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    Entries in Hunterdon County (3)

    Saturday
    May272017

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before. In my opinion, it will never lose its importance or become outdated. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like daesh (I won’t call it ISIS) and al Qaeda, sick and deranged with a desire to destroy civilizations and murder all of humanity, save themselves, in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call to war. It came at a time when most conflicts were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in displays of strength and unity in order to intimidate the world. North Korea comes to mind. Now, for the most part, our enemies use IEDs, ram trucks into bustling crowds, and strap bombs to their chests, blowing themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 47 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 70. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

    http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/2163/MICHAEL-R-BALDWIN

     

    Cross posted on Daily Kos

    Saturday
    May232015

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before, but, in my opinion, it will never lose its importance. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like al Qaeda and daesh, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when most wars were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage, and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in shows of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and perceived threats. Today, our enemies use IEDs or strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 45 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 68. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

     

    Posted on Daily Kos

    Wednesday
    Nov262014

    I want to thank the prosecutor's wife

    In light of Ferguson, I was reminded of an experience I had with a couple of local police and a prosecutor back in the 1970s. While there are no comparisons, it’s still something that came to mind. Everyone handles situations their own way. This is how I handled mine.

     

    INTRODUCTION

    In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter’s. There’s a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny’s Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn’t know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn’t matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn’t go out for that. We didn’t even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment…

    THE BUST

    My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend’s Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver’s window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, “I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!”

    Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”

    He stared at me and said, “You are under arrest, too!”

    He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn’t respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down on to the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend’s pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, “For being drunk and disorderly!”

    I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren’t drunk and we weren’t disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, Jack Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then.) The keys were in the ignition.

    The cop commandos marched us up the stairs and into the police station.

    “Watch them,” Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to…

    2/10 of a gram!

    Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! “Ha, ha, ha…I gotcha now!!!” An obvious glee and an evil grin had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. “So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I’ve got you on a CDS charge, too!”

    “What’s CDS?” I asked.

    “Controlled Dangerous Substance,” he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.

    After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. “NO!” I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head…

    “As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law.”

    “Take him into the men’s room,” he ordered Rich, “but watch him.”

    As I was peeing, he was apologetic. “Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this.”

    Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Tell me!”

    You’re going to bust us with that? You’re a joke.”

    After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.

    DELIVERANCE

    Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.

    “I’ll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops,” he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.

    “Murder.”

    “Oh.” I didn’t want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn’t about to say, “TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!”

    Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.

    THE PLOT THICKENS

    We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, “Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I’ve ever heard. I’m going to represent you for free.”

    Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

    The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn’t get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn’t aware of any connection at that time - I was told later - but he should have recused himself on grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did allow that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school “friend” would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer did. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!

    THE TRIAL

    On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but he didn’t, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals. 

    After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, “Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He’s willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it’s completely erased. It’s as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?”

    “No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    “Great! That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear you say.” He went back to the prosecutor with my response.

    “Oh no,” the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need ever arises. The need arose that particular evening. 

    “What do you mean?” my lawyer asked.

    “My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I’m filling in for the regular prosecutor, who’s on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is this going to take?” 

    “At least seven hours as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

    “This isn’t all that important of a case to me. Let’s just drop the charges.”

    That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor’s wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.

    My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later he did have his record expunged.

    So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress stage and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.

    AFTER ALL THIS

    Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused - on several occasions - of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but he wasn’t. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I’m sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and he was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?

    The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he’s probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, “as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn’t. I’m having a tough time with what you put me through.”

    Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn’t even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don’t hold a grudge.

    EPILOGUE

    I learned my lesson that you can’t always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don’t always work for true justice. I’ve known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.

    Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.