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Published: 12/16/2008

Part 8: Police put heat on gambling house owner

BY KENNETH R. DICKSON
AUTHOR OF SOMETHING FOR NOTHING

Part eight of 14

By the middle of June 1932 the police had changed their tactics in response to Benny Harris.

With Alfred B. Sharp acting as the complainant, accompanied by nine arrest warrants, and orders from Acting Inspector Ray Allen and Sergeant Matthews, two detectives and fifteen patrolmen using a sledge hammer and axe busted down the door of Harris's Monroe Street Cigar Store.

It was a short lived victory because the police found the narrow passageway barred by a barricade of table chairs, a large safe, and a shoe shine stand thrown in for good measure.

Forming a line to Monroe Street, the police removed everything from the entrance and pushed the safe back into the cigar store, and then they arrested everyone in sight. When the police finally got to Benny Harris he demanded to see the warrants. After a close inspection, it was discovered that the court's warrants were signed by William Mathias, clerk of courts, not a judge, and Harris declaredthe warrant invalid.

Toledo Councilman Ira Bame, attorney of record for Harris, was part of the large crowd of spectators that had gathered outside of the cigar store. Lining the sidewalk from the cigar store to the patrol wagon the crowd watched as twelve men were stuffed into the paddy wagon as Harris's attorney and Sergeant Matthews debated over the legality of the warrants.

Acting under his authority as an officer of the court, Councilman Bame declared that the police could only arrest those listed on the warrants. With great reluctance the police emptied the patrol wagon, and of the nine arrest warrants they detained only five men.

Benny Harris, bruised and battered in the battle of the entrance, and Cloyd Waiss were charged with keeping a gambling house. Sam Green, Oscar Carlton, Earl Jacobs, Max Bender, Joe Goldberg, Louis Rubenstein, and Sam Dreyfus were listed as selling tickets on a game of chance.

When asked for a statement after he left the courtroom, Harris said "... this is just the latest in a series of raids against my place. All the previous cases were decided in my favor. How come the police don't raid any of the other joints?"

Two days later Oak Grove resident Alfred B. Sharp asked Judge Frank O'Connell, "Where's my promised city job, I did what I was supposed to do. They promised me a $10-a-day city job if I went into Harris' place and bought a number's ticket. They even gave me the dollar."

With Judge O'Connell trying to get to the truth of the matter Sharp was all too happy to continue talking.

"My wife's dentist introduced me to a Mr. Murphy, who said that he could get me a city job paying $10 a day if I would go into Harris's place and buy a number's ticket. They gave me a dollar and I went into Harris's Cigar Store, bought a couple packs of cigarettes and picked a used number's ticket off the floor and came out.

"Since there was no one waiting for me I threw the ticket away. Later in the day Patrolman Mackall asked me if I had bet the number, and when I said that I did, he gave me the warrants to sign. When I found out that Mr. Murphy was the chauffeur of Mayor Addison Q. Thacher and that there was no job, I figured that something was up. After thinking things over I went to see Harris Sunday night and explained it all to him."

Denouncing Patrolman Theodore Mackall's reckless disregard for the law and the lack of evidence against Benny Harris and the others arrested at his cigar store, Judge O'Connell released all the men arrested during the raid.

"This is the 10th time Harris has been arrested on similar charges and brought into this court, and in no case has any worthwhile evidence against him been presented," said Judge O'Connell. Everyone was released, except for the guy who started it all. Alfred Sharp was jailed on contempt of court charges.

---

Once again just two days later, Detective Art Langendorf, the new commander of the Toledo police's gambling squad, ordered Patrolmen Grove, Burand, and Snyder to break down Harris's door after Harris denied them admittance.

"I met the officers at the front door and when I found out they didn't have a warrant I told them their presence was not wanted," said Harris. Detective Langendorf, who wanted to look at where the horse race bets were placed, ordered the police to break down the front door.

While visiting Harris's Cigar Store on Tuesday July 5th, Patrolman William Grove would later sign an affidavit alleging that he personally saw gambling going on. As a result Harris' 17th raid was under way. Later, under examination in police court Grove admitted that he did not see the men gambling. As a result of Grove's error in judgment, the police smashed furniture, searched the place for gambling paraphernalia, and arrested 70 of Harris's patrons.

