Tuesday, November 5, 2013

LAPD Detective Rick Jackson's Retirement Dinner

October 24th, 2013
I’ve known about Rick Jackson long before the early days of my writing career. I got to learn more about him when I attended pretrial hearings on a case that Rick was involved in, the Kazuyoshi Miura case. Rick was the cold case detective who in 2008, flew to Saipan (a US territory) on an outstanding warrant to retrieve Miura for the November 1981 murder-for-hire of his wife, Kazumi, on a downtown Los Angeles street. Miura was originally convicted of this murder in his native Japan, but ten years later a higher court overturned the verdict and he was set free.  He was rearrested on California's outstanding warrant when he set foot in Saipan.
Rick Jackson, left, with Kazuyoshi Miura, 
getting off the plane in Los Angeles
Photo credit: Unknown

Fast forward many years later. It wasn't until March 2012 when my friend Matthew McGough gave a reading on his first book Batboy, at the Pasadena Library that I finally got to meet Jackson (a long-time baseball fan) in person.  That day was memorable for me because I got to talk with him about some of the noteworthy cases he worked, such as the Pierre Romain case and the murder in the Chatsworth tunnel. Jackson didn't have any business cards on him at the time, so he wrote out his contact information and phone number on a piece of paper. I still have it. For a detective, Jackson has excellent penmanship.

In the past year, I've had the opportunity to run into Rick a few times down at court and out on the downtown streets getting lunch with Matthew. Rick has an easy going attitude and a twinkle in his eyes when he smiles. When I heard about Rick's retirement and plans for an honorary dinner, I let Matthew know I hoped I could get on the invitation list.

Retirement Dinner - Familiar Faces
The event was being held at the El Paseo Inn on Olvera Street. As is the case with me, I failed to read the fine print on the flier.  I thought I could get there by 6:15 PM and be there in plenty of time. However, cocktails started at 5:00 PM. I had contacted Matthew about possibly catching a ride with him but he was already getting ready to leave. I was on my own. This was to be a casual event, just as Rick requested. I found out hours after I arrived that there was no formal dinner time. If you decided to sit down at a table, the restaurant would serve you.

When I got to the restaurant, the place was packed. Rick has made quite a few friends in his distinguished career.  Just as you enter the restaurant, the bar is to your right.  A few steps forward from the entrance, there are steps down to a lower level with dinner seating and tall casual tables to stand at.  On the lower level were photos of Rick on the back wall during several stages of his career.

There was an open bar and the party was in full swing.  I was trying to find my way in a sea of distinguished looking LAPD Detectives, former detectives, LAPD civilian staff and deputy DA's from the District Attorney's office.  Just as I had entered I saw Major Crimes Department Head Gary Hearnsberger leaving. I was definitely late to the party.

Looking through the crowd, I tried to find familiar faces. What most readers don't realize is, I haven't attended that many trials or gotten to know very many officers.  I'm actually a very shy person, a wallflower really, and still have difficulty approaching people to introduce myself. I located Matthew near the bar and tried to listen in on his conversation. 

Fortunately, I did see some familiar faces. Josh Mankiewicz from NBC's Dateline was there, sans tie as usual. We chatted about his new assignment of watching Dateline with fans. Supervising Detective Rob Bub from the Van Nuys Homicide Unit (The Cowboys) arrived and I got to talk to him about the Raul Lopez murder. There's still no arrest in that case. I saw DDA John Lewin chatting up actor Miguel Ferrer about Miguel's career. Rick has always spoken very highly of Lewin. Surprising to me, Lewin remembered seeing me at one of the Lois Goodman pretrial hearings.

One of the most brilliant stars in the DA's office, DDA Beth Silverman was there. I caught her eye and got a chance to say hello. Not only is Beth prosecuting Lonnie Franklin, Jr., aka the "Grim Sleeper," she's also assigned to the Samuel Little case, a suspected serial killer and another case that Rick worked.

Also in attendance was longtime crime beat reporter Andrew Blankstein, who I met at the Van Nuys Courthouse attending my first murder trial, the Robert Blake case. Andrew recently jumped ship from the Los Angeles Times to join NBC's Dateline.

I got to meet author Miles Corwin and tell him I saw him testify in the Robert Blake trial. Corwin trailed LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division for an entire year and wrote a book, Homicide Special about the unit. Besides Rick, several of the detectives mentioned in Miles' book were also here. One of the cases in the book was the Robert Blake case. Because Miles was trailing RHD, Blake's defense attorney's dragged him into the trial. I'll never forget when Miles testified that he had destroyed all his notebooks that comprised his research for the book. Because I arrived so late, I missed meeting authors Joseph Wambaugh and Michael Connelly. Connelly wrote this nice farewell piece to Detective Jackson.

