He was only 17 years old, a high school senior, and he came downtown that night to watch the Infant Mystics (IM's) parade. He was a good boy; he went to church regularly, made decent grades, had parents who loved him and he loved them. At 119 pounds, he was the last person you would expect to be involved in any trouble. He'd never even been to the principal's office. Before the evening was over, however, trouble would find him, but a chance encounter with a Mobile police officer changed him forever.
It was February 18, 1985 and the young man came down to the Sheraton Inn Hotel (now the Holiday Inn on Government street) to watch the IM's. As the IM's rolled through town that night, the young man would notice some of his high school buddies behind the barricades. As the floats and marching bands passed by, a friend nearby sailed a Lookout Moon-pie into the band. Seeing a nearby officer, the "friend" and his entourage immediately darted in to the Mobile evening and were lost in the crowd. The crowd parted to reveal the young man. Having done nothing wrong, the young man stood still. A nearby police officer looked at the young man, and pointed at him. The young man pointed at himself and responded, "Who, me?" The officer shook his head and motioned for him to come to the barricade. The young man obeyed and as he reached the barricade, the officer yanked him over the barricade and arrested him. The police officer snatched the young man with such force that it catapulted him into the street, where the officer shoved a Billy club into his neck.
Shortly after this, the paddy wagon drove up and the young man disappeared into it. For the first time in his life, the young man was arrested. Pleas of his actual innocence went ignored. His father had left the parade earlier and was eating dinner with the young man's mother at The Bienville Club. With no cell phone and betrayed by his so-called friends, he was all on his own, left only to face an angry police officer who presumed his guilt. This was quite a lonely place to be for any innocent accused, much less this 119-pound high school senior. His mind raced and terror gripped him.
The paddy wagon was unusually clean for this late in the Mardi Gras season. Expecting an immediate trip to jail, the young man was surprised by the delay as he sat in the back of the paddy wagon . A call over the radio came in that there was a stabbing at the Government Street McDonald's and that several adult suspects were in custody. Since the young man was a minor, arrangements had to be made to transfer him out of the paddy wagon to make room for the adult suspects. The paddy wagon driver notified a nearby squad car, "we have a juvenile; we're gonna put him in a squad a car." His ears perked up and he thought, "Yeah, put me in a squad car!"
Soon, the paddy wagon came to a stop, and back door swung open to reveal a middle-aged man who seemed different, in a good way. This officer took the young man by the arm and then let him go. The officer instructed the young man, "Walk around the car and get in the front seat." The young man was shocked, "Don't you need to walk with me?" The officer responded, "Just get you butt in the car." And that's how they met. The officer let this young man sit in the front seat with him - no questions asked and no handcuffs. The boy, sensing an officer who would listen and hear him, pitched his woeful tale of wrong place, wrong time and his actual innocence. The officer let him speak, and he listened. This officer seemed very interested in the young man's protest of actual innocence. Call it compassion, call it sympathy, call it whatever, but the boy now felt at ease. The terror which had gripped the young man since his arrest slowly subsided. Hearing the boy out, the officer uttered the unbelievable - "Young man, I believe you. And if what you are telling me is the truth, you will have nothing to worry about." The boy couldn't believe his ears. Finally, someone believed that he was really innocent. However, the officer explained to him that it was protocol for him to accept the arresting officer's decision to arrest at this point, "We have to take the arresting officer's word." If this officer had any discretion in the matter, he very well may have driven the young man home. The officer was stern, but he was fair. The boy was at least resigned to his fate now, but had hope that this officer believed him and would help him.
The conversation drifted off to matters wholly unrelated to why these two of God's creatures were called together that evening. The officer had to wait for the parade to end, so the two talked as equals (at least that is how the officer spoke and behaved with the young man). It was remarkable if you think about it. Up until this moment, the two were strangers. He was a police officer and the young man was his prisoner, but the officer spoke to the young man as an adult, and as someone who genuinely was interested in the young man. The boy detected his concern and compassion. The officer even confided that after his many years on the police force, his retirement was just a few months away, and that he and his wife had just purchased an RV and planned on taking a cross country trip together. The officer asked the young man what his plans for the future were. They discussed high school graduation and college, and the relationship ripened from one of a custodial encounter to one of compassion and mutual respect. This officer was a really special person, and certainly an unexpected stroke of luck for the young man to encounter in one of the darker hours of his life.
Eventually the parade ended, the crowds dispersed, and this officer transported the young man to the closest precinct. Once his guardian angel of sorts dropped him off, the young man never saw him again. The arresting officer was there, who then transported him to Strickland Youth Center. Ultimately, charges were never brought against the young man as the intake officer released him to his father.
The young man was never arrested again, and has gone on to become a successful businessman here in town with a family of his own. I suspect many of you may know him. That chance encounter with this Mobile Police officer who believed in him and his innocence has stuck with him all these years. The young man, now adult, has never forgotten the officer or how divine intervention brought the two together that night.
Just 60 days later, on April 18, 1985, this same officer, Julius Schulte, was gunned down on the brink of retirement in a horrible ambush killing.
The young boy remembers reading the newspaper the next morning and screaming, "No!" Although he only knew the man for about 45 minutes during a chance encounter, his pain was real and profound. Officer Schulte made a lifelong, positive impact on this young man in such a short amount of time, and even in a life cut short, I can only imagine how many lives he changed for the better.
Blessed are the Peacemakers.
Matt Green is a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted major felonies and violent crimes in the Baldwin County District Attorney's Office. He served as a municipal court judge in the City of Mobile and the City of Saraland. He is President of the Mobile Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies.