It was an evening like any other. Police at the local headquarters were going about their business – eating dinner, talking about the latest TV shows, when… boom. The first of a series of deadly explosions tore through Detective Sam’s station in Northern Ireland. Sam talks about the extraordinary dangers his force faced on a daily basis, and the lingering trauma so many suffer who choose to protect and serve.
The Detective: Detective Sam was a police officer in Northern Ireland for 28 years. He spent 24 of those as a detective involved in all aspects of criminal and terrorist investigations from basic theft to murder, both domestic and terrorist-related. “Northern Ireland is a small country with major political issues. Police officers have to perform many roles and make sacrifices in order to protect themselves and the community as a whole.”Read Transcript
Sam: [00:00:02] Time at that stage basically meant nothing. There wasn’t any time limit in this. But remember getting to the door of the office, and there was a police officer in uniform. He was standing there. He said, “Sam, what’s happening? What’s happening?” And I remember saying to him, “I think we’re all about to die.”
Yeardley: [00:00:23] Hi, I’m Yeardley. This is Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:00:27] Hey, there.
Yeardley: [00:00:27] And his identical twin brother, Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:00:30] Hello.
Yeardley: [00:00:31] And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dave: [00:00:35] You will hear detectives from small towns around the world discuss their most memorable cases.
Dan: [00:00:39] We covered the intimate details of what went wrong and what went right.
Yeardley: [00:00:43] As these dedicated men and women search for justice and crack the case.
Dan: [00:00:48] Names and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dave: [00:00:53] So, please join us in maintaining their anonymity out of respect for what they’ve been through.
In Unison: [00:00:58] Thank you.
Yeardley: [00:01:05] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. I’m very excited. We have Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:01:12] Hello, there. Good to be back. I never know which order you’re going to go in. So, I’m always like, “Ah, okay, it’s me.”
Yeardley: [00:01:20] I don’t have a lot of power in this equation. So, I tried to wield it where I can. And we have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:01:28] Hello, there.
Yeardley: [00:01:29] Hello, there. And Small Town Fam, I am so excited to welcome back to the podcast, ah, this is so good, retired Detective Sam, who is in Northern Ireland, if I may say so. Hello, Sam.
Sam: [00:01:46] Thank you very much indeed for having me back. It seems it’s just been such a long time and it’s good to talk.
Yeardley: [00:01:54] Thank you. Of course, we’re all on Zoom. So, the usual. I don’t know, garbage trucks, dogs, cats. You name it.
Dave: [00:02:04] I’m going to have a lunch delivery at some point in this.
Yeardley: [00:02:08] Doorbells.
Dave: [00:02:08] The doorbell is going to ring.
Yeardley: [00:02:09] Sam, you have a really interesting case for us today. Tell us how this case comes to you.
Sam: [00:02:15] Okay. This case is actually very, very personal. It comes down actually to the personal feelings that occur after an event. Sometimes we don’t take them into consideration. Very tragic case, and it’s all to do with the trouble in Northern Ireland since 1968.
Yeardley: [00:02:36] You’re talking about the strife between the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, who wanted Ireland to secede from the UK, and the loyalists who wanted Ireland to remain part of the UK?
Sam: [00:02:48] Yeah, police officers here were murdered solely because they were police officers, and for no other reason. It wasn’t a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was just the fact that you were a police officer. It didn’t matter what religion you were, what color you were, what soccer teams you supported, or any views that you had. You were murdered because you were a police officer. That was the sole reason behind it all.
As I say, this is quite personal to me. And it’s a story that took me a long time to talk about, but I did do it eventually. I’ll take you back to Thursday, the 28th of February 1985. At that stage, I was a detective stationed close to the border with the Republic of Ireland in a town called Newry. Newry would have been– it was a mix time, shall we say. But the area that Newry is in including South Armagh would have been predominantly ruled by the Provisional IRA. So, it was quite a dangerous level of time to be in and to be associated with. And for detectives, we would have went out on patrol and cars and we would went into the town and tried to talk to people that we thought were possibly being of use to us or friendly towards us to gain information.
