Sunday, January 24, 2016

Meeting Sonny Liston



In 1962 I was working in a Denver meat packing plant for a magnificent  salary of $55 per week. Part of the job was making deliveries. One day I was sent to an address just East of the Denver City Park off 17th Avenue with a large order. The boss didn’t give me a name, only the address. This is an area with older manor type houses, definitely high rent. There was a courtyard in back with a detached carriage house. Knocking at the back door, a black lady answered and requested I take the order downstairs to the basement. No problem.

After one trip, I was at the back of the truck getting the second load when I heard a voice saying, “let me give you a hand”. Two huge black hands reached past me. I about shit my pants; thought a gorilla had escaped from the zoo. It was Sonny Liston, his house, and his wife that had answered the door. The man had 15” fists.


The woman I married had a summer job at the Denver Park/Zoo concession stand. She loved Sonny Liston. He would come strolling up with two good looking women on his arms and buy a pickle for himself and whatever the ladies wanted. Paid with a $5 or $10 bill and always told her to keep the change.

My late buddy, Dirty Al Imhoff started his military career in the Air Force and was on the boxing team. Al was about 6’3” and had the chance to spar with Sonny Liston at Lowry. As Al told the story, he was doing well until Sonny Liston did an overhand smack to the top of Al’s head. Took Al down. He said Sonny Liston was very concerned, “Did I hurt you? I didn’t mean to”.

Whatever faults Sonny Liston may have had, he made a real effort to be a good citizen in Denver. Certain elements within the Denver Police Department were determined to run him out of Denver (Buster Snyder and Bob Wilkerson to name names). Sonny Liston moved to Las Vegas. During that time 40 out of a sworn force of 720 or so Denver cops were convicted of running a burglary ring and sent to prison. 


While this may anger readers with LEO backgrounds, I will say the Ferguson effect is an embedded part of DPD going back to the start of the city. I personally know officers in nearby jurisdiction that will not work any joint task forces with DPD, especially the Narcotics details. Corruption in all areas of Denver government may not be at Chicago levels but it isn’t a squeaky clean city many believe it to be.

Off track here, but I will always remember meeting Sonny Liston and remember him as a gentleman.


7 comments:

  1. That's a nice piece of history! :-)

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  2. I've always been a Liston fan. Thanks for the fresh insight.

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  3. You did not anger this part of law enforcement. Corruption did exist heavily back in those times and is slowly being cleaned out. Not sure if it will ever be non-existent, but better. I have a couple friends on the Denver force and they are upstanding men. I have met a couple that are boobs, tho. They flock in every circle. I think the only thing we may differ on is I assume cops are good before they are proven bad and you may be more skeptical than I and make them prove themselves good first. I don't think Ferguson runs in every big city nor every town. It think each big city has its own set of problems and each department has a different persona and atmosphere. I really learned that all departments are different when I went to schools, but more so since I have been out of the field. I have met some which were very much like mine and some very different. I also have seen some who are over the top hard on their officers and some which are too lax and lack structure and procedure. Corruption I have seen here, Chicago, Kalamazoo, and Detroit with my own eyes. That doesn't mean there aren't good ones amongst those who poison the waters. I would like to think it is a small cancer and not a full blown epidemic. I think I am right there, but time will tell.

    Sonny Liston's history is fascinating and so cool you got to meet him. I don't think he was ever treated fairly because he was black during hard times and civil rights movements.

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    1. Your assessment is probably accurate. I have a deep and enduring bias against Denver government and Denver PD.

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    2. Well, if I had your experiences as well, I would probably feel the same as you.

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