Our ladies in blue – they first wore skirts with their badges and guns

Earl Musick (HPD Retired)

While reminiscing about my academy days in the Houston Police Department, I noticed Sandy Byers (Womack) and Susan Loucks (Richards) were wearing skirts in Class No. 34’s picture.  I then remembered that for many years skirts and heels were the required uniform for female police officers.

After all this drama, they lost the suspect and returned to the club to talk with the people inside.  The club patrons knew Haynes’ name and his address.  So Ed and Sharron waited at Haynes’ home until he returned. When he did, they placed him under arrest. The next day a citizen found the gun Haynes used in the shooting in one of the neighbor’s yard.  Dreams do sometimes come true and Sharron is convinced God was watching over her and the dreams were a warning. She has never had that type of dream again.

One last point of interest regarding Haynes is his two trials.  The first jury found him guilty of attempted capital murder of a police officer and his punishment was assessed at 75 years in prison with no fine. Haynes would have nothing to do with this sentence and his lawyer actually won a new trial after error was found in the first trial.  He was again tried for shooting at Ed and Sharron and on Feb. 7, 1985 a jury in the 180th District Court again found him guilty. But this time the jury assessed an 89-year prison sentence and a $3,000 fine, which affects Haynes’ commissary.

With more female police officers being placed on the streets, many male officers were concerned about how policewomen would react in stressful situations where someone’s life was in danger?  During her career, Sharron certainly showed she could handle herself in these touchy situations.

Another example of handling a stressful encounter occurred on Dec. 29, 1980. Paula J. Fleming (Mitchell) was involved in a police shooting while working Central Patrol, night shift.  Paula was riding a one-officer unit when she responded to a call in the 1400 block of Richmond Avenue.  (Notice how you want to call it a one-man unit)  The call involved a sexual assault in progress, man with a gun.  Officer J. R. Dziedzic, a one-man unit, also responded to this call and found the suspect, who was armed with a pistol, had just sexually assaulted the victim.  When the suspect saw Officer Dziedzic, he started running east through the apartment project toward Paula’s location.

Pellets in the Face

Paula saw the armed suspect running and jumping from car hood to car hood across the parked cars, headed in her direction.  Using her car door as cover, Paula yelled for the suspect to stop and he raised his gun to shoot her.  Paula immediately fired four rapid shots, striking the suspect in the chest area with all four rounds.  Even after falling to the ground the suspect once again raised his gun and Paula fired her fifth round hitting the suspect again.

Officer H. P. Trumper was also responding to the call and witnessed the suspect’s final attempt to shoot Paula and he also fired at the suspect on the ground.  All six shots fired by both officers struck the suspect, who was later identified as Barry Wayne Stone, an ex-con for Burglary of a Building and Aggravated Assault.

While in the hospital recovering from six gunshot wounds, Stone was charged in the 262nd District Court with aggravated sexual assault, sexual abuse, aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon (two counts) and the attempted capital murder of a police officer.  He was prosecuted by Harris County prosecutor Rusty Hardin and the jury found him guilty, sentencing him to 99 years in prison.  Knute Rockneis credited with saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Paula’s handling of an extremely stressful situation, showed she could be counted on when the “going got tough.” 

The Department’s first twin females to serve as police officers are Brenda Leatherwood (Roberts), Class 89, and Belinda Leatherwood, Class 93. Belinda provided a picture of them together and also of interest; Brenda was the Department’s first female police officer “wounded in the line of duty” and she received the Blue Heart Award.

On April 27, 1982, Brenda and partner Greg Reed on-viewed a robbery in progress at a 7-Eleven store.  The suspects fled in a pickup truck which was finally stopped when the truck turned into an apartment project with no exit.  Three of the suspects jumped out of the truck and fled.  The driver, John Michael Mason, was an escapee from Oklahoma and had been involved in several armed robberies.  Mason did not flee; he instead stayed to shoot it out with the police.

Mason fired a 20-gauge shotgun at Brenda as she approached the truck. She retreated back to the cover of her police car before returning fire.  He fired again and this time she realized she was hit in the face with several pellets from the shotgun.  Brenda did not know which shot hit her face and both rounds may have hit her since she had numerous pellets in her face and the glasses she was wearing were shattered, causing her to have glass in her eyes.

