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PINOLE POLICE DEPARTMENT HISTORY

The first recorded law enforcement action in Pinole involved one of the Bay Area’s most famous western lawmen. Harry N. Morse was the third Sheriff of Alameda County and one of the most famous gunfighters of his time. His exploits are well documented in John Boessenecker’s book, Lawman. Few people know that one of Sheriff Morse’s famous gunfights occurred here in Pinole before it was a town!

Below is an excerpt from the retelling of the Pinole shooting by William Mero that has been updated with more accurate information.

One of the most desperate gunfights in old Contra Costa occurred in 1867. Narato Ponce was a notorious East Bay thug, murderer and horse thief. The Governor of California, Frederick Low, placed a $500 bounty on Ponce’s head. During a bloody gun battle at the present intersection of Highway 580 and Santa Rita Road in Pleasanton, Ponce was nearly shot to pieces by Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse. Ponce was wounded, but he escaped and fled into the Black Hills of Contra Costa County.

Law officers later learned that Narato Ponce was hiding somewhere in Pinole near the San Pablo Bay. The lawmen began systematically searching the scattered adobes dotting the Pinole Valley. At the upper end of the canyon was the adobe located next to Pinole Creek (near modern day Adobe Road). When officers found Ponce hiding in the adobe, he attempted to flee up the canyon. Gunshots were exchanged and Ponce was wounded in the right hand. Finally cornered, the killer stepped to the edge of the creek, and took careful aim at Sheriff Morse with a six-gun in his left hand. Incredibly Sheriff Morse squeezed the trigger of his rifle a split second before Ponce and killed the desperado, Ponce. The affair was warmly applauded by the entire law-abiding community of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

Very little of Pinole’s law enforcement history survived from 1868-1903, however when the Town of Pinole was incorporated in 1903 we find the first reference to the town’s law enforcement. The first Town of Pinole minutes, a 1903 document, record a motion made that the Town “Marshall be allowed dollars to purchase a pistol, badge, and outfit.” Although other historical records refer to Pinole’s early law enforcement officers as Constables, the Town of Pinole minutes refer to them as Marshals.

Like the famous Lawman, Wyatt Earp, also a part-time Bay Area resident, our first Marshal of the newly incorporated Town of Pinole, John Collins, operated a saloon. Collins’ Klondike Saloon was named after the 1897 Klondike gold rush. The saloon still stands at 612 Tennent Avenue. A few blocks away, Pinole’s once grand sea port is now the current location of Bayfront Park. The port served as a main supply location for the Town and a stopover for travelers moving up the coast for the Klondike gold rush.

The Town of Pinole’s two main train stations also fed its once 13 plus saloons. In fact, Pinole was famous for its saloons with spittoons and sawdust floors. The saloons supported the drinking habits of local factory workers from the Hercules Powder plant, the Union Oil Company in Rodeo, the Selby smelting facility in Tormey, the C&H Sugar Company in Crockett and the areas cowboys who drove cattle from the Pinole Valley down Tennent Avenue to the bay. At one time Pinole had more saloons than houses, which were mostly farms and ranches. The bustling downtown boasted wooden sidewalks and hotels for single men working the powder plant, along with Chinese clam diggers that lived in stilt homes near the water front.

For John Collins, and the other early Town Marshals, Pinole was a rough and tumble place. In the early years there were banditos, brothels, gambling halls, opium dens, theaters, and dance halls throughout Contra Costa County. Some of the early crime reports from the Town of Pinole included everything from horse theft to the occasional murder, which were often both hanging offenses.

Arthur “Jerry” McDonald was the Town of Pinole’s second Marshal/Constable. He was appointed as the Contra Costa County District 11 Constable in 1918. His jurisdiction ran from Pinole to Crockett. Constable McDonald, a former Hercules Powder Plant foreman and co-owner of McDonald’s & Company Clothing, which sold items of the highest fashion, thrived in the rambunctious environment of Pinole saloons, hotels, and theaters.

The 1920s changed the Wild West atmosphere of the town. Veterans were returning from World War I; fires had consumed many of the long standing wooden buildings; and horses were being replaced with automobiles. Social clubs, sports teams, and fraternal organizations thrived. In 1926 a municipal building was erected which housed Pinole’s first one cell jail.