That’s a Thursday night. I started work that Thursday morning at 8:00 AM, and I left about 55, 60 miles from the station. So, I traveled there, left about 6:00 AM, and my duty was due to end that night at 11:00 PM. Now, that wasn’t uncommon to work hours like that. As working detectives in that area at that time, there were a lot of terrorist incidents and we were probably the sole investigation team. And the office at the time, there were 10 detectives, so we all worked as teams on we would have been investigating the terrorist crime.
So, Thursday comes along, nothing special about it. It was a day when we weren’t involved in any major investigations. Myself and two of the other guys, two of the detective constables, we were sitting in our main office, finishing our dinner. There was a UK soap about to start on television, and the television was in the corner of the office. This was a ground floor office in the police station. The police station in Newry at the time was in a very built-up area, residential area, and some businesses around it. It was one single main building, like a big, big house. It had three floors, but there was a chain-linked fence around two thirds of it and the other third of it was like a corrugated iron fence we had affectionately known as (unintelligible) If you think about Vietnam, the (unintelligible) were the people who were standing up and they were looking out, so we had those in the corners of the building, and those were for protection. You can’t just walk into these police stations. But at the front of our police station, that’s where we would have parked our cars. A lot of our cars would have been parked there, and there was a chain-linked fence around that. So, public didn’t have access to it.
[00:06:12] It’s 6:25 in the evening. Three of us are talking on just about to finish dinner. And there’s a sound, unassuming way to describe it. in the back of my mind, I had heard that sound before. And all too late, I realized what it was, as the first mortar bomb exploded outside the office.
Yeardley: [00:06:34] (gasps)
Sam: [00:06:35] The windows came in. We were crawling along the ground to get out into the main corridor and the mortar bombs were coming down. Time at that stage basically meant nothing. There wasn’t any time limit in this. But I remember getting to the door of the office, and directly opposite our door was a small toilet, and there was a police officer in uniform. He was standing there he said, “Sam, what’s happening? What’s happening?” And I remember saying to him, “I think we’re all about to die.” I actually believed that we were all about to die.
[00:07:12] Short time after that, it was deathly silence, nothing. So as far as we’re concerned, that’s the end of the attack. But the bottom line is, we know that there’s damage to the building, and we don’t know anything else. I am standing in the hallway, a toilet in front of me to my, say 10 o’clock. To my 2 o’clock, there are three stairs and the door that leads you out and to the backyard area, where we had our canteen. This was a new canteen that had been built for us so we didn’t have to go out and get food in the town. They catered for us inside. It wasn’t a permanent structure. It was like a trailer-type structure, but it was a bit more substantial. As we’re standing there, people are running about the station, it’s bedlam. The door opens and I’ll never forget this, a chief inspector walked in. There’s smoke coming from his hair. He looked like a typical cartoon character. When you see an explosion, their shirt is in shreds.
[00:08:23] And the difference between the ranks is that constables and sergeants wear green shirts at that stage. Inspectors and above wore white shirts. He walked in, he was in a total and utter daze, and he said, “The canteen is gone.” The canteen was just outside the door. So, we ran outside the door, and should have been running literally into the canteen. It wasn’t there anymore. Looked around, a lot of debris, sounds of ambulances, and your brain’s thinking about different things. The smell in the air is marzipan. That’s all you can smell, is marzipan. So, if you go to the right-hand side, the ambulance people come in and to the right-hand side, it’s quite dark. There are some security lights, but it’s quite dark. I’m aware of someone sitting up in the middle of this wreckage, and I go to help this person, as ambulance personnel came. The first thing that I didn’t realize was whether it was a man or a woman.
[00:09:30] When I got closer, it was a woman who I knew very well, but you wouldn’t have recognized her. We got her out of the wreckage, but the problem was her legs were gone. The ambulance crew get her back into the ambulance, and there’s a hospital nearby within a mile to get her to the hospital. But again, at this stage, this place is just carnage because the canteen was reasonably well felled, and it’s just complete and utter carnage.
