One shot away: Retiring Goldsboro policeman looks back on career
By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 24, 2009 11:46 PM
Goldsboro police Capt. Brady Thompson remembers the day when a drug arrest nearly cost him his life.
Brady Thompson saw a blue flash and grabbed his chest, rolling back into an empty East Elm Street bedroom he had just "cleared."
Thompson, the captain of Goldsboro's Narcotics/Vice squad, had been shot by a man under suspicion for cocaine trafficking.
He survived the attack -- just one of the memories of the dangerous situations that accompany undercover police work.
The narcotics captain will finish his career this month, ending a line of work that began with the Goldsboro Police Department in 1983.
His retirement, coincidentally, comes just days after his attacker, Bobby Lee Rawlings, received his second prison sentence for his assaults on police.
The March 2006 raid of Rawlings' home came after a tip from the Crime Stoppers hotline, placed by a caller alleging that drug activity was taking place in the home.
Police found a door barricaded with lumber and a surveillance camera system just inside the doorway. It took multiple attempts to bring down the door, and inside, Rawlings had run upstairs and waited with a gun.
Minutes later, a bullet-resistant vest saved Thompson's life.
Thompson says surviving the attack led to numerous accolades.
One of the most special, he said, is the Superman Award he received from his fellow officers, commemorated by a large movie poster that has hung for years on a window of the Goldsboro police investigative division.
The Superman comparison attests to Thompson's tenacity: He was back at work the very next day after taking the bullet.
"I guess I had to prove to myself that I could still do it, and I was back at work the next morning, but I couldn't do anything because everybody was trying to talk to me," the captain said. "Basically, all I was doing was carrying on conversations all day long."
Even though he eased back into police work quickly, Thompson said heading back to the field was much more difficult.
He chose to face his fears head-on.
Two days after being shot, the police were engaged in SWAT training, and got two calls -- "one guy that was hiding in a house, and the other was a guy in a vehicle where the guy didn't want to cooperate," Thompson said.
He went on those calls, but by that weekend, he was seriously considering a change in his line of work.
"That Saturday, I was like, 'I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I'm the same person,'" Thompson said.
A doctor had told the police captain he would be out of work for at least three weeks, but Thompson ignored the advice.
He ran for miles, then he headed to the gym, where he bench-pressed up to 300 pounds.
The exercises proved he could still handle the physical aspect of his job, he said.
Overcoming the strain on his emotions was much harder.
"It started to mess with me psychologically -- and there's always a gun, somewhere, in most cases," Thompson said. "And I just had to deal with it.
"Finally, I got to the point, where I said to myself, 'If I'm going to get shot or killed, I'm going to get shot or killed doing something I wanted to do.'"
Thompson said he did not make the decision lightly, adding that he is passionate about fighting drug abuse.
"Drugs have messed up so many people's lives in our nation, and when I first got into (narcotics law enforcement), I said "I know I can't get it all off the street.
"But for every rock, every gram that I take of the street, that is one less gram that somebody's kid will be able to get their hands on. That's one less rock that my kids will be able to get their hands on. That's the way I faced it."
That day in 2006 was not the only time Thompson had been in danger.
In his early years, he remembered being parked in an unmarked police car. A young drug dealer chose to ram the back of the car.
"He claimed he didn't know how it happened, and that his accelerator stuck. He hit the back of our car after he veered off to the side," Thompson said.
Then, on Halloween in 1990, Thompson said he was working the West Haven public housing unit.
"We noticed a guy run up to this tractor trailer, and we realized it to be a drug deal," Thompson said. "Just as we got to him, he turned to run, and he ran straight to me."
The 18-wheeler, trying to escape, struck Thompson and the man he was trying to hold on to.
When both officer and suspect got up, Thompson chased Reginald Bell about two or three blocks, catching him when he slipped.
Although Thompson made the arrest, he ruptured a disc in his spine and pinched a nerve in his back. He was out of work for nearly a year, after physical therapy, he said.
"Because that was Halloween, from that point on, I quit going out on Halloween night," Thompson said with a laugh.
One of the most memorable -- and frightening -- experiences Thompson ever had was while working undercover in Wilson, he said, in the late '80s or early '90s.
Jamaican drug dealers were set to sell $10,000 worth of heroin to the undercover Thompson.
"As it stood, I was just supposed to go to this one guy's house, and that ... contact was the middleman. I was supposed to take the money, put it in my car, go to this guy's house, and whenever I saw the dope, I was supposed to go out and give the signal."
When Thompson arrived, no one was at the home but the middleman, he said.
"He (the middleman) picks up the phone, calls the (dealer) and tells him that I'm there," Thompson said.
But the Jamaican dealers were not convinced. They asked the middleman to go with Thompson to make sure he had the money.
So Thompson had to go outside with the middleman, fearing that the operation had been blown because he would have to leave the home and possibly trigger a rush of drug agents.
But the trip outside was uneventful. Then, the rain came.
"It starts raining, and they (the S.B.I. and agents of the Wilson Sheriff's Department) can't see because of the weather," Thompson said.
Inside, the deal was supposed to have occurred early in the morning. Now, it was mid-afternoon, and Thompson still had not seen the dealers.
"I'm still waiting, and then all of sudden the door flies open, this guy comes in and he's got an army with him, and he throws out $10,000 worth of heroin on this bed.
"He sits down and starts talking to me, 'You might be the police, I might be the police, but if you're not the police, we can do business.'
"I said, 'Well, I'm not the police,' and he told his guys 'Search him.' Thompson said. "They actually made me strip. They even checked my equipment -- I had carried in scales."
After the searching and questioning, the Jamaicans finally decided that it was OK to do business with Thompson.
"Then, the big man that was giving all the instructions, he put it (the money) in his pocket," Thompson said.
Everything had gone according to plan, except one thing -- no police officers rushed into the scene to make the arrests.
Thompson made contact by radio, urging his fellow officers to track down the people involved in the drug buy and arrest them.
"The man that actually had the money, he ran through this little neighborhood and threw $10,000, in a Hardee's bag, and they couldn't find it," Thompson said.
The other officers had to call Thompson and ask him who had the money, information that finally allowed the officers to track down the bag of cash.
"It (the Hardee's bag full of cash) was lying up under a bush," Thompson said.
Thompson was promoted to narcotics sergeant in the early '90s, and remained in that position until 1999, when he was promoted to captain.
The 53-year-old has two grown sons, Travis, 31, and Roderic, 33. He will soon celebrate his first anniversary with his second wife, Christine, in March.
After spending a few years as the captain of the patrol division, he was back on the drug squad, a few years before he was shot at Rawlings' home on East Elm Street.
This month, Rawlings was sentenced to up to 14 years for his attempts on Thompson and Sgt. Dan Peters' life.
Peters and Thompson have always been close, starting within days of one another on the Goldsboro force. The attack on them made them closer, Thompson said.
The local sentence came after a federal court sentenced Rawlings to 46 years in prison for other charges stemming from the same incident.
Thompson said it didn't appear that two years incarceration had changed Rawlings much.
"You know, you could tell he wasn't really sincere in his apology," Thompson said. "He was apologizing to the court overall, and I just happened to be in it (the courtroom)."
"In all of the trials that I've been in, that's the first time he's ever said anything about being sorry."
But that was a downside to a job Thompson said has been rewarding and challenging.
He has a creed, a determination not to let the threats he faces make him anything less than a good officer.
"Even though I knew I was in a dangerous job, and I know what people are doing, I still treated them like I wanted to be treated," Thompson said. "If I knew (someone) was a drug dealer, I was friendly. I want to be remembered as a fair, honest and friendly person."