The Feb. 28 Register-Pajaronian "This week in Pajaro Valley's past" briefly mentioned the 1963 retirement of Watsonvlle police officer Marcelo Galo "Pat" Rooney, but much more can be said about him. Rooney was a grandson of Pajaro Valley pioneers Francisco Arano and Celedonia Amesti, and those rancho roots possibly influenced Pat in becoming a skilled horseman, winning the wild horse race at the 1927 Salinas Rodeo, and competing statewide in team roping..
Joining the WPD in 1930, he continued competing statewide in team roping...a rodeo version of police pursuit and capture. And a 1949 R-P story told of him being released from police duty long enough to help round up 18 head of cattle in the Santa Cruz mountains after they escaped from a trailer rig on the Santa Cruz-Los Gatos highway.
Most of my knowledge of Rooney comes from conversations with former Watsonville Police Chief Frank Osmer. Frank described Rooney as a large man at 250 pounds, but with "the quickest reflexes I ever saw." Pat wore cowboy boots, on or off duty, and usually preferred carrying a western style six-shooter.
Rooney was described in his 1980 obituary as the "last of the foot patrolmen" and his primary beat was the bar district on south Main Street...an assignment facilitated by his Spanish fluency. He sometimes used non-judicial forms of law enforcement, yelling at or smacking troublemakers instead of arresting them. One tale recalls a brawl in a lower Main bar, when someone shouted "Rooney's coming!" Pat stuck his head in the door and asked, "Any trouble here?" The patrons, all seated and some bleeding just a bit, responded in chorus, "No, Officer Rooney!"
Usually, though, his non-judicial punishments weren't physical. When future Watsonville Teamster union leader Richard King was a teenager, Rooney saw him speeding downtown in his Model A Ford. Dragging King from the car, Rooney told him, "Thirty days. Leave the car home. Otherwise I'll tell your dad, and we'll both kick the hell outta' you." The car stayed home.
Chief Osmer once described another act of restraint by Rooney. A young man had fired a gun, with the bullet grazing a woman. Rooney suspected where to find him, and returned to the police department 45 minutes later, dragging the culprit by his cuffed ankles. The man had tried to shoot Pat, but his gun jammed on the first attempt. Rooney's revolver was out, but instead of firing before the shooter could pull the trigger again, Pat used his gun as a club. When Osmer asked why he hadn't shot, Rooney replied, "He's a young kid. I didn't want to shoot him."
It should be noted, however, that Rooney had dragged the man over two blocks and up the police station stairs, his head thumping on each step. The attempt on his life had apparently tested Rooney's restraint.
Though Rooney campaigned in 1934 to be constable of Watsonville township, he lost a narrow race to incumbent Harry Mozingo. After that, he focused on police work until his 1963 retirement, and despite his intimidating demeanor, much of his patrol days were spent chatting with residents and escorting children across busy streets.
A major controversy in Pat's career occurred in 1959, and it was aggravated by his past tendency towards physical forms of law enforcement. It began during a wrestling tournament staged at the civic auditorium when two spectators attempted to enter the ring. Chief Osmer intervened and a scuffle began. Rooney and Bill DeWorken were in the audience, and assisted the chief in restraining the men. Then one of the rowdies, a Latino from Salinas, became combative and was arrested. At the police station Rooney and the prisoner fought in a hallway, and the prisoner was badly injured by what he claimed was an unprovoked punch to his stomach by Rooney.
DA Nick Drobac cleared Rooney of charges due to discrepancies in the prisoner's statement, his long criminal record, and the fact Rooney was bruised from being kicked in the groin area. Judge Charles Franich later found the prisoner guilty of disturbing the peace, but a jury trial found him innocent on appeal by a split decision. He would later file a civil claim against the city, with his attorney stating Osmer and the city government knew of Rooney's past propensity to "strike and hit persons in his custody."
The Oct. 6, 1959 R-P reported Rooney being cleared of mistreating the prisoner, and a photo running with it showed Pat being congratulated by a group of male youths. Neither the caption nor story mentioned who they were.
I recall Frank Osmer mentioning many years ago that Rooney sometimes took young delinquents out to his stables to help with chores and working his horses. I'll stray from history into conjecture or even wishful thinking by offering the possibility that those congratulations came from stable mates who knew they had benefited from Pat's off-duty companionship and rawhide discipline.
Steve Bankhead is a resident of Watsonville and a frequent contributor to the Register-Pajaronian. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the Register-Pajaronian.
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