End of Watch: The Steve Taylor Story

Today marks 40 years since that fateful day that the Pensacola Police family lost one of its own, executed in broad daylight in front of hundreds. From the book, “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest,” available on Amazon.

Greater Love Hath No Man

Officer Steve Taylor

Tuesday, October 19, 1982, 2:07 PM

       “Why did you call?” asked Suzanne Taylor. “Do you need something?” The young wife was busy at work and wasn’t supposed to be talking on the telephone.

       “I’m eating lunch at Mom’s house and I just wanted to call and hear your voice.”

       “Well, I’m glad you did.”

       “Oh, looks like I’ve got a call.” Steve said. “Another bank alarm.”

       “Be careful, Steve.”

       “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s another false alarm. I’ll let you go. I love you!”

       “I love you, too. Be careful.” They hung up.

Steve Taylor had been a Pensacola Police Officer since December 1979. The other officers on his shift described him as a quiet man who could be counted on to back them no matter the danger. Doc Snow, one of his officer brothers, said he had a different way about him.

New Officers Joe Spirakis and Steve Taylor being sworn in by Chief James Davis

“He liked to think people were good. He didn’t like to think people were bad,” Doc remembered. He chose to take that approach instead of the common “tough guy” approach the most officers took. In mid-1982, Steve accepted Christ as his savior and became active in the Myrtle Grove Baptist Church. 

       On their days off, the young couple would often ride downtown “just for the fun of it.” Suzanne said in an interview with the author on May 7, 2021.

As they were in the car with some friends on one occasion, Steve suddenly said “Wow – did you see that?” Suzanne looked at him with a puzzled look on her face. Before she could answer, he turned the car around in the middle of the street and sped in the opposite direction. He jumped out of the car and sprinted after a young man that had just robbed an elderly woman. He caught him and wrestled him to the ground, then waited for police cars to arrive. When he returned to a surprised Suzanne and friends, he explained.

“I saw a guy sneaking up behind the old lady, and I knew he was going to get her purse. When I turned around and got to him, he had done it already and was running.” Impressive.

Steve was smart, a 3.9 GPA. But he was also funny and fun-loving. He loved the job, but he felt it wasn’t a natural fit for him. Steve was a math whiz – he loved numbers. He and Suzanne had made their minds up a few weeks ago for him to go back to school to become an engineer. His plan was to resign in three months.

The Freedom Savings and Loan was located on the northwest corner of Palafox and Gregory Streets, in the middle of downtown Pensacola. The Tuesday afternoon of October 19, 1982 was a picturesque day. The sun was brilliant, and the temperature was in the upper 70s – perfect. Being a patrol officer in weather like that was great. Officers often roll the window down and let in the fresh air. Inside, though, was a different story.

Alarm calls are tricky. In one shift, an officer might respond to five or six, making them very routine and sometimes tending toward boring. But the potential of danger is there for every one of them, so officers must make themselves retain their awareness. On this one, Sgt. Emory Castro, who was working at the desk sergeant’s office, took the call. He, like always, transferred the caller to Dispatcher Mike Flores who put it out over the radio.

The alert tone sounded – three beeps. Once everyone’s attention had been acquired, Mike Said “0-23 (armed robbery), silent, at the Freedom Savings and Loan, 201 north Palafox St.” Officers Larry Bailly, Steve Taylor, Franco Sidoti and T. C. Miller radioed that they were responding.

Larry arrived first, with Steve right behind him – both at the front door on the east side of the building. Larry, a salty veteran, had been through a lot. When Steve began working on his shift, Larry took him under his wing. Steve looked up to him as a big brother, a mentor of sorts.

The other officers, Sidoti, Miller, Joe Spirakis and Paul Muller arrived shortly thereafter. The procedure was for officers to arrive and radio in the location that they were covering. When all of the exits were covered, Larry, the officer who arrived first, instructed the dispatcher to call inside and have an employee meet them outside. So far so good – looks routine.

