This is a cautionary tale, and like any decent cautionary tale it has two main purposes:
- First, to cause the reader to reflect on their own choices and habits in comparison to the author
- Second, to learn from the mistakes of another (that would be me) so that you don’t repeat it
It began like most nights in a squad car, a few scattered calls but an average night like most. It was after bar closing so my DUI radar was up and running. I noticed a pickup truck ahead of me that appeared to be traveling slowly. As I got closer I could see that the truck was weaving. I called in the license and waited for the information to come back. As I waited the truck left the city limits and headed out into the country. In a small rural town that doesn’t take much time.
As I followed, the truck weaved over the center line several times, then slowed and signaled to make a left hand turn where there was no road. The blinker went off and the truck continued down the road. Dispatch came back with the information that the truck was registered to a construction company from out of town. I notified dispatch that I would be stopping the vehicle.
At that time the truck slowed and signaled to turn right into a driveway. I knew it didn’t belong there because it belonged to the town’s wealthiest family, a house they called “The Castle.”
I activated my lights and followed the truck into the circular driveway. The truck came to a stop and I got out and approached the driver side. I asked the driver if he lived there and he said no. I asked why he pulled into the driveway and he didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t the first time someone had pulled into the driveway of someone else’s home hoping that I would drive by because they were “home.”
The driver showed more than a few signs of intoxication. His passenger was equally intoxicated. I had the driver exit the truck and perform field sobriety tests, which he failed. Dispatch came back with the driver’s license info and indicated that the driver was wanted on a warrant on a bad check charge; the passenger came back clear.
I told the driver he was under arrest, handcuffed, searched, and placed him in the back of the car. I patted the passenger down and placed him in the back of the squad also. I then went forward to search the vehicle. As I searched the vehicle I told dispatch that I would be coming in with the drunk driver wanted on the warrant. The dispatcher responded that the warrant wasn’t night capped.
Assuming that the dispatcher was trying to tell me how to do my business (after all, I had all of two years on!), I sharply advised the dispatcher that the warrant didn’t need a night cap since the driver was in public. I ended the conversation by slamming the radio down on the seat of the truck to emphasize my point and continued to search the truck.
A tow wasn’t needed so I advised dispatch that I would be transporting the passenger back into town and the driver to jail. The jail was 20 miles away in the same direction as town. I figured that he could call for a ride from the local gas station. As I got ready to pull out onto the road and head west the driver asked me if I could go the other way and drop his friend off at his mom’s house instead of taking him all the way into town thus saving his mom a trip since she was elderly and had just lost her husband.
He said his house was only a mile or two away. That sounded like a reasonable request so I turned east and drove in the opposite direction to the driver’s mother’s house.
The driver, up until this point, had been very cordial. Suddenly he had a change in personality and demeanor. He started to tell me how he was home because his father had just died and how he thought because of that he should be let go. I told him that I was sorry about his circumstances but the warrant didn’t include bail.
That was lighting the fuse. Suddenly he was loud and profane calling me every name in the book, telling me how unfair it was that I was treating he and his mother like this.
He continued with his tirade but calmed down as we approached the house. I turned into the driveway, got out and opened the back door to let the passenger out. As soon as he was clear of the door the suspect shot out of the back of the car faster than I ever thought possible. He was smaller than me and handcuffed… how tough would it be to get him back in the car?
I grabbed him by the arm and tried to jerk him back into the car. He pulled away, stumbled and fell landing hard on the gravel drive way. Now he started to scream at the top of his lungs, “Mom! Mom, this cop’s beating me up!” along with a long list of profanity. I grabbed him and picked him up attempting to stuff him back into the open back door. As I approached the back door he picked up his feet and kicked the squad car knocking us both down. We hit hard and he ended up cutting a small cut on his forehead from the gravel. He continued to scream.
“Mom, this cop punched me in the face!” He looked toward his buddy, and yelled, “You saw him, you saw him punch me in the face didn’t you?”
His friend, a tall lanky character was pacing back and forth up by the garage. He looked like a caged tiger ready to pounce. He just couldn’t seem to decide whose side he was on.
