It was a few days after Christmas when the call came in. It wasn’t unexpected — it usually happened around this time of the year. Timmy had come home for a holiday visit and now Timmy didn’t want to leave.
When I started with the department the chief warned me that I should always get help if I had to deal with Timmy. Timmy had been a star athlete in high school — wrestling and football. Then one night he had been given some drugs that fried his brain and now Timmy the star athlete began a downward spiral of mental illness and institutionalization.
His parents had awakened one too many nights to find Timmy standing — armed — at the foot of their bed.
The required court proceedings confined Timmy to a mental health facility an hour and a half away. However, apparently Timmy behaved himself enough that he would be allowed home on a regular basis for short visits.
I’d dealt with Timmy on a number of occasions — usually it consisted of me trying to convince him to get in the car with the mental health professional so they could go back to the facility. The previous summer I’d been called to the local low-income housing several times with parents complaining about Timmy being allowed to walk around “free.”
Pretty much everyone in town knew Timmy — or knew of him — and as happens in small towns he had become a bit of a legend as the stories and rumors grew. Timmy had become a bit of a “boogieman” to the local kids. Anytime he would come into the housing development a cry would go out, “Timmy’s coming, Timmy’s coming!” and the kids would run inside and watch out their windows as Timmy walked by.
The last call of the summer was a little different. This time it was reported that he had “created a disturbance.” I drove to the area and located Timmy, which wasn’t difficult. He looked like an unkempt scarecrow. He was tall and thin, with a head of wild hair.
Back up was a long way out so I kept my distance as I talked with him. He seemed calm and cooperative. I asked him to have a seat in the back of my car and he initially refused. I told him if he got into the car we could talk about the situation in private. I patted him down and he got into the car. I talked with Timmy until the victim arrived. He told me that the “disturbance” was that Timmy was chasing him with a knife. When back up arrived we cuffed and searched him. No knife was located. He denied being armed or chasing anyone with a knife. He also claimed to be the world’s smartest man with numerous masters and doctoral degrees in subjects ranging from history to astrophysics.
The victim told another, more convincing, story and Timmy was transported to jail. Timmy would appear in front of the judge who had signed his commitment papers and the charges would be dropped the next day and Timmy was transported back to the mental health facility.
As I spoke with the mental health professional they explained that the family had attempted to get Timmy to go back to the mental health facility but Timmy had refused. It had been several days and now it would be my job to pick him up. A mental health worker was on their way to pick him up from us.
I notified dispatch and a deputy was in the area. We met and I explained the situation to him. He was well acquainted with Timmy also. We drove to the home of Timmy’s parents. When we arrived it looked like something off a holiday post card — a bright, sunny day, fresh fallen snow blanketed the yard, and the Christmas decorations finished the off the look.
We knocked. We were invited in by the parents and several of his brothers and sisters. They explained what we already knew, that Timmy didn’t want to go back. They also explained that several days before, Timmy had been walking around outside, buck naked. At the time it was ten degrees below zero. Somehow that didn’t seem to warrant a call to the police.
Timmy came into the room I said hello to him and he told me he didn’t know me. I told him that we had talked before but he denied having any recollection of those meetings. I explained that it was time to go and that he needed to come with us. He said he didn’t want to. At this time the family started to join in, in an attempt to convince him to go to no avail. Since he said he didn’t remember me I asked him to go out to my squad car so we could talk in private. He agreed.
We walked out of the house and down the driveway. The deputy went ahead to open his squad car. About half way Timmy stopped, the look on his face told me he had remembered our last visit.
I told him we needed to go. Timmy said no. I asked Timmy if he intended to fight and he said yes. I called to the deputy. I told Timmy that he needed to come along as I reached for his closest arm in an attempt to convince him to walk with me.
I had taken my new sunglasses off when we arrived at the house. Once we were outside again in the bright sun I’d put them back on. As soon as I touched Timmy’s arm he started throwing punches at my face with the other hand. The fight, as they say, was on.
The deputy got a hold of his free hand and we struggled to take him to the ground. As usual when more than one cop is involved, we did more to keep him up than to take him down. When he pushed I pulled, when he pulled I pushed. Timmy wasn’t going down, and to make matters worse, Timmy was continuing to scream and fight.
Our struggle had taken us from the driveway into the front yard. Seeing that we weren’t making any progress — we were, after all, working against each other — I decided to sweep Timmy’s feet out from under him. The first sweep barely moved him. I gave the second sweep all I had and all three of us ended up on the ground.
None of us was wearing gloves. And now we were struggling in more than a foot of snow.
Timmy continued to struggle and scream, breaking an arm free every now and again and we would have to find it in the deep snow and gain control. After what seemed an eternity but was probably less than a minute we finally got Timmy over on his stomach. He continued to fight us.
His brother finally walked over and said, “Timmy, stop fighting.” At that point all resistance stopped. Why couldn’t he have done that right off the bat?
We attempted to handcuff him, our bare hands numb from the snow, the cuffs about the temperature of the snow freezing to our fingers wet with melted snow. Finally we got him cuffed and put into the back of the deputies squad for the transport to the county seat where the mental health worked would pick him up.
All three of us looked like the abominable snow man, covered head to toe in white. The front yard with its fresh fallen snow — a picture post card of Christmas delight a few moments ago now — looked as if a drunken fraternity had held a late night snow angel contest on the front lawn.
Timmy would be transported “without further incident.” The assault of two police officers put an end to anymore furloughs from the mental health facility for a long while.
I learned a lot of lessons that day:
1.) Don’t buy expensive sunglasses to wear at work. Pens, watches, and sunglasses get lost and broken. Buy the cheap stuff for work.
2.) Don’t wear sunglasses when dealing with the mentally ill.
3.) Don’t put your sunglasses back on until you know the suspect is secured. It’s bad enough getting punched. Having the frame driven into your nose — or a lens into your eye — hurts even more.
4.) Put your gloves on when you go outside in the winter — a lesson my mother tried to teach me when I was younger.
5.) Practice multiple-officer take down and controls with the people you work with.
6.) Don’t go hands on with someone who says they intend to fight unless back up is right there.
7.) Don’t expect an old trick to work twice on the same person. Have a plans B, C, and D ready.
8.) When there is time to talk, talk. Older and wiser now, I’d spend a lot more time talking before going hands on.
9.) Keep your hands up approaching a suspect and move in from a strong angle. I was standing in front of him when I grabbed his arm. If I had shifted behind him on the grab, I don’t think the punches would have reached. That must be why they teach it that way in defensive tactics!
10.) Not all Christmas traditions are good ones!