What wasn’t good were the goings-on inside the bank…

Janet Pearce lived in Mobile, Alabama, about 50 miles away. At 12:50 PM on the same day as the robbery in Pensacola, Janet was getting into her 1978 Buick Regal when twenty-four-year-old Clarence Hill and eighteen-year-old Cliff Jackson came up behind her and stuck a gun in the middle of her back and demanded she surrender her car. Terrified, she let them take the automobile. It was a horrendous experience for her, but not for Hill and Jackson. Hill and Jackson were neighbors. Hill, out on bond and awaiting trial on two robberies, had spent the day with Jackson drinking beer and getting high with marijuana and cocaine. When they decided to go joy riding, they went in search of a car to drive. After searching for keys in cars, they happened to notice a young woman headed for her car. As soon as she got in, they approached her and pulled her out of the car at gunpoint. Then they drove away, leaving her standing in the road.

An hour later, the duo arrived in downtown Pensacola in the stolen Buick. After parking on west Chase Street, they made their way a block north on foot and entered into the Freedom Savings and Loan. The lobby was filled with people as the two armed, sunglassed men walked in. When they announced their intention to rob the bank and showed their weapon, an alert teller pushed the silent alarm. Hill jumped over the counter and put his gun to the head of one of the tellers.

Hill and Jackson were not known for their intelligence. While making extensive plans for the robbery, neither man thought to bring something to carry the money in. So they quickly grabbed two trash can liners and filled them with the ill-gotten gains. Then they exited through different doors. Clarence left through the west exit while Cliff exited out the east side front door to Palafox Street.

As the officers on the Palafox Street sidewalk were waiting for the employee to make contact with them, the door opened. Instead of the employee coming out, though, a young man appeared with a cap and sunglasses and carrying a bag. Larry ordered him to the ground. Startled at the police officers with guns drawn on him, he complied. Steve bent down to handcuff him.  

       When Hill walked out onto Gregory Street, he didn’t see his partner. He walked to the corner in a hurry. Seeing the policemen taking Jackson into custody, he approached them in a cowardly manner and fired twice into Taylor’s body. The first bullet entered his body under his armor into his back, pierced his lung and passed through his aorta. The second bullet entered his chest near his sternum. Hill’s next shot struck Officer Larry Bailly in the neck. Bailly felt a sting in his neck, but returned fire, emptying his gun at Hill, who was “twisting and dancing” to avoid being shot. He was hit by Bailly.

Officer Larry Bailey

       Steve got up, staggered toward the street, then got on the police radio to report that the men had run. The only thing that came out of his mouth, though, was a painful whimpering noise. It was the last sound he would ever make. He collapsed on the street as his comrades ran to his aid.

October 19, 1982

       As he was running away, Clarence Hill ran northeast across Palafox Street and to the corner of Wright Street. It was then that Sgt. Paul Muller, racing to the scene, saw a man with a gun and a bloody shirt crossing the street. As Hill rounded the corner of Palafox and Wright Streets and went to the back of the corner restaurant, the Dainty Dell, Sgt. Muller got out of his car and took aim at Hill. When Hill saw Muller, he turned to him, threw the gun down, raised his hands in surrendered. Then he collapsed. Sgt. Muller approached him at gunpoint and called for nearby responding firemen to tend to his wound.

Murder Weapon

       Meanwhile, Officer Bailly struggled with Jackson. When Jackson finally broke free, he ran around the north side of the bank and headed west between the buildings. Officer T. C. Miller shot him, but he kept running. With a bullet in his abdomen, Jackson made his way to the Big Ten tire store on the next corner and, in an attempt to steal it, crawled into an automobile. Bad move – first, the auto wouldn’t start. Second, bleeding liberally, Jackson collapsed and was subdued by an employee, a customer, and Officer Pat Adamson. Both of the criminals were taken into custody, along with the $6703.00 they had stolen.

       Larry returned to Steve to check on him. As he did, he noticed something wet on his uniform, When he looked, he was surprised to see that it was blood! He checked himself over and discovered that he had been shot in the neck. In the confusion, Larry had responded like the soldier he was. Even though he was shot in the neck, he emptied his six-shot revolver at Clarence Hill, striking him four times. He then wrestled with Cliff Jackson long enough for other officers to arrive and stop him from escaping. Then Larry went back to check on his buddy. All of this was done before he tended to his own wound.

