M. L. "Joe" Singleton

Duration: 1Hr: 30Mins
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Interview with: Joe Singleton
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: October 3, 1974
Archive Number: OH 166

Marchiafava
0:00:12.3 Beginning interview with Mr Joe Singleton, October 3, 1974. Can you give me some idea of your background in law enforcement? When did you first join the Houston Police Department?

Singleton
Well, I joined the police department on July 22, 1945. Prior to that, during World War II, I served as a military policeman from July of 1941 until I was discharged in 1945. I was discharged on June 22, 1945. I went to work for the police department on July 22, I believe—22nd or 25th of July, 1945. I was with the Houston Police Department until March 15, 1972, at which time I retired and went out to Pearland as the chief of police. I formed the Intelligence Division. We started out with myself and one secretary and 6 officers on March 1, 1965. When I left on March 15, 1972, I believe we had 21 policemen and 3 policewomen and 3 sergeants and 3 civilian-type clerical people. Prior to that, I was a lieutenant in the Robber Division. I worked primarily in the Armed Robbery Division from the time it started on November 1, 1954 until Chief Short transferred me and put me in charge of the Intelligence Division in 1972. Prior to 1954, I worked in the Homicide Division for about 2-2½ years. Prior to that, I worked in Burglary and Theft. I went in the Detective Bureau on July 4, 1948. Except for about 2 months, I spent all of my police career—practically all of it—well, from July ’45 to July ’48, I spent in uniform. Then from that point on, except for about 3 months, has been in the Detective Bureau and the criminal investigation field.

Marchiafava
You weren’t— I might have confused the dates. I thought you had entered the intelligence section in ’68.

Singleton
No.
Marchiafava
No?

Singleton
I formed the Intelligence Division on March 1, 1965.

Marchiafava
0:03:37.3 What motivated you to go into police work?

Singleton
Well, it was rather some strange circumstances. I enlisted in the army in World War II, and I started out in the artillery. I took my basic training down in Pensacola, Florida, and was scheduled to go to the Panama Canal Zone. In 1940—the latter part of 1940—they assigned 90 men from Florida over to Fort Crockett in Galveston, Texas. In January of ’41, they moved our entire unit down to Camp Hulen in Palacios, which was just beginning to open up. And then in June ’41, they asked for 13 men from my regiment to go back to Galveston on to TAC service. I was a sergeant at the time, and until I was transferred back down to Galveston, I didn’t know that I was going back down there as a military police sergeant. At the time, they didn’t have a corps of military police as such, but they pulled out various enlisted men and officers from various branches of the service just to make up the military police. So I was in Galveston until November of 1941. On the first of November, 1941, I was transferred to Houston and was stationed right here in Houston as a military police sergeant when World War II was declared. I stayed here for approximately 6 more months then asked for a transfer back to the artillery, but they transferred me to another MP unit in Temple, up at Fort Hood. But while I was in Houston working as a military police sergeant, and in Galveston, I came to know a lot of the policemen, particularly here in Houston, and Ray Ashworth was chief of police. I met him, and in our conversation he told me that if I ever decided to go into law enforcement full time and was looking for a police job, come back to Houston and if he was still here he’d try to help me. So I came back from Europe in 1945 while the war was still going on over there and was in Houston when the war over there ended. They came out with the point system, and I had a sufficient number of points to be discharged. While I was still here, I applied for a job as a policeman at the Civil Service Commission, and when I came back from Atlanta with my discharge, they were looking for me to go to work. Jack Heard—I believe Jack was a graduate of Rice, isn’t he?

 

Marchiafava
I believe he attended there. I don’t know if he—

Singleton
0:06:53.2 Well, Jack Heard’s father is the man who interviewed me. He was chief of police when I got back from the war. Jack had been in France for years. He was my best man when I got married. But that’s how I came to be a policeman. I like Houston. As I say, I met many policemen here and made a lot of friends. When the war ended, I came back and decided I’d be a cop.

Marchiafava
Well, you joined the force at a time when the Houston Police Officers’ Association was formed. Is that right?

Singleton
Right. I’m a charter member of the Houston Police Officers’ Association.

Marchiafava
Can you tell me something about its formation—reasons for it, motivations, goals?

Singleton
Well, there were a group of dedicated officers who were sick and tired of every change of administration. There’d be a complete upset of the rank structure. A man may be a captain today and a patrolman tomorrow. In fact, the first change in administration occurred when Oscar Holcombe took office on January 1, 1947. Of course, having not lived here and didn’t know anything about the political structure or didn’t know any politicians or anything, I could care less about the political. All I wanted to be was a policeman and do a job. But when, as I said, Jack Heard’s father, Chief Percy Heard, put me to work in July of ’45, well, if I remember correctly, the election was held in 1946, and the mayor took office on January 1 or 2. But Percy Heard resigned effective December 31, and B. W. Payne was appointed chief of police shortly thereafter. Buster Kerns was chief of detectives. Buster was demoted to a detective. Hug Williams(?) was a captain of detectives. He was demoted to a detective. It was along about this point that Buster resigned and ran for sheriff. Bill Haley(?), who is dead now, was a lieutenant in charge of the Accident Division, and Carl Shuptrine, who later went on to become chief of police—Carl Shuptrine was an inspector over all of the uniformed forces, and him and Haley just traded places. Shuptrine went back to lieutenant, and Hailey went up to inspector. People who were detectives— M. M. Simpson, who was appointed a captain this week and night chief next week— There was another man in there that went up to captain. Buster Kerns was the number-two man in the department as Chief of Detectives, and they brought in A.C. Thornton as Assistant Chief after they busted Buster back to a detective. There was just wholesale switching of ranks. A man would be a patrolman one day and a captain the next or vice versa. As a result of this, the people who were dedicated policemen, who wanted to promote people on the basis of their ability rather than who they know—at that time, policemen spent more time politicking than they did working. They wanted to get the policemen back to working so they could do a good job regardless of who the mayor was. So it was as a result of this, I believe in 1947, that the Houston Police Officers’ Association was formed, and, as I say, I’m a charter member of it. I believe it was ’47—it may have been ’46—

