From the book, “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest,” by Mike Simmons – available on Amazon or from the author.
The 35th Anniversary…
Three significant events regarding the Pensacola Police Department occurred in 1961. Two careers ended and one began.
On July 5, 17-year veteran detective Buddy Peake, a favorite among officers and citizens suddenly died. Buddy was in relatively good health, but suddenly took ill and died at the hospital. In 1941, he joined the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy and served three years before joining the Pensacola Police Force. He made his way up from patrolman, turnkey, sergeant, motorcycle officer to detective. Peake, 47, had recently worked on a major murder case involving businessman Harold Baird.
Then, on October 15, long-time chief of police Crosby Hall retired. Hall had been a Pensacola Police Officer since June 9, 1925. On July 21, 1947, he took over as chief and served 14 years. As head of a department that was fraught with scandal and indictments, he was asked to step down. In shame, he offered his resignation. Ten years later, December 29, 1971, he passed away from natural causes.
Silver Run is a beautiful creek that runs through a valley in rural Maryland. The quaint surrounding community is also known as Silver Run. Robert and Betty Stull were married there on January 4, 1958. They gave birth to a son, Randy, on October 6, 1961. Randy grew traveling the world as a military brat. When his dad ended up at his final duty station in Pensacola (where he eventually retired) Randy was old enough for college, so he enrolled at Pensacola Junior College. The only thing he wanted to do was be a policeman. That dream became a reality. In November 1982, Randy Stull became a Pensacola Police Officer.
To be a police officer today, one has to first graduate from the law enforcement academy, then complete Field Training, a 3 ½ month intense training program. However, Randy was the last hire before the Field Training Program was started at the Pensacola Police Department. As soon as he got out of training – which consisted of riding with a senior officer for about four weeks – Randy hit the streets, determined that he was going to earn his pay. And earn it he did! In his first couple of years, Randy made the news twelve times. He made arrests for five burglaries, four stolen cars, two crashes with injuries, and a serious disturbance on his 22nd birthday when a man turned on Officer David Pond and had to be subdued.
As many young officers who prove that they are “go-getters,” Randy was offered a position in a specialized unit, the Tac Squad. The Tac Squad, formed to combat violent crime, focused on serious felonies, especially those that were tough for uniformed officers to track. Dressed in plain clothes, they specialized in surveillance, warrant services, and teamwork to effect arrests that were often difficult. So, they were perfect for the job that came their way on July 6, 1987.
Pensacola had experienced a rash of potentially violent crimes in June. Numerous pizza delivery drivers, who mostly drove small pickup trucks, were robbed while making deliveries. The way it worked was like this: The pizza delivery establishment received a call for a delivery. When the driver arrived, he discovered a call had not been made from that address. On his return to his car, the robber approached him from behind and demanded money while sticking him in the back with what was described as a small caliber firearm. The businesses quickly began to recognize the suspiciousness of the calls and knew that, when a call was received, it was probably a robbery.
The Pensacola Police Tac Squad was tasked with stopping them, and they accepted the challenge with vigor! But how do you stop a crime when you have no idea when or where it will strike? That was their task.
“I’ve got an idea,” said Randy. He and his fellow Tac Squad officer, David Pond, had gotten together to try to find out how to stop the robberies.
“When the pizza business gets a call that they determine is suspicious, they let us know and we hide in the back of the truck. If a robbery takes place, we will be there to stop it!”
“Good idea!” said David. They took it to the brass.
After refining and rethinking, Lt. Steve Banakas and Sgt. Mike Thompson announced the final plan. “One of our Tac officers will deliver the pizza. When we hear about the call, the entire squad heads to the delivery location early and stakes it out. Then no one moves. Meanwhile the designated officer meets the delivery driver, changes into employee clothes, and gets the pizza. Then he drives to the location and makes the delivery. If the robbery takes place, he will have to take us on! The “driver” will have a gun, but no radio. Think about it…if a radio goes off, the whole operation is ruined!” A risky plan, but a good one.
On July 6, the Tac Squad was notified that a suspicious call had been received from Domino’s. Officer David Pond was the driver. David worked out a lot and it showed. He was also tattooed on both arms. On a bad day, David Pond looked like a person no one wanted to go up against.
