For a man with a gentle spirit, a ready smile and infectious laugh, Woody sure has seen some harsh reality. As a homicide detective he was on call 24 hours a day, jerked from one end of town to the other as calls came in, and was frequently up all night. "That's when most of the violent crimes occur. I've investigated three homicides in one night. You get some of the best information by going directly to the scene when people are still standing around. Then I always would go the next night, same time that the crime occurred the night before, because the same people would usually be around
people have routines, you know."
Woody's routine began to get crazy as the number of city murders escalated in the '90s. There were years when the sheer volume of homicides was overwhelming. Numbers rose exponentially from 58 murders in 1980, to 113 in 1990 and then up to an all-time high of 160 in 1994. Chief Oliver arrived in 1995 with a fresh, community approach to crime-solving, and, in 1999, homicides were the lowest they've been in 16 years, only 74. As of Sept. 29, Richmond has had 54 homicides.
Learned Barry, now a prosecutor with the commonwealth's attorney's office in Chesterfield, estimates that he worked with Woody on some 75 murder cases in the years he was with the Richmond office, starting in 1978. "It's hard to day in and day out work with victims and their families. You lose something by just constantly being bombarded by violence. Woody had been effectively able to deal with violence and still remain a decent human being, and he dealt with some of the worst cases. He's a rock. He is so rare to have done it for nearly 30 years, because he has seen some of the most hideous things done to people."
Barry remembers one cleanup operation in particular. "There was a group of drug-dealing killers that had literally taken over Blackwell. Woody and some of the other guys waded right into that mess, and we ended up convicting them all for at least 10 different murders. I've worked with a lot of detectives, but he's the one who was so dependable."
Woody was a key component to many of Barry's cases. Barry recalls being in the courtroom, addressing the jury with his opening argument and not having any idea whether or not he'd have the witness he needed to testify and make the case. "Then, through the doors in the back of the courtroom walked Woody, giving me the thumbs up
he never let me down in a single case. Once we went to trial, he always got who we needed."
Other prosecutors agree. Buddy Parcell, an attorney in private practice, has known Woody for 20 years, five of them as a prosecutor with the city's commonwealth's attorney's office. "Woody knew who all the players were. He knows so much about the street and has excellent resources. Most of the time, with a drug killing, we knew within hours who did it." Getting witnesses to come forward was the ultimate challenge and Woody's respect in the neighborhoods made the prosecutors' jobs easier. "He would give the approval for folks to talk to us," Parcell recalls. "Woody would give them a nod, letting them know it was OK."
Woody also taught Parcell a thing or two about reading people. "He had a feel for people. I'd have him sit at the counsel table in court with me and we'd pick a jury together."
"Woody is a class act," Parcell says. "He's the real deal. If I was with Woody in the middle of August, 100 degrees outside, and Woody said, 'It's snowing,' I'd go get my sled."
Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Warren Von Schuch, like Barry and Parcell, worked in the Richmond office in the '70s and '80s when crime was on a dramatic rise. "If C.T. didn't know it, nobody did," he says of Woody's insider knowledge. "He knew every criminal in the city and always had access to information before everyone else did."
Woody's success, Von Schuch says, has been due to his ability to know the right people and earn their trust. "Put him in a room with 100 strangers, and within 15 minutes, he'd know everybody by their first names."
Von Schuch tells of the stakeout that ultimately brought famed killers Linwood Briley and Duncan Meekins in. "We were all set up to get them, but Briley and Meekins had a police scanner so they were listening in as we followed them. We'd say 'they're taking a left' and they'd hear us and make a right." Finally Briley hopped out of the car to make a run for it , and Woody ran him down and brought him in. Meanwhile, Meekins got caught and ended up telling all, leading to multiple convictions.
"When the end comes, the Almighty has a special place for Woody because of all the good he has done," Von Schuch says."I'm not a hero," Woody insists.
"I just treat people with respect, and I did it in the most professional way I knew how, even the bad guys. My key was this: knowing how to talk to people, how to treat them, just the way I would want them to talk to me."
On the job with his team, Woody and his colleagues talk for a living as they engage in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. The object of the game is to run the bad guys out of town and make neighborhoods safe for citizens. When they begin an operation in a given neighborhood they go door to door and survey the residents about their concerns. They set up telephone trees so that people can stay in touch and receive information about incidents that occur. Then the team hits the street.
