFERENT AGENCIES, COMBAT TRAINING, AND STRONGER FIREPOWER. GETTING NEW RADIOS WAS NOT CONTROVERSIAL BUT GETTING BIGGER GUNS? THAT WOULD START A FIGHT.
TO UNDERSTAND THE DRAMA THAT WOULD UNFOLD IT’S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND SHERIFF BEN CLARK’S VISION FOR THE DEPARTMENT WHEN HE FIRST GOT THE JOB.
Cois: H e advocated that law enforcement is everybody's business. And in nineteen sixties, he formed a community relations bureau basically before most others did.
IN THE 1960s, THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COMMUNITY AND POLICE WAS FRACTURING. THE PUBLIC WATCHED ON TV AS POLICE CLASHED WITH ANTI-WAR AND CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTORS. LIKE AT THE 1968 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION IN CHICAGO.
Montage: L et them go!/Officers drove motorcycles into the crowd, breaking them up and dispersing the hippies/Hundreds of marchers and dozens of policeman were injured, restraint was absent on both sides. This was later called a police riot.
IN CALIFORNIA, BEN CLARK WAS CONCERNED WITH THIS IMAGE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT. HE ADVOCATED OFFICER TRAINING, STANDARDIZED
PROCEDURES, AND BALANCED BUDGETS. HE WANTED TO PROFESSIONALIZE THE POLICE IN THE EYES OF THE PUBLIC. IN 1969, HE DECIDED TO COMPLETELY REVAMP THEIR LOOK.
Cois: F or instance, using a blazer to see how the public would react to that as opposed to a standard police uniform.
COIS BYRD MONITORED THE EXPERIMENT. AT ONE SHERIFF STATION, INSTEAD OF THE USUAL TAN UNIFORMS, DEPUTIES DONNED KELLY GREEN BLAZERS, WITH MATCHING GREEN TROUSERS AND A DARK GREEN TIE.
Cois: I think that our sheriff might have been a little bit color blind because it was just a little bit bright for me.
DEPUTIES WERE TOLD TO KEEP THEIR HANDCUFFS AND GUNS OUT OF SIGHT TUCKED INSIDE THEIR BLAZERS, AND THEIR NIGHTSTICKS IN THEIR PATROL CARS. INSTEAD OF A BADGE THEY WORE AN EMBROIDERED CREST FEATURING A LIBERTY BELL AND A SET OF SCALES. THEY SUDDENLY LOOKED LIKE BUREAUCRATS INSTEAD OF COPS.
Cois:It was an experiment to soften the image of police. Some people were saying, you know, you look like the military. You know, we don't want the military coming to our house to solve our problem.
BUT THE EXPERIMENT DIDN’T LAST.
Cois: The public didn't really care one way or another what the policeman looked like. I think that it was epitomized by an old guy that was under a cottonwood tree. And one of our researchers talked to. And he says, well, it really don't make no difference what the policeman's wearing. He says whether he's a country club cop or wearing a regular uniform, he says they're all going to arrest you.
THE IDEA THAT POLICE COULD USE SOMETHING AS INNOCUOUS AND SIMPLE AS A BLAZER, TO BUILD TRUST AND PEACE IN COMMUNITY, IT FEELS QUAINT BUT ALSO HOPEFUL.
BUT JUST OVER TEN YEARS LATER, THE BANK ROBBERY AT NORCO HAPPENED. AND FEELINGS IN THE DEPARTMENT SHIFTED IN A VERY DIFFERENT WAY.
AT THE TIME - THE STANDARD WEAPONS POLICE HAD ACCESS TO WERE A SHOTGUN AND A REVOLVER. THE REVOLVER ONLY HAD 6 ROUNDS, AND TOOK A LONG TIME TO RELOAD.
Cois: You have to push a lever and then reload them one at a time. So it's much slower.