We’re there and all other police come to help, and our bosses come to get us off site fairly, fairly quickly. We have been walking and wandering about this backyard. They get us out to the front of the station, make sure we’re okay, and, “Can you function? Can you walk? Get home. You’re finished here tonight. Get home.” But time has moved on. My car is parked at the front of the station and we walk out but there’s not a whole lot at the front of the station, apart from a lot of wreckage. So, a police woman who works with us, she lends us her car. Myself and another guy are driving home and we catch the news, and we find out that the police woman died on her way to the hospital.
Yeardley: [00:10:48] The woman who lost her legs?
Sam: [00:10:50] Yes. A lovely girl. She did her initial training in the police six weeks before me, so she had six weeks more service than I had.
Sam: [00:11:10] At that time in Newry, we were dealing with a lot of terrorist attacks, police officers being killed, soldiers being killed and civilians being killed. I had really never heard about PTSD. But I know how I managed what I had at that time, and that was through alcohol. And myself and the guy that was with me, we drove to a local hotel that we used to frequent, and when we went in, we were still smelling of marzipan.
Yeardley: [00:11:38] Why did you smell like marzipan?
Sam: [00:11:39] Semtex. That’s the explosive, Semtex, it smells of marzipan, and I love the taste of marzipan. I just don’t like the smell of it because it haunts you. We went to the hotel, we had a few drinks, we spoke to some of our colleagues. Then, the news really started to come in. There were four people dead. There were six people dead. At the end of the night, nine police officers died. Now without going into it all because there were certain things happen that I will never talk about that night, but there were nine people died. Myself and my colleague, we drove home just in a complete and utter daze, because it was surreal.
[00:12:25] Before I left the station that night, I remember I rang my mom and dad, and I said to my father, “Look, you’re going to hear something on the news. Don’t worry. I’m fine.” But that’s me being selfish, “I’m fine.” I didn’t know there was anybody dead, but I wanted to make them aware, because they were quite elderly at the time. So, we get home, and you don’t sleep, and you look at the newsreel from BBC News. At the front of the station, there’s a bit of red wreckage, that shows at the front of the station, it was the front wheel of my car. It was blown, it was just completely blown to pieces. Luck enough, I wasn’t in it.
But we go back to the station that next day. Again, you can’t take in what has happened, and the lead-up to that, a number of police officers were murdered in that area and we attended their funerals, and you never think you’re going to be part of this. But the fact is you are, and you’ve changed your clothes and you’ve had a shower and you come back down and you’re feeling not too bad. You see the wreckage and you just– what words can’t describe, and you see the backyard and the blood trails that you couldn’t see the night before.
And there’s a lot of stuff there that went on. We had a temporary mortuary that night, where bits of people were put on tarpaulins, that was a resting place. None of the bodies were buried in an open coffin. Some of the bodies, there was very little of them left. Going on from that, I was asked not to come back for a while, take some time off, try and get your thoughts together. My colleague as well. He was actually my sergeant at the time. He’s a great guy. We live close to each other, and I think the helping thing that we did is we just talk to each other and reminisce and did what we had to do. I have to say drank a lot of alcohol, to get it away. It was prevalent in your mind. But I remember when I did go home, I looked at the clothes I was wearing and my shoes, there was stuff on my shoes. And that’s the only way to describe it, it was stuff. That was actually probably parts of people, but you didn’t know that. And normally what you do is you’d handle that forensically, I threw the shoes in the bin. That’s what I did. I couldn’t have them about me.
I remember to my house. I lived on my own at the time, a place quite close to where I live now, a nice little house. And I rang my mom and dad, want to get home and I said, “Look, just to let you know, I’m going to be off for a while.” I lock the doors, close the blinds, and for two days, the only rooms in the house I used were the living room and the bathroom. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t speak to anybody. I was off for two months, and I went back after two months. Myself and my colleague were sent away to a convalescent home for police officers who have suffered different injuries. But we would never tell anybody why we were there. We were there because we’re excused upon, that we’re so fucked up, it was unbelievable. And you just think that every time you see something like that, it can’t happen again. It just can’t. It can’t get any worse than that.