Marchiafava
It was ’45 that it was chartered. I think it was December of ’45.

Singleton
0:11:37.4 Was it December of ’45? Well, I don’t recall just exactly when it was, but it was about ’47 when 1269M was passed.

Marchiafava
It was ’47 when the State Civil Service Law was passed.

Singleton
That’s right, 1269M. These are the dates I’m getting confused.

Marchiafava
Where did the group of officers who you described as dedicated officers—where did they come from?

Singleton
Out of the ranks. There was Earl Maughmer, who was a patrolman. There was B.M. “Red” Squires, who was a patrolman. There was J.F. Willis, who was a captain when he retired. He’s retired now. It’s kind of hard to remember all the people. There were probably no more than 30 or 40 officers involved in it when it really started.

Marchiafava
Was there any effort by the city administration or ranking officers to stop the work of the Association?

Singleton
0:12:52.2 I heard there was some interference, but I don’t really know. I wasn’t really active in it. I supported everything they did, but it’s like the association is now; they have in excess of 2200 members, but when you go to a meeting there will probably be 50 or less people attend. I attended meetings, paid my dues—attended meeting sometimes, not even really regular, so I didn’t really take an active role in steering all these things myself. I guess the primary driving force behind it was Earl Maughmer and Red Squires; however, it was pretty much 100 percent joined it.

Marchiafava
There’s on important question which I really haven’t been able to find a complete answer to and that is where did the idea for the association originate?

Singleton
I don’t have any idea. I do not know. Jack Maughmer can probably tell you. He works the day shift upstairs here.

Marchiafava
Yeah, I’ve spoken to him a few times already. In fact, I have an interview with him tomorrow. What was the Vice conditions like when you first came on the force?

Marchiafava
Well, of course, as a young patrolman I really, at first, didn’t have too much connection with Vice because at the time they didn’t have an academy like we have now. They had graduated a large class in 1939, and then after that they didn’t have any more large groups. I was one of the first. In fact, a fellow named J.T. LaFore(?) and I were the first two returning veterans hired after World War II. We were the first that were examined by a psychiatrist before we went to work. I have a newspaper clipping at home to this effect. In fact, it delayed us from going to work. We had to wait about a week to 10 days to get an appointment with the psychiatrist prior to going to work. At this time, they gave you a badge and you bought your gun and they put you on a corner down here. I worked Main and Rusk. Well, the first 2 or 3 days I worked with then-Sergeant Felix Fabian. He was an accident investigator, and I believe he’s presently employed either with Northwestern University or some university in Washington. I don’t even know in what field. But the reason I rode around with him is because I was having my uniforms tailored to fit me. I’d been in the military all these years. When they gave me this uniform about 3 sizes too big for me, I couldn’t see wearing the uniform and looking that sloppy. So I rode around the first 3 days in civilian clothes, and then they put me down here on Main and Rusk. My sergeant was John LaVere(?), who is now Captain of the Accident Division. I only worked there about a week and then was put on a patrol car in the downtown area with an older officer. I suppose for the first year or year and a half, until shortly after January 1, ’47, to my knowledge, there wasn’t any gambling or prostitution going on to speak of.

Marchiafava
0:17:25.1 The reason why I bring it up is, going through the newspapers doing some research from this period, I noticed there was some controversy concerning Patrolling Officer Walter Rankin, who defied orders from the chief and made arrests on his beat for gambling violations.

Singleton
Well, Walter and I were involved in that same grand jury investigation. In fact, Walter and I were talking—if it’s the same Walter Rankin that’s constable of Precinct 1 now—Walter and I worked together, not during this period. We did work together later on some, but we were involved in this same grand jury investigation. I testified before the grand jury as to what I knew. I knew that there was gambling going on. I’m reasonably sure there was prostitution. To what extent—I don’t know if anybody was being paid off as far as the prostitution was concerned. But there’s no question in my mind that somebody was getting something to let all those gamblers operate. I remember Louis Dixon, a Negro out here in 5th Ward, had a big dice game at Club Matinee. He had an interest in one over on Jensen and Sumpter and another down on Nance and Schwartz. I worked patrol car out there. We were never officially told not to bother those craps games, but it was just generally understood if you wanted to stay and work the district, you just as well leave them alone. There were a couple of occasions where we defied this. My partner and I just made wholesale raids.

Marchiafava
This was Mr Rankin?

