Ken Patera & Masa Saito vs Waukesha Police Department

Ken Patera & Masa Saito vs Waukesha Police Department

Ken Patera was legitimately one of the strongest men in the world in his day, an Olympian powerlifter who achieved great fame in pro wrestling in the 1970s and 80s. He was a star in both the WWWF and AWA, with a look similar to Superstar Billy Graham.  Masa Saito was famous in New Japan, but also achieved fame in the AWA and WWWF, even holding the WWWF tag team titles with Mr. Fuji.

Fight: Ken Patera & Masa Saito vs Waukesha Police Department

Date: April 6, 1984
Location: Holiday Inn in Waukesha, WI
Source: The Ric Flair Show, The Janesville Gazette, infinitecore.ca, Armpit readers Paul and Dave Erickson, Corrinne Hess

The two were involved in one of the most famous out-of-the-ring incidents of the 1980s, and the result was a massive injustice that should’ve never happened. While history has unfortunately painted Patera and Saito as the bad guys, the truth is that the whole ordeal was a political move by those in Waukesha to get re-elected to positions of power. And it worked; the media played along and got them re-elected at the expense of the careers of Patera and Saito at a time when the pro wrestling business was exploding in certain parts of the country.

Prelude

Patera and Saito had worked in Watertown, WI on April 5, 1984 at a local high school gym for the AWA. That night they took Verne Gagne’s twin-engine Navajo airplane and flew to Waukesha, where they were going to leave the next day for a show in Stevens Point.

They got to the Holiday Inn there, on 2417 Bluemound Road (the hotel is no longer there today), and they were hungry. It was very late (past 11pm), but there was a McDonald’s a couple of blocks away on 2340 E Moreland Blvd. Saito had injured his knee the night before (Patera said it was against Mad Dog Vachon, but records show it was really The Crusher), so Patera walked alone. He walked to the drive thru area and noticed it was packed inside. He saw two platters full of hamburgers and told the attendant he’d like six of them.

masa-saito
Masa Saito

The attendant told Patera they were closed. Patera asked what he was talking about, as the place was full. He told Patera that they were filming a commercial inside, and that the platters of hamburgers were for the commercial and not for sale. Patera offered him $50 for just six burgers, but the attendant, who was fully aware of who Patera was, apologized and said he couldn’t do it. Rumor has it that fellow wrestler Tom “Rocky” Stone was already inside McDonald’s and jokingly mocking him that he was inside eating while Patera was outside starving.  Ironically Stone had subbed for Saito that night, working against Brad Rheingans (Saito instead subbed for Jesse Ventura, working against Crusher).

Right at that time, a teenage kid came up to near where Patera was and threw a rock through the window. Patera asked the kid what the Hell he was doing, and the kid said he had been fired a couple of days ago and was pissed at McDonald’s. Patera told the attendant what happened, and he asked Patera if he had seen who threw it. Patera described him as a 17 or 18-year-old kid in a blue sweatsuit and that he said you guys had just recently fired him.

Patera then walked back to the Holiday Inn, and Saito was waiting for him asking him where the burgers were.  Patera said they wouldn’t serve him, so they checked in with Saito and they went to the bar to get some drinks. Patera told Saito he was tired and went back to his room, and Saito did the same. They got to their room and Patera called his wife. As he was on the phone with her, there was a knock on the door.  It was the Waukesha Police: Officers John Dillon and Jacalyn “Jackie” Hibbard.

When Patera recalled the incident on Ric Flair’s podcast, he mistakenly said the cop’s name was John Dillinger, the name of a famous gangster in the 1930s.  Obviously he didn’t remember his real name, which is understandable given he’s now over 70 and the incident was 32 years ago.  He described Hibbard as 5′-10″, 120 lbs, and slender like Olive Oil from the Popeye cartoon.

At first, the cops thought the men inside were high school athletes, said WPD Captain Ward Rostagno years later.  Saito answered, and at first thought they were asking him if he had women in the room. As such, he denied there was anyone else in the room, saying he didn’t know Patera, and then later claiming Patera had gone out to get some beer.  Since he didn’t speak English very well (or at least faked it while talking to the cops), they supposedly started talking to him in Spanish (which makes no sense).  Saito, who was wearing only his underwear, tried to close the door, but the cops prevented him from doing so.

Saito, described as irate, had shoved Dillon into the hallway, apologized to Hibbard for his lack of clothing, and warned them if they didn’t leave, he was going to headbutt Dillon.  Soon Patera heard some commotion. He told his wife he’d call her later, and then went to the hallway and asked what was going on.

The Confrontation

Dillon claimed that after Patera opened the door to check on what was going on, he said, “To Hell with it!” and punched Dillon and the fight was on.  Patera told a different story.

Patera claimed the police immediately asked Patera to confirm his identity. He said Yes. They asked him if he was at McDonald’s. He said Yes and that he just got back from there. They said they wanted to ask him some questions, because the staff said he threw a rock threw the window. Patera said No, it was another kid, and told the story about the disgruntled ex-worker who was fired. The police told Patera that the drive thru attendant said it was him, not some kid.

mcdonalds-waukesha
The actual McDonald’s in Waukesha where the incident took place.

