by Robert Cubby
As the hours pass and we approach 1/14/14, I am reminded of that date 38 years ago, 1/14/76. On that at 0211 hours my partner and I receive a call that will change both of us the rest of our lives. Arriving at the scene and calling off at 0214 hours we found Police Officer Willie McCarthy mortally wounded at the intersection of Van Reypen and Academy, stabbed multiple times by two assailants while off duty, his badge and gun missing. With barely three years on the job for me, and four for my partner Tim, we were thrust into a murder investigation of one of our own. Nothing could have prepared us for that night. Rest in peace my brother.
It was January 14, 1976. Tim and I were assigned West 401 on the midnight tour. Our zone is usually one of the quieter zones. We were partnered up since we were both younger officers and the older officers were already partnered up. I guess it’s just human nature to want to be a partner with someone you can relate to. Eight hours is a long time cooped up in a radio car with a person you can’t interact. Tim and I got along well and enjoyed working together.
The night was bitterly cold out. There wasn’t a soul out on the streets. Traffic was very light and it looked like it was going to be a long, boring night. We figured we’d dine around 2 a.m. at our usual spot, the VIP Restaurant. We had to stay in our zones and the VIP was in our zone.
We were on patrol several hours now. We turned on the AM/FM radio in the car and listened to music. The Eagles’ Lying Eyes was on the radio and we made a feeble attempt at singing along. The police radio was dead, no calls for several hours. We were northbound on Westside crossing Highland. It was 2:10 a.m. Time to start heading for our dining period. The dispatcher comes on calling our car number. He tells us there is a report of shots fired in the area of the VIP. We have been getting a rash of false alarms of shots fired or large street fights around the area of the VIP, same time every night. That was probably what this call was.
I continued north on Westside and turned on Sip. Sip Avenue is very wide and if we had to increase speed we could. We could see the VIP parking lot from a good distance away. We figured this was going to be another false alarm and we’d clear the call then go off the air to have our mean.
We pulled up in the lot. Everything seemed normal and no one was calling for us or waving that we should stop and investigate. We searched both lots and there was nothing going on. We asked for a complainant so we could get more information or find out if the shots were at the VIP. Dispatch tells us one complainant, a taxi driver. There were no taxis around, but their stand is up the block in Journal Square.
As we were about to tell dispatch that there was nothing going on at the VIP, we were informed that they were getting numerous calls of shots fired, all different complainants. That gave us some concern as that signified that this may be legitimate. The complainants all lived around the intersection of Van Reypen and Academy, 1 block away from the VIP
As we drive up the block, we see a male laying face down in the street at the intersection. We call off to dispatch that we may have something, to standby as we determine what we are looking at. We roll him over and he’s bleeding seriously. We’re assuming he’s shot. He’s an off duty officer from Jersey City. I run back to the car because we didn’t have portable radios then and call dispatch asking for a bus (ambulance) on the rush and a backup. Silence.
It seems like an eternity, no one is acknowledging. I scream again. I’m told an ambulance is on the way as is another car. I grab the oxygen kit and try to assist his labored breathing. He’s choking on the blood coming from his mouth. I have his back cradled against my chest so that I can hold him in an upright position while giving oxygen. I hear sirens approaching, praying it’s the ambulance. Our friend, Willie, is slipping fast.
It’s another radio car. Jerry and Jim get out. We decide we cannot wait for the ambulance and we load him in the rear seat of the radio car. I grab him under the arms with his back against my chest, while Jim and Jerry grab the legs. Tim opens the doors of the car. I get into the car backwards sitting on the rear seat pulling Willie inside. I then get out and Jerry and Jim rush him to the hospital. They make very good time and they start working to save Willie immediately.
I’m covered in blood as is my oxygen kit but I don’t notice. I’m trying to keep my head in the game to do my job, but I’m feeling overwhelmed by the whole situation. We locate the witnesses who tell us that the officer fired off several rounds in the air as two men were attacking him. They did not shoot him but stabbed him repeatedly. We looked for Willie’s gun and ID when we found out he didn’t have them on him at the hospital.
Unfortunately, the two men were now armed with Willie’s gun, which may still have live rounds in it. We also found out which way they fled, south on Van Reypen toward Highland. Tim makes a comment that if we took Highland we could have intercepted them. I felt horrible thinking I hadn’t thought of that and that he was right. I felt horrible that we could have caught these two. Now they’ve escaped and that could be my fault. I should have responded faster. I should have done a better job at first aid. Maybe we should have waited for the ambulance because we might have injured him further by not having immediate first aid applied. Second-guessing was running rampant because you just cannot live with the fact that one of our own is seriously injured and the two that did it are on the loose.
We responded back to the district to do our reports. We were receiving periodic updates from the officers at the hospital about Willie’s condition. Then we received that call we all dread as police officers, that Willie had died of his injuries. The damage was too much. No amount of surgery was going to repair what was done to Willie. And the more I thought about it, it was probably best that we didn’t take Highland Avenue. These two would have been walking or running, spot us before we spotted them, and shot the two of us before we realized who they were.
This all should have made me feel a little better but it didn’t. I was sad, mad, numb, having trouble concentrating and completely unaware that I was covered in blood until the day tour pointed it out. When I saw how badly the oxygen kit was covered in blood, I realized what was going on.
We responded to the funeral with full honors for Willie. While we were outside the funeral home, many officers were laughing and joking around. I was sullen and very mad that they were not conducting themselves with respect for the fallen.
But I realized two things as I looked back on that day and why I acted like I did. First, laughter and joking are coping mechanisms that officers use to ward off anxiety and stress. I’m sure in their hearts all of these officers were saddened for Willie but they masked it because we are not allowed to show our emotions as police officers. Second, the only people who were there that night, that saw what was done to Willie, were Jerry, Jim, Tim and me. How could I expect these others to feel like I do, they didn’t walk in my shoes that night, they didn’t see what I saw. To hold them to feelings and emotions that I was experiencing would be unreal and unfair.
Jerry, Jim, Tim and I still share that night, we still remember and talk about how four young officers had to step up and handle the murder of a fellow officer. It was a hard lesson. The street is a hard teacher.
About the Author: Robert Cubby was born January 4, 1950. He attended Montclair State College (University) earning a BA degree in psychology. Shortly after graduation, Robert was sworn in as a police officer for the Jersey City Police Department. After attending the Police Academy, he was assigned to the patrol division. After seven years of working in two patrol districts, he was transferred to the Emergency Services Bureau where he was an instructor for the Police Academy. After 8 1/2 years, Robert was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Property Unit. This was followed by assignments back in patrol as a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. As a lieutenant, Robert was deployed to assist in the efforts during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. As a captain, he was assigned out of title 50% of the time as an acting inspector/city commander. Captain Cubby retired from the Jersey City police Department in 2011 after 38 years, 4 months of service. As the result of his service to the department, he was diagnosed with PTSD and continues to struggle with it on a recurring basis. Robert also appeared in the film Code 9- Officer Needs Assistance.