 

Singleton
No. This wasn’t Walter Rankin. This was a fellow named Alvin Linford(?). This thing that brought about this grand jury investigation developed from a Mrs Sergeant, I believe. There was some allegations made that she was approached by a sergeant, in order for her to run her dance hall and sell a little beer after hours. She would probably get away with this for a slight fee. I believe the old Houston Press staked out a photographer and actually took a picture of him accepting the payoff. He was indicted as well as the night chief, M.M. Simpson, was indicted. It was just—

0:20:47.3 (break in audio)

I saw some of these people, like Chief Simpson. I saw him out there. I saw Club Matinee, Louis Dixon’s place out there. I saw money stacked around being counted on the desk, but to swear that this man took a payoff—there was no way that I could swear that I actually saw him take the money. I just can’t see all the gambling places running without somebody getting something. I know I wasn’t.

Marchiafava
Somebody was.

Singleton
0:21:36.5 Somebody was. Word had it, if you liked to work in the district you were assigned to, you just sort of ignored those gamblers.

Marchiafava
There was a law—a state law—passed, I believe, in ’50-’51—anti-gambling laws. Do you recall that?

Singleton
Not specifically, no. About that time I was working in Burglary and Theft, and we had enough burglars and thieves to pay too much attention to gambling. Now, I’ve been in the old Southern Dinner Club that was down here at Gray and Fannin, right after I went into the Detective Bureau. I’ve been in there and actually observed people in there gambling myself. At the time I was in there, I also observed various city officials in there—councilmen, this sort of thing—that were in there gambling. What’s a detective going to do? And I actually saw the dice table and the poker table and this sort of thing with my own eyes, and saw these people in there.

Marchiafava
Do you think the city administration was involved in it?

Singleton
0:22:59.4 Well, pretty high officials that were in there. No doubt in my mind that they knew what was going on.

Marchiafava
Before we get too far removed from the subject that we previously talked about, one last question I wanted to ask you considering the association. What effect do you think the Police Officers’ Association has had on the Houston Police Department developing into an effective law enforcement agency?

Singleton
Up to a point, I believe that not only the Houston Police Officers’ Association, but the Texas Municipal Police Association has been the most significant single contributor toward improving police work and policemen than any other thing. I don’t agree with all of 1269M. I believe in the promotional examination and being competitive. I disagree with the way it’s being done now and the way it’s been done the past 4 or 5 years and that is a year before the examination, the Civil Service will issue a list of the textbooks that the examination is going to be taken from. It’s usually 5, 6, 7 books. Well, number one, this boils down to a reading comprehensive examination. Number two, it’s not fair to a man—as an example, myself, as a lieutenant in charge of the Intelligence Division, I made more long distance calls in a day than most other lieutenants received local calls in a week. So there was no way that I could sit up there, closed up in my office, and study these books. While at the same time, a man working 3:00-11:00 in the Traffic Bureau, he can turn his desk and duties over to the sergeant, and he can get back in the captain’s office and read for 8 hours on the city’s time. And this is not an exception to the rule; it’s the rule. Everybody around here now, they read these books on the city’s time. I’d venture to say that there are very few that don’t read them on the city’s time. Well, when a man has an 8-hour day when he can read them for the city, plus another 4 hours that he can read, there’s no way that me reading them 4 hours can compete with him. There’s just not any way. So it’s not fair in that area. I think that the promotional examination itself ought to be limited not lower than a lieutenant, perhaps to the captain level. But the chief of police certainly ought to be able to appoint the top-level echelon of his command—the 7 or 8 deputy chiefs that we have.

Marchiafava
0:26:30.6 This system that you’re suggesting, that’s similar to the one they have in Dallas.

Singleton
Well, no because Dallas doesn’t have any kind of Civil Service.

Marchiafava
They’re under municipal.

Singleton
Yeah. But they can do, with any of these people, just what they want to do with them. I suspect things being the way they are now they can probably reverse some of these orders by going into court. But I know on occasion where a deputy chief became in disfavor and was reassigned. A captain in charge of the Intelligence Division was reassigned. He still has the title and draws the pay, but I understand the deputy chief—the standard joke up in Dallas is that he’s out in the laundry counting shirts. What I’m saying is that if I went in there as chief of police, I would like to select the top commanders immediately under me or the 7 or 8 deputy chiefs. One of the biggest and foremost requirements would be their loyalty to me, because the chief of police—there’s no way that he can watch this place 24 hours a day, and if he has a deputy chief down here in charge of the department at night that has it in for the chief, he can do various little things to make the chief and the entire department look bad. If the chief has to question every decision his deputy chief makes, it’s a poor state of affairs. The chief has to have somebody that he fully trusts that’s loyal to him immediately under him, and I think that the Board of Directors of the Association see this now, and possibly there will be some legislation introduced in the coming session of the legislature to set this up in this manner.

Marchiafava
0:28:38.3 What influence do you think the association has had on encouraging professionalism?

Singleton
I think it’s had a tremendous effect. The Police Associations—and that’s plural—associations—not only Houston, but the others scattered out through the state—started some 12 or 14 years ago to try to get a minimum standards deal passed. There was recent— Well, let’s see. When was it passed? In 1968 or ’69 that the minimum standards bill was passed? The Police Association started 10 years prior to that trying to get this thing passed and never could get it through the legislature. This simply was to not really get educated geniuses in the place, but to rule out some of the ex-convicts that were working in the police department in some of the communities in the state. But it at least set out a minimum education requirement, height, and weight that would be acceptable on a state-wide basis.

