Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Goolsby "War Story" About Death Threats and Tests of Courage

[Photo from]
[The following fictionalized account is merely an illustration which is based upon a true story.  For instance, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty!]

You will never forget your first kiss, your first bike, or your first puppy.  Well, trust me, you will never forget your first death threat, either!  Let me tell you about my first one. 

I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears prosecutor in another part of the state when I received my first death threat.  A fellow Assistant D.A. and I had begun an investigation of a top cop in one of the counties in that judicial circuit.  Simply put, we thought he was a crooked cop being paid off by drug dealers. And we were determined to prove it.  The problem was that he knew we were trying to prove it. 

My challenge was that, on a daily basis, I still had to interact with this alleged crooked cop.  We'll call him Bubba.  As the assigned prosecutor, I still had to handle all the criminal cases which Bubba's office had investigated.

Then, it happened.  One day, after court, Bubba asked me to stop by his office.  He invited me into a back office, offered a chair, and closed the door behind me.  At first, we made small talk -- about the weather and about the Georgia Bulldogs.  I felt extremely awkward and simply wanted to go.

Finally, I could tell Bubba was getting around to the point.  He prefaced his comments by reminding me about a recent death threat made against a popular local judge.  In short, a local narcotics officer had been tipped off by a snitch that a drug dealer had targeted the judge for a hit.  The story had fired up the local newspapers.  For several weeks, the death threat had been the hot topic at the local diners.

But Bubba had a different take on the story -- and a different message.  As he began his remarks, he looked straight at me -- no, it was more like straight through me.  I will never forget his icy glare.  Bubba first pointed out that he didn't put any stock in the death threat supposedly made against the judge.

Then, he added, "Rick, you don't have to worry about the death threats you hear about.  It's the threats you don't hear about that kill you.  If I ever want to kill somebody, I won't warn them about it.  I'll just get me a high powered rifle and blow their f_ _ _ing head off!"  That was it!  Understandably, I really don't remember any of our conversation after that!  But I got the point!  And I got out of there as soon as I could, while struggling to maintain my composure!

I learned a number of lessons from this stressful experience.  For instance, I learned that you can be courageous even while afraid.  I won't lie.  I was afraid.  I believed Bubba.  And after that day, I went on to endure other threats and harassment.  But the point is that I didn't back down from continuing the crooked cop investigation.  We never caught Bubba.  For me, Bubba will always be the big fish in my career that got away!  But I never quit doing what I thought was right.  I learned that the true test of courage lies in whether or not you persevere in spite of your fear.

I also learned, thanks to Bubba, that, generally, the most serious threats are the ones you never hear about.

Finally, I learned that, like your first kiss, your first bike, or your first puppy, you will never forget your first death threat, either!


  1. First, thanks for explaining what a "top cop" is.
    Second, my goodness. I'd be afraid as well. But I think most people know that being courageous is very different from not having fear. The most courageous people are probably very afraid. It is how we act under the pressure that counts. :)

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