Los Angeles has never had the reputation for police corruption that other U.S. cities have had, but that doesn’t mean that L.A. law enforcement has been perfect — far from it. As Chief William H. Parker once said in response to questions about corruption and brutality in the LAPD:
“We’ll always have cases like this because we have one big problem in selecting police officers…we have to recruit from the human race.”
The human race is a problematic gene pool at best, and with this post I’m beginning a series of occasional tales called “Cops Behaving Badly”. First up is Deputy Ted Swift.
On October 7, 1939, Deputy Swift stumbled his way into The Dinner Bell Cafe at 1604-1/2 North Vine Street, adjacent to the Brown Derby in Hollywood. He eyeballed two cute waitresses, Jessie Clark and Cleme Reeves, and in his inebriated condition Swift thought that they would find him irresistible.Ted had seriously miscalculated his sex appeal so when he tried to corner the two young women behind the counter they slipped beyond his reach.
Failing to get his arms around either Jessie or Cleme, Swift turned his attention to Michael Aronson who was seated at the counter washing down an early breakfast with a cup of coffee. Taking an immediate and violent dislike to Aronson’s fedora, Swift began to verbally abuse the startled man and then ordered him, and his hat, out of the cafe.
Aronson hadn’t had enough time to finish his coffee, let alone leave a tip for his waitress, so he tried to re-enter the cafe. Swift caught a glimpse of the hated chapeau and drew his revolver. Rather than turn his weapon on the fedora, and the head on which it was perched, he decided to fire on six helpless custard pies! Flecks of creamy custard and bits of crust flew everywhere, and when the smoke cleared half a dozen innocent pies had been senselessly slaughtered.
As Swift unloaded a volley of rounds into the unarmed pies, patrons of the cafe dove for cover under tables and beneath the counter. It was at this point that Police Officer Monte Sherman arrived — and so did several squad cars filled with detectives.
Ted was quickly, or should that be swiftly, subdued and taken to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was determined to be shit-faced.
Undersheriff Arthur C. Jewell was not happy with Deputy Swift and offered him an opportunity to resign. If he didn’t take the Undersheriff up on his generous offer he would be fired.
Swift was infinitely more popular with his fellow officers than he was with the Undersheriff because they passed a hat (probably NOT a fedora) and collected $75 to pay the costs of the broken crockery, punctured walls and slain pies at the Dinner Bell Cafe.
On October 24, 1949 two men were injured and three killed on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam when the amphibian plane they were test landing snagged its landing wheels in the water, slammed over on it back and burst into flames. One of the dead was former deputy Ted Swift.
NOTE: Thanks again to my friend Mike Fratantoni for a great idea.