Two months later, we go back to work. We’re back at work for about maybe a week. My colleague and I were involved in a car crash, in which both of us go out the windscreen of the car, not our fault, by the way, but a farmer and his tractor. So, we actually went over the tractor. We’re off for another month. We come back again to the same station, by the way, where everything has happened, and things are just carrying on. We come back on a Monday. The first call that we went back to as detectives was an explosion on the border where three police officers were blown up in an armored car trying to protect a Brinks Mat cash delivery to Northern Ireland. That was our whole day. That was the first day back on duty.
Our bosses, “Look, you can’t keep on with this. You can’t keep doing this. It’s bound to be affecting you.” But again, going back and nobody knew what PTSD was. Everybody just saw you coping because you wouldn’t talk about it. You just carry on. You’re a police officer. That’s what do you do. And as I said before, there are places in Northern Ireland, never seen a thing. Normal day, go out in the morning, come back for your dinner. Go out in the afternoon, come back for your dinner or your tea at night. Everything’s normal, and it’s so close.
[00:17:23] So, anyway, we come back and the bosses say, “Right. You two guys need a break.” In between the times that we were off and back after roughly three months, a number of people have been arrested for the mortar attack, and one on them was a guy called, and you can look this guy up on the internet. A guy called Eamon Collins. Collins was a customs officer employed by the UK government to do customs duties between the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland. Unbeknown to everybody, Collins was an IRA activist who set up two policemen to be murdered in a local town. He set up his best friend in the customs office when the IRA came in and shot him dead.
Yeardley: [00:18:05] The IRA came in and shot his best friend dead?
Sam: [00:18:09] Yes. As a result of inquiries and two other suspects, he was arrested.
Yeardley: [00:18:15] For the mortar attack on your police station?
Sam: [00:18:17] That’s right. And he gave evidence. His deal was that he can’t go to jail. “Whoa, I can’t go to jail.” And here’s the dilemma, and I’ll say this to you, and I would like an answer, if you can. You’re interviewing me, I’m a terrorist, I will tell you everything I know about my terrorist organization. I will admit to you everything I have done for that terrorist organization. I will give you the names of people who carried out the atrocities. In return, I don’t want to be prosecuted. There’s a dilemma for you. So, what do you do? What do you think?
Dave: [00:19:02] I- I think– uh. Big picture, you’re going, “Okay. We can eliminate a lot of threats here and we can bring a lot of closure and we can button up a lot of cases.” Big Picture. You also have to trust that he’s being honest, and that he’s not more involved. Clearly, he’s killing lots of people, including your friends and colleagues. So, I imagine there is a piece there where you want to crawl over the table and take his life.
Sam: [00:19:38] Yeah.
Dave: [00:19:39] The fact of the matter is, I don’t know how to answer that question.
Sam: [00:19:43] Okay. What do you think, Dan?
Dan: [00:19:46] I agree. I think you have to take a step back and say what is the greater good here. It’s very hard to do when you’re in the middle of that situation, to separate yourself and look at things from a different angle. I just can’t imagine. I’m sure that’s a conversation that many of you gathered around and said, “What do we do?” And you take the collective.
Dave: [00:20:11] Well, can I also ask, when he proffers this, “But I don’t want to be prosecuted,” I’m picturing this smug prick with a little smirk on his face, like, “I know I just threw you a big curveball. And I just want to see how you eat this. I want to see how you deal with it.”
Sam: [00:20:31] He wasn’t the first one in Northern Ireland to do this. We had a supergrass system, which was the start of the witness protection way back in 1981.
Yeardley: [00:20:40] Supergrass?
Sam: [00:20:41] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:20:41] What’s that?
