Once Upon a Time . . . special deputy

Writing “Once Upon a Time . . . the news” reminded me of something only other old cops might fully appreciate. Still, I thought sharing might be fun, as it highlights a bit of Fort Worth history and politics.

My dad, Ralph Jackson, was a lot of things. I won’t go into most of them, but his gift for gab was the one that takes front and center today. He was a first-class schmoozer, and his prowess in this area brought him a good deal of short-term success over the years. It also put him in the hot seat on more than one occasion.

His award-winning coverage of the 1958 military airplane crash near Bridgeport, Texas, was one of those good news-bad news situations. It won him praise from executives at WFAA Television, ABC Television and national exposure through Movietone News. On the other hand, he caught a lot of flak from the other reporters, freelancers, and news agencies covering the tragedy because of the way he scooped them. Of course, one-upmanship and professional jealousy were part and parcel of the news business. The real problem, for him, in the long run, was the political impact of his actions.

In those days, law enforcement was much like the old Western movies. A sheriff could deputize anyone, and Ralph Jackson always wanted a badge and a gun. He couldn’t talk fast enough to warrant carrying a six-shooter. Still, he spoke smoothly enough to convince then Sheriff Harlan Wright he should be a “Special Deputy.” That won him a badge and permission to equip his personal vehicle with red lights, sirens, and a police radio.

He was driving a bright red 1957 Dodge coupe at that time. Equipped with red lights in the grill, a police frequency two-way radio, and the 102” whip antenna required by the radio, it looked more like a fire department vehicle than a cop car. Dad could not care less. He only cared about tooling around town at night, monitoring the police radio, and getting to stories before anyone else knew something was happening.

Most people, including the reporters and other folks in the news business, did not have a problem with the arrangement. Sheriffs were not all-powerful, but they had a lot of leeway. Sheriff Wright ran his department as he pleased. Also, truth be known, none of the other news folks wanted to go to the trouble and expense of installing police equipment in their cars. They were content to let Dad play deputy. That is, they were okay with it until the Bridgeport crash.

In the story about the crash, I mentioned that Dad was the first Dallas-Fort Worth reporter on the scene. He was the first on the scene because he used his red lights and siren to beat everyone else to the crash site. He then used them to take his film to the television station in Dallas, allowing Channel 8 to show footage of the crash hours before the other stations.

To say the other reporters and their bosses were upset would be like saying Hillary Clinton was a bit miffed that Donald Trump won the election. First, they realized Dad’s relationship with the sheriff had given him a significant advantage in reporting the biggest story of the year, if not the decade. Additionally, some were more than a little embarrassed when they realized that the red car with lights and siren they pulled over for was the competition, not the authorities.

They were hopping mad and let anyone who would listen know it. Dad, of course, was happy as a clam. The sheriff did remind him he was not a real deputy and that getting to a news story was not an emergency. Besides that, Dad continued to operate as he pleased for a while.

Two years later, the sheriff may have regretted letting Dad slide. Lon Evans defeated Sheriff Wright in the election. As I remember it, one of Mr. Evan’s campaign promises was to stop the abuse of the sheriff’s authority in the area of special deputies.

Dad’s little stunt to scoop everyone on the Bridgeport story helped unseat Sheriff Wright. Since there was a new sheriff in town, Dad’s badge, red lights, and radio were quickly history. That folks, is the story of my dad’s life. He spent much of his time pedal-to-the-metal, flashing red lights, siren wailing, laughing at those who could not keep up, and never considering the consequences until they bit him on the butt.

© oneoldcop.com – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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