He headed to the location – Colony House Apartments on Scenic Hwy. When he arrived, the other officers were there, watching. Sure enough, it was a fake call. The door was answered, and the response was “No, I didn’t order a pizza.” Pond walked back to his car but was not confronted. It looked like it might have been the real thing, but it didn’t happen. While there, several officers saw a faded grey Cutlass driven by a black guy driving slowly away. For whatever reason, it looked like the robber was spooked.
“C’mon, Lieutenant,” Randy protested. “Who in their right mind is going to rob David. He looks like a gorilla! If somebody tried to rob him, he would crush them!”
“Okay, Stull,” said Lt. Banakas. You look like a college kid. The next one is yours!”
A couple of hours later, Domino’s Pizza called again with another suspicious delivery. Randy was up this time. He went to Domino’s, got in uniform, and drove away in the Domino’s car, pizza and cash with him.
Randy was a capable officer. More than capable, he was exceptional. Part of what made Randy so lethal -surprisingly- was his looks. The 25-year-old veteran officer looked like a teenager! Most people who saw him thought he was either in high school or he was wearing his daddy’s police uniform!
Sgt. Mike Thompson was one of the first to arrive at Lavallet Townhomes early to set up for surveillance. Almost immediately Mike noticed the same faded grey Oldsmobile Cutlass! Good chance this is the same guy, Mike thought to himself. He alerted the others on the radio, then parked for the wait. Also arriving early was Officer Leon Martin. Leon was also a young, fleet-footed officer that showed a lot of promise. Lt. Banakas was also in the area.
Within ½ hour, the Domino’s car drove up with the juvenile-looking veteran officer driving. He sure looks like a delivery driver Leon said to himself. At first, Randy had trouble finding the right townhouse. That was good – it looked very genuine. Finally, he found it and parked. This looked like the real thing.
Because he was playing delivery guy, Randy signed off and put his radio away. Then he put his Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38 revolver under his shirt. Without any means to communicate with the other officers, he realized that he was on his own. Sure, there were officers in the area, but they had to stay back in order to not spook the suspect, like had been done last time. Randy was sure they could hear gunfire, but probably not yelling or talking loudly, and certainly not conversation. He had to take care of whatever came his way – including if a firearm pulled on him.
As he was getting out of the vehicle, Randy put the bag used for making change on top of the pizza bag, and he balanced the two-liter soft drink on top of everything. He walked up the sidewalk to a breezeway. About 100 feet later he got to the right address. The breezeway was clear, but it was dark around the apartment, the perfect location for a robbery to take place. When he rang the doorbell, it was answered with a “No. Not here.” Randy hesitated. Part of him didn’t want to be here.
“Are you sure?” Randy asked, sensing that this could be it.
“Yes, I’m sure,” said the resident. “I think I would know if I ordered a pizza!” He closed the door.
As Randy turned around to start back to the car, he saw it. Almost as in a cartoon, a huge, crouched figure of a black man in the open breezeway was sneaking toward him. When Randy saw him, the man stood up, as if to say, “He won’t notice me!”
“This is it” Randy said to himself. He obscurely pulled his gun from his pocket and put it in his hand under the pizza, inside the bag – smart. As he was headed back to the Domino’s car, he saw a man – the same man – again. The man casually walked to a clump of bushes located beside the sidewalk and hid behind them. In order to get to his truck, Randy would have to walk right beside the bushes. So, he would have some time to react, Randy detoured around to the other side of the parking lot. As he approached the truck and balancing a pizza, a cash bag and a soft drink bottle, along with his unseen gun, he was approached by the man.
Most officers have found themselves facing life-and-death situations, even though they are not as dangerous as this. Many people wonder what goes through the officer’s mind as the situation leads up to the pinnacle. When Randy was asked this question in a later interview, he said that the officer often thinks of – nothing. The officer is concentrating on what the task at hand is, and there isn’t time for contemplation.
“Got the time?” the guy suddenly said.
“No” answered Randy. Then he realized that his watch was in plain sight, so he looked at it in an attempt to be helpful, thinking this was simply a ploy.
