From out of the past at HPD

Earl Musick


Why do police officers love their job? Franklin P. Jones said this about love, “Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” A worthwhile police career is found when someone truly loveshis job. The policemen I respect the most are the ones that loved being police officers.

One such police officer is retired HPD Officer James B. Haney. Anyone, who knows or knew James can attest to his love of being a member of the Houston Police Department. As a young police officer in Radio Patrol, I worked with Officer Haney on many occasions and recently we reminisced about our careers. During our conversation, he told me some interesting stories about his father’s career at HPD.

During World War I, James’ father Charles Wesley Haney enlisted in the Army. However, he was injured during training and was never sent to fight in Europe. At the end of the war, America adopted the 18th Amendment to our Constitution beginning the era known as Prohibition (1920-1933). Houston, like the rest of the nation, experienced the “Roarin’ 20’s” just before the “Great Depression” of the 30’s.

Charles Haney was a Houston police officer during this period and throughout the years of World War II. According to his personnel file, he began his career as a patrolman on March 9, 1925, during Prohibition and the Roarin’ 20’s. The chief of police at the time was Thomas C. Gooodson, who served from 1923 through 1930. During his years as a police officer Mayor Oscar J. Holcombe served several terms as Houston’s mayor.

As a young patrol officer with less than a year’s seniority, Charles distinguished himself with the mayor and Houston’s Fire and Police Commissioner. While walking his nightshift beat, Charles came across a burglary in progress at a downtown automobile dealership.

This burglary was not just the run-of-the-mill safe burglary. It involved Charles’ sergeant, who was working with two “knob knockers” (safecrackers). Charles had walked in on the trio and caught them red-handed breaking into the dealership’s safe.

Charles’ sergeant tried to pull rank on him, but found this honest cop would have nothing to do with it.  Charles disarmed his own sergeant and called for a paddy wagon for his three prisoners. They pleaded with him and offered to cut him in on the take, but Charles was scrupulously honest. All three of the burglars were charged, convicted and sent to prison.

With all the events going on in Houston during this time period, it is safe to say things were quite different at HPD.    Prohibition made the possession of liquor illegal, yet a great number of the population still consumed it.  Some of the citizens demanded strict enforcement and others believed the police should just look the other way.

There existed very little Civil Service protection with police officers serving at the whim of politicians. Just arresting the wrong person could cost a police officer his job. Charles told his sons how the arrest of a Houston bootlegger almost ended his career at HPD in 1928.

Even though possession of liquor was illegal, many bootleggers operated under the quasi-approval of the police and politicians. According to the story Charles told his sons, Chief Goodson was in a friendly poker game when the group ran out of liquor. The chief contacted a bootlegger to bring more liquor to the game, but the bootlegger was arrested before he could return.

Charles was the on-duty desk sergeant when he received a call enquiring about the bootlegger.  Not realizing the caller was his chief, he put the phone down and checked to see if the bootlegger was in the jail.  Learning that this individual was indeed behind bars, Charles returned to the phone only to find that no one was at the other end of the line. He then hung up the phone and continued with his duties.

About 15 minutes after hanging up, the chief came into the jail inquiring about who had just taken the call about the prisoner.  When Charles told the chief it was him, the chief became angry and accused Charles of hanging up on him and not providing the information the chief requested. Charles tried to explain, but the chief told him he was fired for hanging up the phone on him.

Charles became upset and told the chief he could not fire him because he quit.  He removed his badge and gun and placed them on the desk.  Charles then said, “I won’t work another day for a son of a bitch like you.” He then left the jail and went home to his family.

When Mayor Holcombe learned of this event, he had his police and fire commissioner summon Charles to his office.  There, they tried to get Charles to apologize to the chief and go back to work.  Charles felt he had done nothing wrong and refused to go back to work under those conditions.

After several failed attempts to get Charles to apologize, the mayor said, “Haney, you’re the most hardheaded fellow I believe I have ever seen.” The mayor finally convinced Charles to go back to the chief and say he was sorry it happened.

With that agreement Charles swallowed his pride and told the chief he was sorry it happened and he was given back his badge and gun.  Charles returned to his current job and position and his personnel file reflects he received a three-day suspension for insubordination on Nov. 23, 1928.

Charles Haney was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in June of 1933 and he honorably served on HPD until May 16, 1945. In Charles Haney’s separation letter to Chief Percy F. Heard he wrote: “I joined the Department March 9, 1925, and I have enjoyed every day of my work since that time.”

Charles Haney’s son, James B. Haney, entered HPD Academy Class No. 22 on Sept. 14, 1959, and became a police officer on Dec. 15, 1959.  James honorably retired on Feb. 8, 2002, after an outstanding career at HPD.  Knowing James, he would probably echo what his father said about his career: “I have enjoyed every day of my work”.

