Archive for the ‘CopStories’ Category
Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
It was late, a quiet night filled with complete emptiness.
And then this: “BU10…Bureau County.”
“Go ahead,” I said.
A woman called, my dispatcher said. She was being held against her will…by her husband. He had her locked up in a room and was coming back in a few minutes and would probably take the phone away from her.
I had an instant adrenaline dump. Yeah, the call was probably bogus, someone drunk and trying to get a spouse or an ex in trouble, or just calling for shits and giggles, but we have to take them seriously. Because there’s always the possibility the call is real. There is always the chance that someone actually is being held against their will. And when it does happen, it’s almost always a spouse. Sadly, unlawful restraint is just another part of domestic violence.
And frequently, unlawful restraint ends in bloodshed. Do a quick Google search and tell me what you find.
I start making calls and getting the pieces in place for whatever might happen and the entire time, my brilliant dispatcher is on the phone with the woman, getting more and more information.
As we get closer, we find out, from her, that she’s by herself at this very moment but that moment might not last long.
It was a long drive to the address and the entire way, with each new bit of information, with each new word and plea, my heart cranked up even more. My skin broke out in sweat, my head pounded and I felt the visual distortion, the auditory exclusion, that comes with an adrenaline dump.
“Bu10…she says it’s not just her husband. His friends are helping him.”
Another mile down the road.
“BU10…she’s says she can hear them moving around in the next room.”
Another mile and a half down the road as I sped up.
“Bu10…I lost her.”
I almost screamed. The most precious commodity law enforcement has is not the gun or the purty marked cars with them purty flashing lights. Our most precious commodity is information.
And we were going to get no more from her because she was deep in a domestic situation.
Google something else for me. Google officers killed at domestic problems. Go ahead…I’ll wait.
Done? Okay, so now you know those calls are amongst the most dangerous, and that if they’ve gone as far as restraint, then we’re probably in for a bloody night.
That’s what my partner and I were headed into.
Except that’s not at all what we were headed into.
When we arrived, we surveyed the place. It was dark and quiet. I banged on the door while my partner was around the side, both with guns drawn and ready to war if we needed to.
An older man answered. He’d been sleeping in the living room with a very old dog. Both stared at me confusion ripe and pungent on their faces.
“Sir, are you here alone?”
“You don’t mind if I look around?”
He blinked rapidly. ”Why? What’s going on?”
“We got a call that you’re keeping your wife locked up…against her will.”
I will never forget the look on his face. His eyes became the saddest song I’ve ever heard, his entire body slumped into a beaten state, a battered shell of what had once been a strapping man.
He said it simply and easily.
He let me and my partner search the house. My partner talked to him while I went room to room, even rooms that had been closed for years upon years. It was an old farmhouse and it might have been magnificent back in the day. But at that moment, it was cluttered and dirty, frozen in some ageless time. It was filled with the accomplishments of a couple’s life. Awards and pictures, books and furniture, with the scent of a life-well lived.
They’d been professionals. They’d worked around the world, he as an engineer, she as a cartographer. Her maps were everywhere. Both elegant and stunning.
Ultimately, he told me that he’d recently had to put her in a nursing home, probably for good. She’d been calling him incessantly, crying, wanting to come home. She’d said she was being held against her will and she was. She wanted nothing more than to come home but he was unable to take care of her anymore.
I called dispatch and had them call the home. While my dispatcher was on the phone with the home, they went to her room and made sure she was at least physically okay.
He was crying when we left and I almost was, too. The pain in his voice, the longing for his wife and best friend, for his partner and lover, was palpable.
It crushed me. I never want to be that lonely in my life, but at the same time, he was only that lonely because he’d had so many wonderful years with the person he loved more fiercely than anyone else he’d ever known.
It was a terrible night for all of us, but then it was done, as calls always are. A few weeks later, a very dear friend of mine told me her family had just put her grandmother in a home and, again, the woman just wanted to go home.