Marchiafava
0:30:03.1 I’d like to move on to an area in which you had a prominent role. That was the Intelligence Bureau. Can you tell me something about its formation?

Singleton
Well, the Intelligence Division—and when you mention Intelligence, most people see some deep, dark, cloak-and-dagger, mysterious type of operation, when this is really a long way from the truth. The mission of Intelligence Division is to receive, evaluate, and disseminate information. Now, the information is received from many, many sources, a large percentage of it from a patrolman on a beat, a large percentage of it from the average Joe Blow that calls in and says, “I don’t know what’s going on out here, but something just don’t look right. They have to be doing something.” They get this information from all these sources, and then they evaluate it. And working the way we worked, if it pertained to, let’s say, armed robberies, as an example, we would work the information up to a certain point. I could go into the captain in charge of the Robbery Division and say, “This is what we have. We feel like that these people are going to rob a liquor store out here somewhere.” From that point on, we let that captain and the Robbery Division handle it with his detectives. They go out and make the arrest. They gather the evidence. They appear in court, and none of the Intelligence people will ever appear in court as witnesses. The duties of our local Intelligence Division—and this holds true pretty well nationwide—the primary mission is to combat organized crime. From those pictures up there, that’s another important part of it was the protection of the various VIPs that came to Houston. We worked real close with the Secret Service on the protection of the president and the vice-president, their families. Before the Secret Service took over the protection of foreign diplomats and foreign VIPs, we worked with the State Department on that. The security of these VIPs was another important role. Plus the sort of keeping track of the various controversial groups, the various right- and left-wing organizations that were advocating committing crimes or acts of violence.

Marchiafava
What do you mean by keeping track?

Singleton
0:33:10.0 Well, we maintained information on the various members of it, such as the KKK. We got several of those. I say several—I believe there were 3 or 4 indicted over the blowing up of this Pacifica Radio station out here. Any kind of group that we felt like would possibly commit a crime or some act of violence.

Marchiafava
One of the reasons I brought this up was the charges made by members of the Socialist Party—Workers Party—that the police had infiltrated their organization, planted members. I was wondering if you might comment on that.

Singleton
Well, we never did infiltrate it. To get all the information—most of the information that they put out, all you had to do was read the daily newspaper or stand on the corner and listen to them talk. A real good example of why it’s necessary to do something like is—and I always point this out as a real classic example of what Intelligence Division’s job is. If you recall Gerry Charlotte Phelps who is currently doing a 35-year sentence in the penitentiary for armed robbery. She was a professor of economics at South Texas Junior College. The first time we heard anything about Ms Phelps was that she was—came from 2 or 3 students in her class that they didn’t like the way she was teaching economics—that she was constantly praising Castro and the Cuban government under the Communist regime, how well-off the people in Cuba were living. Well, we didn’t really pay too much attention to this, but it wasn’t long after this that two Negro narcotics officers up in the Narcotics Division observed her and two Negros parked in a car out in Finnegan Park, which is a predominantly black area, for over an hour. One of these blacks that was in the car with her was known to be the head man, or spokesman, for the Black Panther Party at the time. We received some information from a fellow who said that Charlotte Phelps contributed $50 for the first months’ rent for the Black Panther Party headquarters. We received information then that she was attending the Socialist Workers Party meetings. The more we looked at her— We never dreamed when we began to look at her that we would get her 35 years in the penitentiary for participating in an armed robbery. But as things progressed— And most of this information came from students right in her class. We didn’t have a shortage of informers as far as she was concerned. The students came forward and volunteered a lot of information. And it was through one of these students who was actually present when this robbery was being planned that we actually caught 3 men and Charlotte actually right in the robbery. In fact, I have about an 18-minute film of the actual robbery. So this is why we watch these groups. You never know what— Maybe the group doesn’t condone this sort of thing, but there are individual members in it who do. I don’t think that the entire membership of the KKK was aware that one of their members, or a couple of their members, was the ones involved in blowing up this Pacifica Radio. So it’s really kind of hard to separate the good members who stick within the guidelines of what the organization stands for and who goes off on his own and commits a crime.

Marchiafava
0:37:59.9 Wouldn’t it be useful at that point to have an infiltrator in the organization?

Singleton
Sure, but it’s a lot easier said than done to get an infiltrator in there. We had a man in the KKK. I don’t know what the Klan title is—Clay Grip(?). Anyway, he ordered the sheets for them—the robes. And the robes were mailed directly to the members at their residents. So as a result, we had every member’s name and address right down the line. Well, one of the top men in the Klan who is no longer even affiliated with it called my office one day to relay some information to me about another group that was marching into town out here form the North down Interstate 45, and it so happened that the man who was in his Klan group answered the phone. Of course, they never did—when the men answered the phone, they never did give a name. They’d just say, “Intelligence Division, may I help you?” This man asked for me, and this man said, “Well, he’s out of town.” And he said, “Well, I had some information I wanted to give him.” And he said, “Well, this is Officer So-and-So. May I help you?” And there was a long pause because about this time the man on the other end who was in the KKK recognized this fellow’s voice, and the officer recognized his voice. Of course, that knocked our undercover man out, and he’d only been in there 7 or 8 months. We never did have any information come from any other group that an actual officer was in there except the People’s Party. We did have an officer, and I believe at the time it really wasn’t the People’s Party. He’s the man who made the 16 cases of sale and possession of marijuana on Leo DesJohnson(?) and 3 other top leaders in the Friends of SNCC. I believe that’s what they were at that time.