"We sit right down on those corners with them and say, 'Hello, we are here and we're not going anywhere,'" Woody says. "I make sure to speak to the bad guys and let them know we're around. We play tag. We say, 'We're watching you. We know what you're up to. And wherever you go, we're going too.' They hate it because it's bad for business. Nobody's going to come up to them to buy drugs when we're sitting right there."
When Woody's team was first in place there was some resentment among other detectives, wondering how the CIT was going to interface with the regular force. "Some of them thought we were 'secret squirrels' over here and blah, blah, blah, but they soon understood that we were here to help out." In fact, the CIT makes some arrests but they also turn over leads to beat detectives. Because of this joint effort, it's difficult to measure the CIT's success. Until you visit a neighborhood where the team has taken action.
"When the police cleaned out the Walmsley Terrace apartments, all the drug dealers and addicts came from over there into our community," says Barbara Clatterbuck, a resident of Southside's Vial Heights, off Walmsley Boulevard. A call to the police brought Woody and his team to the rescue. "He came in on the wind in about two seconds. There were seven drug houses in here, and they got all of them out," she says. "You wouldn't think it was the same neighborhood.
[image-1](Stephen Salpukas / Style Weekly)From left, Detectives C.T. Woody, Timothy Coleman, Nicole Green, James Harrison, Ken Roane and William Burnett set up shop on the corner of Napoleon and Meadowbridge in North Side. The Community Intelligence Team stakes out corners usually populated by drug dealers to force dealers and buyers out of the neighborhood. "Citizens don't give the police enough credit," Clatterbuck continues, calling Woody '"top on my list" and "awesome." "They taught us how to handle things. We learned how to control our community. If it wasn't for Detective Woody and some of the others, this community would be just like a ghetto, and everybody would be afraid to be on their porches."
The real beauty of the CIT, Woody says, is its ability to focus on one particular area while the other detectives continue to respond to calls as they come in from all over the city.
North Side's Highland Park is the CIT's focus of the month. "Some residents wrote a letter to the Chief and asked that the police come over so our team has moved in," Woody says as he cruises up Brookland Park Boulevard. Behind the wheel, he's dressed in some snappy gray slacks, a tropical-print short-sleeved shirt, shoulder holster and a straw Panama hat, a far cry from the traditional blues. Though he says he wears a uniform at times, street clothes can work to his advantage in a residential area such as Highland Park.
They've spent a few shifts there already, from 2 to 10 p.m. "Yeah, we walked right on in, parked, got out and sat on the hoods of our cars and told the kids, 'won't nobody gonna sell any drugs today. You might as well go in the house where you're supposed to be. We're gonna be here tonight. We're gonna be here tomorrow night.'"
Woody and the team like to pull out their lawn chairs and settle in on the dealers' favorite corner, right in front of the North Food Market. "We tell them, 'Y'all gonna have a cookout? We gonna have a cookout with you. You going down the other end of the block? We're going too.'" Woody relates this in a sing song voice that would drive any dealer to distraction. What he is saying to them is, we ain't going nowhere so you better close up shop.
"This neighborhood used to be a nice neighborhood with beautiful houses," Woody says. Streets are wide and the houses, many Victorian with decorative trim and wide front porches, are generous in size. Rarely is anyone seen on a porch, however. "There's Vincent's Cafeteria where the teachers and school principal used to eat, and now it's closed down," Woody says, passing through a retail area of yesteryear. "Only the elderly live here who can't afford to move, and the rest of them are people on the streets who may not even live here. They just come to do business."
Woody rolls down his window. "Good mornin'," he says cheerfully to a guy he knows to be a dealer. Inside the car, he says, "I always wave and speak. It's one of the most important things a police officer can do." He observes other known dealers wheeling aimlessly up and down the city blocks on bikes. "They've already picked up their stuff from the wholesalers, and they're ready to do business." It's 9:30 a.m.
Woody swings around a corner to a forlorn-looking block with dirt front yards. "Down here are the winos and the drunks. They cannot stand the junkies." Sure enough, five or six folks are sitting in folding chairs holding cold beverages. They wave. "How you doin' Woody?"
It's a fact. Everybody knows Woody and he's made sure they do.
Woody points out the graffiti marks like "RIP" - those are territorial marks that dealers put on corners to designate them as theirs. He and his team like to hop out and stand on those corners. Drives the dealers crazy. He also likes to clean up the graffiti and tells a lady standing on her front porch that he'll be back later to clean up a yellow scribble on the telephone pole next to her home. "Thank you," she says without a smile.