            “What a beautiful old town this is!” said David Jackson, who was driving down Palafox Street. Jackson, a Baptist minister and EMT, was visiting Pensacola from Clayton, OK when he came up on the robbery scene. Seeing Steve Taylor lying on the street with officers frantically working on him, David knew immediately that he needed to help. He stopped and ran toward the group of policemen who were working to save their friend. David knew what to do. He took charge and began taking lifesaving measures.

Life Flight preparing for takeoff to the hospital

       In the next few moments, many things happened fast. LifeFlight helicopter was summoned and arrived on Palafox Street, Larry and Steve were tended to with the best care available, the criminals were taken to the police station, and the scene was taped off while investigators attempted to piece together what happened.

Lt. Tim Poe (L), Officer Baily, and Sgt. David Rivers at the scene.

       When officers are investigating major felonies, some of the most important aspects are witness statements. When the case goes to trial, there isn’t much that is more effective than a human being on the witness stand describing what he felt and thought, his fears and anguish, to a jury. In this case, witnesses abounded. The robbery was committed in the middle of a busy weekday – in the heart of downtown. It looked like the case was going to be a good one…but not for Suzanne Taylor. She wasn’t even aware yet, but her life as she knew it was about to end. Her entire existence was going to be turned upside down. No more nights with the one she loved. No more talks, plans for the future, arguments, fun times with him, being irritated by the little things he did, or simply the comfort of a happy home. It was gone. Steve Taylor died that day.

       Franco Sidoti was a young, good-looking cop. He was the kind you would expect to see in the movies. Today, however, there was nothing glamourous. He had been the one chosen. As unpleasant as it was, he knew it was best that he be given the assignment. He and Steve were not only co-workers, but, like most officers who daily depend on each other in life-and-death situations, they were friends.

Dispatchers had already called and contacted her supervisors. They were ready for him, but they hadn’t told her anything. That was Franco’s job.

Being a police officer is a difficult job. There are many parts that are tough. But delivering a death notice is never easy. It’s ranks up there as one of the hardest things for a police officer to have to do. To have to bring such bad, permanent news that is life-altering to a person about a loved one is… arduous. Think about it. There is no good way. Sit them down, have a family member or minister present, shoot straight with them… The “best” way to tell someone that a loved one is dead is always bad – never good.

But what if it is a friend you have to bring the bad news to? And, what if it was a friend that was dead? And what if it was tragic? And what if you saw it happen? One word – Wow.

Franco thought about it. “How do I tell her?” He thought about what the best way would be, but he couldn’t think of a good one. The reality was, though, they didn’t know he was dead – yet. After all, he was taken to the emergency room. He finally settled on the approach to tell her that Steve had been shot and then take her to the hospital.

When Franco arrived, he was greeted by the supervisor, who ushered him into the room where Suzanne was. The dread made his legs feel like they had weights on them. He didn’t want to do this. But he had to.

The second Suzanne saw her friend, fear rose in her. Why would Franco be coming to see her at work? This couldn’t be good, she thought.

“Hi, Franco. What’s wrong?”

“Steve’s been shot. It’s bad. We need to go to the hospital.”

The tears couldn’t find their way through the shock…yet. That would come later. A joke? Disbelief? This could not be happening. Yet, here was Franco, a partner and good friend to she and Steve. And the look on his face told the story. She stared in his eyes for hope, for comfort, for…anything. But all she could gather from the strong young officer was fear, confusion and hurt.

The scene at the emergency room can only be described as hopeless chaos. Beyond the traffic jam of police cars in the parking lot, a sea of light blue police uniforms blocked the entrance as the police car carrying Suzanne, the newest widow in Pensacola, arrived. As Suzanne got out, all eyes were on her and all talking stopped. The crowd parted like the Red Sea parted for Moses and the Children of Israel. Every eye – some with tears – showed the same helpless pain.

