In the conclusion of One Dark Night, Detective Justin has identified his suspect in the senseless murder of Larry, who provided security for a community garden in Justin’s small town. As Justin closes in on the suspect, the stakes couldn’t be higher when the suspect makes clear he will not be going quietly.
The Detective: Detective Justin is approaching his 15th year in Law Enforcement. Currently a Major Crimes Detective, Justin has also worked patrol, been a K9 Handler, and is a Team Leader on SWAT. He previously served as a Field Training Officer, was on Bike Patrol, and has been a Firearms Instructor since 2014.Read Transcript
Yeardley: [00:00:02] Hey, Small Town Fam. Welcome to Part 2 of One Dark Night. If you haven’t listened to Part 1 yet, you should go do that. You should definitely listen to Part 1 before you listen to Part 2. For those of you have listened to Part 1, here’s a little recap to refresh your memories. Detective Justin is called out in the middle of the night to investigate a deceased subject named Larry, who’s the self-appointed watchman at a community garden. Larry has been shot in the head, but there are no witnesses, no cameras around, and Larry doesn’t have any known enemies. There’s the possibility the killer is this guy named Damon, an out-of-towner, who was arrested a couple of days earlier because he had warrants. Damon also had a gun on him, which law enforcement seized. But if Damon is the murderer, it means the timeline that detectives are mapping out for Larry’s murder is way off.
[00:01:02] Luckily, a friend of Damon’s calls the PD and says Damon called him over the weekend and told him he killed a man a couple of days before. And then another tip sends Justin and his team to a tiny coastal town several hours away from their jurisdiction. But even in that tiny town, Damon manages to stay one step ahead of law enforcement for quite a while. Here is Part 2 of One Dark Night.[Small Town Dicks intro]
Yeardley: [00:01:32] Hi, there. I’m Yeardley.
Dan: [00:01:34]I’m Dan.
Dave: [00:01:34] I’m Dave.
Paul: [00:01:36] And I’m Paul.
Yeardley: [00:01:36] And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dan: [00:01:39] Dave and I are identical twins.
Dave: [00:01:41] And retired detectives from Small Town, USA.
Paul: [00:01:43] And I’m a veteran cold case investigator who helped catch the Golden State killer using a revolutionary DNA tool.
Dan: [00:01:49] Between the three of us, we’ve investigated thousands of crimes, from petty theft to sexual assault, child abuse to murder.
Dave: [00:01:56] Each case we cover is told by the detective who investigated it, offering a rare personal account of how they solved the crime.
Paul: [00:02:02] Names, places, and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of victims and their families.
Dan: [00:02:08] And although we’re aware that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we ask you to please join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved.
Dave: [00:02:16] Out of respect for what they’ve been through.
In Unison: [00:02:18]Thank you.[intro ends]
Yeardley: [00:02:26] Justin, a phone ping has you headed to the coast to find Damon?
Justin: [00:02:30] Correct. We know he’s on the coast in our state, we know he’s moving up and down the coast, or the phone is rather. The information we’re getting is 10 or 15 minutes, maybe an hour delayed, but it’s more real-time that Damon was here the day before. And so, our goal is to find the phone, worst case scenario, it’s somebody that ran across Damon, let them use the phone to call his friend, we can find out what they may know, best case scenario, we find the phone, we find Damon. We head back to the coast and start over, pounding the pavement. We spend seven or eight hours chasing where this phone might be along the coast. Multiple different small towns looping in their local police departments for assistance, and we’re just striking out. It’s even more frustrating because we’re closer, but we’re still just a step behind.
[00:03:18] At one point, we get information that they were at a McDonald’s. We go to McDonald’s. Sure enough, they’re on video at the McDonald’s. But what’s new about the McDonald’s video is they have a parking lot camera. And that parking lot camera captures one car and only one car in the parking lot for the timeframe that matches when the phone was there. Now we have a car, a vehicle description. And of course, it’s grainy video and you can’t see a license plate, but it’s clearly a white or silver four-door sedan, looked a lot like a Crown Vic that we’re all familiar with as police officers, the old police car that everyone used for years and years and years. We have a type of vehicle to keep an eye out for as we’re just circling this coastal community. There are five cars made up of detectives from my small town. All of our resources are now committed to this search in this area. These are small towns and even smaller counties. And so, they don’t have a ton of assistance or resources to dedicate to us to assist in this search.