I can’t imagine being physically separated from someone you love that dearly; being trapped behind walls that will never come down. I hope that if I ever have someone in my life that dear, that important, that loved, that I can crash the walls between us.
And if not, then I can at least trap us together inside those walls.
Thursday, December 13th, 2012
“Dude! Puh-leeeeeeze don’t take me to jail!”
“I don’t wanna go to jail!”
He’d been driving down the center of the road. It was like this guy’s personal lane extended from the middle of each lane inward. Most drivers try to stay between the lines, but he preferred to stay on the line.
So I lit his ass up.
And followed. And followed.
Lights flashing, bright and obvious in the darkness.
Now I’m thinking: Hmmmm…what’s he doing? Chugging a beer? Smoking a doobie? Calling a lawyer?
Finally, he pulls over. Nice and slow to the right shoulder…and then pulls back out on the road. But driving slowly enough that I thought I was following a white Bronco.
Eventually, he pulls over and stops…in a no passing zone on a curve.
So while I’m calling in the plate and getting ready to be Mr. Officer, I see there are two people and they are futzing around like crazy. Side to side and up and down and under the seats and into the glove box and all over the place.
‘Furtive movements,’ is what court language calls it. It’s one of those things that allows cops to raise the stakes a little on a traffic stop. It’s because we have no idea what someone is doing. Maybe they’re reaching for a gun. Maybe they’re getting ready to throw acid in my face (or urine…which has actually happened around the country a few times). Or maybe they’re hiding the bloody screwdriver they just stabbed Mama and Daddy with.
So these two are furtive-ing like crazy and it makes my balls tighten a little. But it also makes me flood their vehicle with white light and get to them quicker. Quicker to see what’s going on and maybe the night’ll get way interesting.
When I’m at the back end of the SUV, I order them to put hands on the dash, and hear a squeak.
Not a mechanical squeak, but a human one.
I get a bit closer, say, “What’s going on?” with that dickhead cop voice that people so hate but that helps me take control of a situation.
And again the squeak. Except this time it was really more of a moan.
I get a look at the driver and realize he’s scared to death. Pale, shaking hands, sweating.
And he’s 15.
That’s right, folks. Freakin’ 15-years old and terrified. With his hands above his head like in an old noir flick.
“Dude! Puh-leeeeeeze don’t take me to jail!”
“Calm down. Take a breath, man.”
He tries and chokes and coughs. The girl sitting next to him, probably 16 or 17, puts a hand on his arm and tells him to take it easy.
“What are you doing?” I ask, all stern-voiced and cop-like.
He launches into a stammer-filled explanation of why he was driving down the middle of the road (cheating the right side ’cause he was scared of hitting a deer…maybe hitting a car head-on didn’t seem to bother him so much), why he pulled over and then pulled back out (didn’t think it was a safe place to pull over…cause a no passing on a curve is waaaaaay better) and why he has no driver’s license (just started driver’s ed…and got his neighbor to let him take her to go practice).
“There are 9,000 miles of back roads in this county,” I said. ”Why did you come out on one of the busiest?”
Which is normally true, but just to make me look stupid, this road is completely empty for the entire duration of this traffic stop.
He just keeps begging me not to take him to jail. Apologizing and calling me ‘Officer,’ and ‘sir.’ It was all I could do not to laugh (which probably says something terrible about me, I know). I tell him, about 498,288 times, to calm the hell down. His hysteria is starting to get to me. Making my head hurt.
So I go to my car, run the girl, who’s license is fine, and go back. The kid is still sitting there with his hands above his head.
Now, here’s the deal, I could have ticketed this kid, taken him home, delivered him to his parents, and gotten the official machinery cranked to plow him over. He was driving without a license, after all. There would have been a fine, but more importantly – at least to him – it would have totally hosed his driver’s ed class. He wouldn’t have gotten his license for who knows how long.
