It had already been a fairly busy fall night — but now it was the bewitching hour when the bars close, and the night was about to get busier. I had one drunk driver in the backseat on my way to drive the 20 miles to the county jail. As I approached the stop light in town, a vehicle ran the red light. Being the only officer on duty I decided to stop the vehicle.
I recognized the driver and her passenger as employees of a local bar. They said they had run the stop light in order to “get away from a drunk guy” who was following them in his truck. They told me that they had stopped serving him at the bar they worked at earlier that night, and now he was angry and following them around town.
As I spoke with them they pointed out the truck as it approached the intersection. The vehicle stopped at the light and apparently decided that going the other direction would be a good idea. I decided that I should follow him. His driving confirmed their observations about his level of sobriety. He was weaving over the center line to back over the fog line. I did a license check and advised dispatch that I would be doing a stop on a suspect DUI driver.
On approaching the vehicle, it smelled very strongly of an alcoholic beverage. The driver showed all the classic signs — slurred speech, blood shot eyes, slow response to questions...
From Compliant to Non-Compliant in an Instant
I had him exit to do the field sobriety tests. Once out of the car he was staggering and leaning against his truck to keep his balance. Up until now he had been cooperative, but that was about to change. He now loudly refused to do any of my tests.
I told him if he didn’t do the tests I would arrest him. He clearly and profanely explained that he didn’t think I had what it took to take him to jail. Having heard more than a few such threats in my long (er, three years at the time) career in law enforcement I figured he was like most drunks, all talk. I stepped in to place him in a wristlock and I found out otherwise.
He pushed my arm aside and charged into me grabbing me by the collar with both hands. We struggled for the advantage until I hit him in the chest with both hands as hard as I could, knocking him backwards. My squad was behind him — a late 80s Chevy Caprice — with the front fenders with a sharp corner on top. He went flying backwards, hit the car with a thud, landing hard with his spine on the corner of the car. I heard him groan and he immediately fell like a sack of potatoes into a sitting position, against the front tire, with his eyes closed and his hand down.
From Human to Vampire, Also in an Instant
He hit so hard I was sure he had injured his back and would now be paralyzed for life from the chest down. With an “Oh-oh, I broke him, now I’m in BIG trouble” feeling, I walked over to check on him. As I approached to check his injuries, his eyes shot open — just like vampires always do in the movies when you wake them up in their coffins. He uttered a yell and came up off the roadway like Dracula after an easy meal...
Fortunately, as I backed up I caught his left arm. I slammed down on the forearm with my free hand. The arm relaxed enough for me to move it behind his back. Our momentum carried us off the roadway and into fresh dirt that had been dumped ready for planting grass seed. I was about to do some planting of my own.
I kicked his feet out and drove his chest as hard as I could into the loose packed earth. He hit with a satisfying thud but still continued to struggle. I twisted his arm up behind his back and ordered him to put his other arm behind his back. In a profanity-laced tirade, he screamed that I would have to do that on my own.
I continued to apply pressure to his arm and order him to put his hand behind his back. He continued to refuse holding the hand away from me and struggling to break free, continuing to yell his defiance. At this point I was able to get my radio off my belt to call for assistance — backup would be there in about 15 minutes.
The struggle continued, me adding increased pressure each time I ordered him to comply, him yelling his obscene defiance. Pretty soon his arm was way up on his back and I started to feel things popping and he started to change his tune, literally. His voice went up a few octaves and he stopped yelling his objections and started asking me to stop as he placed his arm behind his back.
I got him cuffed. I stood him up and started walking him towards the squad car.
The prisoner already in the squad started to scream at the top of his lungs, “Don’t put him back here with me! He’s crazy!”
I retrieved my radio and notified dispatch that I had the suspect in custody.
Now that the pressure was off his arm he decided to start struggling, again. We ended up out in the street on the drivers’ side of my squad. The passenger continued to scream in a panicked voice. The suspect continued with his obscenities and threats. I got him over by the car and opened the back door just as a semi truck passed on our side of the road.
I could feel the suspect tensing up in what I figured would be his attempt to push me out in front of the 18 wheeler. I bear hugged myself, with him in between, to the squad by getting one arm inside the squad and waited for the truck to pass. Fortunately he must have decided that he was coming with me if he tried to shove me in the trucks path and didn’t attempt to dislodge me from my death grip on the Caprice.
