July 31 was the 35th anniversary of the bloodiest five days in Milwaukee history. In this story we follow one 24-year-old city patrolman from July 31, 1967, when he was blinded by a shotgun blast to the face from 15 feet, to the present
“I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”
John J. Carter, attorney at law
© 2002 Geoff Davidian
n July 31, 1967, 55-year-old John Oraa Tucker loaded up his .12 gauge shotgun and stood at the window of his home at 134 W. Center St. By the time he put it down, Patrolman Bryan Mosche, 24, and widowed 77-year-old invalid Ann Mosley were dead. More fortunate were Detective Capt. Kenneth Hagopian, who was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital where surgeons removed 126 pieces of lead from the half of his face that was not blown off; Detective Kenneth Henning, who was at St. Mary’s Hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest; Patrolman Thomas Borzych, who was taken to County General Hospital with a gunshot wound in the upper left side; Detective Leroy Jones, treated at County for a gunshot wound to the right arm and released; Patrolman David Kunde, treated at County emergency for a gunshot would to the left arm, and released; and Detective Harry J. Daniels, released after treatment at County emergency for a cut above his eye from the windshield that shattered when Tucker unloaded a round at their squad car.
And then, there was Patrolman John J. Carter.
In 1966, when Milwaukee attorney Jerry Boyle was a deputy prosecutor under former District Attorney Hugh R. O’Connell, a young Carter came to his office to discuss a case.
“He had made an arrest - something not very serious, reckless driving, maybe - and he came to get me to file charges,” Boyle tells a reporter drinking a cup of coffee in his West Wisconsin Avenue office. “He was a smart guy and had an incredible personality – all cop.”
The 24-year-old patrolman didn’t realize that side of Bluemound Road was in Wauwatosa, Boyle recalls. But they enjoyed the give-and-take of the conversation before a disappointed Carter left, convinced Boyle would not allow a Milwaukee officer to bring a case from Wauwatosa, although the offense had occurred.
“But he didn’t give up,” says Boyle. “He came back later and said he wanted to bring a complaint as a citizen.”
For Carter, being a Milwaukee cop was a stepping-stone to the job he really wanted – Secret Service agent. A native of Hurley, Wis., he graduated from high school in 1961 at 18 years old.
“I only stayed in school because it was the only way I could play basketball,” he says.
After graduation, Carter joined the Marine Corps. Three years later, after a mini world tour that encompassed the Cuban missile crisis, jaunts in Haiti, Sardinia and the Mediterranean, he declined the option of re-enlistment and returned to Wisconsin where he got a job as a Milwaukee cop.
On Sunday, July 30, 1967, Boyle, his wife and child were crossing town when they came upon a car with broken windows and a driver who needed transportation to a hospital. It was the beginning of a week of hell in Milwaukee; a week of mayhem and civil rights protests, fires, bombs, and death. Stores and gas stations were closed; shops looted; curfew imposed. National Guard troops delivered milk to a sealed off area of the near north side. As a prosecutor, Boyle knew he would be getting the cases.
That same night, in another part of town, John Carter was driving with five other police officers to North Second and West Center streets after hearing a radio call for “Officer shot.”
The night of July 30, 1967 through the morning of July 31 was for Milwaukee perhaps the bloodiest hours of the century. Before the sun rose, 68 people would be treated for riot-related injuries.
Prosecutor Boyle learned that Patrolman John Carter was one of Tucker’s victims, and he realized he would be seeing a lot more of him as the case progressed.
“I was driving the squad; there were six of us all together,” recalls Carter, now 59. “We were at Second and Center, responding to a call, ‘Officer shot.’ This was a number of hours into the riots. We had been driving around, taking care of assignments. It was a nightmare. We got to the house; a cop had been shot. Cops in the street. Someone in the house was firing, then we bailed out of the car, which was then under fire. We ran to the back of the house, to the back door. It had a back porch. Apparently, a couple of officers had gone into the house, that’s where I think Patrolman Bryan Moschea got killed.
“When I went in I got blasted with a .12-gauge shotgun at 15 feet. I have no recollection of the incident or running into the house. As I’m told, myself and another officer went in. The house was on fire, there was someone shooting”
“I was real lucky. I got shot in the summer of 1967,” Carter says. “I didn’t know I’d never get my sight back for months, so I had hope.
“I had ear surgery, eye surgery. I lost the left eye completely; had to be removed.
“Psychotherapy? Zero. There was absolutely nothing.
