You Must Remember This: Coe’s jail time might be the city record

By NANCY GARDNER

It is well established that this fine city had a rather rowdy past, or at least the Balboa sector. With a goodly number of visitors drinking, gambling and dancing, it was little wonder that things occasionally got out of hand and arrests were made. Being arrested in those days, at least for the things you got arrested for in Balboa, didn’t seem to have the stigma that an arrest today has. Often the penalty was five hours in the clink and a small fine. People tended not to put up much of a protest, but there was one man who seemed to practically welcome the pinch.

My father had just opened his law office and was working nights at this period as a police officer to augment the meager earnings of his infant practice. This particular night he was the desk sergeant, booking people who might be brought in. He hadn’t been there long when Officer Callihan brought in a man in his mid-40s with a huge smile. “Good evening, Sergeant,” he sang out. “The name is Coe. Big C, small O, small E. I’m from Inglewood. That’s Big I, small N—.” My father let him know he could spell Inglewood. “The last desk sergeant couldn’t,” Mr. Coe said. From that my father gathered that this was not his first booking in the city. The arresting officer left, and Mr. Coe settled himself across from my father, the smile as big as ever. The smile disappeared, however, when he was told he was not going to be sitting in the booking office with my father but was going to be escorted to the cell.

“I don’t want to go back to that cell,” he complained. “It’s lonesome, and it smells bad.”

My father pointed out the obvious. If he didn’t like the cell, he shouldn’t have gotten himself arrested and prepared to take him back.

At that, Mr. Coe ran to the window. “Help, help. The cops are beating me.”

“I’m not beating you. I’m not even touching you.”

“Help, help! The cops are beating me.”

Deciding it wasn’t worth a skirmish, my father let him remain in the booking office. His smile restored, Mr. Coe began studying the FBI wanted posters. Soon, a cop dropped in. Cox looked at him, then pointed to one of the posters, insisting it was the same man and demanding he be arrested.

The officer shook his head. “I brought him in before you were on duty,” he said. “What’s he doing back?”

With that, my father went through the evening’s booking record.  Mr. Coe had been previously arrested when he barricaded the stairway at the Balboa Inn, blocking access to the second floor. He’d spent the requisite five hours in the cell, paid his $20 fine and went on his way. My father thought that was it, but then he saw the name again. Mr. Coe had been arrested a second time that evening when, proclaiming he was taking a stand against gambling, he had swept the poker chips off the table at Dad Workman’s, sending them showering into the street. Result, five hours in the cell, $20 fine. Thinking that there couldn’t be any more, my father was amazed to find a third arrest. Spying an empty police car, Mr. Coe hopped in, turned on the siren and was chatting happily with the dispatcher when the car’s officer came back and arrested him. Another five hours, another $20.

So this was his fourth arrest in less than 24 hours, and what had brought him to my father? Mr. Coe had found an unattended bread truck and was passing out loaves to anyone passing by. Eventually Mr. Coe’s five hours were up. He paid the $20 bail and carefully put the receipt in his wallet with the other three and called a cab.

When the cab arrived, he pulled my father to the window. “You see that car across the street?” he said, pointing. “That’s my wife. Hideous woman – nag, nag, nag. Drive a man to drink.”

With that, he dropped to his knees and crawled into the cab, stretched out on the back seat so his wife wouldn’t see him, and departed town. My father never saw him again, but he was quite sure that Mr. Coe had set some kind of city record that day.

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Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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