As he was looking at his watch, he suddenly felt the cold steel of a gun barrel shoved hard against his neck. Randy wondered if he would see tomorrow.
“Give me everything you’ve got!” the ruffian demanded. He pushed against Randy’s neck and demanded he get on the ground between the Domino’s car and the one next to it. Randy complied, all the while holding the pizza bag with the bag carried for making change on top and his handgun inside. He went all the way to the ground with his back to the suspect, as if this were an execution. Randy knew there was no way the other officers could see or hear what was going on.
“There’s the money – in the bag…take it” Randy said, gesturing to the bag.
“Gimme your wallet too!” he demanded.
“I don’t have one. That’s all I’ve got.”
Okay, scoot further under the car until only your head is showing. Randy slid as far under as he could. This was unexpected. No delivery driver that had been robbed by this guy had ever reported this. This is it, Randy thought to himself. He was certain he had seen his last day.
He felt the pressure lift off his neck when the suspect reached around to get the money bag. Afraid that he was about to be shot, his fear suddenly turned to anger. Who does this guy think he is? He might kill me, but not without a fight! he told himself.
Lying face down with the guy standing over him, Randy thought…“It’s now or never! If I don’t do something now, he’s going to kill me.”
In one smooth motion, Randy pulled his revolver out of the pizza bag, rolled onto his back and pointed the gun at the man, now standing directly in front of him. Randy immediately fired two shots straight up, striking the bad guy in the chest.
In the next moment, the world stood still. After all, what does a guy do when he is shot squarely in the chest. On television, the bad guy is thrown back 10 feet through a plate glass window – very dramatic. But in real life, what happens? That is what Randy asked himself. Was the guy going to go down, or would he shoot back?
A shocked look came on the face of the suspect. He froze, looked at his chest, then at Randy and then back at his chest, almost as if saying “What just happened? What did you do?”
A second later, the suspect took off in a dead run in the opposite direction into a wooded area. Randy thought about getting his radio, but he knew he might lose the suspect. But, running into a dark wooded area in an attempt to find a guy with a gun pointed at you is…crazy! But, Randy thought, it had to be done, so he lit out after the bad guy.
As he got in amongst the trees, Randy saw the suspect duck in a dark area near an air conditioner. He couldn’t see the guy, but he knew he was there somewhere.
Pointing his gun, Randy said “Come on out of there.” Standing in the open when a bad guy is in the shadows with a gun pointed at you feels almost like suicide, and Randy was not comfortable with his.
Suddenly the man stood up and started coming at him. Randy fired more rounds but missed. He stopped and reloaded, then continued the chase. When he caught up to the guy, the fight was on. The bad guy was determined he was not going to be handcuffed.
Fortunately, the other officers were alerted to Randy’s location by the gunshots. Lt. Banakas and Leon Martin were the first officers that arrived to assist. With the three of them, handcuffing was not as difficult. But the fight was not out of him yet. He began kicking, got to his feet, and tried to get away! After his feet were restrained, he finally lost his will to fight. Randy and the others rendered first aid to him, and the hospital helicopter Lifeflight, responded and got him to the hospital for surgery.
But…where was the gun? They searched the suspect but couldn’t find it. He must have either dropped it or thrown it down somewhere. So the area search began. After a few minutes, it was located fifteen feet from the robbery scene. Then came the shocking part – it wasn’t a firearm…it was a chrome-plated ratchet. This guy was robbing people with a rachet! But that didn’t change anything – Randy was still in the clear. Florida law says that, if a person is being robbed with what he thinks is a weapon, then the crime is considered Armed Robbery.
On Friday, May 20, 1988, Randy was honored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 706 for his actions. Later the same year, – on June 8 – the American Legion honored him, and the Florida Retail Association recognized him on December 16. The next year, he was honored by the Pensacola Jaycees. On March 12, 1988, The Pensacola Police Department bestowed on Officer Stull their highest award, the Gold Medal of Valor.
Michael Locke was his name. Michael must have been doing all the pizza delivery guy robberies, because they all stopped when he was shot. Or…maybe any others thought twice about Randy Stull being their victim and decided against it!
Randy retired from the police department as a lieutenant in 2017 after serving for 35 years.