HIGH POINT — Pity the fate of poor High Point Police Capt. Allen Jerome Morris, whose stellar law enforcement career ended in two arrests — the arrest of a drunk and disorderly citizen, and then his own cardiac arrest, likely triggered by his prisoner.
To this day, Morris remains the city’s highest-ranking police officer killed in the line of duty.
And the prisoner? Well, compared to Morris, he came out smelling like a rose.
The year was 1928 — Sept. 16, to be exact — and Morris was responding to what he probably assumed would be a routine call. It seems a young man had had a little too much to drink at an establishment called the Do-Drop-In, a small cafe on E. Russell Street, and he was getting rowdy. Morris and fellow officer Bill Friddle answered the call.
At the cafe, the officers found 25-year-old Garland Franklin Shipwash, a local furniture factory worker who was described as being “mean drunk,” according to The High Point Enterprise’s front-page account of the incident. Shipwash apparently calmed down as the officers were arresting him, though, so much so that they didn’t even feel it necessary to handcuff him.
The officers began walking Shipwash toward the police station, holding onto his belt to keep him from bolting. After walking about a block, Friddle noticed Shipwash attempting to unfasten his belt.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the officer asked.
“I’ve gone about as far as I’m going,” the prisoner replied, and he frantically began trying to escape.
The two officers quickly overpowered Shipwash and wrestled him to the pavement, but he continued flailing and kicking like a bull at the rodeo.
“We were attempting to put the handcuffs on him, and he was kicking,” Friddle later explained. “His knee struck Captain Morris in the stomach, and Captain Morris fell over dead.”
After Morris collapsed, bystanders jumped in to help Friddle finish cuffing the prisoner. Meanwhile, a doctor was called to the scene for Morris, but it was too late.
Officially, Morris died of a heart attack — the 62-year-old officer had a history of heart trouble, according to The Enterprise — but the heart attack obviously was triggered by the prisoner’s forceful kick to his midsection.
A seven-year veteran of the police department, with five years as a captain, Morris was described by his fellow officers as “the best-liked man on the entire force,” according to The Enterprise.
Two days later, when Morris was memorialized and laid to rest at Oakwood Cemetery, dozens of officers from the High Point, Greensboro and Winston-Salem police forces paid their respects.
Survivors included his wife, four children, seven siblings and 14 grandchildren.
In an unusual bit of editorializing, The Enterprise suggested — a mere day after the officer’s death — that he was not physically fit for the job, and that the city was at fault for not requiring regular fitness testing of its police officers.
“The probability is that Captain Morris would have suffered no serious injury had he been in condition for the strenuous work that frequently is required of a policeman,” the writer pointed out. “...Physical tests should be a periodic requirement for the police.”
Valid point? Sure. But less than 24 hours after the man died of a heart attack? Um, no, that’s too soon.
Anyway, Shipwash was tossed in the city jail, facing charges of manslaughter, being drunk and disorderly, and resisting arrest. By the time he went to court — a mere two weeks after the incident — the manslaughter count had been changed to murder.
Alas, the murder charge did not stick in court. Shipwash was convicted on the other two charges — for which he was fined $70 and given a suspended sentence of three months — but he was found not guilty of murder, a verdict that must’ve come as a slap in the face for Morris’ family and fellow officers.
“Captain Morris died, the court decided, not as the result of a blow struck by the defendant, but as the result of a heart attack,” The Enterprise reported.
The story went on to say that both Shipwash and his attorney “appeared to be greatly pleased with the verdict.”
Gee, ya think?
But if there’s such a thing as karmic justice, perhaps it happened here. On Jan. 23, 1954, at age 51, Garland Shipwash died. He was buried across town at Floral Garden Park Cemetery.
Cause of death? Yep, a heart attack.
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