Marchiafava
0:40:33.4 Turning the coin around for just a moment, the KKK has bragged that they had infiltrators in the police department.

0:40:42.1 (end of audio 01)

 

Marchiafava
0:00:10.2 All right.

Singleton
This man was Officer Blaylock, and he still has the lead in him. His initials are L.A. now. He was squatting down behind the car and the bullet ricocheted off the ground and hit him in the rear. That’s why we call him L.A. But the bullet is still in him, and the X-rays indicate it’s a .22. It’s an old policemen’s arm. At that time, Blaylock, and I believe it was Joe Rose and a couple black officers were the only officers out there. Officer Kuba was killed and Officer Dugger was injured. There’s still a question in my mind as to who shot. I have never been convinced, and never will be convinced, that the gunfire came from that dormitory that killed Kuba. There’s still a question in my mind about it.

Marchiafava
Do you have any ideas where it may have come from?

Singleton
It could have been a ricochet bullet from another officer. There was quite a bit of shooting going on out there. I would just question anybody that would make an ironclad statement that the gunfire came from that dormitory. I had never seen any proof that would absolutely, positively convince me of this, and I was there.

Marchiafava
0:01:45.1 Let me clarify just one point. You’re saying that the initial shot came from the dorm, right?

Singleton
Yeah, the initial shot that injured Officer Blaylock. There’s no question in my mind that it came from the dormitory.

Marchiafava
The question that you have is the shots that wounded the other two officers—killed one and injured the other—

 

Singleton
Right. Killed Officer Kuba and wounded Officer Dugger. There’s still a question in my mind as to who fired those shots. There were 5 people indicted for murder, and I believe they were later— I don’t believe there were any convictions made on any of the 5, but the indictment was based on the fact that these people did come up there and incite and agitate the situation. Under Texas laws, anybody that incites a riot and as a result of this riot someone gets killed, then the people that incited the riot are guilty of murder. This is the way these 5 people were indicted, because at the time Kuba was actually shot, I think 4 out of the 5 of them were in jail when the actual shooting took place.

Marchiafava
0:02:57.8 Were they students?

Singleton
I don’t believe all of them were. I believe— I’d have to go back and check the records to even recall their names. But one named Freeman—he may or may not have been a student. But I don’t believe they were all students. In fact, there may not have been any students. Again, I’d have to check the records to be sure about this. I know they’d been in and around the campus quite a bit, and at one time or another had attended TSU. Maybe one or more of them could have been attending some classes then. Like I said, I’d have to go back and look at the records.

Marchiafava
One criticism that has been voiced in the newspapers and articles written about the shooting is that following the actual shooting and the entrance of the officers into the dorms, the officers took vengeance and wrecked the inside of the dorm. Was there any reason for this, or was this vengeance?

Singleton
Well, would you believe, to this day, I have never been inside of one of those dorms. To this day, I have never been inside one of them. I had the only radio that had communications with 2 black officers who worked for me—Officer Charles Howard and A.L. Blair. They were in plain clothes. They went in with the initial uniformed men, and as they tell you, they got one of those uniformed policemen and stayed with him because they didn’t want to be black in civilian clothes and be in there. I saw pictures of some of the destruction. Again, that’s another area that there is still a question in my mind. I wouldn’t say that the officers did do it. I wouldn’t say that the officers didn’t do it. It’s still a question in my mind.

Marchiafava
0:05:06.8 I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Are you insinuating that perhaps the students themselves did it?

Singleton
No, I’m not insinuating either one of them did it. I’m just saying I don’t really know. The students could have done it. The policemen could have done it. I don’t know. To this day, even prior to that, I’ve never been in those dorms. When all the shooting was going on, I was across the street, over in front of the administration building on the grass, operating 3 radios, lying under the edge of my automobile. I learned a long time ago that one of the worst places that a person can be when a bunch of policemen were shooting was under something. Nothing that bothers me a bit about me going into a drugstore or a liquor store where there’s a burglar or a holed up man when I know that there’s nobody but me and that holed up man. But I don’t want 4 or 5 policemen behind me when I go in there because I don’t want them shooting at that burglar and shooting me. And I have had an experience along those lines many years ago, where I was chasing a burglar down the street and some policemen behind me opened fire on the burglar and I’m between them and the burglar. I just don’t like to be around where a bunch of policemen are shooting guns. For this reason—of course, I was aiming to operate the radios, because I had the only car there that had any communications with the Sheriff’s Department. I was the only car there that had any communications with the officers inside the dormitory, and then I had communications directly—not directly, but through and operator—to the chief down here.

Marchiafava
0:07:12.2 Did the officers meet resistance in the dorms?

Singleton
Not to my knowledge.

