I've been traveling so the news about LCPD (Ret.) Lt. Tom England's sudden passing just caught up with me last night. Tom truly was one of "the good guys." Not because he wore a uniform but because of what he brought to that uniform. He was a man of fairness, integrity and honesty.
Those that knew him remember his great sense of humor and that double-barreled laugh that could set off car alarms two blocks away. Citizens that he encountered on the job respected him for treating them as human beings- not as the pigeonholed labels of "victim," "suspect," "witness," or, gasp, "defense attorney."
I woke up reminded of the story of how I first met Tom, way back when I lived in TorC and had a public defender contract in Sierra and Dona Ana Counties. I did a witness interview with him down in Las Cruces on some nothing case, the details of which have long faded from memory. About three weeks later I'm in my office in TorC and he gives me a call.
"Counselor," he said (in all the years after, he always referred to me as "Counselor," using the title in a respectful way, not with the sarcastic tone used by so many other cops), "do you represent Delbert So-and-so?"
"I do." I had Delbert on some minor charge up in Sierra County.
"Well I just stopped him in the Kmart parking lot. He wasn't really doing anything and I was about to let him go but Dispatch just came back with a warrant out of TorC."
That technically wasn't my case, it was something out of Muni Court but I was aware of it. I told Tom that.
"Well he says the warrant is for a failure to return some videotapes to the movie store. Is that true?"
"They really file criminal charges for something like that up there?"
"They do. Gotta keep the local merchants happy."
"I'll be damned. Never heard of such a thing." He paused. "Here's the deal, technically I'm supposed to arrest him on this warrant, but between you and me and the fence post, I didn't really have any reasonable suspicion to stop him in the first place. He just seemed kind of jumpy when he saw me, and I guess I'd be jumpy too if I knew I had a warrant for not taking movies back on time. If I arrest him now, he'll sit down here at the jail [a real hell-hole back then - in the basement of the old County Court building on Amador] for a week before Sierra comes down to get him. I just don't feel right about that."
Another pause. I couldn't really ask that he let my client go, a warrant is a warrant after all.
"Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm bothered by the fact that I didn't have reasonable suspicion to call him over to my car in the first place, so I'm going to let him go. I'll tell him he needs to get his ass up to your office by the end of business today so you folks can get this straightened out. Sound fair to you Counselor?"
"It does. Thank you Officer England."
"Failure to return movies, you've got to be kidding me," he closed with that booming laugh.
And that's just how Tom was. RIP my friend.