SEMI AUTOMATIC WEAPONS ON THE OTHER HAND DON’T HAVE TO BE RELOADED AFTER EVERY ROUND, MAKING IT POSSIBLE TO FIRE MORE ROUNDS, MORE QUICKLY.
Cois:So here's an officer with 35 or 40 bullet capability within a matter of one minute.
IN THE 1960s, THE PUBLIC WAS INTRODUCED TO A STYLE OF SEMI AUTOMATIC WEAPON WE ARE VERY FAMILIAR WITH TODAY.
Collage: The AR-15, the most popular rifle in America// bullets that tore through the Pulse nightclub in Orlando came from an AR-15 style weapon//cruz seen here loading an ar15 in stoneman douglas highschool as a frightened freshmen walks past // Lanza entered the building carrying a bushmaster ar-15 assault rifle //They’re designed to kill as many people as possible
THE AR-15 WAS FIRST DEVELOPED IN THE 1950s FOR THE MILITARY, BY A COMPANY CALL ARMALITE. AR ACTUALLY STANDS FOR “ARMALITE RIFLE,” NOT “ASSAULT RIFLE.”
Fairchild promo: T his is the armalite ar-10: the modern combat weapon that combines the accuracy of a sniper with the power of a machine gun.
IN 1963 COLT BOUGHT THEIR DESIGN. AND THEY USED IT TO BEGIN MANUFACTURING THE FULLY AUTOMATIC M16 RIFLE FOR SOLDIERS IN VIETNAM.
Training video: Remember that it is the finest weapon in existence, practice with your m16 so that whenever you are in a situation of danger you will live to fight again.
WHILE THE M16 WAS FULLY AUTOMATIC, COLT DECIDED TO MAKE A SEMIAUTOMATIC VERSION FOR CIVILIANS. THE AR-15.
THEY COULD BE BOUGHT AT ANY REGULAR SPORTING GOODS STORE. THE NORCO ROBBERS HAD 9 OF THESE CIVILIAN VERSIONS OF MILITARY GUNS.
SO THAT’S WHY THE OFFICERS, AFTER THE NORCO ROBBERY, WANTED TO CARRY WEAPONS AT LEAST AS POWERFUL AS WHAT WAS AVAILABLE ON THE STREET.
COIS BYRD,WHO WAS CHIEF DEPUTY SHERIFF UNDER BEN CLARK. AGREED THIS WAS THE WAY FORWARD.
ASC: What do you think could have happened that day that would have led to less violence.
Cois: N othing that I can think of in terms of less violence.
Yeah, I can think of one thing you could have put it down right to start with. If the officer showed up with a fully automatic weapon and they have three suspects coming out with semi-automatic weapons, then you to shoot them all, so it's just at that point, it's just force overcoming force.
BUT SHERIFF BEN CLARK DIDN’T GO FOR THE IDEA.
Antonia: S o after Norco, Sheriff Clark's style seems to really come under a microscope, by the people in the department.
Cois: O h, yeah. Well, there was anger. And in many deaths that I've seen over my career and life, there is frequently anger that's left after someone is killed, especially in the line of duty.
BEN CLARK SAW NORCO AS AN EXTREMELY RARE INCIDENT. HE WAS QUOTED IN THE NEWSPAPER SAYING THAT HE DID NOT BELIEVE MORE TRAINING OR HIGHER POWERED WEAPONS WOULD HAVE CHANGED ANYTHING ABOUT THAT DAY AND COIS SAYS CLARK FELT REVOLVERS WERE MORE RELIABLE, LESS LIKELY TO JAM.
COIS: H e didn't feel it was necessary to change. He thought it was better to wait and basically see how things pan out.
HE WANTED TO TO TAKE HIS TIME, TO ASSESS THE CHANGES THEY MIGHT NEED INSTEAD OF JUST RESPONDING TO CRISIS. SO HE FORMED A COMMITTEE TO REVIEW WEAPONRY AND THE RADIOS.