“People were trying to be helpful. Everybody tried to be nice, calling and writing. Up until December, I was going to County General twice a day for 12 weeks. That’s what they called it then. I didn’t know the blindness would be total and irrecoverable until December 1967,” Carter says.
Married in 1964, Carter faced a bleak future. Unlike Hagopian, whose face was wired together and later returned to work, Carter could not return. His goal of working for the Secret Service seemed unattainable and the city had no disability plan to speak of.
Carter doesn’t recall how he ended up in Newton, Mass., at St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Center for the Blind from February until June 1968. “I don’t know who paid for it; but there was no facility here for adventitiously blind,” he says.
“Part of the training at St. Paul’s was everyday we had group psychotherapy. Much centered around the tremendous psychological impact blindness brings.
“Father Thomas Carroll centered this on the fact that vision is so fundamental, everything changes. So his program was centered around the psychology of blindness.
“I thought it was all bull shit. I was young. I was strong. A lot of people marveled at the fact that I never got angry at (Tucker). It seemed like a waste of time. I never had those feelings. Was I depressed at times? Yes. Did I say ‘why me?’ Yes.
“It was a residential facility. I was the second youngest person there. The oldest was a psychiatrist from Maine, Rupert Chittick. He went blind. He and I had many long discussions about many things. We talked about how I would get on with my life.
“It was a blessing that I met Dr. Chittick and spent many hours discussing life. The relationship grew. We became good friends. We focused not just on what happened but what I do for the rest of my life. I had to pick a profession that I could compete with someone who could see.
“That’s when I decided to go to law school.”
While Carter was at St. Paul’s, Deputy District Attorney Jerry Boyle was preparing the case against the man who blinded him. Tucker was facing nine counts of attempted murder from the July 31 incident.
“I remember John Oraa Tucker sitting in Hugh O’Connell’s office, when he said how sorry he was he shot these guys,” Boyle says.
“As the prosecutor, I’m living this thing on a daily basis.
“But O’Connell decided to run for judge and he won. So there was a vacancy for district attorney. I was a Democrat but Gov. Knowles was a Republican and he appointed David J. Cannon.
“I asked David who was going to prosecute the case, and he said he was, so I quit.
“When John returned from Massachusetts, I went to visit him at his apartment. He was depressed. He had been a dynamic cop and now he’s sitting there blind.
“He said he wanted to go to law school,” Boyle says. “I said I’d help him get in.”
But before Carter could go to law school, he would have to get an undergraduate degree.
“All I had was a high school education, and the only reason I got out of there is because I wanted to play basketball. I never, never, never thought I’d go to college.
“But now I wanted to go to Marquette but the Dept. of Rehabilitation said they’d only pay to go to a public school. I had to fight to get them to let me go to Marquette.
“I started at Marquette in 1968. I enrolled in business college. Went to one accounting class. I said, ‘this is stupid.’ I went to the dean’s office and said this is not what I want. I wanted a good, basic liberal arts education so I decided to study history and philosophy.
“There were no books in Braille, and I never really learned it anyway. All my books were on audio tapes. That’s how I got through school. I got my books recorded by Volunteer Services to the Blind of Milwaukee, and they read them onto tape as soon as they could.
“I don’t think I had the brain to be a lawyer at 21, 23, 25. I think that your brain grows.
“I did figure out at the end of my first year that I have the intellectual ability to get by, and I started to develop some skills over and above what I had, and one of them was memory.
“And Number 2 was listening ability. I couldn’t keep up with the work. They had variable speed on the reel-to-reel tape, and I sped it up almost to Donald Duck speed. Then, I found I could listen to two tapes at the same time on different subjects. There aren’t enough hours to do it otherwise. But I couldn’t listen to two tapes on the same subject.”
Somehow, Carter found time to serve as president of Marquette Veterans Club from 1969 to 1970, the year he and his wife Kathleen adopted a baby. The same year, Carter was accepted into the Jesuit Honor Society.
But none of that meant anything to the law school.
As a cop, Carter never kicked in a door, but when he left the department he kicked in several, beginning with the one at Marquette’s law school, then with the Milwaukee Common Council.
“In 1970, I went to the law school to talk about taking classes but the dean says I couldn’t go to law school because they had a blind guy once and he didn’t do well.
“They said I couldn’t take the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) because they don’t have it for the blind.
“I thought I deserved a chance so I put some pressure on them, threatened to bring Carl Zimmerman and television cameras in. The police union helped.