He responded, “You’re on your own, I ain’t got nothing to do with this.”
As he continued to scream and I continued to bodily pick him up and try to jam him back into the squad, he would kick the car and drive us back each time. The car would bear the dents caused by the kicks. I reached down for my portable to call dispatch and my belt was empty. Instantly I knew the radio was still sitting on the seat of the pickup truck several miles away.
Sometime during all this the porch light came on and an elderly lady came out onto the deck in her bathrobe and pajamas. She demanded to know what I was doing to her son. I told her that her that he was under arrest for DUI and he had a warrant.
She came over, yelling that I should let him go. The suspect continued to yell that I had assaulted him. The passenger continued to pace. After picking him up so many times I was exhausted. I decided my only course of action was to get to the squad radio only a few feet away. I was sitting on top of the suspect and figured I could get to the radio before he got too far.
As I lunged for the radio the suspect was up on his feet and running for the front door of the house. I grabbed the mike and all I got out was, “ I need help” as I turned and ran onto the deck after the suspect who was now turned around backwards trying to open the screen door with his handcuffed hands.
The last thing I wanted was the suspect to get inside the house. I ran to the deck and grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the door. He pulled back and broke my grip on him. He ended up going rear end first through the screen door.
Now, I want you to imagine this scene: a handcuffed, screaming, profane, drunken suspect stuck between the door and screen door, feet kicking in the air. Add to this scene an octogenarian in her night clothes screaming that I should just let her son go inside so we can sit down and discuss the matter, and the buddy pacing back and forth.
During all this I was aware that dispatch was calling me back attempting to get my location and an update. I heard them call for my backup who was only about 30 miles away (like I said, it was a small, rural town). Dispatch advised the on-duty deputy that she would call out my sergeant and another deputy who lived in the area.
The suspect finally freed himself from the door yelling, “You saw him ma, he pushed me through the door! We’re gonna sue you for the door!” As he attempted to get the door open again I grabbed him by both arms and pulled him hard back into me. As he ran into me he grabbed, well, let’s just say at that point I was very happy for the pain killing chemicals that are released during high stress.
I pushed him away from the door towards the railing of the deck as hard as I could and then body slammed him into it, hoping that we would break through the 2x4 railing and end up in the yard father away from the house (with the wind and fight knocked out of him). One of the lessons I learned that night was that 2x4’s only break in fights in the movies.
He fell down and wrapped both legs under the porch, so despite my best efforts I couldn’t get him up off the porch. I tried for several wrist- and finger-locks but apparently he had been arrested enough in the past to know to keep his hands in a fist and his wrists locked.
I continued to tell the driver to stop fighting and the other two to go in the house and call 911. They refused. The driver continued his barrage of epithets. Mom went inside after repeatedly telling me to let her son up so he could go inside. The buddy followed mom back inside returning once to tell me that she said she had a headache and he thought she might be having a stroke. I strongly suggested he call 911 for an ambulance. He refused. He went back into the house.
I could hear my sergeant and the deputy call out on the radio. My sergeant would head west from town and the deputy would go from his house to town since he lived on the same road. The only problem now was I was two miles east of my last location and I was supposed to be westbound.
After a small break I decided now was the time. Until now I had been concerned about what level of force I should and could be using on a handcuffed prisoner — something I didn’t remember covering in my training. I grabbed him by the shoulders and jerked for all I was worth. As he came up and loose I hooked my arm around the suspect’s neck and jerked him up into a standing position and started to drag him across the porch, making sure to keep his hands away from my groin.
He started to scream, “Mom, he’s choking me he’s choking me!” I had him almost to the steps of the deck mom came running out the door. The suspect stopped screaming and dropped like he had been pole axed, feigning unconsciousness on the floor.
Seeing this mom yelled, “You son of a bitch” turned and picked up a folded up lawn chair that was leaning against the side of the house. She raised it over head with both hands and started toward me. I had visions of having to knock her down and her breaking a hip. I think my verbal commands were something like, “Lady, get serious.”