On a recent night, the CIT parked on Maryland Street and walked up and down a particularly drug-busy block that most people are afraid to pass by in the evening. "People were cheering and saying 'we're glad you're here' but we can't keep coming back. I say to them, 'What are y'all gonna do?' because people need to be responsible for their own neighborhoods."
Three churches within a one-block area keep things half-clean around them. But just down the street four boys are walking along, headed nowhere. They're school age, but Woody says, "They've been put out of school. They're gonna rob. They're gonna steal cars. They're gonna get in somebody's stuff."
Farther along, on a block with neatly kept yards, Woody points out two women walking down the sidewalk. They're prostitutes, he says. He pulls a U-turn at the end of the block, and one woman disappears into thin air. He rounds the block and sees her duck behind a house. She sees him and starts running. That makes Woody wonder if there might be a warrant out for her. He revs up the engine and hauls down an overgrown alley that seems too skinny for the cruiser. Now she's running the other way. He jumps out, leaving the car door ajar, and sprints after her, Panama hat and all. Minutes later he comes walking down the alley, hand on her back, both of them winded.
"You let an old man catch you," he quips as he calls in her vitals to see if she's wanted. She's not, and she claims to be clean and not prostituting, but she doesn't get away without a come-to-Jesus lecture that brings tears to her eyes and a very solemn string of yes-sirs and no-sirs.
Woody warns her about the woman she's hanging with. "That girl is gonna be your deathbed
she's already using you. I'm trying to save your life, keep you from being a number." She says she's written her mother to send her a bus ticket so she can get out of town, and she asks for Woody's number. "Will you come pick me up if I call?" she asks weakly. "Yes, I'll come take you out of here," Woody assures her. "Thank you, sir," she says, opening the car door and stepping back out onto the mean street.
Though she claimed not to be using, the woman had the trademark sunken eyes, Woody notes. Other signs: sunken face, sucking on candy (a favorite of the heroin user), restlessness, a voice that sounds younger than her actual age. "She's in that first stage," he says, "just the eyes."
Easing the cruiser back toward downtown, Woody says, "I'll be back around here tonight and check on her. I'll get her out of there this evening if I can."
It's that personal style that sets Woody apart from your basic city cop. "I send anniversary cards to families, telling them I'm sorry and I'm thinking about them. That's what made me in homicide. It's the little things you do that count. You've got to show your feelings. It's more than locking people up. It's how you treat them, how you be with them."
Headed back to his office at police headquarters, Woody eyes the skyline and declares, "Richmond is changing for the best. But the crunch time is now. Crime is down but we've got work to do."
C.T Woody on
What citizens can do
"There are some things we have to go in an uproar about. Citizens have to demand more of leaders - City Council, the city manager. They need to come down and get involved, learn how the system works. The preachers in the churches need to come out of those churches to where the people actually are. They could adopt a city block and provide for the people, keep it clean, educate, provide health services, jobs, training. Can you imagine how beautiful this city could be?" He goes on to say that black kids in the city need places to go after school and in the evening, places that are fun and safe and well-supervised. "What if you told kids they had to read five or 10 pages aloud before they could play basketball?
There are a lot of little things we could do to make a difference."
The death penalty
Although he's a proponent of the penalty when all appeals have been exhausted and DNA has been tested, Woody's never attended an execution. That will change when death-row resident Christopher Goins' number comes up. "I want to go to that one," he says with a dead-on glare. Why this one? "He showed no remorse whatsoever. He wiped a whole family out. He walked in that house, talked and laughed with everybody, then methodically went from room to room killing everyone." Goins' girlfriend, Tameka Jones, and an 18-month baby somehow survived, and Tameka, guarded heavily in the hospital, then at a safe house, testified. The case tore Woody up. "We used to carry her to the graveyard around 2 or 3 a.m. so she could talk to her mom's grave," he remembers sadly.
He's not against them, but he's for better controls. "Those gun shows are the worst. They get a friend with a clean record to buy the gun for them, pay him a $100 for doing it. The friend hands over the gun, waits 10 days, then reports it stolen. Then it's not in their name any more." He calls Project Exile, the program that slams those with prior convictions and unregistered handguns in jail, "tremendous, outstanding. The U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI and DEA really worked together to make that happen."
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