Once things were clear I got him shoved into the back of the squad car and the door secured. Appearing that flight was now impossible the suspect calmed down. I transported him to jail. He was read the proper paperwork for my state and given an intoxolizer test after we cleaned the dirt out of his mouth, which also covered his face and upper chest after his landing on the roadside.
True to form he continued to be uncooperative and wouldn’t provide an adequate sample for the instrument to read. However, the instrument did indicate a 0.30 BAC on the insufficient sample which explained why he literally wasn’t feeling any pain.
He was booked in charged with Aggravated DUI and Obstructing Legal Process. He went to his cell and I went back on duty.
Why am I Having Feelings of Guilt?
By the time the report was written it was time for me to go home. I was still full of adrenaline from the struggle and couldn’t sleep. I kept replaying the incident over and over in my mind. What could I have done differently? Would I be in trouble for my use of force? Oddly enough something else came to mind-a tingle of guilt.
When I took him down I had a very clear thought — get him off the road or he could get really hurt when you take him down. Knowing that the dirt made for a softer landing, I had taken the extra two steps onto the roadside before sweeping out his feet. It was an act of compassion for a man who intended to do me harm.
Taking him down on the road would have been perfectly justified. But my conscience wouldn’t allow it. Why?
When I got him down on the ground and in the arm bar, I expected immediate compliance like had always happened in the past. The TASER hadn’t been invented yet, I was too close for OC, and didn’t feel a baton was justified because I had control of him. Pain compliance was my only option. He wasn’t complying so I gave him more pain — and more and more — until I could feel the muscle and tendons start to give way and he finally complied.
In one instant I had been concerned about his safety and not hurting him anymore. An instant later, I knew I needed to hurt him more, and now I was trying to separate his shoulder from its socket. I felt guilty about having to hurt him.
But my greatest guilt was the feeling of elation at what I had done. I felt good about it. In fact I felt great about it. This had been my first real honest to goodness fight. I had tussles with uncooperative suspects before but this guy had attacked me-not once but twice and I had won — and it felt GOOD!
I struggled with the conflicting emotions and rational thoughts. My use of force was proper but my proper upbringing created a conflict. I had been taught my whole life that it wasn’t ok to hurt people. Now I had hurt someone and I was happy about it. All this combined with the after effects of an adrenaline charges incident.
After the physical and emotional high of the fight I had the backlash of the corresponding depression. Not knowing that I needed to get up and get some exercise to burn off the unused chemicals in my body I sat and thought about the incident over and over again like a movie that just keeps repeating itself. I pulled inside myself and let the dark thoughts and second guessing continue and build. Why was I having all these conflicting thoughts and emotions?
Words of Wisdom About Winning
After a few days, I finally called a friend — a fellow cop and trainer. I explained what had happened. He listened to the whole story. I told him that I felt guilty about hurting the guy. He paused and asked me several questions.
“Was your arrest lawful?”
“Was your use of force justified?”
“Did you do anything illegal?”
“Then you did your job”, he told me.
He paused and then he started to chuckle, “Felt good didn’t it?”
I hadn’t mentioned that part but some how he knew. I told him yes. I told him that that part worried me. He paused and asked me several more questions.
“Did you do your job properly?”
“Did you win?”
“Then you should feel happy.”
In that moment the guilty feelings went away. I understood. If you’re an experienced officer you have your own story of that moment. If you are a new officer you may not have reached that point yet. Unlike the old days, now we teach about mindset and preparation for the job you will be asked to do. Hopefully you understand that when you pin on that badge you are operating under a different set of rules than you were perhaps raised on.
You need to reconcile with yourself that force is sometimes the only proper option. You are given the authority to use force and it should be used when authorized. You are also charged with making a sometimes difficult decision under stress about what level of force is authorized and what is excessive.
When you do your job well you should be proud of your accomplishment. When you win you have every right to be happy about your victory. Be mindful that outsiders don’t understand the rules we work under so they may see your positive emotions in a negative light. Wait until an appropriate time for congratulations and high five’s.
Be proud of your accomplishments when you do your job professionally. Strive for that excellence in everything that you.
Be prepared for vampires — they’re out there!