Last Thursday, sitting in a family restaurant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Gene Abdallah had no idea that something, and someone, he hadn’t seen in 53 years was about to come through the door, all the way from Kansas City.
In walked the Rev. Duke Tufty, the senior minister of Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City, with the deputy’s badge he stole from Abdallah the night the lawman arrested him as a drunk South Dakota teenager back in the ’60s.
Tufty kept it all those years, and for reasons he can’t quite articulate, about two months ago he decided it was time to return the badge to its owner.
“Going up there, I was really kinda scared because I remembered Abdallah from the ’60s,” Tufty said. “Is this guy going to put my hands behind my back and handcuff me and take me off to jail again?”
That’s where his hands were — cuffed and behind his back — the night he stole the badge in 1965.
Tufty, who is 69, grew up in Sioux Falls, the son of a man everyone in town knew for the cars he sold. As the local newspaper once put it: “For more than 60 years, Dodge cars and trucks and the Tufty name were synonymous in Sioux Falls.”
Of the four Tufty kids, “I was kind of the black sheep of the family. I was the one that always had one foot outside the line. I had a decent upbringing, but I was getting in trouble quite a bit, even from the earliest age,” Tufty said.
On weekends, Tufty and his teenage buddies would drive to small towns around Sioux Falls, laid-back hamlets out in the country where underage drinking wasn’t as big a deal as it was in the city. Beer was easy to get for a boy and his buddies.
Abdallah found Tufty and one of those friends one night near Dell Rapids, about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls. He pulled them over.
The boys knew of Abdallah.
Tall, lean, kinda mean with an exotic-sounding last name, he was “almost like Clint Eastwood in ‘A Fistful of Dollars,’ ” Tufty said.
Abdallah’s name then, as a young Minnehaha County sheriff’s deputy, and for years to come was synonymous with law and order. He went on to become a U.S. marshal, the state’s highest-ranking state trooper and a state legislator, according to The Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
And there he was that night, in the flesh.
And there was Tufty and his buddy, clearly stumbling, clearly slurring their words, clearly drunk.
They wound up in handcuffs in the back of Abdallah’s patrol car, and that’s where, in the haze of his beer buzz, something shiny and golden caught Tufty’s eye — Abdallah’s seven-point star badge, pinned to his jacket on a hook in the backseat with the boys.
“That shiny badge was calling out to me,” Tufty said.
On the way back to Sioux Falls, Abdallah stopped to get coffee..
Left in the car, Tufty made his move.
Like Harry Houdini squirming out of a straitjacket, he slipped his cuffed hands under his rear and moved his hands to in front of him. Not difficult, Tufty says now, for a limber 16-year-old boy of 135 pounds.
He unpinned Abdallah’s badge from the coat and stuffed it into his right shoe. He was wearing suede desert boots and made the mistake of shoving the badge in with the pin pointing up, sticking him under his foot. He wiggled his hands behind his back again before Abdallah came back to the car.
At the jail, Abdallah booked them, a lawyer came to bail them out a few hours later and Tufty left, the badge still in his boot poking him in the foot.
“The next day I was kind of mixed between being afraid — stealing a badge is probably a horrible offense — and feeling guilty,” said Tufty, who even at 16 understood that he had just stolen a man’s “badge of honor.”
He didn’t know what to do with it, so he hid it in a box, one of those boxes people use to hold the souvenirs of their lives.
The badge stayed with him through the ups and downs of his life:
When he moved to Kansas City in 1978 to open a car dealership. When he found new vices in this new city and became addicted to cocaine. When he went broke and went from running two car dealerships to selling cinnamon rolls on the Country Club Plaza.
He still had the badge when he turned to the grace of God for the first time in his life after an overdose and found 12 steps of help and future employment at Unity Temple. He was ordained a Unity minister in 1989 and has been the senior minister and CEO of Unity Temple on the Plaza for more than two decades.
Over the years he’d look at the badge from time to time and consider returning it. When he finally decided to do it he thought about mailing it back.
But he said to himself: “Man up, go see him. Tell him you’re sorry, ask for his forgiveness and bring this thing full circle.”
He reached out to the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls for help in finding Abdallah. If he wasn’t still alive he at least wanted to return the badge to his family.
Tufty hooked up with Joe Sneve, the newspaper’s local government watchdog reporter, who helped set up the meeting between the two men as a surprise to Abdallah.
When Tufty walked into Marlin’s Family Restaurant on Thursday, Sneve and Abdallah were having coffee together.
Tufty introduced himself. Abdallah said he remembered him.
Tufty told him what happened that night in the back of the patrol car.
Then Tufty handed over a little red box.
Still confused about what was happening, Abdallah opened it, saw the badge engraved with “G.G. Abdallah” and began to cry.
“Are you serious? Oh my stars, Duke. This is a thrill. Absolutely a thrill,” Abdallah said, according to Sneve’s account. “And at this time in my life, it means even more.”
Tufty said the lawman called it “the greatest gift anyone could possibly give me.”
They sat and talked for more than an hour about how their lives had gone since their first fateful meeting.
“That’s the point of this whole thing,” Tufty said. “At the end of the day last Thursday I had made a new friend for life who I love dearly.”
Saying their goodbyes in the parking lot, Abdallah stood at attention and saluted Tufty.
Tufty, who had never saluted anyone in his life, saluted back.
They smiled at each other, turned and went their separate ways.
Published at Wed, 23 May 2018 15:31:40 +0000