Kirby: Funny enough, not all "bad guys" are creeps

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In the summer of 1988, I bought weed from a guy named John. We might have become good friends but for two things — he sold drugs and I was a cop.

A gal posing as my girlfriend introduced us at a party. John immediately noticed my Pink Floyd T-shirt. He liked Pink Floyd. What did I think of "The Wall"? Did I want to score some bud?

Unfortunately for the future of our relationship, I was on loan from uniformed patrol to a narcotics task force that needed a new face for a couple of weeks. I bought drugs from the unwary.

Apparently John liked me. During a transaction one evening he asked my advice. Should he dump his girlfriend? She whined too much and smoked all his product. He could do better, right?

I agreed. He definitely could do better. In retrospect he should have dumped me, but by then it was too late.

That night we laughed about the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes and listened to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" all the way through. It was the last conversation we had.

The next time John and I saw each other was when I testified against him in court. Judging from the look on his face, he couldn't get over the sight of me in a police uniform. But on his face was something else that has stayed with me for 25 years.

The other dealers I testified against were angry and contemptuous. They sneered at me from the defense table. Big deal. I'd been a cop long enough by then that I was used to being hated by a certain class of people.

But John was not the usual drug-dealing creep I was accustomed to. On his face I saw a flicker of sorrow and loss. That was the end of undercover work for me.

Did I feel bad about it? For the most part no. People who don't want to go to jail shouldn't commit crimes. It wasn't my job to make laws. It was my job at the time to enforce them.

But that didn't make me feel better about how things worked out. I never saw John again. He did a stretch in the county jail and disappeared when he got out.

I've wondered about him over the years. Did he ever find a better girlfriend? Did he go back to school? Other than getting arrested, did he ever feel as bad as I did about the way things turned out?

When suspected pot grower and murderer Matthew David Stewart hanged himself in the Weber County Jail two weeks ago, I confess that my first thought was whether I would have liked him.

I already knew that I liked Stewart's victims, the officers he shot when they raided his home for drugs. That was easy. I could identify with them and their families.

The harder part was seeing a possible connection with Stewart and his family. It's almost impossible to do that in a world where humanity vanishes when people are at odds over what they think is right.

In the prosecution of our respective causes we forget that "bad" people are people we might actually like if circumstances were just a little different.

Unfortunately, we always seem to learn that when it's too late to make the circumstances different.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or