[00:04:18] And round and round we go, and we stop, and end up talking with a state patrol guy who, “Yeah, I heard about this.” We mentioned the car and he goes, “I saw two guys in the same kind of car and I ran the license plate.” And so, he’s able to go back in his computer and look back and find the license plate of a car that matches the blurry security photo that we have and he goes, “I can’t say that Damon was an occupant of the car, but I just know the look.” And these two occupants, there’s two people in the car, they didn’t look like they belong in the area and this is the license plate.
Yeardley: [00:04:51] Is it anxiety-provoking that Damon may now be with someone else? Does that upped the ante a bit?
Justin: [00:04:58] It changes it. We know have another person to account for, is this person dangerous to us? Was he going to help Damon fight the police or escape? Or, is this person, an innocent person that is being held against their will? We don’t know.
Yeardley: [00:05:15] Right. And so, does this car, once you get the license plate, it hasn’t come up as stolen or anything?
Justin: [00:05:21] Nope.
Yeardley: [00:05:22] So, maybe it belongs to Damon’s passenger or his accomplice, whoever else is in that car with him.
Justin: [00:05:27] Exactly. We’re able to look that up based on the license plate. And, again, it’s one of those things that doesn’t yield any significant information to us. It’s registered to a gentleman that’s about the same age as Damon. So, probably the other male in the car, but we don’t know that and no one’s seen a close enough look to confirm based on driver’s license photo or anything like that. And so, we now have an area, a vehicle color description, a license plate of the vehicle, and recent sightings. And now we’re still chasing the phone information around.
Dave: [00:05:59] And that vehicle license plate doesn’t return to an address in the coastal area that you guys have been north and south on?
Justin: [00:06:07] No, it actually returns multiple hours north of where we were at and not in the first coastal town we’d gone to. So, it’s another thing to add to the list for later as to pursuing where the car came from, who it belongs to. But yeah, nothing that would lead us to a house where, “Oh, it belongs four blocks away,” we drive there and the car sitting there. We had no such luck on this.
Dave: [00:06:26] So, I’m picturing a game plan being devised. Is it just like hide and go seek where you say, “All right, let’s start looking,” and everyone spreads out, goes in different directions, “I’ll take this neighborhood and I’m just going to drive the grid,” every street in the area? For a big city, that would be an enormous task. But in the smaller coastal towns, it’s fairly reasonable to be able to do that.
Justin: [00:06:50] It is, especially in town, the size of the residential housing location isn’t huge. It’s not like you have blocks and blocks and blocks. And so, you may have four or five streets in a grid shape that make up everything that’s in town. Our concern was there’s so many coastal rule type properties where there was long driveways and we don’t know where they’re at that if Damon was at a place like that, you’d never be able to just drive down there and check for the car without being discovered or seen.
Paul: [00:07:17] Justin, at this point, obviously, you guys are just full bore on trying to find Damon, but you still have yet to receive any type of report as to whether or not his .45 caliber handgun matches the bullet or cartridge case found at the scene.
Justin: [00:07:33] Exactly. We haven’t heard back.
Yeardley: [00:07:34] So, what do you do in that situation? Do you wait until you have confirmation that Damon’s gun is the one that killed Larry or do you not have to wait for that?
Justin: [00:07:43] My priorities are to the case, but also to the community. We have Damon outstanding. So, I’ve got to weigh the value of going to have an airtight case, if I wait for that gun information to come back, if I waited two days to get the search warrant done off lab to confirm it, that makes my case better. Absolutely. Would I like to have that information before I come across Damon? Absolutely. The problem I have though is, I still have a murder suspect running loose on the coast in my state. What else is he capable of?
Yeardley: [00:08:14] Right.
Justin: [00:08:16] We now have a car, we have a license plate, and we have some data as to where the phone has been that Damon called his friend from. And so, as we’re looking at this information, we’re able to ultimately come up with a house in a nearby coastal town that the phone was at and has been out a couple times it looks like. There’s a pattern to it. And so, we go by this house and we start running license plates of other cars that are out the house, nothing super significant. Other than there’s a female that has contacts in one of the vehicles and the name means absolutely nothing to any of us. But I look up a photo of her through DMV records, and look at a driver’s license photo, and recognize this female as a person in Damon’s Facebook pictures. It looks like a girlfriend, or wife, or some kind of significant other in quite a few photos. And then her car is at this house. Store that away, this house is significant, important. Could Damon be here? Maybe, we don’t know.
[00:09:20] As we’re doing this, we still get information that the phone is mobile and moving around and so we chase our tails a little bit. And then probably an hour and a half of narrowing down on this address, we see the pattern that emerges before the phone returns to that residence start to develop again.
Yeardley: [00:09:38] What do you mean a pattern?
Justin: [00:09:40] Some of the details we’re able to get not necessarily where they were going, but the direction they were headed or where they’re at highway-wise, any number of other little things that were unique and weren’t common for when they’re just driving around town. And the light bulb collectively goes off and everyone workings head like. Last time this happened within five minutes, the phone ended up at this location. And so, we be in line and send one of our unmarked vehicles by the house. And as they get there, this car, that’s on the McDonald’s security footage is in the driveway, license plate matches. And for the first time, we’re able to lay eyes on Damon at this residence.
Yeardley: [00:10:17] Fantastic. So, you have the car and you have Damon with his tattooed widow’s peak. Do you just run up and tackle him and put handcuffs on him?
Justin: [00:10:27] So, that’s the initial thought everyone has, “Let’s just go grab our guy.” Fortunately, we had kind of a powwow and part of the concern that we developed is in the yard of this residence where a bunch of children’s toys, bicycles, playhouse, that type of thing. Knowing that a female from Damon’s social media likely lived there or is associated with that location and the chance of children being present, we didn’t want to force an encounter at the location. We were relatively certain that we weren’t compromised or he didn’t know that we were actively pursuing him in town. Rather than forcing any kind of encounter or confrontation at the house, a plan was formulated to wait, as we’ve seen several other times for the vehicle to leave the house and attempt to traffic stop in order to minimize any threat.
Dave: [00:11:15] How long did that take?
Justin: [00:11:16] It was actually pretty quick after we formulated a plan, relayed it to all of our units. The county we were in had some deputies in the area that we were able to contact and coordinate with them. We have local resources present and aware and we’re actually going to use their marked units to conduct the traffic stop. Should a vehicle pursuit or something ensue? They would be better off to chase the car than we were in unmarked vehicles in an area that we’re not familiar with. Within minutes of the plan getting finalized, two detectives from my agency, the two males get in the car and back out of the driveway. The driver is the unknown male, and Damon is in the front passenger seat, and they backed out, and it’s neighborhood was one way in and then one way out, and so they drive out the only way possible and end up with a marked sheriff’s deputy pickup truck behind them, traveling down the coastal highway in the small town.
[00:12:10] They go a little bit. A couple other units get in position, including myself and we get to a gas station, hotel, motel with the exterior doors. But it was primarily a bunch of buildings of cinderblock construction, which would formulate a fairly decent backstops should shooting occur. But we’re still right on the coastal highway. So, not ideal, but the sheriff’s deputy turns on his overhead lights and the moment of truth like how’s this going to go, what’s about to happen. There’s several ways this goes and everyone just hanging on and waiting to see.
Justin: [00:12:56] Car turns on its left turn signal, turns into the gas station parking lot and stops. I remember having this thought of, “Well, that was easier than I thought it was going to be.” But we’re still not done. We fan out behind the car and start a high-risk traffic stop with police officers in the door of their cars with guns drawn, giving commands. We start with the driver, because it’s easiest way to hopefully immobilize the vehicle. Driver super compliant. Driver, we call him out of the car, he comes back, surrenders to us, no big deal. We take him back, hand them off to a couple of our detectives to go interview him. Unfortunately, the driver missed the direction of like turn the car off and bring the keys with you. So, the keys are still in the car and this car is still running, even though Damon is sitting in the passenger seat. It’s still mobile, it could still take off. I halfway expected Damon to jump across the seat, get in the driver’s seat car, and take off at any time during this traffic stop, but that doesn’t happen.
[00:13:56] Damon opens the passenger door and never really fully emerges from the car, but will look out and starts engaging verbally with us in a weird surreal conversation, just in how calm he was. We just have to yell due to distance. But he’s talking back and forth to me for a little bit. We’re having a pretty fruitful conversation. And really, I’m able to start asking some questions about our case, because he’s not surrendering, but we get into and Damon offers up on his own. “I know why this is happening. It’s because of the guy shot in the garden in the small town.”
[00:14:32] I was like within two or three minutes of the driver getting out, I have a confession from my suspect sitting in the car. Now I still got to get him out of the car and arrest him, but he’s starting to give details of what happened in the garden that I didn’t even know at this point, because I wasn’t obviously there when it happened. He’s providing insight into what happened while we’re on this traffic stop.