Why the attendant told that story is unclear. Perhaps he really did believe Patera did it and didn’t see the kid, or perhaps he later found out who the disgruntled worker was and didn’t want to incriminate him. Or maybe he thought police would believe it was Patera, or maybe he thought it would make for a good story. Or maybe Patera really did throw the rock, and made up the story about the disgruntled worker since there were no other witnesses.

The next thing Patera knew, Hibbard had taken out her mace and went to spray Saito. Patera didn’t see her pull the can, but Saito did, and he ducked. When he ducked, the mace went into Patera’s eyes, and he became livid.

It’s unknown why she went for her mace, and Patera glossed over that when he told the story to Flair.  The idea she’d mace them without a valid reason is hard to believe, even though she only had a few months training on the job. Most likely Saito was becoming aggressive or argumentative, and Patera was either too angry to notice, or has selective memory. The cops had already called for backup at this point, so most likely Saito and maybe Patera were getting aggressive to the point they felt they needed help. Both are very powerful men, particularly Patera, and Dillon and the skinny Hibbard would’ve been no match for them.  Officer Wayne Dussault was among those on his way to help, and again, he still thought they were dealing with high school athletes.

Patera, now very angry, couldn’t see anything from the mace. As he tried to wipe the mace out of his eyes, Hibbard jumped on his back. At the same time, Saito was getting into it with Dillon. Saito had dropped down and grabbed Dillon by the ankle and snapped his knee. Meanwhile Patera had used his elbow to knock Hibbard off his back, as he was blind from the mace and didn’t know who was on his back. He also claimed she had tried putting her fingernails in his eye.

Saito had also been maced, by Dillon, but it barely fazed him.  Both cops had vague recollections of the incident because both claimed to have been knocked unconscious at one point.

When Dussault arrived, he saw Saito on top of Dillon and Patera on top of Hibbard.  He claimed he saw Patera throwing Hibbard into the wall, a charge Patera has denied.  As Dussault went after Saito, he was met with a headbutt.  Before long, about 16 state troopers showed up. They got on top of them, and they all brawled for 15 to 20 seconds. Patera claimed he and Saito were stacking all of them up before he stuck his hands out to Dillon and asked him to put the cuffs on. Dillon then pulled out a 44 magnum and pointed it at Patera with both hands. Dillon was so nervous that he was “shaking like a leaf.” Patera told him to put the gun down and put the cuffs on him because it was over.

Hibbard claimed Patera had gone after her gun, but since it was stuck in her gun belt, he dragged her down the hall with his hand on the gun, which was in  her belt.  Rostago arrived after the wrestlers were had been restrained.  It took eight cops and two handcuffs to control Saito.  Rostagno said Dussault’s ear was almost hanging off his head, and he still has a scar to this day.  He claimed Hibbard looked severely beaten.  In the weeks following the arrest, she had visited Waukesha Memorial Hospital at least three times, not including the two weeks she initially stayed there to treat her injuries.

The Case

The police took Patera and Saito down to the jail house. The wrestlers wanted a speedy trial within 60 to 90 days, but it took a year.

Here is where it gets shady, and this is why I believe Patera’s version of the story. The judge and district attorney were up for re-election, and it’s believed they intentionally dragged out the case long enough to where they could work the media and make these big, bad wrestlers out to be mutants who brutalized the police. By having the trial just before the election, and giving them a harsh sentence, they could increase their chances of getting re-elected (which is exactly what happened).

Keep in mind that Waukesha is a very small town, and this was the ‘80s. Corruption ran rampant in that kind of environment, where little is in place to prevent backdoor deals and behind the scenes chicanery. Hibbard told the judge and jury that she had Patera in a choke hold, and that he knocked her off and picked her up and rammed her head into the wall a dozen times. Patera said that was bull, and that there no blood or hair on the cinderblock wall. But of course the jury felt sympathy for this slender woman getting beaten up by this enormous pro wrestler who could bench press both cops if he wanted to.

roger-murphy
The late Judge Roger Murphy, who presided over the trial.

Hibbard also claimed Saito jumped in the air and came down on her upper back with a knee drop. She testified that she lost consciousness at that point, and only remembers being carried to the hotel lobby.  She also told the jury she lost feeling in the left side of her face, had several broken teeth, and suffered from blurred vision.  She and Dillon spent most of the trial in a conference room, sequestered, playing cards (Cribbage, to be precise) with Gene Okerlund.  Dillon had a cast during the trial, for the leg he fractured in the brawl (it somehow hadn’t healed in a year).

Patera claimed the whole thing was a fabricated setup to get themselves re-elected. If anything, Dillon stood up for the wrestlers at the trial, but it didn’t matter.  In fact, nothing mattered. Verne Gagne had used his considerable influence in the Midwest to have a standing US Senator speak with the judge in favor of the wrestlers, but the judge dismissed him. Meanwhile, every week a news story was published in the police’s favor, including a famous Chicago sportswriter named Mike Royko, whom Patera called a “piece of shit” for publishing this aricle in 1985.

