Two stolen T-shirts almost cost a Galveston police officer his life

An aerial photo of the seawall taken in 1977. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

An aerial photo of the seawall taken in 1977. (Photo courtesy of the Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas)

As dark settled in over the island on Jan. 21, 1982, Galveston police dispatch sent Officer Oscar Haynes to investigate a shoplifting report at Angelo’s Gift Shop at 31st Street and Seawall Blvd. A man and a woman had stolen two T-shirts from the store before heading off to a nearby bar. Haynes arrested them both and put them in the back of his patrol car.

It seemed like a routine arrest.

But then Haynes decided to take the man out of the car to search him. Terry Lee Zokoloski, 19,  later said he didn’t plan to hurt the officer. He pulled his gun intending to startle Haynes so he could escape. He clutched the .38-caliber Colt revolver in both hands as Haynes spun him around. Then the gun went off with an explosive burst that sounded to witnesses like a car backfiring. The bullet struck Haynes in the stomach. As the officer fell to the ground, Zokoloski ran.

Doubled over at the back of his patrol car, Haynes managed to radio dispatch: “Officer down.”

Paramedics rushed Haynes to John Sealy Hospital while his fellow officers began searching for Zokoloski. He hadn’t gone far. They found him about 45 minutes after the shooting, hiding in a garage near 33rd Street and Ave. Q. Prosecutors charged him with attempted capital murder of a police officer. The woman, Tracy Ann Reed, described as Zokoloski’s common-law wife, faced charges of shoplifting and misdemeanor theft.

David Smith, who graduated with Haynes from the police academy in 1980, said petty crime was much more common on the island in the 1970s and ‘80s, in part because of the booming tourism trade. Lots of visitors meant plenty of criminal mischief. But a police officer shooting, especially as part of such a petty crime, was unusual.

Haynes survived but spent a week in the hospital. He returned to the force three months later. On May 27, the city awarded him a Purple Heart.

Zokoloski went on trial June 23. Testimony lasted just one day. He took the stand in his own defense, calling the shooting an accident.

“I had thoughts of scaring him,” he said of Haynes. “I didn’t intend to shoot him. I just wanted to aim at him so I could walk away. I didn’t want to shoot nobody. I felt bad after what happened. I wasn’t expecting nothing like that to happen.”

Zokoloski claimed he knew nothing about guns and ammunition and insisted he didn’t know how the gun went off. He suggested his finger could have slipped onto the trigger or bumped the hammer. Defense attorney Charles Jordan argued for leniency.

“The state has shown there was an opportunity presented to this stupid kid to do something reckless,” he said. “If he wanted to murder, he could have pulled that trigger five more times. He didn’t do it because he did not intend to murder that police officer. He had the opportunity.”

But after he shot Haynes, Zokoloski reloaded the gun as he fled. That indicated he intended to do more harm if he could, Assistant District Attorney Mike Guarino argued.

Oscar Haynes (The Galveston County Daily News)

Oscar Haynes (The Galveston County Daily News)

“If you want to send a message to the crooks that if they want to shoot a police officer they get one free shot, then acquit this defendant or convict him of aggravated assault,” he said. “The evidence strongly suggests this defendant is guilty of attempted capital murder.”

The jury convicted Zokoloski of attempted capital murder. During the sentencing phase, Zokoloski detailed a long list of trouble that began when he started smoking pot at age 11. He started doing speed and acid at 14. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and spent time in four reform schools after getting arrested on burglary charges. Zokoloski’s mother, Geraldine Farr, blamed his criminal bent on his lack of family life. He’d never known his father and entered the foster care system when he was 5.

Prosecutors asked for a life sentence. The defense argued for no more than 15 years. Judge Ed Harris settled on 30 years, handing down his sentence on July 7, 1982.

Haynes went on to serve out the rest of his career with the Galveston Police Department. He retired after 27 years and died in 2015. He was 61.

Smith, now executive director for the City of Galveston, remembered Haynes as a quiet guy who kept to himself but was well liked. He wasn’t a “gung-ho” cop, and he had a reputation for giving suspects the benefit of the doubt, Smith said. That made his shooting all the more surprising.

Zokoloski served 26 years of his sentence, gaining parole on April 4, 2008. Police in Ohio arrested him in 2010 for failing to report to his parole officer.

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