Marchiafava
Preceding the actual incident, had there been signs of problems between the students and officers patrolling the area?

Singleton
Yes, verbal abuse. Now and then an object of some sort would be— I’m talking about cars just driving up and down the street, objects would be thrown at cars; however, I had 4 men—2 whites and 2 blacks—in 2 police cars out there, sitting right there on campus the day they blocked Wheeler Street, and none of the students ever made any attempt to bother the officers. I don’t think they even made any harsh remarks towards the officers. This was several days, maybe even weeks, prior to the actual shooting that these 4 officers were all over campus. To my knowledge, none of the students tried to abuse them in any manner. The students sort of ignored them, and they just sort of ignored the students and observed their activities.

Marchiafava
There was an article written concerning a man by the name of Michael Hudgens, who claimed he had been standing beside the officer who was killed and was a witness to the man being shot and the bullet came from another officer. Have you ever heard of that?

Singleton
No. The name don’t mean anything to me now. I’ve heard—

Marchiafava
Spelled H-U-D-G-E-N-S.

Singleton
Was he another officer?

Marchiafava
0:09:20.3 No, he was a—

Singleton
A newsman?

Marchiafava
A newsman, right, but he’s no longer in the city. And this article appeared—it was a very small article—it appeared on the night, and seemingly, after it made its appearance, it disappeared. I was trying to follow up on it. A second incident was of course the now famous Darwin Street shootout. I was wondering if you might make some comment about that.

Singleton
Well, of course, these people involved in that are mainly starting out as the Friends of SNCC—Leo _(?) and some others. Then a few of them splintered off. Leo was arrested and put in jail. Incidentally, the defense attorneys or nobody have ever asked me if I thought that was a fair or unfair sentence of Leo. And I felt like all along it was an unjust sentence, but nobody ever asked me, so I didn’t volunteer the information.

Marchiafava
You have it on tape now.

Singleton
Huh?

Marchiafava
You have it on tape.

Singleton
I don’t mind. Hell, anybody that says anything to me about it, I just don’t feel like it was a just sentence, even though he had been convicted once or twice before. The district attorney that prosecuted the case asked the jury to sentence him to 20 years. For some reason, the jury tacked on an additional 10. These people splintered off into this Black Panther Party. Some of these people even went to Oakland, California, and to the National Black Panther Party headquarters and stayed out there a couple of weeks studying their tactics and philosophy. Then they more or less kind of fell apart for lack of interest or lack of something or other, and then a few of these left over from the Black Panthers formed this People’s Party II. They rented this building over there on Dowling, and not long after they rented it, we got some information that they were filling sandbags and putting them around the windows and doors. This came from an informant who was not a regular policeman.

Marchiafava
0:12:25.9 A paid informant?

Singleton
Well, we didn’t pay him very much. The city doesn’t provide too much money to pay informers. You help him with a traffic ticket or do some little something for him from time to time—make his bond when he goes to jail for something else, something of this sort. But he told us about all this sandbagging operation. Well, it was my feeling that there was a possibility sooner or later of us having some problems out there. So with this in mind, I sent one of my men with a camera and a helicopter. We took aerial photos of the entire area. After I got out the MPs, I joined the National Guard in 1947 and retired in 1965 from that as a major in the artillery. They always taught us in tactics to take the high ground. I’ve always felt like if you have a high ground, then you have an advantage over your opponent. So we selected the highest building in the area which turned out to be this church. We tried to contact the preacher, Reverend Malone I believe was his name, and ask him if we can use the top of this church, strictly for observation—no other reason—strictly observation—and if he would give us a key to some door that we could get up on top. Well, we never did get Reverend Malone because he was attending a Baptist convention in Hawaii for a month. Surely the convention didn’t go on for that long. Maybe he extended his vacation a little. And it was just about 2 or 3 days prior to the actual shootout that Reverend Malone came back from Hawaii. As this thing developed out there, I believe the initial encounter was some uniformed officer telling somebody he was distributing the Black Panther newspaper, to get out of the street or do something. He ran down to in front of the People’s Party II, and 2 officers gave chase. There was some gun play. And this sort of began to start turmoil. Well, they called in some more policemen out there, and somebody used some good sense and they backed off. They didn’t try to confront these people at that time. Well, it sort of smoothed down during the week—very little activity. Well, we felt like that that Friday night or Saturday night, if we were going to have any major confrontation or trouble, then it would be on a Friday or Saturday night. So I stayed down here at the police station practically all night both nights and nothing ever developed. So we felt real good Sunday afternoon. We felt like that we had survived the weekend. So, lo and behold, I suppose it was around 6:00 that Short called me and told me he was mobilizing the patrol forces. It seemed like they had halted a bus and went on there collecting contributions from everybody and blocked the whole street up, and some of the officers had confronted a couple over there around a church. They had to bring them into jail. One of them was carrying a pistol, I believe. During the week before, we had been approached by several businessmen—Jewish, blacks, mainly, who had businesses in the area. These people were coming into their businesses and just demanding that they give them food and drink. In fact, there was one place out there—one beer joint—one of them went in and demanded some beer and sandwiches, and the owner of the joint shot him. It was a superficial wound, nothing bad. But these people were calling the chief, and there were several of them that came down and talked to the chief. They wanted the police to go out there and put a stop to these people marching up and down the street carrying rifles, but it was the chief’s decision that as long as they stayed in that one block, to avoid people getting killed, it would be best to stay clear of a confrontation and keep them under observation.