Town life began to change in this dynamic environment. Prohibition in the 1920s had saloons renamed as “soft-drink” establishments. It was during this period that Pinole’s first law enforcement officer was killed in the line of duty. On September 26, 1929, the Rodeo branch of the Bank of Pinole was robbed by the infamous Fleagle gang, one of whom was armed with a Colt Thompson submachine gun. Constable Arthur McDonald was working bank security when the robbery occurred. A gunfight ensued, the result of which left Constable McDonald dead and one robber wounded. The robbers got away after fleeing through Pinole Valley and pushing the getaway car over a cliff in the Berkeley Hills.

> Fleagle Gang Powerpoint

> Read the whole story of Constable McDonald as told by the Richmond Independent Newspaper in the Fallen Heroes section of the website.

Constable McDonald was replaced by long time Pinole resident and Irish immigrant Gene Shea, who served as Pinole’s last constable. Shea worked side by side with Pinole’s first part-time Traffic Police Officers, who were hired to address the ever growing traffic issues on Highway 40 (now San Pablo Avenue). Shea kept busy with drunken servicemen trying to find something to do during lengthy train layovers, and German saboteurs trying to set fire to the railroad tracks.

The father of the modern Pinole Police Department, Hugh Young, started in 1943. after buying a used 1938 Harley Davidson. Young served the City of Pinole from 1943 to 1967. Below is a transcription of a letter written by William H. Young, the eldest son of Hugh Young. The letter was written on September 17, 2010 and gives great insight into law enforcement from the 1930s until Hugh Young’s retirement in 1967.

Pinole’s first police car was a 1939 Studebaker Champion (Hugh Young’s family car) with emergency vehicle license plates and a red spot light and electric siren. There was a grocery store on the corner of Fernandez and old Hwy. 40. The only contact Young had with the outside world (no radios) was to check in at the store to see if the operator had recorded any important messages from the C.H.P., Sheriff’s Office, or the Richmond PD. Young found, by trial and error, that he could detune a regular A.M. radio to receive police broadcasts from Martinez.

Eventually the Pinole City Council purchased a worn out surplus police car, 1958 Ford from the City of Richmond. Dad always bought his own motorcycles, which were Harley’s.



Young is believed to have created the modern Pinole Police Department in 1950 and was the first Police Chief. He modeled the Pinole Police uniform off of a Contra Costa County Sheriff’s uniform; Young had worked as a Sheriff’s Motorcycle Deputy in the late 1930s. The uniform was tan with a green jacket. Pinole’s first police patch was a triangle inset with a wheel and wings, the patch read “Pinole” over the wheel and “Police” under the wheel. This now collectable patch sells for over $800 dollars to collectors lucky enough to find one.

 

In 1964, with the annual Fiesta Del Pinole events, the City contracted Mr. Harvey, a long-time Pinole resident and artist to create a city seal. The Pinole City Council was so impressed with his work it was used to create Pinole’s current police patch with its trademark indian, one of the few California Police Patches to have an indian.

The patch was initially placed on the tan uniform; however the tan uniform was replaced with the navy blue uniform around 1969.

The Pinole Police badge saw several changes over the years. The first Pinole badge was a shield used by the traffic officers in the 1930s. The badge was then changed by Hugh Young to a star-type similar to the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office badge. Over the last fifty years the bottom rocker of the badge has changed three times. The 1950-1960s badges read “Pinole Police Department”, the 1970s-1990s badges read, “City of Pinole”, and our current badges read “Pinole Police”.

The 1960s and 1970s brought great change to law enforcement in California. Riots and political movements surrounding the Vietnam War seemed commonplace and helped modernize many police departments. In 1971, the Pinole Police Department moved from the 1926 municipal building into a 2000 square foot temporary building to accommodate the growing police department. Returning Vietnam veterans often found work as Police Officers in the Bay Area and the Pinole Police hired several war veterans. The Pinole Police Department hired its first African American Police Officer during this period.

On July 24, 1972 Pinole lost its second Police Officer in the line of duty. Patrolman John Sellers was a decorated Vietnam veteran who served for six years in the Army before discharging as a Captain. Patrolman Sellers had only worked for the Pinole Police Department for two years when he responded to a call of a man with a gun threatening patrons at the Antlers Tavern. The patron, Orland Davis, was intoxicated and threatening other patrons with a .38 caliber pistol. Patrolman Sellers was shot dead by Davis as Sellers approached him. Davis was eventually tackled by Patrolman Eikenbary who took him into custody. Only the patrol watch commanders carried radios and Eikenbary had to call the shooting in on a telephone.