Dave: [00:14:56 Justin’s just like his dad, Don Senior and that they just get confessions in the first couple of questions they ask.[laughter]
Dave: [00:15:03] The rest of us it takes four or five hours, multiple breaks. Justin’s like, “How’s your day going?” “I killed the guy in your town.”[laughter]
Justin: [00:15:13] That’s pretty much how it went. It shocked everyone. All the law enforcement paused and looked at each other like, “Oh, shit, that was easy. Now what do I ask him? I was going to be two hours from now in an interview room on tape. What do we do now?” We keep talking and we spend 20, 30, 40 minutes talking about the case. Damon gives us the insight that he’s walking through the community garden and is really not doing anything he shouldn’t be other than he is in the middle of night walking through the garden. As he’s doing so, he ends up getting confronted by Larry. Larry asks Damon, “What are you doing here?” Damon’s response was to shoot Larry in the head. And that’s all there was to it.
Yeardley: [00:15:59] That’s it?
Justin: [00:15:59] That’s it.
Yeardley: [00:16:00] That is fucked up.
Paul: [00:16:02] Does Damon give information related to where they were at at the time that he pulls his gun and shoots Larry in the head?
Justin: [00:16:11] He does. Damon’s able to explain and it’s consistent with where the shell casing was, explains where he was at when he fired the round, and it’s within a few feet of where we found the shell casing in the driveway. He describes where Larry was at, but the fence or gated portion to Larry’s yard, if you will. Damon’s nailing details that only someone that was at the scene when it happened could know and provide us.
Paul: [00:16:35] How far away is this shooting?
Justin: [00:16:38] 20 to 25-feet. Yeah, it was fairly long distance considering where the impact was. The way Damon explained, it was just a reactionary and almost a lucky shot. He just pulled the gun, pulled the trigger, and the bullet happened to hit Larry in the forehead.
Paul: [00:16:51] There’s nothing in Damon’s background to indicate that he is a highly trained, sharpshooter, sniper type of individual?
Justin: [00:16:59] No, he couldn’t make that shot again if he had to.
Yeardley: [00:17:02] And Larry, then just drops where he’s hit and happens to be leaning against this tree?
Justin: [00:17:08] Correct. Larry falls down, Damon goes about his night and explain to us that when he got arrested that next morning by our patrol officers several blocks away and they found the gun on him, he assumed that we knew about what he’d done and didn’t fight the police at the time. He’s like, “I’m not going to fight with you guys. Now, I wasn’t going to fight with them that morning. I was certain that they heard the gunshot and knew that I was the one that shot the guy in the garden and I was going to jail forever and then next thing I know they let me out.”
Dave: [00:17:46] Damon is aware that his gunshot struck Larry, at least wounded him?
Justin: [00:17:52] Yeah. We confirmed during this traffic stop conversation with Damon that Larry was dead and he wasn’t surprised by it. It was the first time he knew for sure.
Dave: [00:18:01] You guys, your agencies, detectives, and other agencies have Damon who’s still seated in the passenger seat. He’s just got the door open, probably his feet slung out to the side like he’s sitting on the edge of the passenger seat. You’ve got this place surrounded, but he hasn’t given himself up yet. Is he making movements that make you think that he’s going to try a suicide by cop? Is he just saying, “Hey, give me some time, I’ll give myself up, I just want a few more minutes?”
Justin: [00:18:28] Damon is clear from the beginning after telling us what he did. Damon was pretty resolute in, “I’m not going to jail, guys,” and he made that statement several times throughout the time we were engaging with him. Damon was never aggressive about those statements. It was just really matter of fact, which is unusual and just the calmness he said it with. He’s resolute like, “I’m not going back to jail.” And so, how that ends up playing out, none of us really knew. But the thought in the back of everyone’s mind, my own for sure is that at some point, one of two things happens. Either Damon shoots himself in front of us or he does something that’s going to generate a response from law enforcement or we shoot him.
Yeardley: [00:19:09] Meanwhile, aren’t you trying to get him out of the car and on the ground or something like the driver and he’s not complying? Damon is having conversation with you, but he’s not doing what you’re asking him to do?
Justin: [00:19:21] Exactly. We’re giving him directions, “Hey, put your hands up, get out of the car.” Damon would just tell us, “That’s not going to happen, guys. I’m just not getting out of the car.” There’s times where everyone there, including Damon laughed. And it wasn’t a light-hearted moment, but it was just the circumstance was such that there was comedy in what was happening, because he was just, “I’m not getting out of the car.”
Yeardley: [00:19:41] He was so matter-of-fact about it.