AND HE EVEN SAID HE WOULD BE BEGIN DOING SURPRISE INSPECTIONS TO MAKE SURE OFFICERS WEREN’T SECRETLY CARRYING THEIR OWN PERSONAL HIGH POWERED WEAPONS.
MARY, JIM EVAN’S WIDOW, RECALLS HOW JITTERY THIS MADE DEPUTIES
Mary: A couple of deputies came up to my house that I knew and stuff. And the ones said to me, yeah, the sheriff tells us if he catches us with any high powered weapons, you know, we're getting fired. OK, and so he said, come out here, Mary, you open the trunk.
And he had a high powered weapon in there and he said, You think I'm going to listen to him? He said absolutely not. He said, everyone I know is arming their car, and he said if he catches us with any type of weapons other than what's authorized, we're all getting fired. He said “but I'll tell you this, I'd rather find another job,” he says, “if I have to.” He says, “than to be carried by six men in a box.”
A MONTH AFTER THE BANK ROBBERY, THE FIGHT MADE ITS WAY INTO THE RIVERSIDE PRESS ENTERPRISE, THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER. THEY REPORTED THAT AT A MEETING OF THE RIVERSIDE SHERIFF’S ASSOCIATION THE CROWD BOO-ED BEN CLARK.
IN RESPONSE TO THE OUTCRY CLARK SAID “NO ONE CAN SAY JIM EVANS WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY BECAUSE OF SOMETHING THIS DEPARTMENT DID OR
DIDN’T DO. ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE IS TALKING THROUGH A CRYSTAL BALL AND JUST SECOND-GUESSING.”
AT THE SAME TIME, OTHER AGENCIES INVOLVED IN NORCO WERE MAKING CHANGES. THE RIVERSIDE PD BOUGHT A DOZEN HIGH POWERED RIFLES AND THE SAN BERNARDINO SHERIFF ASKED THE COUNTY FOR THREE DOZEN AUTOMATIC WEAPONS AND AN M60, A MACHINE GUN TO PUT ON THEIR HELICOPTER. IT CAN FIRE AT LEAST 500 ROUNDS A MINUTE.
ASC: Was there any fear that if you have police officers armed with such intense weaponry, that that could further create a schism with the community and the police officers?
Cois: I didn't I didn't hear any. I heard no concern whatsoever during that time about arming the police. The general public was more concerned, I think, about their own public safety than they were anything else. It was necessary, it was mandatory. There was really no option. The numbers of weapons of semi-automatic and powerful weapons in society. I mean, there’s literally millions in the United States and the criminals can get them easily.
TWO WEEKS AFTER THE PRESS COVERAGE, SHERIFF BEN CLARK HAD A CHANGE OF HEART. BEFORE HIS COMMITTEE HAD EVEN FINISHED ITS REVIEW, HE MADE A PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT. THE SHERIFF SAID THEY WOULD BUY 40 HIGH POWERED RIFLES FOR SERGEANTS.
AND COIS SAYS THE SHERIFF ALSO ALLOWED DEPUTIES TO CARRY THEIR OWN GUNS.
Cois: T he sheriff did approve a 223 rifles. They were semi automatic for personal carry in units, but there was no budget for it. So the deputies had to pay for them themselves and do the training and be certified.
AND THE SHERIFF HE BEGAN WHAT WOULD ESSENTIALLY BE A SWAT TEAM.
BUT TRUST IN BEN CLARK, HAD DROPPED. AND MANY OFFICERS STILL WANTED EVERYONE IN THE DEPT - NOT JUST SERGEANTS TO HAVE ASSAULT RIFLES.
ON SEPTEMBER 12TH, 1980 - THE POLICE UNION MET. AND 457 MEN TOOK A VOTE. IN THE END, THE MAJORITY VOTED THAT THEY HAD “NO CONFIDENCE” IN BEN CLARK.
