Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story originally published Jan. 13.
The meth addict sat in the back of the patrol car, handcuffed and strung out after an all-night binge.
In his seven years as a cop, Fullerton Police Officer Denny Bak has heard a lot from suspects in the back of his patrol car.
What came out of the mouth of Raul Anthony Perez that morning last February, however, was a first:
“Thank you,” Perez told Bak.
“Thank you for arresting me.”
For 13 years, Perez, who grew up in Anaheim, had been struggling with drug addiction.
On Feb. 16, he was heading nowhere fast.
After smoking meth all night, Perez was returning to Fullerton to visit his 3-year-old son.
Perez, 26, stopped at an Arco gas station in the 1200 block of E. Orangethorpe Avenue to collect his wits.
He parked his 1997 white Toyota Corolla in a corner of the gas station and dragged on a cigarette.
He was five minutes away from his mother’s house, where his son lives. He called her. She told him not to come over if he was high.
Perez’s uncle told him over the phone, “Something’s going to happen to you if you don’t sober up.”
Despondent, Perez then prayed.
“I asked God, ‘Can you just take me out of this life?’”
Five minutes later, just before 11:30 a.m., Perez glanced in his rear-view mirror.
He saw Bak getting out of his patrol car and approaching his car.
Bak, who patrols the west side of Fullerton, approached Perez because he looked suspicious, parked far away from the gas pumps.
“He seemed nervous,” Bak said when he asked for Perez’s ID.
When Bak patted him down, he found a meth pipe in Perez’s pocket.
A search of the car turned up another pipe with traces of meth in it.
Bak arrested Perez and was on his way to Fullerton PD headquarters when Perez thanked the officer for arresting him.
“I’m just doing my job,” Bak responded.
On Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, Bak walked into Restoration Roasters, a recently opened coffee shop on the campus of Crossroads Christian Church in Corona.
From behind his counter, the barista looked up and saw the uniformed officer.
“Nice to see you again, man,” a smiling Perez said.
The two shook hands.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Perez told Bak about his arrest.
Jailed for two weeks, Perez ended up in drug treatment programs at the Salvation Army in Anaheim and the Orange County Rescue Mission before transferring, in June 2014, to the Corona Norco Rescue Mission.
He is seven months into a two-year residential program. His volunteer work as a barista at Restoration Roasters is part of the vocational training component of the program.
Perez said he has been clean and sober since his arrest.
He recalls seeing his son, Dominic, the day before he was handcuffed.
“Daddy, are you sick?” his son asked him.
“Yes, daddy’s sick.”
“I hope you get better.”
Perez didn’t see his son for more than six months after his arrest.
“It was tough not to see him,” Perez said, “but I knew it was for the best.”
When he did, his son noticed his father’s clear eyes.
“Daddy,” he said, “you’re not sick anymore.”
Perez and Bak spent a few minutes catching up Jan 6.
“Had you not been there that Sunday afternoon,” Perez said, “I knew things would have ended up much worse than they already were.”
“The good thing was, you were ready (to get clean),” Bak said.
Perez said he was impressed with Bak’s demeanor during the arrest.
“He didn’t talk to me negatively,” he said. “He wasn’t the ‘jerk cop’ that a lot of people assume cops are like. He was very calm and professional.”
Perez said he hopes to turn his Restoration Roasters work into a paying job.
During his 13 years of addiction, Perez managed to earn a two-year college degree and keep steady jobs. He was working as a security guard when he was arrested.
“I really hope for the best for you,” Bak told Perez before leaving.
Perez then got back to work, remembering clearly the day nearly a year ago that an arrest changed his life.
Said the barista: “God came to me in the form of a Fullerton police officer.”