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Column: Santa’s Helper, a Giant Elf, a Cuban Inmate Uprising and the Salvation Army

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.
 

Greg Stejskal

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

This is a Christmas story, but it really began just before Thanksgiving in 1987, at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The Cuban inmates had rioted and had taken control of a sizeable portion of the penitentiary. The catalyst for the riots happened years before that in 1980.

The Mariel boatlift, a massive exodus of Cuban refugees from Cuba to the US, had among its refugees, convicted criminals. Fidel Castro had apparently thought the boatlift was an opportune time to decrease his prison over-crowding.

Upon arrival in the US those Cubans who were determined to be criminals were detained and placed in US penitentiaries with no clear plan as to what to do with them in the long term.

This uncertain future led predictably to unrest and ultimately to the prison riots.

When the inmates rioted and took control of part of the Atlanta Penitentiary, they also took some of the staff hostage.

The FBI was tasked with negotiating with the inmates and providing SWAT teams should it become necessary to retake control of the penitentiary by force and rescue the hostages.

SWAT teams from many of the large offices were called to respond to Atlanta. Our Detroit team was one of those teams.

So on a cold, rainy November night, an Air Force C-141, flying a circuit, landed at Detroit Metro Airport to pick up our team. Already on board were teams from Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We arrived in Atlanta early the next morning.

The Atlanta Penitentiary is a foreboding place. It was built in phases beginning in the late 1800s, into the first few decades of the 1900s.

It has 60-foot walls with watch towers on each corner. Upon our arrival we climbed to the top of one of the watch towers and looked down into the prison yard. It looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movie.

Inmates were walking around the yard, all carrying homemade weapons: long-knives, swords, etc., made from scrap metal and sharpened on some of the prison machine tools.

After seeing that scene, we all assumed we were going to be in Atlanta for awhile. We knew we would prevail if it came to having to use force. After all they had made the critical tactical mistake of bringing knives to a gun fight. But they had hostages and a large supply of non-perishable food in their control.

The next morning I was walking to the Penitentiary administration building for the shift change briefing when I saw a tent where free coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts were being served. It was the Salvation Army tent. The Salvation Army was there every day of the insurrection including Thanksgiving serving coffee, donuts, smiles and kind words. I’ve been on a lot of SWAT operations, but I had never been offered coffee, donuts or kind words from the neighborhood in which we were operating.

Knowing the Salvation Army was there for us, had me thinking that I owed this selfless organization a debt – a pay it forward kind of thing.

The penitentiary insurrection was resolved peacefully after about two weeks. The key factor was that no social order was developed among the inmates just anarchy. They went through several months food supply in days. (There are a lot of good stories from the “siege” of the Atlanta Penitentiary, but those can be told another time.) We all went back to our respective homes.

I didn’t forget the Salvation Army’s generosity. I decided every holiday season for a few hours, I would volunteer to ring the bell and tend the red kettle in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Some years later, I was ringing the bell at a local super market with my wife. We had both donned our Santa hats and were wearing the Salvation Army issue red vests. It was snowing lightly, the Christmas lights were shining and Christmas carols were playing on the stores PA system.

We were at one door of the store greeting shoppers and collecting donations in our kettle, when all of a sudden there was a commotion at the other door.

A man ran out of the store. He was closely followed by two other men in white butcher smocks. The men in the smocks tackled the man in the parking lot. They were trying to hold him down, but he was struggling & screaming as they pulled several cuts of meat from under his coat. The erstwhile meat thief continued to yell, flail and kick.

I turned to my wife and said, “I should probably go help them.” I kept flex-cuffs (large heavy duty zip-ties) in my car. I grabbed some flex-cuffs, walked over and knelt next to the struggling man.

He was facing away from me. In my “soothing,” authoritative voice, that I used for arrests and reading someone their rights, I told him, we could let him up, but he needed to let me put these cuffs on him.

The man turned his head to look at me, and his eyes got very big.

I’m about 6’4” and weighed about 235 lbs. I had forgotten I was wearing a Santa hat and a big red vest. After staring at me for a few moments, he asked, “who are you?” I smiled and replied, “I’m Santa’s helper.”

He immediately stopped fighting and struggling. He submissively allowed me to place the cuffs on him. The butchers and I stood him up, and he placidly waited for the police to arrive.