Justin: [00:19:43] Yeah. Now we’re in this negotiations phase. And fortunately, the command staff and supervisors that were down there for my agency, in addition to several of our detectives were tactical team members or negotiations team members and so, they were able to leverage some of those skills to try to negotiate with Damon to surrender. We’re working through that process. And Damon gets hungry. He requests something to eat. We are within visual sight of a McDonald’s. Again, McDonald’s, different McDonald’s, but nonetheless. He makes a McDonald’s request for a double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and French fries. We sent one of our detectives to McDonald’s to like, “Hey, go order Damon’s food, bring it back, and then we’ll use it as leverage or show of good faith.” A lot of times, if you can build that rapport and build trust with the individual, you’re able to get farther and simply providing somebody with food might be all it takes.
Yeardley: [00:20:55] Once you have the order in hand, now as you say, you have some leverage, you have to get close enough to Damon in some way to hand him the meal. It seems unlikely that y’all would agree to put it down on the ground and allow Damon to come forward and get it.
Dan: [00:21:10] Or, you’re hoping that you can just put it on the trunk of the car and he will come out of the car and surrender, then he can have his meal.
Paul: [00:21:18] During this negotiation, do you know if Damon is armed or not at this point?
Justin: [00:21:24] Initially, we don’t know. The yelling is getting annoying and difficult. As any conversation if you can just talk, you’re going to be better off than shouting across the parking lot. I end up calling the cell phone number. Sure enough, Damon answers it. One, we’ve confirmed that that phone is present and he relays verbally that he has a gun with him and says, “I’m not going to hurt you guys. Again, I’m not going back to prison.” We get off the phone and then to follow that up, he actually sends me text message photos of a gun sitting in the passenger seat of the car. A handgun sitting there and then also verbally reports that there’s a shotgun in the back of the car that he could get to. We know there’s a gun in the car. He’s made the statement that he’s not going back to prison. We’re in this negotiations phase where we’re trying to get him out, and for his safety, bystanders ourselves, the last thing we want is for it to result in any kind of gunfire from any side.
[00:22:19] We’ve procured this McDonald’s order for him. Damon is being demanding. He gets a little bit agitated that he’s just hungry and we’re not getting anywhere. Law enforcement, we decide to provide him the McDonald’s and build some good faith and make Damon a little bit more receptive to conversation. It’s been hours at this point. We decided to give him his food. Sergeant David rolls the McDonald’s bag up into a football-shaped [Yeardley chuckles] brown paper bag with a double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and French fries in it, and throws this underhand rugby toss that lands at Damon’s feet. [Yeardley chuckles] Perfect throw, doesn’t spill a single French fry. Damon retrieves his food, opens it up, pulls the burger out, Damon takes a big bite and swallows.
[00:23:05] And then looks back at us and screams at us, “You had one fucking job. Who’s the new guy that fucked up my last meal? Who is it? Who’s the new guy? I wanted to double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and this is a Big Mac. You had one job and you screwed it up.” And then he proceeds to finish his Big Mac. But we’ve gotten his order wrong. Totally unintentional, but he has this tirade where he realizes that the new guy. In reality, the detective that went got the food was a police officer for almost 30 years. He’s nearing retirement. There wasn’t the new guy screwing it up, but Damon made a show about the new guy messing up his order for all the hearing– again, there’s this moment where it’s a very critical incident, but the comedy in that like everyone there, including Damon shared a chuckle over this, because it was funny, especially in the moment, it was, “Yeah, you did have one job and you messed it up.”
Yeardley: [00:23:55] [laughs]
Paul: [00:23:56] Well, he must have gone through the drive-thru, right?
Dan: [00:23:57] Yeah. [crosstalk] -the drive-thru.[laughter]
Dave: [00:24:01] But the other thing is, he says, “This is my last meal.”
Yeardley: [00:24:04] Yes, so I was just going to say, that’s a huge piece of information, know?
Justin: [00:24:08] Exactly. It furthers the thought process of how this is going to end. As comical as it was in one sense, it was ominous in the other. There’s several times Damon eats his food, still eats it all, even though it was the wrong order. But he finishes his food and it calms him down and does what you would expect. He’s more conversational with us. We, again, don’t get anywhere. We’re talking about his surrender and he’s like, “Why would I do that? I have no reason to. I’m going to go back to prison. I’m not doing it.” We try to leverage family or children and none of that really works or it gets us anywhere. And then a couple of times, Damon would get tired of sitting and he’s got the passenger side door open. Damon is sitting with his feet outside the car on the ground, sideways in the seat.
