Robert Rowley was my favorite police partner, and he was also my cousin. We worked together for most of our collective careers. While rain in Seattle was not uncommon, on this night it seemed to be coming down with a vengeance. Bob and I were sent out of our district to provide "backup" for two or three other units.
A man who had fled his homeland came to the good old U.S. of A. I felt that night, and still feel in my heart, that he wanted to live free and was hoping to start life anew. He was unable to speak the language and he had no money, but he still needed to eat and was soon arrested for petty theft.
This man had so many strikes against him he was unable to communicate, knew no one in Seattle, had no decent clothes to wear while job hunting he was ultimately arrested many times. The courts decided to deport him back to his own land.
Just before being put on a ship, this man had overpowered the deputy who was escorting him and had fled, taking with him the deputy's revolver. The fugitive entered an old, run-down hotel, long since abandoned. Several officers were surrounding the place, so there was no escape. There were other officers on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings.
Officer David Ziskin and I were the only two going into that old hotel to search every room on every floor. On the first floor, Dave watched the hallway while I entered each room. This way, the man could not come out and double back without being seen. The next floor, I watched the hall while Dave checked each room.
It was a fairly slow process with only two officers, but it was the safer way. Too many police officers going in and out of rooms could place someone in a crossfire if shooting started. We hadn't found the suspect by the time we got to the top floor, and there was only one place left he could have gone: a narrow set of steps leading to the rooftop. It was almost like an outhouse on the roof that these stairs went to. There was a wooden door and you were on the roof. As I stood at this door, I felt a strong impression that I should not go out that door.
Pausing to reflect on what I should do, I decided to stay put and simply kick the door open. I kicked.
Bang! Bang! Two shots rang out and there were suddenly two chest-high holes in that door. If I had walked out that door, I would have been shot. Now it was sounding like the Fourth of July a total of 57 shots were fired from the surrounding rooftops. Then it was suddenly quiet.
I now felt it was safe for me to exit the door. I found the man on his back in a puddle of water, rain falling on his face. Because of the rain there were no stars, no moon. It was very dark and the officers on the rooftops had simply fired at the flash from the stolen weapon when the man fired at me.
I knelt beside the man and knew instantly that his wounds would prove fatal. I could see terror in his eyes. I gently lifted his head in my hands, bending over him so the rain no longer hit him in the face. As I lifted his head, his whole countenance changed. The fear I had seen in his eyes left him and was replaced by a calm spirit. He looked at peace and it was almost like I somehow knew this man. He looked into my eyes and smiled. Then he was gone.
Cousin Bob berated me a bit after that incident. He had come onto the rooftop just in time to see me kneel at the man's side. He had seen what I had done.
"The man tried to kill you. Why did you do that?"
"I'm not sure, Bob," I said, "but I'm glad I did. He didn't hurt me, and who knows what I might have done in his shoes? What do we even know about his circumstances? I just didn't want him to die alone in the rain."To this day, I feel good about that little gesture. It didn't hurt me and, in fact, I know that I have been blessed because of it.
Cal Rowley now lives in Inkom, Idaho.