But what did he really do wrong? He was trying to practice so he’d be a better driver, he was driving slowly and cautiously, worried about deer. He didn’t really panic and do anything stupid until he saw my lights.
Maybe I’m a crappy cop, but I just couldn’t bring myself to hammer this kid. He wasn’t drinking, he wasn’t fighting, he wasn’t even in the same universe as most knuckle-draggers I deal with.
Which didn’t mean I wasn’t going to have a little fun with him.
So I went back to the SUV, holding my cuffs casually but obviously, and said, “Do you understand what you’ve done?”
The I clicked them.
One of the most recognizable sounds in the world. The click-click-click of cuffs being tightened.
The kid’s eyes rolled up in the back of his head and he slumped backward.
Holy SHIT!! I’ve killed him!
“Dude, ease up,” I said. ”You’re not going to jail…this time. But if I catch you on my busy roads again with no license.”
I clicked the cuffs again.
He was like a bobble-headed Jesus on a car dashboard. Head up and down and up and down about a million and a half times, so fast my own head was spinning.
Then I eased up a little. Told the girl to take him out on a back road and let him practice there.
See…here’s the thing…he was pissing himself last night. Probably a heart rate in the 160s, blood pressure 210 over 175. But by next week, he’ll laugh about the entire thing. And when his kids are 15 and in driver’s ed, he’ll use this story to scare holy hell outta them.
So…really…I’ve psychically damaged at least two generations.
That’s a good night’s work!
Sunday, November 4th, 2012
So I’m heading north on one of our state highways, some cool Miles Davis bop playing smooth in the car, just chilling and trying to decide on a plan for my patrol night.
But the guy coming at me?
He’s blowing a hard 109 miles an hour.
“Whoa fuck,” I said, ’cause I’m a brilliant conversationalist.
Surprised the crap out of me. I’ve had speeders before, and even people scooting quicker than 100. But I never really expect to see something like that. So I click the radar off and then back on, just to double check, and I do get a different reading.
This time he’s only banging 108 miles an hour.
Okay…well…now it’s a logistical question. Do I stop him or not? Nearly double the 55 mile an hour limit is a great stop and a chance to use my special metal bracelets.
But because the dude was going so fast, he’d already be home in his jammies dreaming of whatever young starlet gets him there by the time I got turned around.
So I get on the radio, let the cops in the next town down the line know he’s coming. They’ll be ready…they can have him.
Bullshit. This dude belongs to me.
Not only is his speed illegal, not only is it insane, it’s also offensive.
Don’t get me wrong. I love driving fast and I do it too often. But what this guy is doing is completely off the charts stupid. Let’s talk about the fatalities we’ve had on that stretch of road in the last few months. Let’s talk about the deer darting into the roadway because the farmers are harvesting. Let’s talk about the small town that the road splits and how many young kids live there.
Yeah, this dude belongs to me.
I whipped around, managed to catch him, and lit him up.
He didn’t pull over. Not a huge problem, this happens sometimes. People don’t see me immediately or they’re looking for a safe place to stop or whatever.
When I was a young, brash cop, I’d get all heated up when people didn’t stop. I’d assume the car was full of drugs or guns, or the driver was a murderer wanted out of Chicago, or someone fleeing Homeland Security and looking to blow up buildings.
But I’m old now, not quite as excitable. Okay…well…that part’s a lie…it just takes longer for my old heart to get pumped.
Two miles down the road, which pass really fast at 108 miles at hour, he slowed a little, cranking it down to the mid 60s, and pulled slightly off the road.
And then took off again.
The hell was this shit?
Then he pulled over again. This time, both right side tires went onto the shoulder.
And then he took off again.
At this point, the hairs on the back of my neck took notice. His refusal to pull over could mean anything, but I assumed it was something bad. Drugs…guns..warrants.
That may seem melodramatic, but I have no idea why he’s blasting down my highway. The last time someone went that fast, on that highway, it was a man who’d just raped and beaten his girlfriend, stolen her car, fled from the local cops, and who then led me on a 12-mile chase that ended in a crash on the complete other side of the county.