Sam: [00:20:42] When the early 1980s from about 1981, these were terrorists who instead of going to jail, offered themselves up as potential witnesses. You would call them protected persons now. But it was known as the supergrass era. A grass is an informant. It’s a colloquialism for an informant. These were supergrasses because they were giving evidence against the terrorist organizations.
Yeardley: [00:21:10] Right. Got it. What if you commit a crime while you’re in witness protection? Do you lose your protection?
Sam: [00:21:17] Bye-bye, straight out, generally. But that comes down to the discretion. It depends on the crime. If you were to steal a can of Coke, you’re not going to get thrown out. You should get thrown out but you’re not. If you were to commit a heinous crime, you’re out. You’re going to get prosecuted. That’s the way it is now. My involvement with Eamon Collins, I actually had never met him at that stage, but this was what he was offering my bosses. In Northern Ireland, the prosecutions at that stage were run by the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, the police had the final say, as to the evidence and if they accept it or not. So, they go to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and they say, “Right, this guy, we have interviewed him. Here’s what he’s offering. We think you should go for it.” And they go for it.
[00:22:11] They bring in an interview team specialized and they extract every piece of information they can about him, his involvement, and the involvement of the members of the IRA in the South Armagh area. We get information from him that basically corroborates the intelligence that we had. This is three months after the event, I become part of the team that is going to prosecute these people, including Eamon Collins, who’s the guy that blew my colleagues up.
For the next four or five months, all we’re doing is we’re interviewing, collecting information. And at the end of the day, I think we made like 150 specimen charges against Collins, including murders, which he would have to be held accountable for in the court. He would plead guilty, but he would be taken off to one side, enter the witness protection program, never to be seen again, which is probably a good thing.
[00:23:14] The thing about it is, this is 1985, Collins is reasonably well educated, make no mistake about that. As I say, he worked as a customs officer. But the IRA is very strong in him. So, he agrees to do all this, and we go to court, and we have people coming every day, the court is going to last for weeks on end. We have witnesses coming in (unintelligible), we have victims, and we have defendants in the gallery. We have a lot of the top IRA men in the gallery. Collins goes into the witness box and denies everything he said.
Yeardley: [00:23:49] (gasps)
Sam: [00:23:50] Every single thing he said. We can’t touch him because he has been given immunity from prosecution.
Yeardley: [00:23:56] Oh, my God!
Yeardley: [00:24:09] I don’t understand how Eamon Collins can get on the stand, deny everything he told you, and not face consequences for that.
Dave: [00:24:18] Now is going to be my question is, there’s got to be a caveat in the paperwork.
Sam: [00:24:22] There wasn’t. This is 1985. We didn’t learn from our previous mistakes. Unless, boy, we knew that he would be killed.
Yeardley: [00:24:31] The IRA would kill him for testifying.
Sam: [00:24:34] Yeah, we were his best shot. Unbeknown to us, the IRA had also made Collins an offer, and the offer was leave Northern Ireland. In fact, “Leave Ireland, never come back. Never do set foot in Ireland again. Provided you do not give your evidence and you get away, we will take no action against you. If you ever set foot Northern Ireland again, all bets are off.” So, Collins then goes away and makes a new life for himself wherever. He writes a book about his life and times in the IRA, and he names a lot of IRA people, because remember, he’s outside Northern Ireland, so nobody knows where he is. And then, we’ll come back to our peace process, 1998.
Yeardley: [00:25:22] Sam, just a quick aside, for anyone who hasn’t heard your first episode yet, which we’ve called The Wrong Kind of Irish. You’re referring to the peace referendum called the Good Friday Agreement, right?
Sam: [00:25:34] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:25:35] And that agreement sought to bring peace to Northern Ireland after decades of this civil strife between the IRA and the loyalists. In fact, President Bill Clinton was considered a key figure in getting all parties to come to the table.