Officer Robert W. Wiggins was behind Brenda and he received a minor wound to his hand from the shotgun blasts.  After Mason fired his second round, the shotgun jammed and Greg arrested him as other units arrived.  After the arrest, Greg learned Brenda had been shot in the face.

Brenda still carries 21shotgun pellets in her face from her encounter with Mason.  The doctor told Brenda it would be better to leave the pellets there as opposed to taking a chance of scarring from their removal.  From the picture Belinda provided, you can see Brenda is still a beautiful lady.

Great Achievements

Both Belinda and Brenda promoted to sergeant and are currently in Phase Down. Greg is now a lawyer in Austin and remembers in detail the events of this shooting.  He remembers all the blood on Brenda’s face and the ride to the hospital in the ambulance.  He remembers with pride how Brenda handled this traumatic experience and is proud to say she was his partner.

From all accounts I received regarding Brenda’s shootout; she handled the situation very well.

The accomplishments made by these new female police officers are phenomenal and their stories could fill a book.  Female police officers have fought all the way up the ranks to the very top with Elizabeth “Betsy” Watson being Houston’s first female chief of police from Jan. 19, 1990 to March 3, 1992.

Our Department has come a long way since the mid-seventies and there is not enough room to mention all the advances in rank these females have made in a male-dominated Department.

Houston has many stories regarding the meritorious achievements of our female police officers and I have only shared a few.  But because there has been so very little written about Houston’s policewomen, I felt compelled to write something about their many contributions in the Department as I remember it.

 

Earl Musick, a practicing Houston attorney, is a retired HPD lieutenant. He regularly tells “war stories” and comments about HPD’s storied history.

Facing the dangers associated with police work required new thinking about the way female officers dressed and it became obvious they needed a more functional uniform.  So in early 1975, thanks to Kathy, these lady pioneers of the Traffic Bureau exchanged their skirts and heels for the traditional uniform worn by their male coworkers.

Kathy has some fascinating stories about her outstanding career.  If you should see Kathy, thank her for the contributions she made and for being the first female police officer to earn her wings in SWAT.

With the confirmation of Houston Police Chief Carol M. Lynn on Jan. 9, 1974, the Department focused on recruiting more female officers into a male-dominated police department.  This focus was not embraced by all Department leaders and certainly not by all of its officers.  It was as if HPD expected these new female recruits to fail, but they were a determined bunch who would prove their critics wrong.

Early Injustice

These new female recruits witnessed many injustices.  Just to name a few, Michele being denied access to street duty in Patrol.  Also, according to retired Police Officer Warren L. Givens, in December 1974, female officers were required to work in the Dispatchers Division, yet they could not work the dispatch mike.  Females were also sent back to the Jail Division for multiple rotations, unlike male officers.

Chief Herman Short refused to promote Officer Patricia R. “Pat” Lykos when she was number one on the sergeant’s list.  These and other unjust practices would change with time but these new female recruits had to deal with a Department institutionalized in tradition.

It would be 1978 before HPD promoted its first female sergeant.  Cindy Landry Massey received the honor of being the first female sergeant when Chief Harry Caldwell promoted her.  Cindy provided me with a photograph of her and other female officers wearing the Department uniform of the time.  As mentioned previously, the Department was striving to recruit more women and the photograph was used in advertising openings for female officers.                      

Our Department had come a long way since Houston’s first female police officer.  According to information in the Houston Police Museum, Eva Jane Bacher was hired in 1918 and records show Eva worked in the Public Morals and Safety Squad, which was staffed with detectives in 1921.  During this time, detectives were paid an additional $5 a month for their rank.  Records in the museum show Eva Bacher making detective’s salary, which makes her officially the first female detective in the Houston Police Department.  After Houston police officers obtained Civil Service the rank of detective became part of the promotional process and remained that way until 1983.

