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4 Regular People Who Negotiated High-Profile Surrenders

Trained law enforcement officers and negotiators apprehend the vast majority of criminals. Sometimes, though, a civilian steps in and makes their job much easier. Let’s look at four citizen heroes who helped negotiate high-profile surrenders.

1. Sergeant-at-Arms Earns His Title

A body’s sergeant-at-arms has the duty of keeping order during its meetings. On May 7, 1984, one Canadian sergeant-at-arms went above and beyond his normal responsibilities. That morning, 25-year-old Denis Lortie, a supply corporal in the Canadian Forces, stormed into the National Assembly of Quebec dressed in fatigues and armed with two submachine guns. Lortie opened fire and quickly wounded 13 others in an attempt to destroy the ruling Parti Québécois.

Lortie had originally targeted Quebec Premier René Lévesque, but his timing was off. Lévesque had not yet arrived at the Assembly building, but the Assembly’s sergeant-at-arms, René Jalbert, was on the scene. Jalbert, a retired army major, approached Lortie and said, “I see you're an army man. I'm an army man myself.”

Jalbert gave Lortie coffee and a cigarette and calmly asked the gunman to come into his office to discuss what was bothering him. Amazingly, Lortie agreed. The retired major and the disgruntled corporal spent the next four hours talking, and Jalbert eventually convinced Lortie to talk to a police negotiator. When Lortie finally surrendered to military police hours later, the media hailed Jalbert as a hero. He modestly replied, “Every sergeant-at-arms across Canada would have done the same thing."

2. Japanese Soldier Finally Gives Up

The story of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who refused to surrender following the end of World War II, sounds like something from a bad movie. Rather than laying down their guns, Onoda and a small group of comrades hid in the jungles of the Philippines for decades following the war. They refused to believe that Japan had really lost the war, and the men even launched small raids on Filipino villages and farms.

Onoda and his brethren assumed that any news of the Japanese defeat was merely a ruse to trick them into surrendering. By 1974, Onoda was the last remaining member of his cadre, and he still maintained that he would only surrender to his old commanding officer, a Major Taniguchi. Until then, he would keep carrying out his original orders of destroying infrastructure while evading capture and surrender.

Since Onoda was still actively waging a guerilla war in the Philippines, the Japanese government tracked down the officer, who by that point had been a bookseller for years. The government flew Taniguchi to the Philippines, where he officially gave Onoda the order to surrender. Onoda turned in his sword, his still-functioning Type 99 rifle and 500 rounds of live ammo, and several grenades.

3. Georgia Mom Stays Cool

Brian Nichols’ escape from an Atlanta courthouse was major national news in March 2005. Nichols, who was on trial for rape at the time, overpowered the deputy who was guarding him, locked her in a cell, and took her gun. Nichols then murdered the presiding judge in his trial, a court reporter, and a sheriff’s deputy while escaping.

Nichols immediately became the target of a massive manhunt, but he managed to elude capture for an evening and kill a federal agent while stealing his car. Very early the next morning he took Ashley Smith hostage in the parking lot of her apartment complex and forced her back into her apartment. Nichols bound Smith while he took a shower, but the young mother didn’t lose her composure.

Smith later recounted that she complied with Nichols’ demands while also trying to connect with him on some deeper level. Smith talked to Nichols about her five-year-old daughter, read to him from the Bible, and watched news reports about his escape. Gradually, Nichols seemed to feel at ease around his hostage, and he eventually put away his weapons.

The next morning, Smith asked Nichols if she could leave the apartment to visit her daughter. When he agreed, Smith left and called 911. Nichols ended up surrendering to police outside of Smith’s apartment.

Smith’s calm thinking and ability to develop a rapport with Nichols helped save her life while ending Nichols’ crime spree. It also netted her quite a bit of cash. Thanks to various agencies’ bounties for Nichols’ capture, Smith pulled in $70,000 in reward money for aiding in the arrest.

4. TV Priest Helps Nab Drug Lord

Up until his death in 1992, Rafael Garcia Herreros was arguably Colombia’s most famous Roman Catholic priest. As the host of the nightly television program “God’s Minute,” he had the nation’s ear.

He also had the ear of feared drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. In 1991, Escobar was Colombia’s most wanted man, but authorities weren’t having much luck convincing him to surrender. Enter Father Rafael Garcia. When Escobar kidnapped a group of journalists, the 82-year-old priest began ministering directly to the drug lord during his show. Eventually, Father Rafael Garcia met with Escobar and broke the story that Escobar was releasing two hostages.

Eventually, with the priest acting as an intermediary, the Colombian government and Escobar worked out a surrender agreement. In exchange for giving himself up, Escobar would receive a light sentence in a luxurious prison built to his specifications. More importantly for Escobar, he wouldn’t be extradited to the United States.

In late May 1991, Escobar formally offered to surrender to Father Rafael Garcia. On announcing the news, the priest said of Escobar, “He is tired of hiding and he believes that Colombia can judge him with wisdom and justice.”

Escobar, of course, only remained in his cushy prison for a little over a year before escaping.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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