Sam: [00:25:50] That’s right. Everybody’s at peace. Collins for all his astuteness decided, “Oh, there must be a peace with me as well.” He comes back to Northern Ireland, comes back to the town that he lived in before. In 1999, he was murdered by his cohorts most probably. Nobody was ever charged with it. And again, remember that sort of karma is a real batch, isn’t it? However, he had done his damage. He had damaged a lot of people irrevocably because people like myself, again, I know that as police officers, you’ll understand this PTSD thing and it took me a long time to work out what it was. And you have all these feelings and at the time, you laugh about it, and you’re trying to laugh things off. You’re always that strong person that don’t let anything get to you, but it eventually does.
[00:26:47] It got to me so much that we used to have to attend postmortems, and we would have to attend those as a detective on a regular basis, along with the pathologist. He would dictate and you would make notes during the postmortem. It got to a stage where I’d been to so many postmortems, I couldn’t go to anymore because I stopped looking at what was on the table as human. It was just a piece of meat. That was me losing what emotions I had. I went and asked my boss, he said, “No, absolutely no, you will not go to another one.” And in fairness, he never sent me again.
All this is said and done, and it was years later that I realized there was something wrong. It cost me a marriage probably because of drinking. You just drink yourself to oblivion, not ashamed to say this. And it’s a hard thing, because you don’t know what’s going on in your head. But you keep hearing these things a bit about, “What is this posttraumatic stress? I don’t have that. Well, I could have that.” But it’s what you have. And it ended up that I was diagnosed with it about maybe 10 years ago, 12 years ago, and it was a culmination of a lot of events.
[00:28:00] Unfortunately, some people see a lot. You don’t choose it. We don’t choose our path within the police. I think it’s chosen for you. And I think it’s really to do with yourself, and the way you put yourself out there. So, the thing about PTSD for me was the fact that survivor guilt, absolutely, in a big, big way. Big crowds, things like that, low tolerance levels. Now, I’m not always this sunny disposition person you see here in front of you now.
Yeardley: [00:28:32] (laughs)
Sam: [00:28:32] Again, my wife has to put up with us too. It’s a really sad state of affairs. One of the things I said to people when I was doing the interview for the newspaper, was the fact that police are always in the firing line. If it’s not from the bad guys, it’s from the press, because we can never do it right for doing it wrong according to them. I say my heart goes out, there are a lot of guys in your position in the US, and you see all these different things that are happening. Again, I don’t condone violence of any kind, and if you break the law, you’re entitled to answer to. I don’t care who you are. But the fact is, I think if people understood a bit more what it’s like to be a police officer, it’s not a simple life.
[00:29:15] We have a thing that we taught people here. If you’re in a specialist unit, think about this thing, social death. What is social death? Who do you talk to about what you’re doing in work? I never talked to my wife. I couldn’t do it because of the things you were involved in. If you play for a local sports team, most of them are not police officers. They probably know you’re a police officer, but you can’t tell them what you’ve been doing. So, who do you talk to? You can’t talk to your nearest and dearest about this. The only people you can talk to are likeminded people who actually know what you’re going through. I don’t know if you’ve been involved in the like of intelligence handling source or informant handling, but you can’t tell anybody what you’re doing. You can’t say that because that then inadvertently involves them in what you’re doing, and can be a risk to them. But I just wanted to mention that case.
[00:30:12] My car was never fixed. I did get compensation for the car. But the unfortunate thing is, we can never bring back our friends, and all I can do is honor them. My fear is that police officers will stop making split-second decisions. When they stopped doing that, that’s when it becomes dangerous. Split-second decision will save your life.