[00:24:53] A couple of times he would shift his weight or he would stand up and stretch just outside the car, but there’s not enough distance where we could get to him or really affect any arrest, and he’s certainly not surrendering. He’s just stretching or shifting his weight. All the law enforcement there was aware that there’s a gun on the seat. He’d make this head fake reach in the car movement, nothing would happen. Damon would turn back to us and like, “What, there’s no new guys out there with an itchy trigger finger?” He was baiting us into a shooting and nobody shot. He did that a couple of different times and he was almost disappointed after making that movement, because, again, Damon wasn’t going back to prison. But I don’t think he was able to get himself to the point where he could kill himself. And so, he wanted us to do that for him and he was hoping that movement would be enough to instigate an officer-involved shooting and there was dozens of officers on scene at this point and no one fired at him.
Paul: [00:25:46] Was there anybody on scene that had any less than lethal rounds like beanbag rounds or anything like that?
Justin: [00:25:51] Initially, the patrol assets from the county we were in would have had some of that they weren’t deployed at first, just from a numbers’ perspective. And then, we’re going on hours now, that sheriff’s office jurisdiction, the incident was transitioned over to their tactical team, they called their team out, had to respond from their main city several hours away. The response took some time. because they were bringing armored vehicles through country roads and stuff like that. They got there after several hours. Once that tactical team was on scene, they took over and absolutely had all those tools present and deployed in a manner that we’re hopeful would resolve the situation peacefully.
Dave: [00:26:31] How did it resolve?
Justin: [00:26:32] The tactical team took over the negotiation side of it primarily on the phone from a negotiations command post away from the scene itself. We’re having the same conversation with Damon that we’d already had. He explained what he did, he’s just as resolute about not going back to prison and didn’t really have any demands. Damon was just, “Matter-of-fact, I’m not going back.” Negotiations had broken down. We’d spent hours and hours and hours there with no real progress. Ultimately, a decision was made for the tactical team to shoot some tear gas through a window in the car with the idea that it would fill the car with a chemical agent, it’d be uncomfortable and Damon would choose to exit the vehicle, hopefully without the gun. They move into a position to do that and the tactical team deploy this gas round and it impacts the car. Shortly after the impact happens, Damon reaches into the seat and then produces the gun for the first time in his hand. Damon ends up pointing the gun at the officers and an officer-involved shooting ensues and Damon is shot several times.
Yeardley: [00:27:39] [sighs]
Paul: [00:27:41] Does he survive?
Justin: [00:27:43] He does not. Three different officers fire rounds and Damon is killed instantly in the shooting.
Yeardley: [00:27:50] You guys often say that every suspect has a tell. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s overt. Like it is in this case with Damon when he says over and over and over that he’s not going back to prison. That statement, that’s a lot of information, particularly in a situation like this standoff. During the standoff as well, he confesses to the murder that he committed in the garden. All of that makes you think that he supposes there’s only one way that he doesn’t go back to prison and it’s the worst most final way there is. He even jokes about it, when he says to you guys, “You guys don’t have any trigger-happy cops back there who are itching to put a bullet in me when I flinch and look like I’m going to reach for a weapon?” When he actually does pull the gun and pointed at the SWAT team, he must have known what was going to come?
Justin: [00:28:58] Absolutely. Damon was trying early on to bait us into doing it sooner as he realized that our officers were not going to take the bait. He realized what it would actually take to generate the response from law enforcement. The district attorney down in this county that the shooting took place in, there’s a whole officer-involved shooting investigation goes through a grand jury process down there and categorize this officer-involved shooting with the word “inevitable.” Like this outcome was inevitable. It was going to happen based on the statements and the totality of the circumstances and it was just a matter of time.
Yeardley: [00:29:44] What was the unidentified driver doing while all of this negotiation is going on, the guy who is in the car with Damon?
Justin: [00:29:52] He’d been taken down to the local police department of the small town we were in and interviewed about how he knows Damon and what Damon may have said. And he was, at least claimed to be in the dark and knew nothing about what happened in the community garden, and he was just giving a buddy a ride. As they got pulled over, there’s a comment made as the driver’s getting out by Damon that like, “See you, man. This is it.” And the driver gets out, remembers like, “That’s kind of odd. But okay, I thought he might have warrants and it’d be no big deal,” and didn’t realize the significance of what was going on until law enforcement ultimately told him what had happened and why we were there looking for Damon in the first place.
Dan: [00:30:33] During the standoff in the parking lot, did Damon ever tell you why he spilled the beans to his friend from the other state, the guy who called you guys and tipped you off?
Justin: [00:30:42] No. He asked how he got his phone number, because I had called him at one point. And I made something up about, “We’re the police. We get all sorts of stuff.” And he accepted that because I was still trying to guard some of the information I had and details I had, and fully anticipating conducting an interview with Damon at the police department. Those are some of the details that I wanted to keep from him is that we talked to his friend and that I knew he told his friend what happened.