With the police coming under severe criticism for only raiding Harris's place, the police also raided the R&K Cigar Store and arrested Jack Williams and John Gillhooley.

A short time later the police paid a call on Benny Aronoff at the Buckeye and charged him with keeping a gambling house. In both of the additional raids the entrance doors were not broken down and the furniture wasn't destroyed. All the men detained were released on their own bond.

•

Using painted signs on his front window to garner public support, Benny Harris asked the following questions:

"Taxpayers of Toledo - Do you intend to pay the salaries for police who maliciously destroy private property?"

"Will Chief Haas' gambling squad merit promotion by not finding other supposed gambling houses in Toledo?"

"Does Chief Haas' gambling squad issue license to run?"

Later that evening after several new signs were added, patrolmen Grove and Burand returned to Harris' Cigar store in an effort to remove the offending signs. Harris met them at the door and told them to get out and stay out. With this latest outrage Harris added several bulletins, each more biting than the previous ones.

"Fifteen thousand dollars worth of taxpayer's money paid out to wreck this place so other so-called gambling joints may run."

"It is time for the citizens to demand a grand-jury investigation into Chief Haas' gambling squad. Many interesting things may come to light."

•

Harris's signs attracted such a large number of viewers that the police were routinely called to keep the sidewalks open. The police officers were consistently ignored as more and more people stopped to read the signs.

The war of words and fire-axes escalated when Chief Louis Haas ordered typewritten copies of the bulletins on Harris's front window to be forwarded to Toledo's law department.

"I intend to find out whether the department or I, personally, have been libeled by statements on these posters," Chief Haas said. "I deny all the charges said to be contained in these posters and intend to get to the bottom of this situation."

Sensing a great story, the reporters hurried over to Toledo's law department and Law Director John McCabe. "I'm busy with matters that are more important than the gambling cases. I'm trying to get Toledo's money out of the closed banks."

•

When the reporters turned to Benny Aronoff, operator of the Buckeye Cigar Store on Superior Street, he would only say "The police bother me enough."

To close the day out, the new chief of the gambling, vice, and liquor squads, Detective Langendorf was arrested by Captain Jerry Buck, taken to the Safety Building, and booked on a charge of malicious destruction.

After a short hearing, Langendorf was released on a $25 bond provided by Meyer Wittenberg. The charges were also proffered against policemen Grove and Burand by Benny Harris through his attorney, Toledo Councilman Ira Bame.

The eagerly awaited trial started on July 26th and malicious destruction was on everyone's mind, as attorney Steve Fazekas representing patrolmen Grove and Burand, said that he would prove that Harris's Cigar Store was nothing more than a front for gambling.

Harris, under oath, said that he sold cigars and other tobacco products in his store on Monroe Street and he has never seen or taken a bet. Ira Bame, Toledo councilman and Harris's attorney, introduced three broken chairs before Judge Ira Cole. After hearing Harris describe his cigar store and value the property destroyed by the police at $79, Judge Cole granted their petition to have a jury trial on the destruction of the front door and continued that part of the case to August 8th.

After leaving the municipal courtroom for the noon recess, Harris was once again arrested as he entered his cigar store. Using an old Toledo ordinance that prohibited signs on the front window of soft-drink establishments, Detective Langendorf signed the warrants and arrested Harris and employee Earl Jacobs.

As the police left with Harris and Jacobs in tow, the rest of the policemen removed all of the "bulletins" that questioned the fitness of the Toledo police and Chief Haas. Taken to the Safety Building they were ordered released on their own recognizance by Judge Cole.

Councilman Ira Bame, Harris's attorney and special prosecutor, took the stand as the trial resumed. Testifying that the place "looked like a cyclone had struck it when the police got thru with it," he said that the police had been warned not to destroy anything. After Bame finished testifying Attorney Fazekas moved for a dismissal of charges, which Judge Cole refused.

In his closing to the jury, Fazekas argued that the property destroyed in Harris's Cigar Store had no value because it was used in a gambling establishment.

Special prosecutor Bame chastised the police officers for failing to instruct the patrolmen on the front lines their rights in arrest and destroying property. Judge Cole, when he instructed the jury on the law, said that the law distinguishes between personal property and gambling devices.