When a badge is pinned on a police officer, he/she suddenly becomes, not only the authority, but the problem solver. That’s what they do – solve people’s problems. That’s why people call them. When citizens don’t know what to do or can’t handle things, they call the police. So, officers are used to making everything okay. It’s in their nature. It’s in their DNA.

To stand by and watch helplessly as the wife of a slain officer walks slowly into the “family room” of a hospital is not easy. They could only…be there. They wanted to help – to do anything. If, at that moment, Suzanne had asked for a cup of coffee, 278 cups would have been delivered to her within 30 seconds. But they couldn’t make this okay.

What they didn’t know was something that did make things a little better. They were there. There is a certain comfort in knowing that an army of warriors is by your side, waiting to do battle for you at your word. It meant something.

Clarence Hill and Cliff Jackson were both taken to the hospital and treated for gunshot wounds. Because they were under arrest, they were guarded by the brothers and sisters of the man they had murdered. No doubt a thousand ways to torture and kill the two murderers passed through the minds of the officers assigned to them. But they were professionals. They held themselves to a higher level. They did their job.

Thursday, October 21, 1982

            Emotionally overwhelming. Those words come closest to describing it. When a person drove up to Myrtle Grove Baptist Church on Lillian Highway on October 21, 1982, they were first greeted with the awesome sight of hundreds of police cars – from city, county, state and federal agencies from Pensacola to Miami lined up to pay tribute to one of their own. It wasn’t that they knew Steve Taylor, but…they did know Steve. They were Steve…or could have been. All police officers have had close calls, but it wasn’t their time yet. It was Steve’s time. Inside those tough, rugged exteriors, their hearts broke.

            A deep stillness surrounded the church building. A person felt safe being surrounded by scores of warriors and simultaneously felt vulnerable at the helplessness that the warriors felt.

       Many people don’t see police officers up close. To some, they are an anomaly. After all, some people are only used to seeing them when responding to a crisis. To see them as people is different. To see them as hurting people is almost disturbing.

       Inside the church, a solemnness was felt on that day. Hundreds of lawmen and women dressed in crisply pressed dress uniforms with bright badges and polished shoes were seen in every direction. Row after row of protectors filled the church. Some talked quietly, but mostly they sat in silence – reverent silence. They all seemed to be looking at the wonderful and terrible sight in front of them.

       Larry Bailly being one of the officers. The tough old soldier sported a bandage on his neck. Larry was always one to not bring attention to himself. When asked if he was okay, he usually replied with something like “I’m fine.” He didn’t like the attention, but he was there to show respect for his fallen brother.

       The flag-draped casket which contained the hero – the man who took the bullet – was placed in front of the church pulpit. Standing at attention at. Draped over the casket was an American flag. At the head and at the foot of the casket were two members stood a member of the Pensacola Police Department Honor Guard. The honor guard was made up of members who were specially trained in correctly showing honor to display respect for fallen officers. The Guard maintained a vigil during the visitation and the funeral. Officers spent fifteen minutes per team on guard. Like clockwork, a second team ceremoniously replaced the first.

       As friends and family mournfully passed by the casket to play final respects, the two police statues stood guard over the body. Strong and emotionless they stood, looking straight ahead. But when they looked closely, tears could be seen on the faces of the guards. These officers were human, and this was their brother.

       An article in the Pensacola News Journal on October 22, 1982, described how the pastor, Dr. Alton Butler, spoke about the laws of society.    “God urges us to have respect not only for these laws, but for those who enforce them,” said the pastor. “He met the enemy and gave his best.”

       Later, Suzanne and the family exited the front doors to an army of law officers standing in formation near the hearse. After an awkward wait that seemed like hours, the hero’s flag-draped casket appeared, carried by six of his friends in uniform. One of them was Franco Sidoti. As they appeared, the command, “DETAIL…ATTEN-HUT!” Hundreds of police officers snapped to attention. Immediately, another command, “PRESENT ARMS!” Simultaneously a final salute was given to their comrade.