I got to speak briefly to Judge Ricardo Ocampo, who I met during the first Phil Spector trial. I remember when Judge Ocampo's daughter was sitting in the gallery one day during the Spector trial.

A pretty face I was very happy to see was DDA Francis Young. Francis, along with DDA Sean Carney did the preliminary hearing in the Gerhard Becker case. I talked to Francis about the Joshua Woodward prelim I was attending.  I also got to meet a few of Ricks former partners: Detectives Tim Marcia, Elizabeth Camacho, and Mitzi Roberts. I saw Detective Greg Stearns (who was part of the team that conducted that famous Lazarus interview) but never got a chance to say hello. 

Rick's Speech
Later in the evening, Rick took to the podium to talk about some of the people he's had the pleasure to work with. I miss hearing the very beginning of his speech. I wove my way from the back of the restaurant to the podium so I could hear better and take a few pictures.

Rick Jackson and Buddy at the podium

Sitting at a table near the podium are Rick's children, his fiance Debbie and other close family members. There were quite a few retired coworkers and people who flew in from out of state to be here for the event.

When I get down front, Rick is reading from a piece of paper. It's one of his elaborate pranks he's pulled on a long time colleague, Bud Arce, "Buddy." This is just one of the many stories that are memorialized to the crowd. Buddy is standing at the podium with Rick while he tells the story. The paper is a fake letter Rick created supposedly coming from Buddy's high school. With that mischievous twinkle in his eye, Rick proudly tells the crowd that he even got authentic stationary from the school to pull the prank. The letter was mailed to Buddy at the Hollywood station. Rick reads from the letter.

The letter states it's an invitation and a congratulations to Buddy, for being inducted into the "1983 Ramona High School Hall of Fame". The letter mentions recognizing his distinguished career and service as a homicide detective for the LAPD, and that he will join past recipients.  The letter is very detailed in it's ruse and Rick proudly tells the crowd that he looked through the high school year book to get the names of other "VIP" students.  The letter tells Buddy that a plaque and his photo will be displayed in the administration's building Hall of Fame.  The letter goes onto say that there will be an event ceremony during "homecoming week" with many alumni and the press. The author or the letter closes by saying he's looking forward to meeting him and hearing all about his work.

The weekend after Bud receives the letter he has a party. Rick wasn't invited but he has his spies report back on the conversations at the party to see if the letter is discussed. At the party, Buddy is heard to say that he didn't understand why the high school was doing this because "I was only a C student." Buddy's wife at the time tells Buddy that she's so proud of him. Buddy doesn't call the guy back for three weeks, but he does tell his parents. They're so proud of him. There's quite a bit of laughter from the crowd as the story is told. Rick explains that "This is the kind of shit that we used to pull."

Buddy then adds a bit to the story, as to what Rick said to him after the prank was successfully pulled. Buddy explains, "Rick tells me, Bud, burn down my house, make love to my wife, but leave my kids alone." The crowd roars. Buddy then proceeds to tell everyone that it took three years for an opportunity to get back at Rick.

As Buddy tells it, Rick comes in one day and says he's got a summons for jury service. Policemen are exempt from jury duty. Rick doesn't know what to do and he says to Buddy, "I have to get out of it."  Buddy realizes this is his chance and he hatches a plan. He's focused. He's running with two murders, yet, he looks over the list of all detectives to see who has the best voice to do his "sting." Buddy finds a guy, he calls him and lays out his script. They're working at Parker Center and Buddy says he's going to get Rick to drive to Pomona in the next ten minutes.

Buddy then calls a man he knows at the DA's office and asks if they have an extension they don't use. Oh yeah, the prosecutor says, 427. Buddy tells him, "Don't answer it in the next 20 minutes."  The plan is set, the call goes in. If Rick hurries out to Pomona, he can get off the service. Buddy waits. Rick takes off and comes back 20 minutes later.  Buddy doesn't say anything, just asks Rick, "So, how's it going? What happened on that subpoena?" Rick doesn't say anything.

Buddy then tell the crowd that his prank becomes a reverse sting. Rick knows that Buddy did this.  Buddy waits two months to ask Rick, "So, what happened on the subpoena?" Rick replies, "Well, I went over there, and the guy I talked to wasn't there, but he got me out of jury duty." Buddy explains to the crowd, "It was a reverse sting on me. He got me again."   There is a nice round of applause for Buddy's story.

Rick takes the mike again and asks if Miguel Ferrer is still here.  Rick met Miguel about 12 years ago and they've been friends ever since. One year, Miguel heard about a police golf tournament and wondered if Rick could get him an invite. Since then, Miguel has been there every year and now hosts the event. The event organizers say that Miguel is their favorite celebrity. Miguel went on Celebrity Jeopardy and won $50,000. Miguel's charity that he donated his winnings to was the LA Police Memorial Foundation for slain officers.