Being a female in a male-dominated profession certainly had its drawbacks and in 1929, Houston Chief of Police Charles W. McPhail fired Eva Bacher under the rule that allowed him to fire any police officer “for the good of the service.”  Chief McPhail believed women should not be police officers and during the 1970’s women on Houston’s streets were finding there were still officers in the department who shared Chief McPhail’s opinion.

Policewoman War Stories

Recently I sent out a request for “war stories” involving these early female police officers and was overwhelmed by responses.  Their “war stories” were not only extremely interesting; they convinced me that female police officers really are “for the good of the service” and Houston’s new female police officers wasted no time in showing their value.

Even though female officers in the Traffic Bureau were proving they could handle themselves on the streets, it would be late December 1975 before they were allowed to answer calls for service and patrol the streets in the Radio Patrol Bureau.  After graduating from Class No. 71, Officers Judy A. Jacobs and Shirley D. Linwood (Williams) were assigned to Patrol on Dec. 5, 1975.  Their assignment changed the Department’s prohibition of having female officers running calls for service and working the streets in Patrol.

Shirley and Judy were assigned to Central Division on the evening shift.  Judy was assigned to the early shift (2 p.m. – 10 pm) and her first training partner was Officer John A. Long.  I was unable to locate Shirley since she left the Department before retirement, but according to Judy, Shirley worked the late shift (3 p.m. – 11 p.m.)  After almost 33 years of service, Judy honorably retired.

In an article Judy furnished, The Houston Post proclaimed Judy and Shirley as the first female police officers assigned directly to patrol duties from the academy.  Some sources credit Officer Mae E. Walker with being the first female officer assigned to ride the streets in the Radio Patrol Bureau.  However, according to the museum, Mae was not assigned to Patrol, Park Place Division, until February 1976.  Finding who the first actual female police officer working on the streets in Patrol is difficult to determine without having access to personnel records.

Judy Jacobs provided me with some early war stories. On Jan. 28, 1976, the 100 Club of Houston honored its first female “Rookie of the Year.”  Houston policewoman Sharron Doyle (Shirey), a mother of two, was the recipient of this prestigious award.  Her supervisor, Sgt. Melton Simmons made the recommendation due to the significance of an arrest she and her training partner, Officer Paul Blackshear, made.

According to both The Post and the Chronicle, these two officers arrested a drug carrier and made the Department’s largest seizure of cocaine during that era.  The arrest came from a traffic stop and high speed chase of the violator.  As for Sharron’s ability as a police officer, she received rave reviews during her probationary period.

While talking with Sharron Doyle Shirey, she told me about her experience of being shot at for the first time while working Patrol.  Officer Ed Kettler and Sharron were regular partners in the North East Patrol Division when they received the disturbance call that led to the shooting.

What makes this event even more interesting is Sharron’s reoccurring dreams about her and Ed being in a shootout with “a man in red.”  For three straight nights Sharron dreamed about this “man in red” shooting involving her and Ed.  Sharron was very concerned about this dream and talked about it every day while they patrolled their beat.  She kept telling Ed they needed to be careful because the dream seemed so real.

Dream becomes Reality

On March 15, 1982, just after signing on for duty, they received a disturbance call regarding a man with a gun at a bar.  Just as they arrived at the bar, Freddie Lee Haynes came out of the front door wearing red sweat pants and shirt. He had blood all over his chest.  Both officers thought about Sharron’s dream and noticed Haynes had one hand behind his back.  It was about this time that Haynes brought his hand forward and Sharron saw the gun in his hand, as he fired.  It was just like her dream!

Ed returned the gunfire, but citizens obstructed Sharron’s shot and she could not return Haynes’ fire.  The suspect was not hit and fled after his first shot.  Now the chase was on as Haynes ran around a building and through neighborhood yards.  Sharron and Ed split up during the chase and when Sharron ran around the corner of a building she encountered a Doberman, which was chained up. The dog latched onto Sharron’s leg but luckily, because the dog was chained, she was able to get away with only puncture wounds to her calf.

My search for more information about women police officers in Houston, led me to the academy and the class pictures lining the walls.  There I learned that Michele A. Raney (Scheibe) of Class No. 70 was the first female officer pictured wearing uniform pants in her class photo from September 26, 1975.

