JOHN TEARE IN MAJOR FEATURE ARTICLE FOR CHARLESTON GAZETTE
'I miss the action' Ex-cop wears lawman label in a different way
By Sandy Wells, Charleston Gazette
These days, he wears a dark suit appropriate for his position with a prestigious downtown firm. An impressive resume lists courtroom victories, extensive experience with hearings and other legal proceedings, many professional and civic affiliations, teaching and speaking credits, all the credentials of a highly successful lawyer.
The thing is, he'd rather be a cop. Been there. Done that. Loved every minute of it.
In 1985, as a police officer in Dover, Del., he wrenched his back. The ruptured disc required surgery and arduous rehabilitation and forced him into retirement. But John Teare found a way to keep his fingers imbedded in the law enforcement pie.
He's general counsel for the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association and the West Virginia Chiefs of Police Association, as well as the accepted go-to guy for any lawman in need of legal expertise, particularly on issues involving employment.
It's fulfilling work, but he misses the excitement of his former career. He still keeps a police scanner beside his bed.
"I grew up in Philadelphia. My dad was an insurance salesman. We moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia around junior-high time, and ended up in northern Delaware. I graduated from high school in 1972.
"As a kid, I wanted to be an FBI agent. Efrem Zimbalist was on TV at the time. I had started college and was going to go to law school. At that time, there were two ways into the FBI -- as an accountant or as a lawyer.
"I was working for the University of Delaware police department. I watched a bank robbery. We weren't carrying weapons, so I just followed the guy, called my headquarters and told them what was going on and where city police needed to go. They showed up quickly.
"Three hours later, the FBI showed up, and I had to give the statement all over again. From that day on, I decided if I was going to be involved in law enforcement, I wanted to be the first on the scene and stand a chance of making the arrest, instead of showing up hours later and trying to play catch-up.
"So I started applying to police departments. I had 10 applications out at one time. I was hired by Dover, Del., in 1976. I went to the police academy. Our academy wasn't like the one here. It was treated like a college course. We were in class all day and went home.
"It's the best job I ever had. I worked on the streets on rotating shifts. A week out of the academy, I was involved with a shooting. My aim was bad. I didn't shoot the individual, but we ran him down. Two of us handcuffed him. He ended up doing a 30-year sentence for armed robbery.
"A lot of people will go 25 years and never fire. I ended up with the nickname 'John Wayne' after that, but I never did have to fire my weapon in line of duty that way again. I walked a beat, drove a patrol car, was a detective for a while and a supervisor.
"You make many relationships on the streets, both with the shop owners and the people who pass through. Someone arrested one day for shoplifting might well be your next victim of a domestic violence call or accident or robbery. I used to tell people that, just because you see someone in a bad light one day, doesn't make them a bad person.
"I had a situation that really drove that home. There was a big bar fight involving two competing groups, and I was in the middle. I was calling for backup, There had a been a traffic accident and a high-speed chase at one end of town, and there was nobody to send to me. People I had arrested over the years stopped to intervene and stood with me to keep the crowds apart.
"I tried to treat people well. If you have to make an arrest, you have to make an arrest, but you don't have to treat people badly, and they remembered that. When I train new police officers, I remind them that circumstances may very well change. The people you deal with today, you never know when one of those people are going to be on a jury.
"When I'm driving and somebody cuts me off, I never know if that person might be on a jury someday, so it's 'Have a nice day' and a wave using all five fingers. I don't do anything stupid.
"One time, I caught somebody running through the woods. I had to find out why. He was running from a direction where we had received a disturbance call, but nobody was on the scene to know what the call was about. Turns out, he had raped and beaten a woman who was a shop owner. Before the first unit arrived on the scene, I had him in custody.
"I've been in police cars going 140 miles an hour in the rain, chasing a bad guy. I've climbed fences and run through yards, the whole bit -- and I had a ball. Being an officer gave me experience in dealing with people at their best and worst.
"I've dealt with my share of people who have no conscience. I arrested an 8-year-old on a burglary charge who had been arrested for murder and robbery at age 6. He saw something he wanted and he took it. You could tell he was going to die in a cell somewhere.
"You learn many lessons on the street. Like, I have a tendency not to write down a client's or witness's story the first time I talk to them, because I know that by the third time, it will be different. The later version will be closer to the truth.
"If someone doesn't trust me yet and doesn't understand confidentiality, they tend to leave things out that are hurtful, because they want you to think the best of them. By the second or third conversation, I say, 'I can't help you unless you tell me the worst thing anybody can find out about you.' The worst thing I can do is look like it was a surprise to me in the courtroom. If I know it's coming and keep a straight face and move on, people in the jury box will think, 'It doesn't seem to bother him, why should it bother me?'
"You learn to deal with people on their level and treat them right. People who know you and trust you will pick up the phone and tell you things. If you don't treat people well, business people, street people, all of them, you will lose that.
"I loved it all, high-speed chases, stolen cars, hostage situations, riot duty. The reason I don't do it anymore is, I got hurt on the job. At a car wreck scene, trying to get a car out of the middle of the road and using a pry bar, I ruptured a disc. They did surgery and said I could never do police work again. That was 1985.
"I liked the courtroom work I was doing as a police officer, so I went to law school at the University of Richmond and graduated in 1990. I represent the association of chiefs of police and the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association, and I've represented police officers and agencies in civil rights cases and shootings and high-speed chases, and those kinds of things.
"Niall Paul, a good friend who is now my boss here at Spilman Thomas & Battle, we were law school classmates. When I was looking for a job, he asked me to give serious thought to Charleston as a good place to raise a family. I had a variety of opportunities, but Charleston is very easy to fall in love with and put roots down in.
"I came here in 1990 with Bowles Rice. Niall talked me into getting involved with the Battle group. I liked courtroom work, and that's what they do a lot of. I spend a lot of time in employment-related work and on law enforcement issues. I also represent the manufactured-housing industry.
"I've taught at the police academy, and I teach their young officers for a day when they come out of the academy. I put on training programs for lawyers and law enforcement management on civil rights and how to be involved in proper investigations to minimize liability.
"I've been involved in cases on disciplining and removing officers from duty. I've also built a reputation representing officers to get their jobs back. I tell folks I'd much rather represent management and make sure it's done right in the first instance than fight to get somebody's job back wrongfully taken.
"If I had my druthers, I would still be a police officer. A lot of people don't know how anybody can do that job. For me, it was a natural. The guy I never understood was the fireman who walks into burning buildings. Me, I always had to gamble that there's trouble at the end of the hallway. He goes in knowing there is.
"I miss the action. I have a scanner by my bed, and if I'm traveling any distance, I have one in the car. I keep in real close touch with it. My wife was a police officer and now works for the sheriff's department. My oldest son worked for the Huntington Police Department and is now a federal marshal. Our oldest daughter works at the airport as a screening agent in behavioral services and our youngest is looking to be a criminal profiler and is working on a double degree in psychology and criminal justice. So it's in the family."
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Spilman Thomas & Battle is a full-service law firm with more than 100 attorneys. Founded in 1864, Spilman has offices in Charleston, Morgantown and Wheeling, West Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Roanoke, Virginia.