Editor’s Note: The following was originally published February 22, 2009, and just about every year we repost it to remind the different generations of today’s OBceans of some of the rich history that makes up the fabric of Ocean Beach, whether one likes it or not. Here’s the history lesson, with only the number of years edited.
By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
On February 22, 1974 — 42 years ago — all hell broke loose in Ocean Beach. And for many of the ’70s generation, this day will always live on in their memory as a day of infamy – the day the world came crashing down on our little seaside community.
It was the day that Pete Mahone, a politicized ex-convict and member of OB’s anti-Vietnam war community, tried to commit suicide by cop. It was also the breaking point in police-community relations, relations that had been simmering for years.
On this day, more than a third of a century ago, Pete calmly walked up to San Diego police officer William Ritter who was sitting in his car while parked in the OB Pier parking lot, pulled out a hand gun and opened fire once through the window in the direction of the officer. A soon as he had made his shot, Pete calmly walked back to his little beach shack along Abbot Street and waited. He knew what was to come.
Fortunately and miraculously, the officer -at the moment the gun went off – had turned his head and had opened his mouth. The bullet entered his mouth, chipped a tooth and exited through the back of his neck. Ending up only with a flesh wound, Officer Ritter was well on his way to recovery a month later.
As he waited in his little cottage on the 2000 block of Abbott, Peter Mahone anticipated that the cops would come rushing through his door. Over the course of the next few hours, police officers did that, but much, much more.
Once the call had gone out that an officer was down in Ocean Beach, things exploded. Here’s how the OB Rag reported it, in an article entitled, “OB UNDER SIEGE”:
… police units from all over San Diego converged on Ocean Beach. Suddenly the community was under siege. A command post was set up at Robb Field, a helicopter from the county Sheriff’s department was called in, and uniformed and plain-clothes police officers began detaining and questioning people.
Incidents of violence have not been uncommon, in Ocean Beach. But rarely has a police officer been a victim. This time, according to many of the literally hundreds of people who experienced and observed the events of the day, the cops rushing into Ocean Beach were “out for blood.”
Many violent acts took place last Friday. Folks in the neighborhood of Abbott and Saratoga woke up to pistols being pointed at their heads by police officers. Many residents were held indiscriminately at gunpoint as they were frisked and forced to identify themselves. Four persons who watched the police actions were arrested and one of them was later beaten by police. …
In one incident, officers attempted to enter a residence at 2014-1/2 Abbott Street. At some point shots were fired. Detective Michael De Bruler was injured. The Abbott Street residence was surrounded by police. According to neighbors and witnesses, police then opened fire without warning to whatever occupants might have been inside and without giving a chance for anyone to surrender.
Many volleys of shots were fired and tear gas was thrown into the house. One suspect, Peter Mahone, emerged from the house with his hands raised. He was hit by a plainclothes officer in the back of the head with the butt of a gun which allegedly discharged at that time. Mahone apparently suffered one wound in the shooting. He was removed from the scene by police.
(For the entire article “OB UNDER SIEGE”, go here.)
Throughout the take-over of Ocean Beach by police that day, numerous people had been harassed and arrested, as the Rag recounted. All 4 arrests of bystanders were thrown-out. Two of those arrested had been activists and friends of Peter Mahone.
Peter Mahone somehow survived. Officer Ritter survived. Detective De Bruler, wounded by friendly fire, survived. But did the community? The history of this day is an important day in OB’s history, because it brought the community together, the tensions between police and the community came to a head – and led to their resolution months later, as importantly, this day ignited a community-wide campaign for police reform.
Peter Mahone was charged with 5 counts of attempted murder, 5 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a gun while on parole, and his bail was set at $200,000 – which 35 years ago, was a lot of money. After the shoot-out and the turmoil that followed, Peter became somewhat of a cause celebre within the activist community.
While no one condoned what he did, friends and fellow activists strove to understand what made him do it. A Defense Committee was set up immediately, which aided him in obtaining legal representation and covering some of his legal costs.
Older than most of the other OB anti-war and community activists, Peter had been institutionalized for much of his life, for petty crimes and burglaries. During his later days in prison, he had become politicized – like many inmates had during the heady days of the late sixties and early seventies. He got out of prison in the early 1970s and on parole. He had enrolled in a college program at San Diego State for ex-cons. At State, he met radical professor Peter Bohmer and other activists – many of whom lived in OB, as OB provided a veritable safe haven for radical, anti-war and hippie ways and politics . So Mahone moved to the beach and became active in the movement to stop the Vietnam war.
In the Spring of 1972, during a particuarly horrible intensification of the war by President Nixon, the anti-war movement all over the country intensified its efforts to bring the military conflict to an end with more and more militant tactics. Anti-war demonstrators had blocked traffic on I-5 in downtown San Diego. Activists rallied and burned trash cans along Newport Avenue. Protests occurred across the country.
Up in North County, right outside Del Mar, an anti-war rally was held. Protesters had built a pile of timber on the railroad tracks that run along the Pacific Ocean and lit it in an effort to block a train carrying war munitions to San Diego to be shipped to Viet Nam. Police arrived in force, and arrested a number of people, including Peter Mahone, and his mentor Professor Peter Bohmer, along with another well-known OB community activist. In all, 3 Ocean Beach residents were arrested at this protest, and included in what was later called “the Del Mar 4”.
Months later, during the preparation for the defense of the Del Mar 4, it was discovered that police informants had infiltrated the defense team – a clear violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. When lawyers for the defendants tried to have the charges thrown out due to this usurpation of civility, the judge ruled against the activists.
Peter Mahone never quite got over this legal defeat. This arrest brought him other police harassment back in OB. In time, he started taking hard drugs and becoming very paranoid and delusional. Fellow activists who were his roommates became uneasy with his behavior, and watched him become unstable.
About a month before the February shoot-out, his roommates had asked him to leave. They couldn’t handle his paranoid and strangeness. One roommate had come home to find the telephone busted up and in the trash. Another day, a paper-cutter had been destroyed, and Peter saved the handle to protect himself.
Mahone finally went to trial and was convicted of some of the charges. A number of friends had testified at his trial to his instability leading up to the shooting. Nevertheless, he ended up back in prison for some ten or so years. Out of prison once again, he lived in the Bay Area, where he came into contact with former OBceans living in that area. It is believed that Peter died in 1993.
So ended the Peter Mahone saga. But the community of Ocean Beach was changed forever by what he did on February 22, 1974. More to come in the next installment in this OB History Lesson.
LEARN MORE ABOUT POLICE-OB RELATIONS IN THE 1970S