My adrenaline was cranked. I knew this guy and I were going to dance.
He finally stopped but then didn’t turn his dome light on…which most people do at night.
That’s another clue that something’s hinky in Denmark.
I hit him with my spotlight and what’s he doing?
I don’t know, either, but he’s putting a ton of energy into futzing around under the passenger seat.
Nothing good comes from any of what I have in front of me. Speed, refusal to pull over, digging around where I can’t see.
I jumped out of my squad, dashed to the back (so the engine block was between us if he came out shooting), and went through my felony take down patter. Hands up, right hand to open door from the outside, walk backward toward my voice, lay on the ground, arms spread, etc.
Once I got him between both our cars, I jumped hell on him. Right knee in his back, left foot spreading his legs as far as I could, both of my hands wrenching his arms fast and hard around to his back, jamming those cuffs on him.
“Ouch. Dang it.”
Uh…not quite the dialogue I expected from a killer.
I stand him up and get a look at him. Gray haired, lined face, tired and washed out eyes.
“How old are you?” I asked, surprised.
“What the hell were you doing?”
He actually chuckled. ”Well, this is where we used to blow it out when I was in high school.”
“Yeah…a few years ago.”
He was driving fast because he’d wanted to. Hadn’t done it in a while and thought this night would be a good time to do it. I put him in my squad and prepared to tow his car and take him to jail.
The thing was? He was totally cool. Deferential, respectful, polite. Never gave me any shit at all. Never dissembled or obstructed. He was completely pleasant. Said he understood why I had to arrest him and didn’t harbor any ill feelings at all.
Then he said, “Can I get my meat?”
“Officer, I’ve got probably $500 worth of meat in the cooler in the backseat.”
He’d been to some sale. Bought lots of meat for his house-bound, elderly mother. Which is where he’d been headed when I stopped him.
Mom? House-bound? Elderly and waiting on her dear boy to bring her some ribs?
Come on…that’s like one of my Barefield novels…just goofy enough to be funny, but odd in a sort of Norman Bates-ian kind of way.
“You’re going to tow my car, right? And since it’s the weekend, it’ll be days until I can get it. That meat’ll all be ruined.”
“True,” I said.
“30?” dispatch said. ”Tow’s going to be at least 45 minutes.”
“Nevermind,” I said. To him, I said, “You’re going to drive your car to the jail. Save you a tow fee and your meat. I’ll be right behind you. You take off and I’ll grab my shotgun and blast your tires out, then your windshield, then whatever else I can hit. We’ll have us a good old fashioned Texas lawman-style beat down.”
He eyed the small Texas flag that hangs in my squad. ”Uh…okay. I won’t run. I promise.”
What I didn’t tell him was that if he did, chances were damned good I’d never catch him to shoot those tires. He was driving a low-slung BMW. Totally leave my squad in the dust.
(and shooting tires like that…for just a speeder? Holy balls the sheriff would have my ass stuffed and mounted and in a place of honor on his wall)
He didn’t run. He drove straight to the jail, said “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” to the jailers, posted bond, and headed out to his car.
“Let me explain,” I said while we walked. ”Why I did what I did.”
I am not an old school cop. I most emphatically do not believe problems are automatically solved by thumping skulls. I also believe that cops can do a better job of explaining the whys of what we do to the people we serve. If citizens understand better some of the ins and outs of what we do, they’re more likely to support us.
This guy smiled and laughed. ”No problem, I totally understand. I would have done the same thing.”
Then he clapped me on the back and said, “Honestly, I’ve never been treated so well or respectfully…for getting arrested, I mean.”
And really, isn’t that what I’ve been looking for…happy bad guys?
Tuesday, September 4th, 2012
Turns out it wasn’t a shitty idea.
Just a looooooong, tedious one.