Patera was in the WWF by the time the trial came in 1985, so Gagne had less interest in protecting Patera. Still, Nick Bockwinkel, Okerlund, Arnold Skaaland, Dennis Hilgart, and Verne himself (among others) were brought in as character witnesses. The prosecution team was not comprised of wrestling fans and weren’t enthused about taking the case. One of the prosecutors is now a judge.  Pat Madden, a secretary for the district attorney, actually tailored the pants of Patera’s attorney, William Burke, when Burke split his pants at one point during the trial.

Patera’s friend had a neighbor who was a judge in St. Louis, and he assured Patera that he’d never seen anyone get more than 30 days a $200 fine for his offense, and that was the sentence he’d give him if he were the judge. But because of the re-election, Patera’s judge wasn’t so kind. He and Saito ended up getting the stiffest possible sentence for the offense they were accused of. They ended up with two years each in state prison, and six years probation (Saito was asleep on a hallway bench just before the verdict was announced).  Patera had asked the judge not to send him to prison because he had apologized a thousand times.

Testimony took seven days, and deliberation took over seven hours.  The verdict came on June 5, 1985, and it took bailiffs over an hour and a half to find Patera and Burke, as the two were drinking elsewhere in the court.  Burke was even fined $250 for contempt of court.  Patera was guilty of two felony counts of battery to police officers and criminal damage to property.  Saito was guilty of two felony counts of battery to police officers, obstructing officers, and resisting arrest.  Circuit Judge Roger P. Murphy presided over the case.

Patera and Saito shared a cell for the first 30 days as they did processing and evaluations. The psychiatrist noted to Patera that he had scored in the top 2% of anyone who had ever taken the test in mathematics. Patera was then sent to Waupun Correctional Institute for six months, then transferred to a relief center (St. Croix) for one year.

At the center, it wasn’t bad as he was able to come and go as he pleased as long as he checked in and out. He played golf with all of the guards every day, went fishing, and his wife brought her daughters over every weekend. He was released early for good behavior. Meanwhile, Saito was sent to a holding camp (Flambeau Correctional Center) and received good marks for his behavior there. He even helped teach the inmates how to cook several Japanese dishes, lift weights, and improve their diets.

The Aftermath

The McMahons sent Patera’s wife a check every single week Patera was incarcerated. What he didn’t know was that it was a loan. When Patera was released from jail in December of 1986, Vince told him he wanted him back in May or June of 1987. Linda then called him into her office in July or August and said he’d be getting money deducted from his paychecks until the money his wife received from the WWF was paid back in full. Patera was shocked and lost a lot of respect for the McMahons after that. He had been a headliner for the WWWF dating back to October of 1976.

The WWF used Patera’s jail sentence as part of his gimmick, airing vignettes of him in prison. I remember watching those at the time, but didn’t know who Patera was as I was too young when he headlined for the company. Patera returned for a short run, feuding with Bobby Heenan (the two worked together in the AWA). Patera had dyed his long hair brown by then, and looked older than the rest of the roster and didn’t really get over like he had before. The WWF audience was new back then and most weren’t familiar with his past work unless they lived in NY or the Midwest. He retired not long after.

Patera has remained bitter over the incident, understandably so. He once went off on Gabe Sapolsky when asked about the incident in a shoot interview, calling him a “c*cksucker” and threatening to choke him out. He believes his defense attorney was incompetent and botched the case, and when he tried to appeal, one law firm told him it was a travesty of justice and that he should’ve just gotten a small fine.

Saito had some success in the US and especially Japan in the late 1980s and 1990s after his sentence. In 1990 he won the AWA title from Larry Zbysko in Japan, but eventually lost it back to him.

Over the years, this story has grown into a fairy tale with ridiculous exaggerations, such as Patera actually threw a parking lot cement block through the window (as if any human had enough strength to pull a cement block up from the concrete). Other versions say Saito and Patera fled the scene after throwing the boulder, when in fact Saito wasn’t even there and his knee was in too much pain to run or flee from anywhere. Another tale is that it was Hibbard who pulled the gun on Patera (not true), and that he served his entire 24 month sentence (also not true).

Hibbard returned to duty, but left after 18 months.  The pressure was too much for her to take.  In 1992, she and Dillon were asked to speak about the incident at Waukesha County Technical College.  They went, but only once, as Hibbard couldn’t do it again.  She eventually passed away at the age of 41 in 2006.

Dillon returned to duty as well, but said it was difficult.  For three years, people asked him about it every single day at work.  When he responded to calls, he intentionally took his time to avoid being the first one there.  He tried everything to avoid any physical confrontations.  He was eventually promoted to Detective until he resigned just before 2000.  He later worked for the Police Association in Wauwatosa.

Dillon and Hibbard won a lawsuit against Patera and Saito in 1986, which her receiving $25k in 1987 and him receiving $5k.  Rostagno called it the worst thing the WPD ever experienced.

Judge Murphy, who outlived his own daughter, passed away in 2009.

Patera goes crazy when asked about the incident:

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