On July 13, 1980, just over two months after the Norco bank robbery, the Riverside Press-Enterprise began a four-part exposé titled “Staying Alive.” Ostensibly an exploration of lessons learned from the Norco bank robbery, the opening lines of the first article clearly announced what it was really about:
Riverside sheriff’s deputies are angry. And they’re scared. A fellow officer, James B. Evans, was shot to death during a robbery and chase that led into the San Gabriel Mountains. The deputies don’t think their department is doing enough to prevent it from happening again.
Grumbling among the RSO deputies had begun immediately after Norco, many feeling they had inadequate training, weapons and communications. Most of the accusations were aimed directly at Sheriff Ben Clark, in his 17th year leading the department.
Clark contested the accusations head-on. “Riverside’s deputies are as well-trained and equipped as any police officers in the state.” On the subject of guns, Clark conceded, “The bad guys simply had the better weapons.” However, he dismissed the idea that high-powered rifles would have done his men any good.
Other police agencies involved thought differently. In the two months following the Norco bank robbery, the Riverside PD had ordered a dozen high-powered rifles. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office acquired three dozen automatic weapons and an M60 belt-fed machine gun capable of firing 750 rounds of .308 ammunition per minute to mount on one of its choppers.
Shortly after publication of the article, Sheriff Clark changed course with a surprising announcement. “It is our intention to buy 40 Mini-14 rifles.”
After 100 years of policing the Wild West with a six-shooter and a Winchester shotgun, Inland Empire law enforcement agencies were now on their way to becoming some of the most heavily armed in the nation. The two sheriff’s departments had gone from a pair of high-powered rifles between them to more than 75 and counting. Helicopters, unarmed before Norco, now circled overhead with machine guns at the ready.
After the flurry of weapons acquisitions was announced, deputies Andy Delgado and Dave Madden were watching television when the evening news showed video of German police clad in body armor holding Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns across their chests. “That’s the way it’s going,” Andy said. “That’s how we’ll all be armed soon.”
Andy Delgado never fully forgave Glyn Bolasky and Chuck Hille for leaving him alone under fire in front of the bank that day. “I had a three-minute gun battle with the robbers. I wasn’t happy being left there to die,” he told the Press-Enterprise.
Plagued by bad dreams, dark thoughts and anxiety along with a growing bitterness toward the department, Glyn Bolasky quit the RSO within the year for a job at the Riverside PD. But soon into his six-month field-training program his training officer spotted problems. Bolasky was jittery, his behavior erratic. “I like the guy,” the training officer concluded, “but he just can’t get over Norco.”
On Jan. 12, 1981, the Riverside Police Department parted ways with Bolasky, labeling him a “vicarious liability.” When a reporter asked RPD Chief Victor Jones why his department had not done more to help Bolasky, “Jones said he doesn’t have the budget for psychologists or psychiatrists, so he retires officers when they have mental fatigue.” The comment was a stark illustration of law enforcement’s approach at the time to the problem of posttraumatic stress disorder among officers.
Norco marked the start of a two-year slide for Andy Delgado. Well respected but always fiery, Delgado increasingly found himself in flare-ups, confrontations and shouting matches with supervisors and fellow officers. By the first anniversary of Norco, he was carrying two handguns while out in the field – one in a shoulder holster, one in his boot. He did not try to disguise the reason: “If I can’t count on people in this department to back me up, then I’ll do it myself.” In February of 1982, Det. Andy Delgado was medically discharged by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for posttraumatic stress disorder.
It had taken 20 months, but now two of the three deputies who had shot it out with the escaping bank robbers at the intersection of Fourth and Hamner were out of the only career they had ever wanted. Within a few more years, the third, Chuck Hille would follow with a related medical discharge.
Twenty years after the Norco bank robbery, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department finally officially honored the deputies involved. In a 2000 commemoration ceremony, Glyn Bolasky, Chuck Hille, Andy Delgado and Rolf Parkes received the Medal of Courage for “acts of heroism performed at great risk to life and limb.” James Evans was posthumously awarded the RSO’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor.
