By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It was in January 1991 when Mullen exchanged his scrubs for a military uniform as he and fellow reservists were mobilized to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm. "I had a lot of downtime while I was over there," he recalls, "and did a lot of thinking about my life." There, in a foreign desert, he pondered an unsatisfactory life that had, during a 20-year career, become far too work-consumed, examined a marriage that was fast heading toward divorce, and arrived at a decision that would send him in a new direction.
"I decided that when I got home, I would enroll in the police academy and see if I could get into law enforcement," he says. His plan also included leaving the relentless pressures of the Dallas medical community behind. Several years earlier, after purchasing a "getaway" home on picturesque Lake Cypress Springs, he'd opened a second office in nearby Mount Vernon. The clinic, which soon demanded all the rest-and-relaxation time he'd planned for his trips into the Piney Woods, would, he decided, have to be closed. The lakeside home, however, would eventually serve as his year-round residence.
Lest one think his dramatic career change was impulsive, understand that Mullen has never been one to proceed through life without a plan. Because of his responsibilities to patients, he realized that completing the demanding requirements of the Northeast Texas Police Academy would likely take as long as a year. Only when that step was nearing completion did he pay a visit to the Titus County Regional Medical Center and apply for a job as an emergency room surgeon. He was hired immediately. Then he stopped in on longtime Franklin County Sheriff White and offered his services as an unpaid deputy. "When he didn't immediately show interest," Mullen says, "I told him I'd even furnish my own car."
"At first," says Sheriff White, "I was more than a little surprised to see him sitting in my office, making the proposal he was making. I can't honestly say that I immediately took him seriously. But, the more he talked, the more I realized he wanted to give it a try. I figured, why not?"
That the doctor was an honor graduate of the police academy spoke to the seriousness with which he approached his task. Texas peace officer certificate in hand, he went looking for a car. It was, in fact, Sheriff White who tipped him to the fact that an almost-new Caprice with a souped-up Corvette engine was available at a modest price. Purchased originally by the Plano Police Department, it had been in use only three days when it was rear-ended and insurance adjusters ruled it a total loss. It had been sold to a mechanic in Oklahoma who specialized in the restoration of wrecked police cars then resold them.
"The car--which all the kids around here call the Batmobile--had fewer than 700 miles on it," Mullen says, "and I bought it for $12,000." It is that same car, now with 130,000 miles on the odometer, that he continues to drive when on patrol. "The fastest I've ever had it," he admits, "is 145 during a chase."
His dual-job juggling act works like this: At the beginning of each month, his 12-hour emergency room shifts, which begin at 7 p.m. and end at 7 a.m. (or vice versa), are scheduled. Once aware of what his hospital routine will be, he then reports to the sheriff's department to schedule the 40 hours per month he averages as a deputy.
While Sheriff White has routinely offered him a salaried position on his eight-man force each time an opening has occurred, Mullen insists he is content with the current arrangement.
"We're fortunate to have someone with his expertise," the sheriff says. "For instance, having a medical doctor working a violent crime scene is a big plus in this business. John is excellent with virtually all aspects of forensics. More important, though, he is good with people. He's well-liked because he's a very compassionate person. When you're working a domestic situation or dealing with victims or the family of a victim, that's one of the most important parts of the job.
"I'd say the majority of the people he meets on the street or while on patrol have no idea he's a doctor as well as a deputy. It isn't something he flaunts. When he's on duty, he's just another law enforcement officer doing his job, whether it is working a homicide, patrolling, or helping a farmer get a stray cow back in the pasture."
Among those inspired by Mullen's career choice is Sheriff White's father, a general-practice physician in Mount Vernon. Dr. Robert White, 66, recently followed Mullen's path and now serves as a reserve deputy on his son's staff. "He'd never have considered it had it not been for what John has done," the sheriff says.
Still, to make the switch from full-time medical practice to the life he now leads, Mullen admits, demanded a major scale back. "I'm probably making about a third of what I earned in private practice in Dallas," he admits. The first thing to go was his plane.