I explained that he was faking it and that if you are being choked you don’t scream very well. She lowered the chair, looked at her son and said, “You’ve always been a rotten kid” turned around and went back into the house.
At this point, I decided I should take out my OC spray to use on him or anyone else he looked like they might deserve it. Junior apparently hearing the snap open next to his head starts to scream, “Go ahead, shoot me, shoot me. Mom this cop is going to shoot me!”
Mom came back outside and not seeing a gun demanded to know why I was arresting her son. I explained the DUI, the warrant and the assault on me. Of course, junior denied being drunk or assaulting me. This whole time the suspect had been on the ground and I had my left shin in his back and my hands on his shoulder. As I tried to calm mom and convince her to go back into the house I suddenly felt junior’s hands closing on the grip of my back up gun in my ankle holster. A sharp knee jab to the back stopped that and I switched legs.
At about this time I could see a set of headlights coming down the road. The deputy, unable to locate me between the stop location and town recognized the last name of the suspect and on a hunch sped to my location. I could hear him call and tell dispatch that I was OK.
The deputy was a family friend who had attended the funeral of the father a week before. As he walked up the suspect looked at him and said, “Thank goodness, a good cop” and then meekly got up and walked to my squad car and got in.
I debriefed the deputy about what had happened. My sergeant and the on-duty deputy showed up. We placed the suspect in the county squad. I debriefed my sergeant and we drove together, stopped and picked up my portable from the truck and followed the deputy to the jail. The deputy tested and booked in the suspect after a visit to the hospital to treat the scratch on his head.
After listening to my story the sergeant looked at me and said, “This is one of those situations that if you survive, you can learn a lot.”
Truer words were never spoken. At this point you maybe shaking your head, you may be laughing or you may be remembering some of your own “learning” experiences. Here’s what I learned:
1. Dispatchers and cops may have disagreements every once and a while but they are your lifeline. Keep your emotions in check. Today I wear a portable with a lapel mike that doesn’t require that I removed it to talk. I also wear an ear bud so that suspects can’t hear my radio traffic.
2. Your dispatcher is your life line. If dispatch doesn’t know where you are, only God knows where you are and he may be your last contact. It was only going to take a minute, just a quick detour. Obviously it could have gone a lot worse and a lot better.
3. The sudden mood swings from cooperative to aggressive back to calm again was a big warning that I disregarded. I assume now that he calmed down as he decided he was going to escape. I was aware of the possibility but I wasn’t going to put the passenger in the front with me. A better choice might have been to take him into town, inconvenience mom and drop him off in a well lit area with witnesses.
4. I made the mistake of standing to the rear of the door when I opened it which took away my view of the suspect. I didn’t know he was coming out until he was in the door. If I had stood on the other side of the door I could have seen what was going on sooner and possibly prevented the escape.
5. At the time, hobble straps were just coming out. If I had had one I could have hobbled him and made the radio call. Needless to say I have carried one with me on duty ever since. A hobble strap in the car does you no good unless you are fighting in the car. Carry it on you.
6. Know what levels of force are appropriate for handcuffed resistant suspects. OC could have been used or baton could have been used as a lever to gain an arm bar. If his assault on me had impeded my ability to defend myself, a TASER (nowadays) or baton strikes may have been appropriate based on his actions. I have no doubt in my mind that had I hit the deck he would have gladly stomped me into it.
About the only level of force that I did use that was appropriate was the knee to the back to get my back up gun away from his hands. The neck restraint was at a level I, balance displacement with little or no pressure applied directly to the neck.
7. When force is justified use it. That was the night I made that big decision that all cops sooner or later have to make. I promised myself from then on I would always use the appropriate level of force when it was justified and not worry about others opinions.
A week later, still injured, I would respond to a bar fight involving a suspect who outweighed me by at least 50 pounds. This time only the suspect would go to the hospital — he would plead guilty to DUI and Assault on a Police Officer. I had learned my lesson, but he apparently didn’t. A year later he was arrested for attempted murder, but that’s another story.