Dan: [00:31:10] Yeah. This house in the small town where you initially find Damon and this driver with the car, did you guys ever go back and speak to the female who supposedly live there?
Justin: [00:31:23] We did and it turns out she was Damon’s on again, off again girlfriend, had several children with him, and he was trying to see her and the children before things caught up with him. He wasn’t threatening to them, had no ill will towards them. They didn’t know anything about what had happened. They could tell that Damon was off and they weren’t surprised that police were looking for him. They were surprised at why. But yeah, they were interviewed and had no bearing on our murder case at all.
Dan: [00:31:54] Did they know anything that had happened during the standoff or that there was a standoff?
Justin: [00:32:00] They were aware the proximity from where it happened to the house was fairly short and so ended up blocking the coastal highway for hours and hours and hours. So, they were aware of that. Fairly early on, once we had additional local resources, the sheriff’s office and deputies that way to touch base with her, we didn’t know who he was calling if Damon was reaching out to her from the traffic stop, which he hadn’t. But we had law enforcement personnel with her in case something like that did happen.
Dan: [00:32:28] That’s some bombshell news to drop on somebody in that situation.
Yeardley: [00:32:32] Sure. Was Damon drug affected?
Justin: [00:32:34] Yes. At one point during the standoff towards the end, I don’t know if Damon communicated it before he did it. But from my vantage point, you can see him smoking methamphetamine from a meth pipe in the car during the standoff.
Paul: [00:32:47] And I’ve got a button this up from the physical evidence standpoint is at some point, you must get results back on the firearm. Does Damon’s firearm get matched to the bullet and cartridge case from Larry’s homicide?
Justin: [00:32:59] It absolutely does. Our crime lab gets wind of what happened and they call down like, “Hey, do you still want to process this?” “Yes, I do. I need to know.” But they’re trying to triage their caseload and move somebody up the line, if you will. They call and at least they call and didn’t just do it on their own, “Hey, do you still want this done?” I go, “Yes, the exigency is obviously gone, but if you’d please process that.” They do. Within a week or two, I had gotten the results back and confirm that both the slug and then the casing from the scene were fired from the gun that Damon was arrested with before we even knew there’s a dead person.
Paul: [00:33:32] Part of when I get involved in cases and I’m typically looking at cases that have already occurred and many decades afterwards, but post offense behavior by the offender is something that I really pay attention to. And here, Damon is confronted by Larry but from a distance away. It almost sounds like Damon could easily have walked away from this confrontation without ever pulling a gun and shooting at Larry. And then he doesn’t stay in the area, but it doesn’t sound he’s necessarily making great attempts to hide, to flee. Is there anything in Damon’s background that suggests that possibly he had other homicides, maybe out of state and he just said, “I’m done. I’m not going to go back to prison and they caught up to me?”
Justin: [00:34:25] Nothing that we found concretely. That theory was present on a couple locations that Damon had been where they had murder cases that were unsolved that by the timeline and where he was living at any given time, he could have been a potential suspect in, but nothing that we found where we connect the dots from somewhere else. I also think he would have told us because of how absolute he was and those conversations we had. It was an effect Damon’s deathbed confession to us. And he talked about some other criminal activity he’d been involved with some we knew about. At one point, he confessed to a shoplifting that occurred in a town three states away that like, “Thanks, but I don’t care. [Yeardley and Paul chuckles] Talk more about the guy in the garden.” But it was his moment to get anything like that off his chest. So, I think he would have told us.
Paul: [00:35:14] Literally Larry’s homicide was in the moment, Damon gets pissed, happens to have a .45 on him, pulls it, shoots, and happens to just have a bullet go into Larry’s forehead from 25-feet away.
Justin: [00:35:27] Yep. So, let me add that the drive back from the small coastal town, I get into cell phone service after losing it and I’m able to call Larry’s family. I was talking primarily with his son and relayed to his son that, “Hey, we caught up with a guy. We caught up with Damon. He was killed by law enforcement in an officer involved shooting.” Explained a little bit the details before he saw it on the news, and names, and stuff were going to end up becoming public in a day or two anyway, especially with the social media world we live in now. And so, wanted him to hear it from us first. He thanks me and appreciates the information, but our conversation ends with, “Did he explain why he killed my dad?” I still couldn’t answer that question. It comes back to that why. There isn’t a good reason. Damon couldn’t give us a good reason as to why.
Dan: [00:36:16] Did Damon ever say he was sorry?
Justin: [00:36:18] No.