> Read the whole story of Officer Sellers as told by the Richmond Independent Newspaper in the Fallen Heroes section of the website.

The 1970s also saw the end of the famous Fiesta Del Pinole celebrations. West Contra Costa County low-rider gangs, such as the Santa Rita gang, East Bay Renegades, and Fairmede gang had been active in the area for years. The Hells Angels also established a presence in the area during this period. On August 16, 1975, several gang fights broke out during the Fiesta Del Pinole celebration at the four corners area of Pinole. The Pinole Police Officers and reserve officers who were on duty were quickly surrounded and attacked. Police Officers from all over West Contra Costa County responded to control the mob of over 500 people. The second day of the celebration also saw riotous fights.

(T. Krieger, personal communication, November 28, 2011)

As a result the City of Pinole never held a Fiesta Del Pinole celebration again. This period saw several different Chiefs of Police who would typically work for only three years.

Pinole has averaged 1 to 2 murders a year since the 1970s with an occasional high or low year. As the 1970s ended more veterans were sworn in as police officers and police equipment and policy was being standardized. Long lasting case law decisions began to change the way police work was done. The fleeing felon law changed and Miranda rights were adopted.

On May 3, 1980 the City of Pinole lost its third officer in the line of duty. Officer Floyd “Bernie” Harold Swartz, a military veteran, was hired during the tumultuous 1970s. Officer Swartz was shot in the throat and killed while attempting to arrest a murder suspect. Officer Swartz and other officers were attempting to coax the suspect from a hiding spot, in dense weeds behind Dolores Court in Pinole, when the suspect opened fire. Five hours later the suspect surrendered to officers.

> Read the whole story of Officer Swartz as told by the Richmond Independent Newspaper in the Fallen Heroes section of the website.

Tragically, Officer Swartz’ daughter, Amber Swartz, was kidnapped on June 3, 1988 and was never found. Officer Swartz’s wife, Kim, later founded the Amber Foundation for Missing Children in 1989.

The Pinole Police Department continued to grow and change, and in 1985 the Police Department moved from the 1971 temporary building into the current Public Safety facility at 880 Tennent Avenue. The Police Department hired its first female Police Officers during this period, and the Department saw a consistent period of leadership with its longest running Chief of Police, Ted Barnes, who ran the Police Department from 1980-1999.

In 2000, after a tumultuous financial period when the City of Pinole considered contracting police services with the Contra Costa County Sheriffs, the City of Pinole Police Department was reorganized and brought under the leadership of former Alameda County Sheriff’s Commander Jim Rose who was hired as the new Chief of Police. Chief Rose consistently modernized the Police Department buying new equipment, putting computers in the patrol cars, standardizing training, and re-implementing the long lost Pinole Motorcycle Officer in 2006. Chief Rose also created the Police Department’s first K-9 program in 2003, and a School Resource Officer position in 2006. He also brought department personnel levels up to 34 sworn Police Officers. Chief Paul Clancy, a former Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Commander, replaced Chief Rose in 2008. Chief Clancy continued modernizing the Police Department, with an increased focus on the Departments Core Values and Crime Prevention Unit. The current Chief of Police is John Hardester, also a former Alameda County Sheriff’s Commander. Chief Hardester has carried on the legacy of professionalism and core values for the City of Pinole.


 


The Pinole Police Department continues to provide excellent customer service to the community with a variety of services, which include Investigations, Patrol, Traffic Officer, K-9 Officer, and School Resource Officers. There are currently 26 sworn Police Officers.


References:

Mero, W. (date unknown). Gunfight on Pinole Creek. Contra Costa County Histories. Retrieved from http://www.cocohistory.org/ccctales.html

Boessenecker, J. (1998). The Lawman: The Life and Times of Harry Morse, 1835-1912. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press

Mariotti, J., Vincent, G., Rubin, J. (2009). Images of America: Pinole. San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing

Tatam, R. (1993). Old Times In Contra Costa: A Journey to the Past. Pittsburg Ca: Highland Publishers

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