       The funeral procession across town to Bayview Cemetery stretched more than a mile. Beginning with police motorcycles who sped forward to block intersections so the first police cruiser could lead the procession through. After the hearse and family car, police cars formed the seemingly unending automobile string – car after car after car with blue lights flashing. The procession concluded with hundreds of private vehicles.

       Bayview Cemetery was a picturesque spot located on the bluffs overlooking Escambia Bay. It was truly a beautiful final resting location for a hero. When the back door of the hearse opened, the six pall bearers received the casket. They carried Steve across the cemetery to his final resting place, facing east. Dr. Butler delivered the graveside words flawlessly. Then came the flag folding, the 21-gun salute, and Taps played on the bugle. It was heart-wrenching. Less than 48-hours ago, Steve was talking with his bride. Now she was burying him.

Steve Taylor’s casket. Pensacola News Journal photo

       Life is ironic. At the same moment that mourners were burying a hero on the east side of town, the two men who murdered him were receiving the best care possible on the west side   . Clarence Hill and Cliff Jackson were under guard in Baptist Hospital. Security was tight, especially in light of intelligence that had been received that Hill’s brother was in town. Finally, on October 26 – one week after the murder – the two men were transported under secrecy to the Escambia County Jail where they were placed on the high-risk floor.

Friday March 11, 1983

       Cliff Jackson, the younger of the murderers, decided to acquiesce to his part in the robbery and murder. For that, he received life in prison. It was the only smart thing he had done recently, although it was still out of concern for himself. Even though Jackson had a baby face and appeared to not be ‘as guilty’ as his partner, he was every bit the mean and ugly person in jail. He treated officers and other inmates with disdain, threatening and degrading them constantly. So, the boy that jumped in the stolen car with his buddy “for an adventure” robbed a bank, murdered a police officer and attempted to murder another one will spend 25 years in prison and be set free. Steve Taylor should be so lucky.

Monday, April 25, 1983

       Six thousand seven hundred and three dollars. That is how much was taken, and it cost a good man his life – senseless. The next step was to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. Cliff Jackson, the younger of the two, had already plead no contest to charges of armed robbery, attempted murder and murder. He received a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against his partner. 

       After a motion for a change of venue – to have the trial moved away from Pensacola – was denied by Judge Ed Barfield, the court security officers assembled the jury pool. The questioning began. “Have you heard about the case?” “Can you be objective?” “Have you formed an opinion about the case that might impede your ability to judge based solely on the evidence presented at trial?” According to the Pensacola News, one of the potential jurors was the mother of a Pensacola Police Officer, one was the wife of an Escambia County Deputy Sheriff, two who had sons-in-law in law enforcement and one whose son went to school with Officer Taylor.

       It was a lot of work, but, after two days of questioning, a jury was arrived at. Judge Barfield sequestered them for the duration of the trial. They would be put up in a local hotel, fed and entertained – all under the watchful eyes of trained court security officers. No TV, no radio, no newspapers – nothing that mentioned anything about the trial. No fun.

       On Wednesday morning, Public Defender Earl Loveless began by stating that Clarence Hill was one of the men who robbed the bank and shot the officers. That was not debated. He claimed, though, that the act was not premeditated murder. Loveless’ strategy did not hinge on guilt or innocence, but on one thing…to keep his client out of the electric chair.

       After three days of testimony from police officers, witnesses, doctors, and the co-defendant, Clarence Hill was found guilty of premeditated and felony first degree murder. The jury further recommended that Hill die in the electric chair. On May 27, 1983 Judge Barfield sentenced Hill to be executed for his deeds. Justice at work, but it didn’t bring Steve Taylor back.

       On Wednesday, September 20, 2006, Clarence Hill was declared dead at 5:11 PM eleven minutes after the lethal injection process began. Steve Taylor would have been 50 years old. His widow, family, friends, and fellow officers had to wait 24 years – 8766 days – for the day to arrive.

*Sources: Pensacola Police Department records from October 19, 1982; Clerk of Court Records 1982-1983; Pensacola News Journal October 20-28, 1982; Interview with Suzanne Taylor Vickery May 7, 2021.

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