SHERIFF CLARK WAS NOT MOVED. “THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF EMOTION BEING EXHIBITED IN OUR DEPARTMENT RIGHT NOW.”
BUT OFFICERS’ FEAR OF BEING OUTGUNNED WOULD PROVE MORE POWERFUL THAN BEN CLARK’S PRAGMATISM.
WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK.
THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN A LINK BETWEEN THE MILITARY AND POLICE - LONG BEFORE DEPUTIES IN RIVERSIDE DEMANDED HIGH-POWERED WEAPONS IN 1980.
IN COLONIAL AMERICA, POLICING EVOLVED OUT OF SLAVE PATROLS FORMED IN THE EARLY 1700s. MEMBERS OFTEN CAME FROM THE MILITIA. LATER ON, IN THE MID-1800s, THE MILITARY WAS USED TO POLICE THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA SOUTH.
IN THE MID-19TH CENTURY, CITIES BEGAN ORGANIZING THEIR OWN POLICE FORCES. WHICH ADOPTING MILITARY-STYLE RANKS AND TRAINING.
Michael: And many of the uniforms were patterned after, after military uniforms.
THIS IS MICHAEL LEO OWENS, HE’S AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT EMORY UNIVERSITY, AND HE STUDIES THE CIVIC AND POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF POLICING.
HE SAYS THE 1960s WAS ONE MOMENT, WHEN THE MILITARIZATION OF POLICE REALLY TOOK A STEP FORWARD.
Michael: W e also know that during the early moments of large contentious politics – riots, protests and the like – particularly in the 1960s, we saw police interacting with National Guard in order to quell civil unrest.
IN 1965, LYNDON B JOHSON DECLARED A WAR ON CRIME.
JOHNSON: Every citizen has the right to feel secure in his home and on the streets of his community. I will soon assemble a panel of outstanding experts in this nation to search out answers to the national problem of crime and delinquency.
HE PASSED THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ASSISTANCE ACT. IT PROVIDED GRANTS TO LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TO BUY ITEMS LIKE RIFLES, RIOT GEAR, AND ARMORED VEHICLES.
AND THEN CAME THE WAR ON DRUGS.
NIXON: America’s public enemy #1 in the United States is drug abuse, in order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new, all out offensive.
WHICH WOULD THROW FEDERAL MONEY AND MILITARY EQUIPMENT AT A DOMESTIC ISSUE. AND LEAN ON SWAT TEAMS - WHICH WERE INVENTED IN LOS ANGELES - TO ENFORCE DRUG LAWS.
Michael: S WAT doesn't just stay in Los Angeles. It diffuses. It spreads across the United States a little bit slow at the beginning, but then it really starts to take off.
THIS WAS THE ERA IN WHICH THE NORCO BANK ROBBERY HAPPENED.
AND YEARS AFTER THE ROBBERY IN 1986. DEPUTIES AT THE RIVERSIDE SHERIFF’S OFFICE STILL WANTED TO CARRY MORE POWERFUL WEAPONS.
AND ULTIMATELY, IT WAS OFFICER DEMANDS THAT LED TO CHANGE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT. THIS IS COIS BYRD AGAIN, WHO WORKED UNDER SHERIFF BEN CLARK OF RIVERSIDE.
Cois: T he process is there's pressure to start with internally and starts at the bottom, I think, because those are the officers that respond to the crime that's in progress. And that's where the fear is.
WHEN BEN CLARK RETIRED IN 1986, COIS TOOK OVER. AND HE WOULD MAKE THE OFFICIAL CHANGE FROM THE SIX-SHOOTER REVOLVERS AND THE SHOTGUNS EACH DEPUTY HAD, TO SEMI-AUTOMATIC PISTOLS.
Ben: And that was a pretty big deal among the troops and so forth.
AND THEN, IN 1997 - NOT VERY FAR FROM NORCO, ANOTHER ROBBERY SHOOK THE COUNTRY - THE NORTH HOLLYWOOD BANK ROBBERY.
