Mike Pershall was on David Luque’s “amends list.”
As part of his 12-step recovery program, Luque intended to contact the Modesto police sergeant, who as an officer in May 2014 arrested him on charges including prowling, attempted burglary and resisting arrest.
“My plan was to go down to the police station, and even if he didn’t want to see me or did want to see me, was just going to tell him, pretty much, thank you for not stacking the charges on me and for talking to me like I’m a human being,” Luque, 30, said Thursday morning.
That can’t happen now. Pershall, 38, was killed while bicycling near his home Tuesday evening, struck by a driver who faces homicide and DUI charges.
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Instead, Luque on Thursday said he used his time between classes at Modesto Junior College to write a letter of condolence to the Pershall family.
Pershall had to chase down Luque that day in 2014, and when caught, the burglary suspect “said some pretty hurtful things to him because my freedom’s been taken away, I think it’s his fault,” Luque recalled. He said he called the cop “every name in the book, pretty much.”
But in return, Pershall stayed professional and respectful, Luque said.
He’s been arrested several times, and Stanislaus County Superior Court records show five convictions – all no-contest pleas – between 2008 and 2014 on charges including burglary, theft, forgery and possession of narcotics.
For someone in that status in the community to actually talk to me and have feelings towards what I’m doing and how I’m living my life made me think, like, the choices I make are not healthy for me.
David Luque, remembering how then-Officer Mike Pershall talked with him at the time of his arrest
Typical arrests included officers saying, “Shut up, I don’t want to talk to you,” Luque said. But Pershall “actually had a decent conversation with me, as in, ‘What are you doing? What happened in your life to make you do this stuff?’ I told him about my addiction problem and he actually treated me like a human being, you know what I mean? Rather than like a piece of scum.”
The brief encounter sunk in. Friends and family had asked Luque the same questions, he said, but having a cop take time to have a meaningful talk meant something else.
Other factors were in play, too. Luque was raised by his grandparents after his mother overdosed on heroin when he was just 7 or 8. And when they, too, died – his grandfather in 2007, his grandmother in 2009 – they were mad at him over the way he was living his life, and he never got to apologize.
“It’s not like he saved my life,” Luque said of Pershall, “but if I didn’t get arrested that day, I don’t know where I’d be, if I’d be dead, or with a way different charge, with 25 to life. He could have stacked me with way more charges, but he didn’t.”
The Modesto Police Department confirmed Wednesday that Luque’s arrest that day was the last time officers had contact with him.
As Luque admitted, he did the crime and did the time, and his years behind bars – almost 10 years out of his life – gave him a lot of time to think.
“Sitting in prison, in the prison yard, seeing older gentlemen running around like their head’s chopped off, chasing dope. … Just the whole prison lifestyle. I sat down and thought to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ ”
One day, he asked his cellmate for a few minutes of time, during which “I gave my life over to the care of God. I got down on my hands and knees and I surrendered.” Luque said he joined self-help groups and a substance-abuse program and began hanging out with people who were healthy influences on him.
Luque said he was addicted to heroin and crystal meth for about 10 years. After 22 months clean in prison, “when I hit the streets, I wanted to know if I still wanted it. I went out and used one last time and I didn’t want it, I gave it back. I told my parole officer I wanted a program.”
Today, Luque has 29 units to go for his associate’s degree in human services. He’s attending classes full time to become a chemical dependency counselor. Helping him stay on the right path are his aunt and uncle and a niece and two nephews he calls the light of his life.
“These streets right now are really flooded with drugs,” he said. “I learned you can’t force anyone into recovery. But someone might see me who knows me from prison or the streets and think, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ ”
On being 101 days clean, he said, “It’s just a start.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327