0:18:02.7 We knew that from time to time there were—they had people armed with rifles right on top of some of the people out there. So, Sunday we felt real good. We felt like we had the weekend made, and then all this came about Sunday evening. Well, as soon as the chief notified me that he was mobilizing the uniformed people, I contacted 5 of my intelligence men and told them to go get on top of that church. I told them I didn’t particularly care about how they got up there, just so long as they got up there without being seen. As soon as I contacted these people and told them this, I immediately got dressed and came to the station. I was here at the police station by the time that they were on top of the church.

Marchiafava
0:18:59.7 They didn’t get Malone’s approval then?

Singleton
No. No, they did not have Malone’s approval. We hadn’t contacted him. So, they notified me. They had a walkie-talkie. They notified me that they were on top of the church. It wasn’t too long until one of them came on the radio and said, “We’ve just been fired on.” And I said, “Can you determine who fired at you?” And they said, “No.” And I said, “Well, hold your fire.” Just a few minutes later and I could hear a shot in the background. They came on and said, “We’re being fired at from another direction.” I said, “Unless you can distinctly see where the fire is coming from and who is shooting at you, hold your fire.” We did this 3 times. The third time I told them to neutralize the fire. And it was at this time that Bartee Haile was wounded and Carl Hampton was killed and I believe 6 others wounded.

Marchiafava
0:20:10.7 Duncantell was there too, wasn’t he?

Singleton
Well, Duncantell supposedly left there prior to the shooting, or immediately upon the shooting starting he took off and went over a couple of blocks and got under the counter at a restaurant. Now, this is what the informant told us. He stayed under the counter in this restaurant until daylight then went out to Ben Taub Hospital. I know he disappeared from the scene, and the next thing we heard from Duncantell, he was at Ben Taub Hospital out there where people that had been shot were being treated.

Marchiafava
Some of the militants, following that incident, claim that Duncantell had actually been the informer and that’s why he wasn’t there at the time of the shooting.

Singleton
Well, truthfully, this was sort of a little counterintelligence. You know, I can plant the seed that you’re an informer and do things that would lead people to believe that you were helping me. You know, like calling you off to one side and you and I whispering about what we’re going to eat for supper tomorrow—you know—and then stand up over here and say, “Hey, Duncantell over there told me that this fellow here is going to do such-and-such.” Make sure that everything that you say about Duncantell is third party over here and over here that Duncantell—but he can’t really tell what you’re saying old Duncantell told you. So you can work this to your advantage. But Duncantell never did furnish the Intelligence Division any information. The man who did furnish us the information out there, without his permission I’d never disclose his name. He is the same man who called me and gave me the serial numbers on 2 shotguns. If you recall, sometime later we ran a search warrant on the People’s Party II headquarters and recovered 2 shotguns that came out of the burglary of a black doctor’s residence. Well, the same informer that told me about the sandbags and kept us informed all the time as to what was going on, he is the one that called me and gave me the serial numbers of these two guns, and we ran them through our records bureau and discovered they came out of this black doctor’s residence in a burglary. Based on this, we obtained a search warrant, and then 30 minutes before we served the search warrant, this same man went back in there and came back and confirmed to me that the guns were in there. See, some 24-36 hours elapsed in the time he initially told me that the guns were in there until we obtained the search warrant and decided to serve a search warrant. So in that 24-36 hour period, those guns could have been moved, so I sent a man back in there and he came back and confirmed that the guns were actually still in there.

Marchiafava
0:23:33.9 Concerning the matter of members of the group stopping automobiles and being on busses collecting for the organization, it has been said that actually they were not members but were police officers and they were setting this up. Do you have any response to that?

Singleton
No. No, we didn’t do anything like this. We certainly didn’t do anything like this.

Marchiafava
Were any measures taken after the shooting to break up the organization?

 

Singleton
No. This same man, who is a black, kept me informed. We didn’t have to have an informer there. This man was a good citizen, a well-meaning individual. He had no ax to grind with anybody. He just believed in doing what was right. We didn’t pay him for services. We kept him under his eye. He was the one that called me about the 2 shotguns. This was probably a month or 6 weeks after the shootout. After the search warrant was served, if my memory serves me correctly, well, there were several things. I was trying to think of this lady’s name that was involved. She wasn’t satisfied with this free clinic they were going to try to operate, so she got her a building somewhere nearby. She secured a building nearby and was going to open her own free clinic to help these people. She cashed a check or received $100 from somewhere, and she went by the People’s Party II headquarters out there and somebody took her $100 away from her there. So she was pretty disillusioned with them.
Marchiafava
In closing on this particular subject, I’d like to clear up one other allegation that has been made. In that area where this group took control there had supposedly been a great deal of narcotics—drugs—being used and one of the purposes of this group was to stop it. They claim that even the police had—that some policemen were on the take, providing protection for these drug traders.

Singleton
0:26:57.5 I don’t know of any great amount of drugs that were being used anymore in that particular area than there was, say, 10 blocks over in another area. As to the policemen being on the take, I don’t have any knowledge of it. I wouldn’t say it was entirely faultless, but I’d kind of doubt it until I had something to substantiate it more than just their say so.