This is the gunman after he came out of the bank this is the first of two gunmen who shot it out with the police//their firepower seemed endless. minute after minute went by. Scores of rounds fired//what’s going on here? He’s firing into the//many officers expended all the ammunition that they had
NEARLY 2000 ROUNDS OF AMMUNITION WERE FIRED DURING THE NORTH HOLLYWOOD BANK ROBBERY, AND IT WAS ALL ON TV
Michael: T his idea that bank robbers dressed for war. In North Hollywood and to literally see it and to see the shoot out.
THIS IS PROFESSOR MICHAEL LEO OWENS AGAIN.
Michael: W here the police are ducking behind vehicles and they're peering around, which, of course, is defensive, but also, again, could be interpreted as somewhat embarrassing that they're put in this situation.
JUST LIKE AFTER NORCO, OFFICERS BEGAN CLAMORING FOR HEAVY DUTY WEAPONRY. AND NOW, THEY COULD GET IT. LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT BEGAN GETTING MILITARY SURPLUS ITEMS THROUGH A FEDERAL PROGRAM STARTED THAT SAME YEAR. ITEMS LIKE GRENADE LAUNCHERS, HELICOPTERS, ASSAULT RIFLES, AND BAYONETS. EQUIPMENT ORIGINALLY VALUED AT OVER 7 BILLION DOLLARS.
FORTY YEARS AFTER THE BANK ROBBERY, THE NATIONAL STANDARD POLICE OFFICER WEAPONRY WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. A STUDY SHOWED THAT THAT OVER 95% OF AMERICAN POLICE AGENCIES NOW ALLOW STREET-LEVEL OFFICERS TO CARRY HIGH-POWERED RIFLES.
Asc: Do you know if there are statistics on how the introduction of assault weapons impacted the crime rate, whether the crime rate went down?
Cois: No, I don't think that the crime rate went down. I think it was continuing to go up and has been ever since.
STUDIES SHOW THAT ARMING POLICE WITH MILITARY EQUIPMENT DOES NOT REDUCE CRIME OR ENHANCE PUBLIC SAFETY. AND THAT IT ACTUALLY INCREASES THE USE OF LETHAL FORCE.
INTENSE EVENTS LIKE THE NORCO ROBBERY AND SHOOT-OUT, THEY’RE STATISTICALLY RARE. BUT FOR PROFESSOR MICHAEL LEO OWENS, THESE ARE THE MOMENTS THAT STAY IN THE MINDS OF OFFICERS
Michael:You know, Norco's interesting because one lesson could have been, oh, we got to really arm up. But another lesson could be, “no, you just need to be better trained in dealing with these sorts of situations.” because at the end of the day, I forget what number of of the robbers were were killed by the police...the others did what? they gave up. This is the pattern, right? So we see some moment in time where the police find themselves overwhelmed by the force of those they're there to try to apprehend.
I would say in the case of NorCal, one of the sad points, of course, was that a police officer was killed. So that's super problematic from the perspective of the police, because right there, it sends the message to police officers and as well as those who support police officers that the world is a deadly place.
OFFICERS REACTED TO THE VIOLENCE OF NORCO BY PUSHING TO BE ARMED. NOT AS A PROVEN METHOD TO REDUCE CRIME - BUT AS NECESSARY TO PROTECT THEIR SAFETY. AND THAT FEAR FOR THEIR SAFETY - IT LINGERED FOR MANY OFFICERS.
LIKE FOR DJ McCARTY - THE OFFICER WHO SAW JIM EVANS DIE
Asc: Where was your head? Right after.DJ: I called work after the third day. I can't stay here, I
got the press all over my house. I'm going to come home.
WHEN DJ SAYS HOME - HE MEANS THE STATION
DJ: S o they put me on the desk. Which is miserable for a patrolmen. Right after the shooting, I had a problem with alcohol for about a year and. You just need something other than trying to do that macho thing of handling yourself.