After talking with Michele, I learned the Traffic Bureau was already wearing uniform pants on the street when she graduated from the academy and Michele did not know when the Department made the transition from skirts to pants.  She suggested I talk with Kathy Black McDonald, since Michele believed her to be the first female police officer to work the streets in the Traffic Enforcement Division.   I was now even more determined to learn about the transition from skirts, heals and no gun belts to the uniform they currently wear.

High Heels, no Gun Belts

Another point of interest regarding Michele was her choice of assignments.  Traditionally, finishing in the top 10 percent of your class meant you could choose your uniform assignment after graduation.  Even though Michele achieved this honor, her choice of going to the Radio Patrol Bureau was denied, because the Department did not allow women police officers on the streets in Patrol.  This made me wonder even more about the first ladies on patrol and how this occurred.

While talking with Kathy, I learned about how the transition came about. Kathy also shared with me a picture of five female police officers assigned to the Traffic Bureau. It was taken in early 1975.  Two of the female officers from the group pictured were assigned to the Traffic Control Division, two were assigned to the Accident Division and Kathy was assigned to the Traffic Enforcement Division.

The females are posing with Inspector Leroy Mouser, who was in charge of the Traffic Bureau, and the police women are wearing the required uniform of the time; notice the heels and no gun belts.  The five police officers are from Class No. 65 and Class No. 66.  Kathy’s picture and story made me realize the Department had not written or documented very much information about the historic changing role of Houston’s women police officers that occurred during my career.

Looking at Kathy’s picture, my first question was, “Did they send you out on the street dressed like that?”  Her answer was, “Yes, they actually did.”  Because of Kathy’s first days on the streets, the Department made changes in the way female officers dressed – they would wear police pants and gun belts like the male officers.

Before this change, Kathy wrote her first traffic ticket on the North Freeway and 610 Loop with Channel 11 News filming this historic event.  She was dressed in heels and a skirt, while carrying her service revolver and handcuffs inside her purse, which was on her shoulder.  Channel 11 proclaimed Houston now had women patrolling our streets for the first time.

In early 1975, Kathy and the female police officers in the Traffic Bureau changed the traditional role of HPD’s women police officers.  These early women in Traffic also changed the way Houston police women dressed.  By the time Michele graduated in September 1975, female officers were already wearing the uniform pants with a gun belt and working the streets in the Traffic Bureau.

Michele A. Raney (Scheibe)

It was not just the dress that changed; Houston had begun a new era and women officers were taking on new responsibilities.  Although female officers always played an important role in the Department, they were now patrolling the streets, facing the many dangers of confronting traffic violators.

I remembered several officers killed or injured in the line of duty after stopping traffic violators.  There was Officer Louis Sander, who was killed in the line of duty on January 21, 1967, while I was just a cadet.  Officer Sander was shot and killed after stopping a violator for running a stop sign.  Another police officer killed during a traffic stop was Officer Ben E. Gerhart.

On June 26, 1968, a suspect shot and killed Officer Gerhart on the side of the North Loop as he was issuing a littering ticket.  I remember listening to the police radio as Officer Bobby L. James, who worked in the Traffic Bureau, pursued the suspect’s vehicle.  During that chase, Officer James lost control of his car and crashed into a culvert, dying instantly.

Just stopping a violator on a freeway presents many dangers.  On December 10, 1971, we lost Officer Claude Ronnie Beck, who was struck and killed by a passing vehicle while getting out of his patrol car on a freeway stop.  Now in 1975, the Department was exposing policewomen, for the first time, to these and other dangers.  Kathy’s first ticket was a traffic stop on a freeway.

Police officers realize the dangers they face each time they report for duty and they never know when their life might end abruptly.  It is no different for the female officers.  The Department has had three female police officers “killed in the line of duty” doing their job in a career they loved.   This article will not cover the tragic loss of these three young lives, but these police officers will never be forgotten.  Please take a few minutes to read about their untimely deaths and the families they left behind in “Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City,” by retired HPD Homicide Lt. Nelson Zoch).