In the late 60’s, while working Radio Patrol evening shift, it was not unusual to hear Officer Haney on the police radio, “621, we’ll be out at the Cellar on a check.”  Then shortly after that transmission you would hear, “621, we’ll be out at Central with a prisoner.”  During this time period there was only one radio channel for the entire city and no matter what part of town you worked, you heard what was going on in the entire city.

Back then, Officer James B. Haney and Officer Ernesto J. Arredondo were the police officers assigned to unit 621 and the Cellar was a popular downtown night club and hippie hangout.  Not only did this pair of officers check on the problem areas of their beat, they were always volunteering for calls for service and making arrests.

One unusual call for service handled by unit 621, involved a loose African lion at the SPCA shelter, located at 519 Sachs.  The lion had mauled a citizen before Officer Arredondo arrived on the scene and there was no way to contain or tranquilize the lion.  For the safety of the citizens in the area, Officer Arredondo had to shoot the lion with his .357 Revolver.

Killing a loose African lion on the streets of Houston was unusual, but two months later another lion was spotted in the same beat in the 2400 block of Washington Avenue.  Again Officer Arredondo and Officer Haney responded to the call.  This lion had been injured and was dragging a chain. Several police officers began trying to contain this lion and were waiting for an animal control unit with a tranquilizer.

Although the lion had not attacked anyone, injured wild animals are very unpredictable and dangerous.  Jerrol Lowe, the director of the SPCA, told the police that pet lions can become wild and dangerous when confronted with unfamiliar surroundings and crowds of strange people.

A crowd of citizens had already gathered nearby and Sergeant Richard Nixon gave the order to kill the lion.  Officer Arredondo again used his duty weapon and ended any potential threat. Officer Haney vividly recalled both events with the African lions and credits his partner with being the only HPD officer to have killed two African lions on separate calls months apart while working the streets of Houston.

In the early 70’s, I received a robbery in progress call at the Kroger Supermarket in the River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray.  As a teenager, I had worked in this same store for Mr. Johnson, the store manager. Upon arrival, I learned Mr. Johnson had been shot and he sustained life-threatening injuries.

Unknown to any of the units speeding to the location, Officer Haney had just left the store minutes before the robbery and shooting.  Officer Haney was off-duty in his personal vehicle when he heard the call go out on his police scanner.  After hearing the robbery in progress call, he immediately turned his vehicle around and headed back to the store.

As Officer Haney pulled into the parking lot he saw one of the suspects running from the store with a box of money in one hand and a .45 automatic in the other.  The suspect ran into the neighborhood subdivision behind the store.

Although Haney was alone with no radio communication, he pursued the armed suspect.

When the robber saw the officer in pursuit, he dropped the box of money and fled into a house in the neighborhood.  While Officer Haney was picking up the money, Officer Ben Norman arrived at the store.  A worker on the store’s roof had watched Officer Haney’s pursuit of the suspect and quickly pointed out the suspect’s location.

Officer Norman immediately went to assist Officer Haney and notified the dispatcher of the suspect’s location.  Several units arrived as Haney and Norman approached the house where the suspect was in hiding. The frightened homeowner told them how the suspect forced his way into her home and threatened her with a gun.

She told them the suspect ran to her bedroom when he saw the officers coming toward the house. Officers Haney and Norman went straight to this room and found the suspect hiding under a bed.  He still had the gun he used to shoot Mr. Johnson, but it was now empty with no bullets.

After a brief conversation with the suspect, he told officers who the other suspects were and where they could be found. All the suspects were arrested and charged in the robbery and attempted capital murder.

Back at the store, Mr. Johnson was taken by ambulance to the hospital and he survived the shooting. I was glad he pulled through since he was a good man and an excellent store manager who treated his employees fairly.

These are only a few of the many stories that could be told about Officer James Haney’s HPD career.  James kept a book with pictures of criminals he arrested and cases he worked during his career. He has a lot of fond memories of HPD and the officers he worked with.

Retired police officer James Haney still attends all police reunions and is active in the Houston Police Retired Officers Association. Anyone who knew James Haney, knew he loved being a police officer and enjoyed working. Is it any wonder his son James B. Haney Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps?

James B. Haney Jr. entered HPD Academy Class No. 82 in June of 1978, and served almost 37 years before honorably retiring in March of 2015, as a sergeant in the Burglary & Theft Division. Needless to say, James is extremely proud of his son.

While researching for this article, I learned James also has a grandson in law enforcement. In December 2004, Officer Jonathan Lartigue graduated from the Tulsa Police Academy and is a Tulsa police officer.  Jonathan is the grandson of James B. Haney, the great grandson of Charles Wesley Haney and the nephew of James B. Haney Jr. He is also fourth generation law enforcement and loves being a police officer.

As I researched memories for this article, I remembered something Mike McCoy said about his career at HPD:  “It was like having a front row seat to the greatest show on earth.”

I have always maintained every member of law enforcement is a part of history and they play a role in the greatest show on earth. Hopefully, you have enjoyed some of the memories I have shared with you about the Haney family’s role in that great circuit out there.