DJ WAS HAUNTED BYJIM EVAN’S DEATH. ALONG WITH OTHER OFFICERS HE WAS AWARDED A MEDAL FOR HIS ACTIONS IN THE ROBBERY.
DJ: F or a long, long time, I could not wear the Medal of Valor on my on my chest because it made me feel like I didn't save him. I didn't do enough to help the man that saved my life. I shouldn't be wearing this. And it took a long time for me to wear them.
TWO WEEKS AFTER NORCO, THERE WAS A GROUP THERAPY SESSION WITH A PSYCHOLOGIST FOR ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT INVOLVED IN THE BANK ROBBERY. OFFICERS COULD GO AROUND AND SHARE THEIR FEELINGS AND EXPERIENCES.
BUT AFTER THAT - THERE WAS LITTLE FOLLOW-UP. THE RIVERSIDE SHERIFF’S OFFICE DID NOT HAVE ANY KIND OF COUNSELING PROGRAM.
THERE WAS A NEW COUNSELING PROGRAM AT THE SAN BERNARDINO SHERIFF’S OFFICE - WHERE DJ WORKED. BUT AT THE TIME, MANY OFFICERS FELT THERE WOULD BE CONSEQUENCES IF THEY MET WITH THE COUNSELOR VOLUNTARILY. DJ REMEMBERS THE THOUGHTS THAT WOULD RUN THROUGH HIS MIND, IMAGINING, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF HE SOUGHT HELP.
DJ: I 'm done. My career is gone. Nobody is going to work with me.
ASC: Why? That's so like. And that's because that was the feeling at the time that, like, people who went to therapy were like damaged goods or something.
DJ: You were weak. You couldn't handle the job.AFTER SOME TIME - DJ WAS EVENTUALLY SENT TO SEE A THERAPIST, AND HE
BEGAN WORKING WITH HER.
DJ: I t takes a while to get past...a while to get past the nightmares. Hell I didn't get married to it's like 50 some odd years old.
ASC: Because you...DJ: PTSD, I would imagine. My job was more important than
BUT DJ’S LOVE OF HIS JOB WOULD BE CHALLENGED.
A LITTLE MORE THAN A YEAR AFTER THE ROBBERY, THE LENGTHY, AND HIGH-PROFILE TRIAL FOR THE THREE SURVIVING ROBBERS WOULD FINALLY BEGIN.
AND IN COURT - DJ WOULD BE QUESTIONED ABOUT THE CHAOS OF THAT DAY, AND HIS ABILITY TO HANDLE THE ASSAULT RIFLE HE WIELDED IN THE FINAL STAND-OFF.
DJ: L et's put it this way. I would rather go through this shooting again then have to put up what I had to put up with in court, and what they called me what I was reading in my newspaper when I got home that I killed Evans.
NEXT TIME ON NORCO 80:
Debbie: At the time, it was good versus evil. And that's how it felt in there, you know.
ASC: And who was good?
Debbie: Well, it was supposed to be the DA, it was supposed to be good, but for me it was just the opposite. We just did not want them to get the death penalty.
Norco 80 is written and produced by me, Antonia Cereijido and by Sophia Paliza Carre. The show is a production of LAist Studios in collaboration with Futuro Studios.
Leo G is the executive producer for LAist Studios. Marlon Bishop is the executive producer for Futuro Studios.
Audrey Quinn our editor
Joaquin Cotler is our Associate Producer. Juan Diego Ramirez is our Production Assistant.
Marialexa Kavanaugh is our intern.
Fact checking by Amy Tardif.
Engineering by Stephanie Lebow and Julia Caruso.
Original music by Zach Robinson.
This podcast is based on the book Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan
Special Thanks to Tim Lopez, Tom Thakkar, Curt Rothschiller and Peter Kraska.
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Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including: Kristen Hayford, Taylor Coffman, Kristen Muller, and Leo G.
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