The jury of seven women deadlocked five to two for acquittal. They were unable to decide whether the chairs were personal property or gambling devices and consequently failed to reach a conclusion on the charge of malicious destruction against the policemen Grove and Burand. Judge Cole said that another jury would be impaneled next Tuesday and the case would be retried.

Within two hours after the jury had failed to reach a verdict, patrolmen Grove and Burand visited Benny at his Monroe Street cigar store.

•

"Hello Benny, just thought we would like to look over the place and the people here. We promise to be good. We are not here to arrest anybody or destroy property," Grove said as he headed for Benny's back room.

Called the reading rooms by Harris's patrons, Grove and Burand selected a seat in the library and were just about to sit down, when Benny said that the library was closed, and asked them to leave.

As they left, Benny locked the door to the "library." Sensing a momentary delay, Grove and Burand returned with an axe for the locked door and a patrol wagon for Harris. With Benny blocking the door, Grove said "you know we have orders to crash your place, so don't be that way Benny."

"Who gave you that order," asked Harris. "Art Langendorf, you know that Benny," said Grove.

"Well get it in writing," responded Harris.

"Well then you're under arrest for resisting an officer," said Grove.

Harris argued that they couldn't arrest him for protecting his property against destruction. What really irritated Grove and Burand when they returned was the newest bulletin placed on Harris' front window: "Officers Grove and Burand are now on duty and can be found in the library."

When Harris refused to get into the patrol wagon, six members of the vice squad arrived with sledge hammers and axes, accompanied by six patrolmen to control the crowd of approximately 1,500 spectators that had gathered in front of Harris' place to watch the police's "wrecking crew" go to work.

•

Enraged, Harris had one of his employees call the police to report a break-in. When the police wagon arrived, Harris with the support of the cheering crowd demanded that Patrolmen Perkins and Zurab arrest the burglar's Grove and Burand who were found surrounded by reporters in Benny's library.

Harris, instructing the crowd not to harm or disrupt the police, offered to walk with Grove and Burand to the patrol wagon. When they arrived at the patrol wagon Harris insisted that it was their turn to enter the wagon first and he would follow.

As they arrived at the Safety Building they were met by John McCabe, the city law director, who was trying desperately to sort the whole thing out without laughing.

It was early evening when the police finally got the Monroe Street crowd to disperse. Charged with two counts of interfering with police, Harris told Judge Donovan that the two raids on his cigar store yesterday were unnecessary because he was standing in the front door taking a sun bath and trying to keep undesirables out of his place.

The judge asked Harris if he knew they were police and Harris responded with "Only by their badges. You'd never guess it by their actions."

The patrolmen, when questioned by the judge, admitted that Harris's interference consisted of him standing at the front door with his hands behind his back. On further questioning they also admitted that they had visited Benny's place 10 times in the past week and found no evidence of gambling.

The charges of malicious destruction of property were dismissed against officers Grove and Burand and when the same officers raided Benny's place for the second time a few of the patrons or spectators decided to render a little street justice to the officers. As the police pulled Benny from the front door a scuffle broke out and several of the police were roughed-up. Judge Donovan dismissed the charges against Harris with no comment.

•

Finally, the word circulated through the street that Jimmy Hayes had called from Harbor Springs to put an end to the squabble between the two Bennys. The Toledo Times, in an editorial on September 23rd, wrote:

"It is good news that a peace pact has been reported signed by Benny Harris and Benny Aronoff, two of Toledo's leading gambling house proprietors. It isn't the fact that the two Bennys have settled their differences that makes it good news. It was quite amusing reading. But it is good news if the peace pact means the end of the travesty constantly being enacted by police in their efforts to get the goods on Harris.

"Our idea of sincere police service is one that does its duty uniformly and without prejudice, fear or favor. We wonder if that is satisfactory to the police."

Benny Harris was arrested 22 times since January 1st, entrance doors were destroyed by axes and sledge hammers, employees harassed, and all this while the gambling squad headed by Detective Art Langendorf said that the other known places in town were allowed to run wide open.

While Toledoans cheered, what the police didn't seem to know was that in January, Harris had broken a written agreement between the two Bennys, and for almost nine months Aronoff, with the backing of Hayes, had the clout to make Harris's life miserable.

Returning to the earlier accords, Aronoff would control all forms of horse racing and Harris would have the lucrative numbers game. The two Bennys blinked and Toledo's gambling returned to a skewed normal.



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