John Chase and Dan Hebert were rookie cops in the mid-1980s, fresh out of the police academy and patrolling the night streets of Dallas. They joked that they loved their jobs so much, they would have worked for free.

Their joy wouldn’t last long.

While Chase worked a traffic stop downtown on Jan. 23, 1988, 30 years ago this week, a homeless man confronted him, engaging him in a fight. The homeless man, Carl Williams, wrestled away Chase’s gun and shot him three times in the face.

Chase, 25, died begging for his life on a sidewalk.

“It’s crushing to you,” Hebert said this week, remembering his friend’s death. “When all you’ve ever wanted to do is the right thing and help people, it kind of rips your soul out.”

Chase’s killing – which happened nine days after another Dallas officer, James A. Joe, was fatally shot while off duty – rocked the city, years before the murder of five officers in July 2016 would do the same.

Like the shooting two summers ago, Chase’s death drew national attention – for the brutal way he was killed, with bystanders reportedly urging Williams, a black man, to shoot the white officer, and for the tensions that were boiling between police and the black community.

Fatal shootings by police of two black residents in 1986 and 1987 had sparked criticism of the department.

“We have a racial time bomb here,” black activist Roy Williams said after Chase's death, his quote appearing in the Chicago Tribune.

The New York Times also covered Chase’s death, describing the aftermath as “one of the most anguished weeks in memory” in Dallas, “where the police have become the focus of intense racial divisiveness.”

In response to reports that Williams -- who was fatally shot by responding officers -- was encouraged to kill Chase, Dallas Police Chief Billy Prince told his officers that the “almost constant barrage of criticism” toward officers “contributed in some way” to Chase’s death.

Mayor Annette Strauss and City Manager Richard Knight criticized Prince for the comments, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News.

Strauss called the shooting an “isolated case that could have happened anywhere.”

‘You feel like nobody cares’

Between the rhetoric, officers struggled to make sense of Chase’s death.

“You feel like nobody cares whether you live or die, and so many people seem to express the sentiment that they want to see you dead,” one Dallas officer told WFAA for a story the night of the shooting. “It makes you wonder whether it’s really worth it or not.”

The shooting hit Hebert hard.

He and Chase had started out about two years earlier on patrol on the east side of the central division, working neighborhoods along Gaston Avenue.

Off duty, they would ride motorcycles or hang out at White Rock Lake. Hebert still has a photo of Chase at a picnic at the lake, holding a burger in one hand and a beer in the other.

Chase switched to a day shift around the time he got married, Hebert said. Several months later, he was dead.

Hebert worked the security detail at the morgue, guarding his friend’s body.

“That was the most emotional [time],” Hebert said. “He’s laying there, and next to him is the guy who killed him.”

‘He would be retiring now’

The rest of 1988 didn’t get easier. Three more Dallas officers were killed in the line of duty.

Hebert said morale sank and that many officers, not feeling support from city officials, began looking for jobs elsewhere.

Hebert landed a position with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, leaving Dallas for Oklahoma City in 1989. He later worked for the ATF in Philadelphia and New Orleans and retired in 2012, finishing the long career in law enforcement that he started with Chase.

Now in his mid-50s, Hebert works for a private investigation company in Louisiana. And he still thinks of Chase, wearing one of his old partner’s handcuff keys on a gold-chain necklace

Hebert had borrowed the key a few days before Chase died.

The key, now faded metal, once was silver and shiny.

“He would be retiring about now,” Hebert said. “There is always a guilt. You wish you could’ve been there. Not to be there instead of him, but to stop it from happening.”

A handcuff key that Dan Hebert borrowed from John Chase several days before Chase died. (Courtesy Dan Hebert)