At 11 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2015, two Islamic extremists armed with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, thousands of rounds of .223 ammunition and homemade pipe bombs burst into the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and opened fire on an employee meeting inside. Within minutes, 14 were dead and 22 seriously injured. The suspects fled the scene, immediately sparking the largest manhunt in the Inland Empire since the search for the Norco bank robbers 35 years before.
But this time, Inland Empire law enforcement agencies came equipped with more than just a single beat-up M16. Officers swarmed the region in BearCat armored personnel carriers and armed with semiautomatic weapons while police choppers equipped as “gun platforms” circled overhead. Trapped in a suburban neighborhood four hours later, the two suspects were killed in just over five minutes with a hail of 440 rounds of police gunfire.
In the immediate aftermath, local police officials cited the lesson learned from Norco as the genesis of the Inland Empire law enforcement’s ability to rapidly deploy with such overwhelming force. In a 2017 article for Vice entitled “How a 1980 Bank Robbery Sparked the Militarization of America’s Police,” a quote from Rolf Parkes pinpointed the evolution to a specific moment and the actions of a single deputy: D. J. McCarty. “When the suspects heard that rifle, they realized their firepower was now being matched. There would have been a lot more dead cops on that road if not for that weapon.”
D. J. McCarty was awarded the Medal of Valor by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department for his actions on Baldy Notch Road.
A man walks into the room with a sly, almost mischievous smile on his face. He is in his mid-60s with a potbelly, the long beard and hair much as it was 35 years earlier, only now snow white. The eyes are the same, too, squinty with a bit of a sparkle. If he auditioned for Santa Claus at the local mall, he’d probably get the job. But he can’t. This is the Inmate Visiting Center of Unit A at the California State Prison in Lancaster, high on the desert plain east of Los Angeles. Russell Harven has been here a long time, and he is never getting out.
“My brother is giving me hell for this.” Russ is talking about his older brother, Chris, currently held up north in a Vacaville prison. The two had been cellmates for most of the last 15 years, and he expects to be transferred up to Vacaville soon where they will be again. Russ sees it as a blessing and a curse. On one hand, at least it’s someone he knows. On the other hand, it’s Chris. The dynamic has not changed all that much in 35 years.
The visitor center is full of men in denim shirts and pants, almost all black or Hispanic. If they think about an old white inmate like Russell Harven at all, it is probably dismissively. But there is not one of them in the room who has a conviction record approaching anything like his: 45 major felonies including kidnapping, explosives, armed robbery, 24 counts of attempted murder and two first-degree murder convictions in the deaths of Jim Evans and Billy Delgado.
Harven responds to the visitor’s questions as best he can, even if the answers are simple and uncomplicated. “I’ve spent most of my life trying not to think about what happened that day.” In his letters and as he speaks, the superior intelligence range in which he tested just after Norco is obvious. He refers to himself as having been “indolent” and “fatalistic” in the years leading up to Norco. He says it never occurred to him that it would end up in a gunfight. If it had, he never would have done it. When asked if he thinks he fired the shot that killed Jim Evans, he looks away. “God, I hope not.”
Like his brother, Russell is still angry about the trial. Tried along with Chris and George, all three defense teams accused the prosecution and police of misconduct including perjury and destroying evidence. They stand by their assertion during the trial that it was friendly fire from D.J. McCarty that killed Evans, so they should have gotten 25 years to life under the Felony Murder Rule instead of life without parole. “I am somewhat bitter about getting that sentence,” he says. “I used to be a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care type. Now I am a bitter old man waiting for my toe tag.”
After two hours, the visitor runs out of questions, so they spend the last hour talking about ’70s rock music and L.A. radio stations they used to listen to, the smoggy days, sneaking into Disneyland – all the stuff teenagers growing up in Orange County did back then. For a while, they are just two guys sitting around talking about the old neighborhood. They try to figure out if they might have gone to some of the same concerts. “What about the AC/DC Back in Black tour at the Orange Pavilion in San Bernardino?” the visitor asks. Harven’s mood changes. Of course he wasn’t there. It was September 1980. By then, Russell Harven had already thrown his life away.
The guard calls out visitor hours are over and Harven stands. Before leaving, the visitor cannot help but ask what is both the best and stupidest question one can ask someone who has done something unimaginable: “Why did you do it?”
“Simple,” Harven says without hesitation. “Because I thought we’d get away with it.”
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