Welcome To Texas

Welcome To Texas!

It was our first night in Houston, and COPS cameraman Mark Rast and I were riding with this tall Texas deputy by the name of James Romine. Nothing much had happened for the first part of the shift so he asked us if we were hungry and Mark and I unanimously answered, "Yes". James said he would take us to his favorite "hole in the wall" restaurant, Café Español, on the northern edge of our patrol area. He also threw out a challenge to me. Café Español's specialty was the Gringo Burger, a one pound hamburger, served on a bun they had specially made. This large cop challenged me, a fanatical hamburger lover and very hungry guy, to eat one of these monsters. I didn't think that would be a problem so I said, "you're on."

When we pulled up to the restaurant, we were met by another deputy who Romine had called and told where we would be dining. We sat down at James's favorite table near the door and ordered our man-hole-cover-sized burgers, just as two other deputies came through the door and joined us. Needless to say, I only got around half of the burger and that wasn't easy, while James finished off his whole meal with no problem and a Texas sized smile on his face.

As we walked out of the building, we stopped at the cruiser of the other two deputies and talked with them for a few minutes, just getting to know them a little. We would ride with them at a later time in the venue. I broke away from the conversation with the car keys and went over a few cars down to where our cruiser was parked and unlocked the trunk to retrieve my sound gear. Mark came over to get his camera and took it up to his seat to get ready to ride. As I was standing there at the trunk, I noticed that there was a strange squealing sound coming from the convenience store right next door to the restaurant and close to where we were parked. I couldn't see anything at the front of the store except a large van parked to the right of the entrance and the front of a small car to the right of that, pulled in backwards.

I stared at that scene for a moment and then went back to work getting my gear ready when I heard the noise again, just as James came up around my side. "What's that awful sound", he asked? I replied, "I don't know" as Romine started toward the store. I looked up at Mark and said, "you better roll on this" as I followed James over the concrete barrier between the convenience store's parking lot and ours. What had started out as a squeal was now a full voiced scream. Deputy James Romine, a tall, muscular man with receding hair and a full mustache, approached the van with his gun drawn as I flanked him to his right. Mark came up behind us to the left, not knowing that he had accidentally double punched the camera on and then off again.

The howling was at its peak just as James came around the van. I couldn't see what he saw but he instantly raised his gun and yelled "DROP IT...NOW". The next thing I know, James just had time to take a step back as the small car rocketed out directly toward him, trying to run him over. I stumbled backward as James fired two rounds directly into the windshield. The car kept moving. As James continued to back peddle and as the car swerved his way, he put two more rounds into the side glass of the car. Incredibly the car kept moving so James, in typical "Texas" fashion, fired twice more at the rear window as the little car disappeared into the dark of night.

I couldn't believe what I had just seen happen in only a few second's time. After an instant of stunned silence, Romine grabbed his radio's mic and called it out over the air. Looking over at Mark and seeing the same wonderment on his face, I asked if he had gotten it. His face started to blush and an embarrassed smile formed as he admitted that he had double punched the camera, but had gotten everything from just before James got up to the van.

Prior to us walking over to the van to investigate the sounds, the other deputy who had eaten with us had pulled out of the parking lot and gone through the intersection, making a left turn at the light. We all waved as he pulled away and flashed his overhead lights and gave us a “whoop whoop” on his siren. He was less than a mile down the road when he heard the shots fired call go out from James and instantly turned his cruiser around, jamming the gas to the floor, going Code 3, which is with lights and siren. As he was screaming back toward our position, the thought went through his mind, "This guy's coming right at me". But as he pulled into the parking lot, he told us he had met no traffic. The bad guy must have pulled off immediately onto one of the many dirt side roads that were all over the Texas landscape.

The other two deputies that had eaten with us and whom we had stopped to talk with, had heard the gun fire, jumped out of their car and, working tactically, they circled around the back of the two buildings with guns drawn hoping to surprise the suspect from behind, if he was still there. But by the time they got around the store he was gone. Everyone took a deep breath as we tried to figure out what had just happened. Apparently we had walked into what was an attempted armed robbery that had gone wrong and then turned into an attempted murder of this convenience store's clerk, who had been all alone outside, having a cigarette. The bad guy had jumped him with a knife and, when the clerk refused to go inside with him, tried to stick the knife into his throat. The East Indian clerk started howling and that's what we had heard from the neighboring parking lot. By us being in the right place at the right time, James had saved the clerk’s life.