“Finally, they said I would have to take two evidence classes, and if I passed I could get in. I got two A’s.”
“My son Jason was born in 1971. I guess from 1967 to 1971, I was repeatedly in the limelight trying to get a decent disability pension. It’s awful easy if you’re blind to sit back and let someone else do it. In 1972, I started working as a law clerk for Jerry Boyle in his private practice. Then, I worked full time while going to law school.
“The city kept me on the payroll by ordinance until the state law was changed. Robert Anderson worked hard for me.”
Until 1972, disability for a city worker was 75 percent of regular earnings with no outside earnings. The law was changed in 1972 to provide that if a fireman or policeman “has a disability involving the loss of use of both eyes, or the full loss of use of one eye and one limb or the full loss of the use of two limbs or the equivalent,” that person is entitled to receive a “duty disability pension” of 90 percent of his current salary.
“The law now was put there for John Carter,” says Special Deputy City Attorney Thomas Hayes.
“When you’re blind, doors close. Some are closed quietly, some are closed loudly.”
“You know, for a while he had a dog, but he got rid of it because the dog held him back."
When Carter finished law school, he stayed with Boyle for a while until he opened his own office.
Boyle recalls a trip the two of them took to Nevada working on a case.
“We had to go to Vegas to check out the physical evidence on a case,” says Boyle.
“We do everything like everyone there, and end up at a crap table. John kept the dice for 40 minutes. We could have retired but we didn’t know how to bet. Other people made thousands.”
In 1975, he and Kathleen divorced. “She said she hated lawyers,” he says.
Now on his own, Carter worked a stint as a contract lawyer for City Attorney Grant Langley.
He has defended police officers accused of brutality and civil rights violations, and in his private practice he represented defendants accused by police of crimes. “I have defended people and ripped the police officer apart,” says Carter.
What he won’t do is represent a plaintiff against cops in civil brutality or civil rights cases.
“I don’t want to appear my allegiance is split,” he says, recalling when his performance could have come under attack.
“I’m going to go back to 1966 and I remember on 35th and Vliet where I kicked a guy right in the face. I never would have believed that would have been acceptable. I’m behind the wheel and my partner is on the sidewalk rolling around with this guy. Just as I run around the car he knocks my partner down and I kicked him in the face. Was that acceptable? Some might say no.”
In the meantime, Carter is on the Milwaukee County Board of Ethics and has served 18 years on the local Board of Professional Responsibility.
He has an office at 8555 Forest Home, where his wife, Pam, works as his secretary.
“I’m not lucky,” he says. “I’m blessed.”
Retired Police Captain Thomas A. Perlewitz recalls an Internal Affairs case where Carter represented a cop.
“One day Charlie Gilbert calls me and says this cop is using this broad to go in and get search warrants,” Perlewitz says. “Charlie was the inspector of Internal Affairs.”
“Well, there’s this gun and they trace it back to the search warrant. This guy’s getting this broad to lie to get search warrants, saying she was in the place and bought pot or something.”
“He was a son of a bitch,” Perlewitz says. “He’s blind and tough as hell. He fought. He’s a hard nosed son of a bitch and honest as hell. I never made it to the trial but after it was over he wrote a letter to my boss saying me and Ralph Brown did a good job.”
Perlewitz, who advanced to the detective bureau in 1960 after six months on the job when he shot someone, says July 31, 1967 was the worst night in Milwaukee he ever saw.
“That pension Carter got isn’t shit. He should get twice that.”
“I never set out to be an example to anybody. I never conducted myself with that in mind. But I always thought I had an obligation to fulfill my own potential,” says Carter, now a father of five. “I just happen to be somebody who got shot.
“I didn’t do anything exemplary; I probably did something wrong or left myself exposed. I don’t think I did anything brave. Would I do it again? Of course.
“What I did was live. All I have done is live. I tell my children I have adopted a certain philosophy – make a plan and execute the plan, even if it’s wrong.
“I’ve had many opportunities, I was able to get an education.
“I look back at myself in 1968. I was an ex-Marine. I did the da-da-da Morse code thing and I could take an M-16 apart in my sleep. I jumped out of airplanes. I was a good cop. I liked to help people.
“I’m not an exception to the rule. There is no rule. I think the character of a person is the propulsion; it propels you to act in a certain way.”
“Some doors opened for me; a lot closed.“Do I love the law? More than anything. I’ve made a vow; if I ever didn’t like it, I’d quit. I love it. It’s a gas.”