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Officer John Carter: A story of overcoming

Helen Keller once said, “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”

Disney has made a sci-fi movie — it hits theatres this coming Friday — in which the fictional hero is named John Carter. It’s too bad Disney didn’t instead choose to make a movie about a real life law enforcement hero, Officer John J. Carter. If you are interested in learning about this cop who never planned on being an inspiration, but whose story of “overcoming” can’t help but inspire, please read on.

July 31, 1967: On this day in Milwaukee history, rioting, triggered by racial unrest, was spreading throughout the city like an ugly contagion. One of the hundreds of calls Milwaukee Police Department Officers responded to during the early stages of the riot was a disturbance at 2nd and Center Street around 0200 hours. It started when slurs were exchanged between pedestrians and a man in a car. The occupant of the car, Milton Nelson, an iron worker, was shot in the face. Hannah Jackson, a woman who lived across the street, was also hit by the gunfire.

Shots Fired, Officers Down
When Detective Leroy Jones and Captain Hagopian arrived on the scene together in an unmarked car, there was no one outside at the time. As they parked across from 134 Center Street, 55-year-old John Oraa Tucker opened fire from a basement window of that house. Jones later described what happened next. “I jumped out of the car. Just then the captain did. He got hit and went down. I got off four or five shots. I felt my hand weak. I couldn’t pull the trigger.”

Captain Hagopian would survive his wounds after surgeons removed 126 pieces of lead from his face. The concealed sniper hit Detective Jones in the right arm and leg.

Then as now, the call “Shots fired, officers down” brought great numbers of officers to the scene, desperate to assist. Recall that 1967 was an era before SWAT, armored vehicles, ballistic shields, or even soft body armor. Officers arriving at the scene had only their revolvers, their shotguns, their wits, and their courage to resolve calls like this. 

A decision was made to enter the house to silence the withering gunfire. One of the officers making the initial entry through the back porch was Officer Bryan Moschea. Tucker, who had prepared for this entry, opened fire, killing Moschea. A 77-year-old resident of the first floor of the house, Annie Mosely, was also killed during the exchange.

Another attempt was made to enter the house to rescue Moschea. During this attempt Officer Kenneth Henning was wounded in the chest and Officer Thomas Borzych was wounded in the upper left side.

Officer John J. Carter was driving a squad containing six officers when their unit was dispatched to 134 Center and arrived with the bloody melee in progress.

Years later, Carter would describe the events in this way: “It was a nightmare. We got to the house — a cop had been shot. Cops in the street. Someone in the house firing. We bailed out of the car, which was 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 Bryan Moschea got killed.”

John Carter has no recollection of what happened next. Others present reported that Carter and another officer entered the house in an attempt to silence Tucker’s barrage and affect a rescue of Officer Moschea. As Carter entered what is now called ”the fatal funnel,” Tucker opened fire, striking Officer Carter in the face with a shotgun blast.

The Tragedy
The Milwaukee Police Department fired tear gas into the house. The tear gas drove Tucker outside, where he was arrested as the burning canisters of tear gas sparked a fire in the house.

Tragically one of the firefighters called to the scene to extinguish the fire was Officer Bryan Moschea’s father. He did not know as he fought the fire that his son laid upon the floor of the burning home. Officer Moschea’s courageous heart had been stilled instantly by Tucker’s murderous fire.

A State of Wisconsin Parole Board required John Oraa Tucker to serve only ten years of his 25-year sentence after waging war on the Milwaukee Police Department. In contrast, Officer John Carter was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in darkness. Tucker’s shotgun blast took away the officer’s sight. 

The Triumph
For John, an indomitable warrior, this would not be a death sentence. Instead it would be a “new life” sentence.

John attended St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts. Here he was taught how to continue to pursue a life for himself and his family without the sight so many take for granted. After completing this training John returned to Milwaukee and enrolled in the University of Milwaukee Marquette, where he discovered his newly learned skill of reading by braille helped little. The required reading for all of his classes had no braille alternatives.

John contacted Volunteer Services to the Blind, whose readers taped John’s books for him allowing him to keep up his studies and eventually graduate.

As a police officer John had always loved the law so he enrolled in Marquette Law School, intent on becoming an attorney. A dean of students met with John and discouraged him from attempting this challenge, warning John that one other blind student tried this and “It did not go well.”

That student was not John J. Carter, tempered by the United States Marine Corps, and the tough streets of Milwaukee. Carter had to figuratively, kick in the door of the law school, where he ultimately excelled.

John Carter, Attorney at Law
After law school John J. Carter opened a private practice. He has been a long time private contractor for the city of Milwaukee. He has served as the chief ordinance prosecutor, the drug house abatement prosecutor, sits on the Milwaukee ethics board and is the hearing examiner for the police and fire commissioner. He also spent two years defending Milwaukee Police Officers in Federal Court. John J. Carter practices law to this day and has no plans on retiring since he still loves the law and describes it as, “a gas.”

His career accomplishments are not his only legacy. He has seven children, thirteen grandchildren, three great grandchildren and one more on the way.

When it was suggested to John Carter, during a recent policeone.com interview that he was an inspiration he replied, “I never set out to be an inspiration. I never conducted myself with that in mind. But I always thought I had an obligation to fulfill my own potential.”  With a laugh he observed, “You know my children had this terrible habit. They had to eat every day so I had to find a way to feed them.”

When he was described as a genuine American Hero, he countered, “I’m no hero. The police officers today are hero’s. They have the most difficult job in the history of the country. You’ve got to be a saint to do this kind of work today.”

In fact he attributed his success, during his life after his wounding with never, losing a certain aspect of his law enforcement identity. In a moment of great introspection Officer John J. Carter Attorney at Law concluded, “You know, it takes a certain character trait to be a police officer. When adversity hits, you wrap your arms around that trait and it propels you forward.”


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