Dave: [00:30:35] Absolutely. There’s so many things that you just covered that rang true with me about PTSD. I remember previous seasons when I had– experience is what you needed 10 minutes ago. Could you use that experience 10 minutes ago? Well, many episodes ago, I made light of certain people who experience PTSD just based on, “When you say you have PTSD, this is all you were exposed to,” I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand PTSD at all. Not a whole lot of people know this, but I am dealing with that as a part of my previous caseload. I’ve looked for the opportunity to apologize to the people I offended during that episode, where I kind of made light of, “Well, all you had to endure was your parents yelling at you.” It’s all relative, and it’s all what you’re able to cope with. What I cope with is different than what you’ve coped with, or what somebody else on the outside who’s never seen a dead body, never seen an abused child, or never seen the inside of a body that they should never see. It’s not my job to judge. I have to deal with what I’ve dealt with, and I’m dealing with it. I am in therapy, and she’s been amazing for my psyche and my frame of mind and my ability to get through these moments where I’m very anxious.
[00:32:02] I’m breathing hard, but you’re absolutely right that right now, we are seeing where police officers hesitate because of the blowback that we’re going to get tomorrow. There’s a general ignorance about what police officers do and what they have to deal with and the split decisions they make, that people that have never gone through a use of force training or dealt with a domestic violence incident and how quickly that turns on a dime against the police, they have no idea what kind of instinctual decision making that takes and how easy it is to see something that maybe wasn’t there to make a mistake.
Sam: [00:32:45] I think we’re always going to be pilloried. We’re still suffering public inquiries here about events that happened many, many years ago something similar to this. But it all seems to be about victims of terrorism. In other words, the military shooting people, okay, it was unfounded. The shooting of Donard way back in the 70s. But there were a number of firefights in which the SAS were involved.
Yeardley: [00:33:09] The SAS is a highly classified special forces unit under the British Army, isn’t it? Sort of like our Delta Force?
Sam: [00:33:17] Yeah. But what the people don’t realize was that when they took people out, those people were on their way to murder, mayhem, and danger. You can’t stop these people once they start. So, you’re pilloried for doing the right thing at the time. But hindsight, as they say, you’re quite right. We can’t investigate in hindsight. And hindsight is a wonderful thing. And there’s a saying, I don’t know if you have it there, “He who hesitates has lost,” and there’s no doubt it, especially for a police officer. At that split-second decision, if I can’t protect me, I can’t protect you. I do get a bit passionate about it, but I have to say, it’s just I wanted to tell, and it’s not for a fact, I’m not telling it for a fact. But I was going to say as an aside that of the nine people that were murdered that night, seven of them were men, two were women. The youngest one was 19 years of age, and the oldest guy was 41. In other words, they had their lives fully in front of them. It was a travesty. There has been no sort of second court of opinion on this. That’s vanished. As far as the politicians are concerned, that happened 35 years ago. Let’s move on.
Dan: [00:34:36] I think it’s an important conversation that needs to be repeated over and over and over again.
Yeardley: [00:34:41] The what, about PTSD?
Dan: [00:34:43] Yeah.
Dave: [00:34:44] And the degree to which you and your colleagues in one day, that size of a loss is staggering. And then, a couple months go by and your first call out, you get to deal with more of it. It’s staggering to me the amount of damage that would do to people.
Dan: [00:35:18] I think one of the notable things about this is, I’ve dealt with, and we covered it In the End of Watch episodes, and the Mother’s Day episode, that I’ve had my own battles with a traumatic experience that I went through, particularly traumatic experience. I’ve been through a lot of them. But this one, in particular, the murder of another officer that I had to tend to while he took his last breath, it’s something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, it’s taken me a long time to realize that I was put there for a reason that it was me who needed to be there, and I’m thankful for it now. This is after conversations with the officer’s friends and family, and something a little over a month ago that I was with these people commemorating the 10th anniversary of this officer’s death.
[00:36:09] And I’m still dealing with this day to day, and I can feel myself getting choked up right now. I can tell you that that memorial that we had a little over a month ago, helped me tremendously. But this is a journey that I’m on, and it’s never going to leave me. I imagine in 20 years, when I think about that day, where Officer Chris lost his life, it’s still going to affect me. What’s important to know is, this is a worldwide thing. Every police officer who has been in a situation like that, we all can empathize with each other. I know how you feel. I had the same issue with alcohol, and it started the first night. The first night after that incident, I turned to alcohol and it was a huge mistake on my part, and Officer Chris’ death did horrible things to me. The sleep deprivation was a part of that and you start circling the drain. You’re chasing your tail. The closer you get to the drain– I just I look back and I think about that month of my life following Officer Chris’ death and all the poor decisions I made, and how thankful I am that I survived it.
