With Joseph Coyne gone, it would be up to William Crawford to lead the department. Crawford had previous law enforcement experience having begun his career as a deputy sheriff in Chicago in 1874. When he arrived in California he found work as a US Marshal working out of the Los Angeles office.
As soon as Crawford took office as chief in spring 1891, he immediately set about making changes. One of his first acts was to provide officers with one day off per week cutting their hours from 84 to 72.
Crawford also gave officers one week paid vacation per year. The two acts alone would have done a lot to improve morale except the officers pay was cut to adjust for the shortened week.
Despite his short time in office, the new chief was about to face some serious public scrutiny.
The trouble began with the arrival of the USS Charleston in San Diego harbor on July 4, 1891. As was customary from other navy ships in port, not all of the sailors that went ashore came back.
To combat the problem of wayward sailors the navy posted a $10 reward for every AWOL sailor brought back to the ship.
To offset the cost of the reward system the navy deducted the money from the missing sailors’ pay. It didn't take long for former officers to figure out rounding up sailors could be an easy way to make extra money. Former city constable C.W. Breedlove was one of those who had been making a decent living sending men back to the ship.
On July 11th the captain of the Charleston sent Chief Crawford a list of eleven sailors who had not returned to the ship. When the chief took the list to Mayor Sherman he was told to leave it alone. Instead Crawford ignored the order and on July 13th gave the list to Breedlove. The ex lawman wasted no time in recruiting a burly former deputy city marshal named W.W. Webb to help him track down the sailors. Armed with pistols and billyclub’s the two men scoured bars all through the Stingaree until they found four of the men in a saloon on lower 5th Avenue.
As soon as Breedlove spotted the sailors he shouted,“I am a US Marshal and you men are under arrest.” The sailors, apparently not impressed with either Breedlove or his title, told him to leave the bar or else. Faced down by the sailors, the two ex lawmen knew they wouldn’t stand a chance in an all out fight and they quickly retreated. After several more hours of drinking the sailors went back to the ship. When the ex lawmen returned to the bar they found their $40 bounty had vanished.
The next day the ex lawmen got a tip there were eight to ten AWOL sailors in the Silver Moon Saloon at 5th and J Street. The tip was actually a bit exaggerated. There were only two, but these sailors were in no better mood to go back to the ship than the four sailors from the day before. With the odds a little more in their favor this time, the ex lawmen tried to arrest the sailors and an all out fistfight ensued. Witnesses later said the two former officers didn't hesitate to use their clubs to beat the two sailors into submission.
Six other sailors in the bar who were not AWOL, but didn’t appreciate the beating their shipmates were taking, jumped into the fight. Now outnumbered 4-1 the crowd easily disarmed the ex lawmen of their guns and clubs. The sailors, now fired up from their victory turned the saloon into their own headquarters as they readied themselves for round two. Several of the sailors, not wanting any more trouble, returned to the ship.
As this was happening, Breedlove and Webb were several blocks away recruiting other former city marshals to go back to the saloon and teach the sailors a lesson. Word quickly spread about the coming battle between the ex lawmen and the sailors and by the time Breedlove and his men reached the bar more than 40 people were lined up outside to watch. Later, newspaper reports of the incident showed many of the spectators were on the side of the sailors including one witness who punched one of the ex lawmen in the mouth as he went into the saloon.
The real fighting began as soon as the ex lawmen went in the bar. Fists, chairs and pipes were used as the men pummeled each other. The donnybrook rolled out the door and into a neighboring saloon. The fight lasted 30 minutes and when it was all over three sailors were in handcuffs. The battered sailors were marched back to the ship where Breedlove collected a $30.00 reward. There was however one problem. A 25-year-old sailor named Joseph Brown was dead after sustaining a heavy blow to the head. After summoning the coroner, Breedlove contacted the captain of the Charleston and told him what happened.
The next morning, the banner headline of the San Diego Union exclaimed, “Clubbed to Death. Bloody Encounter In Stingaree Town, United States Marshals Exceed Their Authority.” The paper blasted Breedlove and his posse and editorialized the order to return AWOL sailors did not read dead or alive.
As a result of Joseph Browns death, the District Attorney’s office arrested Breedlove and Webb for murder and the other men in the posse for assault with a deadly weapon. Additional lawmen were brought in to guard the jail as talk of a lynching quickly spread.
The coroners inquest revealed Chief Crawford was at the bar when Brown was beat to death and he saw the whole thing. The chief reluctantly admitted to being in the area but said he was in a buggy outside and didn’t actually see what happened. Several witnesses directly contradicted his testimony though; they said they watched Crawford give four clubs to Breedlove right before the fight started.
Now facing a possible charge of perjury and being an accessory to murder, the handwriting was on the wall for the chief and he resigned on July 27th.