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Flying on principles and empty stomach Tom Basinski | Sat, Nov 02 2013 12:00 PM

When I was an investigator with the DA’s office we were often asked to go on extraditions. Two investigators would fly to another state and return a prisoner to court who had been arrested on a felony warrant from San Diego.

The extraditions to Las Vegas and Phoenix were “over-and-back” trips made in the same day. Cross-country trips to different time zones were “overnighters” where we would fly in, rent a car, get a room, and bring the accused to San Diego the next day.

I went to Michigan about four times, going back a few days early, renting a car at my own expense, and visiting my family. I used vacation days, or traveled on the weekend. The personal stuff was done at no expense to the county.

The day before the prisoner pickup, I would drive to the airport, return and pay for the car I had rented, and rent another car with the county’s credit card. I would meet my extradition partner flying in from San Diego. We would get rooms and pick up the accused the next day at the jail for the return trip.

Soon, the Higher Ups decided that visiting family was a nice benefit to the employee, even though it didn’t impact the county financially or otherwise. So, they did what most would do: They stopped the practice. Anything to damage morale and anger the troops.

On regular extraditions, we caught an early flight to our destination to sightsee in cities I had never been, and probably wouldn’t see on my own.

The airlines were never happy to see us. We carried “gun letters” specifying why we were flying armed, the flights we would be on, and the name of the passenger we would be transporting. Prisoners could not be handcuffed, but they wore waist chains with a few inches of handcuff chain on each side.

The prisoner’s shirt concealed the chain, and the cuffs would be close to the body. The prisoner could lift his hands enough to take a drink, but not enough to throw a punch. Before we got on the plane we would make sure he used the restroom because he couldn’t use the one in the plane. No regular passenger ever knew what we were about.

We flew to San Antonio on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the terrorist hijackers changed our lives. This is the only time the airline personnel were happy to have two gun-toting cops on board. They whisked us up to first class near the cockpit door. Sorry, no cocktails though.

We were the “first on, last off” passengers and occupied the back three seats in the cabin. The prisoners wore regular clothes. We would always have “the talk” with them and I never had a problem with a prisoner. Flight attendants were another matter.

An attendant and I once had words. This was back when they served meals on board. She wouldn’t let the prisoner eat. I asked why. She said it was policy. I said, “I’ve flown with prisoners on this airline before and they fed the prisoner. Whose policy is it, the airline’s or yours?” She had no answer. Demonstrating solidarity I said, “If he’s not eating, I’m not eating.” I figured she would cringe in shame. She didn’t.

My partner, a rotund fellow not accustomed to missing meals, didn’t buy into the solidarity thing. “I’ll have the lasagna,” he said. I sat there, hungry and angry. The attendant came back an hour later and said the guy could eat. Maybe she foresaw the nasty letter I was mentally composing to management.

I asked him what he wanted. He said he didn’t want anything. I wished he would have told me that when I was arguing with Stewardess Ratchet.

Extraditions were a nice diversion from the day-to-day cop work, and I saw places I would never see otherwise.

Basinski was a DA Investigator for 17 years of his 35-year police career.

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