Paul: [00:36:19] Justin, you responded out to the homicide scene of Larry. You go back to the station, you get 20-25 minutes of– I mean, it’s not sleep, but you basically got a mental break and then now you’re on the hunt for Damon. Do you get much rest during that–? What was it, three, four days until the standoff?
Justin: [00:36:45] No. The second night was really the only full night of rest I was able to get through the whole case. Even that, your mind’s racing and some of the best ideas, case wise come to you and you’re driving home or sitting in bed trying to fall asleep. But then after that second night of rest, it was kind of, “Go, go, go.”
Paul: [00:37:05] You’re sleep deprived and now you’re at a situation where now the suspect is looking for suicide by cop and then ultimately succeeds. Now you present at the time that Damon is killed?
Justin: [00:37:21] Yep.
Paul: [00:37:22] Is this the one and only time that you’ve actually seen somebody killed in front of you?
Justin: [00:37:28] Um, [pause] is it bad because I have to think about that? I don’t know, if that’s a good or bad thing. To answer, yes, from beginning to end. Obviously, I was involved in a shooting myself that ended up not being a fatal shooting. But watching from start to end, yeah, it’s the first time I’ve seen someone shot and killed in front of me.
Paul: [00:37:48] Well, like Yeardley likes to say is that the job that law enforcement does is not natural. And so, you’re sleep deprived, you’ve been on the hunt for this guy, and now you’re watching this guy in essence, he’s being killed. This is not something that is natural to experience. When you think back on this, is there anything that you feel that has impacted you as a person going through it?
Justin: [00:38:15] Okay, the new guy asks every questions.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:38:16] I know. I thought him well. [laughs]
Justin: [00:38:22] One, that’s very good question. Not that I can think of, but I’m sure it has. I think whether it’s this or the shooting I was involved with or any number of a handful of cases that stick out to any of us, I think what bothers me the most about them is when talking about this or getting asked that question, nothing jumps out at me and that’s scary, because it should.
Paul: [00:38:44] Well, and that’s where, at least in my experience, because I haven’t been subjected to this type of dynamic, but other types of dynamics that aren’t natural. And then as I’ve gotten older, those types of circumstances rear their ugly head. And this is just part of working in this profession. But it’s still not something that is normal for people to experience. For those individuals like you, Dan and Dave, that are on the front lines and the you’re dealing with this, this has an impact moving forward, and it’s maybe, here we’ve got the story and you’re dealing with a homicide, your homicide investigator, but you’re also watching another person being killed and that is trauma.
Justin: [00:39:33] Absolutely. As law enforcement and the world in general progresses, I don’t have a moment I can think back of being truly impacted by it. But the concept of trauma being cumulative and adding up over time at some point, the glass becomes full. I guess, fortunately, my glass isn’t full yet. But what’s to say that it’s not going to become that way here sooner than later or maybe it never will. Who knows?
Paul: [00:39:57] Well, I will tell you, when you turn 50, it will. That’s what happens.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:40:03] Justin, it’s so such an extraordinary pleasure to have you on the podcast. You are a true blue. Thank you so much.
Justin: [00:40:10] Not a problem, anytime.
Dan: [00:40:11] I’ll say this, Justin and I and Dave, we’ve all worked some big cases together and Justin is one of my favorites. He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever met in law enforcement.
Dave: [00:40:20] Justin and I went to the academy together. We were baby cops together.
Yeardley: [00:40:24] Really?
Dave: [00:40:25] Yeah.
Justin: [00:40:26] I get to come back next week.
Dave: [00:40:27] Oh, Justin gets to go to Sergeant school it sounds like.
Justin: [00:40:30] Oh, yeah.
Paul: [00:40:31] [laughs] Sarge, I mean, the way that you approached this, the dedication, fundamentally, I think it really underscores that something that is thought of being a cut and dry, quick case at the beginning, and how it can spiral to something where now it’s consuming you and your life for however long it takes in order to make sure that the public is safe. Every step you took really underscores the professionalism and the dedication that you have to serving the public. So, thank you very much.
Yeardley: [00:41:06] Well said. Thank you so much for bringing that to us, Justin. It is always a pleasure to have you on the podcast.
Justin: [00:41:14] You’re welcome. Thank you.[Small Town Dicks theme continues playing]
Yeardley: [00:41:24] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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Yeardley: [00:42:36] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country-
Dan: [00:42:43] -in search of the finest,-
Dave: [00:42:44] -rare-
Dan: [00:42:45] -true crime cases told as always by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave: [00:42:49] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley: [00:42:52] Nobody’s better than you.
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