There were several other people that Rick brings up to the podium. Next is Don Bleier. Rick tells the crowd that the first day out of the police academy, January 16th, 1977, he is the first officer Rick worked with, his first training officer. Don stayed with Hollywood patrol for 25 years and became the "legend" for other officers after him.  Don shared a story about taking Rick on his first foot patrol down Hollywood Blvd.

George Herrara, a retired latent print analyst who testified in the Lazarus trial is introduced. George came in from Colorado to be here. In Rick's early career in homicide,  George was the go-to person to get a print run quickly. George was also the only person to match a single print to the Hillside Strangler. George's nickname was "no make" Herrara. This refers to whether the print analyst was able to "make" a match to an identified print.  George tells the crowd that when he retired from the LAPD's Science Investigation Division (SID) he received something totally unexpected. He received an etched crystal plaque on a granite base. The inscription honored his service and it was from all his friends and coworkers from Robbery Homicide Division. He was blown away and quite touched by the gift.

DDA John Lewin takes to the mike to tell a story that Matthew had shared with me before. John states that whenever Rick's name comes up, he tells people this story, to explain the kind of guy that Rick is. Let's say there was a plane crash in the middle of the ocean, remote, no civilization around and Rick and anyone else are the only two survivors. They swim ashore to the nearest island. The island is filled with people who've never been off the island. There will be at least 20 people there who know Rick and greet him by name.  Lewin says, "All his partners know, everyone knows, you can't go anywhere in the city without there being at least 20 people who know Rick."

Rick introduces his sisters, daughters Hillary and Megan, and his nephew.  Afterwards, Rick becomes quite emotional when he introduces a family that were lifesavers at a very difficult time in his life. For me, it was a very touching and tender moment to witness.

Finally, Rick introduces "Miss Halliday."  Rick knew Debbie from about eighth grade through high school.  Back in 1965, at Cecil B. DeMille Junior High School, Rick remembers walking down the school hallway, seeing Debbie with her dark hair and olive complexion and thinking, "Oh my God, I love that girl." Rick tells the crowd that he even loved her in eighth grade. They became friends but never dated.

 Debbie in the red dress & Rick

Rick and Debbie, who lives in the Bay area, kept in touch over the years.  Forty-one years later in 2006, she calls Rick up.  Rick was up in the Bay area with one of his partners.  Debbie was single at the time and Rick adds that they always had fun when they got together.  So Debbie calls him up and asks him if he would go to a wedding with her in April, and afterwards they could hang out.  Rick jokingly asks Debbie if it's their wedding.  Debbie laughed.  Rick has to think about it for a week because he knows if he goes up there, "I'm done, but if she only wants me to come up there as a friend, it's probably not worth going. Well, I went and we're getting married next August."   After the laughter and applause, Rick adds that they are debating whether they want children or not, which brings another round of laughter.

Rick adds, "As anyone who knows who's been around me for the last six years, I just light up when I talk about her. My sisters remember me talking about her back in the 60's."

Debbie then adds a few words. Says that she's a little concerned because being a detective has been Rick's life. Anytime he's been around people and friends they want him to tell stories and he loves telling his stories. Debbie says  that he's moving up to the Bay area to be with her. Consequently, she's a little worried about him having a bit of an adjustment disorder.  So she gives Rick a little gift, that might help with that adjustment disorder, help him remember "home."  Rick opens the gift and this is what it is:

 LAX cologne, The Scent of Departure

There are more stories, and future in-laws to introduce.  Rick tells everyone that, "Even though I worked Robbery Homicide for 20 some years, my heart is always in working Hollywood." That's where all the people here, and his long time close colleagues started. Rick becomes emotional again as he remembers back to those Hollywood years, with a great boss, and close friends where they all learned to do, what it is they do best.

Rick Jackson's LAPD photos
When you join the LAPD, your photo is taken at various stages of your career.  Here are a few photos of Rick during his career.

Rick's application photo for LAPD, mid '70's

Rick graduating from the LAPD Academy

Rick, starting at Robbery Homicide Division

Rick at Robbery Homicide Squad Room 

The Female Detectives: L-R,
Mitzi Roberts, Rick's last partner; Rick, Susan Antenucci;
Elizabeth Camacho, Rick's first female partner

Rick's exit photo from the LAPD

Before I left, I got the opportunity to meet Rick's fiance, Debbie, an absolutely charming woman. Rick truly is a lucky man. Overall, it was a wonderful evening. I was happy that I got to see so many of Rick's friends share their memories. I wish him well in the adventures ahead.