[00:37:29] I was never going to take my life, but it crossed my mind that suicide might be an answer to this. I picture myself as strong, I consider myself as a strong human being, and that thought even entered my mind is so humbling to me, how weak you can be in certain moments.
Yeardley: [00:37:50] Well, I would say how weak you can feel. I don’t think you’re weak at all, any of you.
Dan: [00:37:55] Thank you. The thing that brought me out of this was a really unfortunate event. And I’m going to say it, the incident that brought me out of it was I got caught driving drunk. I got caught driving drunk by a coworker and it saved my life. It’s hard to admit that. This is a journey for me in dealing with my PTSD and my injury, which is what I categorize this as, it’s an injury on my soul. And it took a DUI for an intervention to happen and for me to shake myself out of this tailspin that I was in.
Sam: [00:38:32] Coming up to the anniversary of the murder attack every year, that’s 35 years ago, I become quite morose and I can’t help it. Something happens and you just click on, and for maybe a day or two afterwards. It’s very, very hard, unless you’ve experienced that, I don’t wish this on anybody, by the way, but you say it never leaves you. The experiences you have had are yours, and they can never leave you. It’s just all we can do is deal with them in our own way. And I got great help from a few colleagues who had went through sort of similar stuff, and in some cases worse. When we’re sitting talk, and as we were talking, I realized that number one, you’re not alone. You’re never alone in this because there’s other people have those exact same feelings as you. But again, if I was to say this, I retired officially from the police in 2006. And I came back as a police trainer to train detectives and specialists. And then, I went to work in the Balkans for eight years. But my police career, I miss it every single day.
[00:39:42] If we’re talking about pleasant stories or funny stories, there’s guys that I worked with in the Balkans, and our greatest night was a night when we’re all sitting around the table having a glass of wine or two. And you’re just sitting there shooting the breeze, maybe overlooking the Adriatic Sea, a beautiful still calm night, and you start to wax lyrical about the old days. And my God, I’ve never laughed too much. And there’s one other guys I see on a weekly basis, he was one of my ex-bosses. I still get the biggest thrill to go to talk to him, because he knows what we went through. He was my boss at the time, and it’s just tremendous. The big thing I will say is, at least we’re all still here to talk about it. And that’s a good thing. Always remember that. The only time that we were beat, we weren’t there, and that’s a famous saying by an RUC man.
Dan: [00:40:38] The other thing I want to touch on is, this conversation that we had, there are people in law enforcement who listen to this podcast, and I want you to know it is normal for you to be feeling what you’re feeling. If you’re having trouble dealing with everything, reach out to me, reach out to Dave, I’ll talk with you, because I’ve been there and I want to help.
Yeardley: [00:40:56] I think you’re all amazing. Sam, thank you for your candor, and for sharing who you are as a man with us. Honestly, as Dan and Dave said, these conversations are so important. Our listeners, they really want to know how do you do what you do and why, and how do you come to be these men and women who have chosen this job which you consider a calling. It really is remarkable. Thank you.
Sam: [00:41:28] Thank you very much, and thank you for the opportunity. It has been a pleasure. Absolute pleasure and privilege. Thank you very much indeed, and I mean that sincerely.
Dan: [00:41:37] Thank you.
Dave: [00:41:38] Thank you, sir.
Yeardley: [00:41:48] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor, the Real Nick Smitty, Alec Cowan. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. Our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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Dan: [00:43:08] -in search of the finest-
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Dave [00:43:11] -as always by the detectives who investigated them. So, thanks for listening Small Town fam.
Yeardley: [00:43:17] Nobody’s better than you.