Because of Sheriff's department policy and protocol when a deputy fires his weapon, we were now stuck at the scene until the Lieutenants showed up, so James went into the store, got some coffee cups and started marking where his shell casings were at, as well as any other place the shooting team would want to know about ie the position of the small car, where the clerk was, etc. We filmed everything; the LTs coming up and questioning James and the clerk, the other deputies putting up yellow crime scene tape and doing their bit to secure the scene and interviewing possible witnesses, and the police union attorneys as they came out to stand with James just in case he needed them. What was interesting was that only a short while after the two LTs had questioned James, Mark and I on what had happened, and the attorneys did the same, they all declared right there that the shooting was righteous and then they all went home. The shooting team of detectives from Internal Affairs wasn't even called out to the scene. It was different from most other departments I had ridden with and I was later told, typically Texan.

But now the big question was, where in the world had the bad guy gone? A massive manhunt was underway using every available unit on the north end of Harris County. As we were mopping up the last of things at the scene, a call came over the radio that they had found the guy and he was in custody and that they were transporting him back to our site for the LTs to see before they left the scene. When this guy showed up, he was high as a kite, apparently having just taken an 8 ball (1/8th of an once of cocaine injected) and then tried to hide in a trash dumpster. He was tattooed all over and had few teeth left in his head, but being high on the drugs, was very happy for the moment. We filmed him as they took him out of the car for the investigators and LTs to see. Turns out that this guy was a real looser. He had stolen a car in another state, robbed someone along the way, and then stolen this car and tried to rob and kill this store clerk. He was wanted in two other states and was already a two time convicted felon. So with the “three strikes you're out law” in Texas, he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. The deputies who found him had spotted the car in the dark, ditched behind a row of stores, then found his clothing and the knife in a line toward a dumpster and sure enough, him up inside it.

After the perp walk for our camera, deputies carted him off to the county jail and James told us that his superiors had released him to go but that he just had to go look at the car before they towed it to impound. It was really bothering him that this guy got away. You see, James is a top marksman of the department and had the pins on his uniform to prove it. He knows he had to have hit that car, especially at point blank range but when they brought this guy back to the scene, he didn't have a scratch on him.

We pulled up to the location where the crime scene investigators were still going over the car and one walked up to James and said, "you've got to see this." So we walked around the car, careful not to touch anything because they were not finished dusting it. And sure enough, there was a bullet hole dead center on the drivers side. AND, another one through the passenger side front windshield, aimed right at the driver. James couldn't believe what he was seeing as the investigator walked up and said,"good shooting Romine." But James said,"well if it was such good shooting, how come the guy is still breathing?" The investigator just laughed and said, "look where the hole is." We all bent over together and looked through the bullet hole and saw the steering column, figuring it either bounced off or went into it. "Nope", the investigator said. "You hit the airbag. Do you know what air bags are stored in?" he asked. Three heads shook in a negative motion. "Kevlar. You fired right into a kevlar bag, made out of the same material as your vest," the CSI said. "But how about the second shot," James asked? "Passenger..side..airbag," which really cracked the CSI up now. "You couldn't do that again if you had to," he told James. We walked around the car and saw that James had hit the car with every round. The investigators showed the trajectories of all the rounds into the car and a Lieutenant came up and told James that either this guy was only one inch in diameter or that God had been sitting on the fellow's lap. There was no way for him not to get hit from at least one of James' rounds. But there it was.

After the excitement was all over, I suddenly realized that I was hungry again and that the second half of my monster burger, which I had wanted to save for later, would no doubt be ruined after sitting for hours in a hot car trunk. It was now late and had been a long, tiring day so we decided to head in. As we were driving into the Sheriff’s substation's parking lot, James looked at us with an impish smile and said in his slow drawl, "Welcome to Texas, boys!"

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