Even in the early days of his medical career, Mullen would enjoy the occasional brush with another world that had long fascinated him. In 1985, a man named Abdelkrim Belachheb burst into a fashionable Dallas restaurant called Ianni's and opened fire, killing six people and wounding another. When his defense attorney made it known he would suggest the tragic event had been triggered by an epileptic seizure, assistant Dallas County District Attorney Norm Kinne went looking for an expert witness. The man he found to testify why the accused killer had not suffered a seizure was Mullen. "My role was very small," he says, "but being involved in the case was fascinating." Though he does not boast of it, it was, in fact, that case that would ultimately make judicial history. Shortly after the Ianni's bloodbath, lawmakers ruled that the murder of three or more victims would qualify as a capital murder case, subject to the possibility of the death penalty.
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.