Marchiafava
I was wondering if perhaps there had been any police officers that you knew of as intelligence chief.

Singleton
There was one police officer that—a negro police officer who is dead now—that a lot of those people disliked out there because he’d put so many of them in jail. Of course, again, the rumors that he was letting certain people get by with things. Again, it was just rumors. To my knowledge, there was never anything uncovered to substantiate this.

 

Marchiafava
Well, in closing, I’d like to ask your comments on the administration of Chief Short. He is a controversial chief to some people, and I was wondering if I could get your opinion.

Singleton
Of course, I never did agree with everything Herman Short did. I don’t agree with everything Fred Hofheinz did, and if Jesus Christ was over there and Fred Hofheinz was chair, I probably wouldn’t agree with everything he does. And certainly Short and I had our disagreements in private over how some things should be done and how they shouldn’t be done, but I was a lieutenant and he was a chief. Once we came out behind that closed door, I supported whatever he said to do. Again, we had many, many arguments—not arguments—discussions over the pros and cons of doing things one way as opposed to another. I don’t think Short is any better of a police chief than a lot of other people could be. He certainly had his faults just like everybody else. He was far from being a perfect police chief or a perfect man, for that matter. As myself, I’m a hell of a long ways from being perfect. I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated. We have 2 black officers assigned to the Intelligence Division. I’m sure they’re still assigned there. One of them has been off sick—had quite a bit of problems. But although they were known as police officers throughout the black community and the majority of the white community, the people in Houston will never be able to repay those two for the part that they played in heading off some of these situations—the information that they gathered, the untold number of hours. Various people, including Mayor Welch, gave various reasons for us not having any problems, and I’m sure that they all contributed, such as our economy and some of Short’s action, but if there are any one or two individuals that deserves more credit than anybody, it would be A.L. Blair and C.F. Howard, these 2 black officers that I speak of. Because without the information that they gathered and furnished to Short, he would have never been in the position to take some of the actions to cut them off at the pass, so to speak.

Marchiafava
0:31:36.5 Do you think that—? How do you feel about Short’s relationship with the black community? Do you think he could have done things to ease the relationship?

Singleton
There’s no question in my mind he could have done things to ease the relationship for himself and the entire police department.

Marchiafava
What do you have in mind particularly that he could have done?

Singleton
Well, he could have probably had a lot more understanding and a lot more feeling for the black community than he had. He probably could have been a little bit more humane toward them. I don’t believe that all of the black population played anything in this. I think it was a very, very, very minor portion of the black community involved in this. I don’t think any great majority of the black community has supported these people’s actions. I know one time there, when there was—I don’t know if at the time they were calling themselves the Black Panthers or the People’s Party II, but I believe it was the Black Panthers. They were calling themselves, at the time—started a door-to-door campaign, canvasing for funds out there in Riverside. A black doctor called me and told me that they had organized a little operation out there in his neighborhood and these people approached him and solicited funds. If they failed to donate, they would imply that they were coming back and burning their house down and this sort of thing. So the group of citizens in this block or two area there off of South McGregor had banned together, and they were mostly professional people—doctors and attorneys and some businessmen. And the wives on the even-numbered side of the street would stay up tonight to watch, and tomorrow night the wives on the odd-numbered side of the street would stay up and watch. And all of these people had rifles and shotguns handy. In the event that somebody would come in there and try to burn them out, they were going to meet some pretty strong gunfire from the people who lived there. To me, this indicated that certainly those people didn’t support or condone these activities.

Marchiafava
0:35:08.3 Well, are there any other comments you would care to make that I haven’t touched upon that you think would be important for the record?

Singleton
I think we pretty well covered it. I’m sure there’ll be 100 things after you leave here. There’s a lot of little insignificant details that you can’t remember right off the top of your head. This goes back to what we were talking about earlier, keeping these seemingly insignificant notes and information on people. There’s no way you can remember all that, and if you get a name and go back and look that name up, it may give you some information that occurred 4-6 years ago. But in these situations like this, one of the biggest problems we have is combatting rumors. The rumor mill works overtime. (unintelligible) It’s unreal some of the rumors that get started. Of course, all of this stuff is serious, but if you let it get to you and you take it all serious, you’d be climbing the walls and be a mental case after a little while yourself. But it always has its comical aspects. One of our health inspectors reported to the Intelligence Division that there were 100 Molotov cocktails in an upstairs room. He didn’t know the address, but he gave us a corner—a location of the house. It was on the southwest corner of something—around Fifth Ward. Well, I had all my people out checking out other rumors. This, coming from the source it did—it went from the health inspector to the civil defense who called us. But coming through that source, there very possibly could be something to it. So the sergeant and I, we were the last two troops left. The sergeant and I jumped in the car and ran out to check out these Molotov cocktails, and we found a 78-year-old Negro making a home brew. (Laughs) So we didn’t even molest a bottle of his homebrew.

Marchiafava
It was too much of a relief. I want to thank you very much for the interview. It’s been very useful. And together with the other interviews, it will make a valuable contribution. Thank you very much.

Singleton
I’m glad to do it.

0:38:40.6 (end of audio 02)