I have often thought there might be some profound Dickens type message to be derived from this incident. I don’t know if the meat thief was stealing prime rib for his family, sort of a protein version of Jean Valjean, or maybe he was planning to host a barbecue at a homeless enclave.

There is certainly some irony in collecting donations for the Salvation Army at one door of a grocery store, and at the same time, to have an economically disadvantaged meat thief fleeing from the other door.

Maybe the message is as simple as, if you’re poor and hungry at Christmas time, there are places other than your local grocery store you can go that care, like the Salvation Army.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 

Weekend Series on Crime: The Real Sopranos — The DeCavalcante Family

http://youtu.be/NcnVqm0afjc

http://youtu.be/_qbRliFj3W8

http://youtu.be/A0EuXB-0sNo

Barry Bonds Gets 30 Days of House Arrest in Illegal Steroid Case

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

One time baseball slugger Barry Bonds was sentenced Friday in San Francisco federal court to 30 days of house arrest, two years probation and a $4,000 fine for his obstruction of justice conviction in 2003 tied to his testimony to a grand jury probing illegal steroid use, CNN reported.

The network reported that Bond was to remain free pending his appeal.

CNN reported that fed prosecutors had recommended in a sentencing memo that Bonds, 47, serve 15 months in prison.

To read more click here.

FBI Considered a Sting Aimed at Newt Gingrich in 1997

By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post

WASHINGTON –It is a curious case in the annals of the FBI: The bureau considered a sting operation against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich after sifting through allegations from a notorious arms dealer that a $10 million bribe might get Congress to lift the Iraqi arms embargo.

The FBI ended up calling off the operation in June 1997. It decided there was no evidence that Gingrich knew anything about the conversations the arms dealer was secretly recording with a man who said he was acting on behalf of Gingrich’s then-wife, Marianne, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

But details of the case, which became public this week in an article and documents posted online by a nonprofit journalist, show how a series of second- and third-hand conversations alleging that the top man in Congress might be for sale caught the attention of federal investigators.

To read full story click here.

GOP Candidates Attack Atty. Gen. Holder Over Fast and Furious

FBI Faces Lawsuit in Ft. Hood Shooting

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan/dod photo

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

The FBI could be in for a big legal battle — and a costly one at that —  as more than 80 claimants seek damages of $750 million from the bureau, the US Army, the Justice Department and the Department of Defense for a 2009 incident at Ft. Hood  that left 13 dead, reports Safety BLR.com.

Beside the deaths, dozens were left wounded when Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire at Fort Hood in Texas in November of 2009 in the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center.

Despite “clear knowledge and warnings that Hasan posed a grave danger” to soldiers and civilians, claims the suit, government agencies did not respond accordingly. “On the contrary, bowing to ‘political correctness,’ the DOD, DOA, DOJ, and FBI in wanton disregard of the safety of military and civilian personnel, intentionally ignored the threat he presented,” says the suit.

To read more click here.

ATF Announces New Philly Leader

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

The ATF’s Philadelphia Field Office is about to see some new leadership, reports PR Newswire.

Sheree L. Mixell was named the Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Field Division on Thursday.

The Indiana native began her career as a special agent with ATF in 1990 and has over 23 years of law enforcement experience. For three years,  she served as a member of the Baltimore Field Division Special Response Team, responding to high risk situations and apprehending some of the region’s most violent criminals, according to the report.

She most recently served  as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Baltimore Field Division, directing and providing oversight for daily investigations for Maryland and Delaware.

To read more click here.

 

Extremism on the Rise in Northwest?

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

Is extremism on the rise in the Northwest part of the country? A  report from the Columbian newspaper out of Vancouver, Wash., seems to point to that.

One example: As a house in Washougal, Wash.,  burned to the ground recently a self-proclaimed white separatist shot at firefighters to keep them away, reports the Columbian, in one of several incidents in which “extremists of various kinds made news in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.”

A representative of the Montana Human Rights Network told the paper the reasons included a black president, growing distrust with the federal government, a bad economy and continuing growth among minority groups.

“All of this has created a perfect storm of anger, fear, and resentment that white supremacists are trying to tap into and capitalize upon,” Travis McAdam said.

To read more click here.