We’d spent hours tearing the suspect’s house apart, looking at all his media, all his hard drives, all his computers. And while we’d seen pathways that pointed to files that might have been kiddie porn, we had no kiddie porn. Command had just told us to close up shop, that we were done, that we lost this round.
The computer forensics guy, didn’t like losing a round. He seethed that a bad guy had beaten him and so he popped up one last idea.
The unallocated area.
“Huh?” Yeah, that was my contribution.
Basically, the computer guy was going to check, bit by bit, byte by byte, the entire memory where files had been stored but were now gone. Files never really leave a computer, but are overwritten when the user wants to use that memory space for something else.
Our forensics guy was going to troll in that vast area where files are broken and battered, where they’re taken apart and stored where ever the computer has space. In other words, he said, look at the memory as a giant map of the United States. One piece of a file might be in Alaska while another piece is in Florida. Still another piece might be in Georgia while others are scattered across the Dakotas.
“Won’t that take – ”
“Yeah, pretty much forever,” he said.
And so he got started. And it took forever.
And he came up with…nothing.
Then more nothing. Then more nothing after that.
The investigator was popping outta his skin at this point. He’d put lots of resources into this case. He wanted to get this guy out of the cyber stream and yet, because he’d used a hard drive cleaning program, was probably going to walk away free.
There was nothing I could do and it was driving me batty so I went downstairs and outside for some air. It had been a long, frustrating day. This was my second search warrant with the task force and I’d heard stories of coming up empty, but there were so many more stories of sliding the bad guy right into a long prison sentence that it was almost inconceivable they wouldn’t get it done.
And I wondered…how would everyone sleep tonight? How would the investigator, already angry, sleep? Would he dream about not having quite enough information? And the forensics guy? Would he stay up late drinking away the feeling that he’d failed? What about the suspect? Would today scare him into stopping? Or would the fact that he’d won convince him he knew how to get away with it and make him trade more?
The suspect’s house was an oddball mix of the weird. It was an old house and seemed as though the suspect and his sons hadn’t lived there long. There were unopened boxes everywhere, labelled for different rooms, with different family members’ names on them. But the place wasn’t as clean as a newly-moved into house would be. Everything except the large screen TVs (one in every room) was covered in a heavy layer of dust that reminded me of the aftermath of dust storms in west Texas where I grew up.
The room in which we worked was just as dusty as everywhere else. The carpet was stained, dirtied with muddy footprints, with chocolate and potato chips ground into it. The color might once have been something brilliant and bold, but now was completely colorless. It might have been a lifeless gray. It might just as easily have been a dead tan.
To the right of the desk, there were some small bins – like you’d find filled with sugar or flour sitting on a kitchen counter – crammed to overflowing with Hershey’s Kisses, Kit Kats, and those puffed air cheese balls. Surrounding those bins, like a guarding army, was hundreds of empty Mountain Dew bottles. We had to move the bottles just to have room to do our jobs.
On the wall, just above the desk, was a line of baseball team caps. Strung out in a straight line from there was a pile of those sports memorabilia things that have baseball cards and a picture and some impressive stat all laquered nice and shiny and sold for $50 or $60 as one-of-a-kind items. There were eight or ten of those, all with a dark line of dust across the top, as though they hadn’t been dusted in years.
“Look at the dates,” the commander had said before I went outside.
All from the mid ’90′s. Last one was from 1997.
As though everything in that room, cleaning included, had suddenly stopped in 1997. Later, I would find out the suspect’s wife, mother to the son whose room we were using to check the computers, had died in 1997.
So the room, indeed the house, was in a sort of grief-induced stasis, as though the moment the lady of the house died, everything froze.
Except not quite everything because the suspect was sporting high-dollar, high-powered computers.
And with each moment that passed, the suspect looked more smug, more victorious. All this guy had to do was wait us out, not lose his cool and blurt out something incriminating, and he’d be back to trading before the day was over.
I headed back inside and the forensics guy was vaguely excited.
“Found some pictures.”
“Yeah?” I said.
“Five or six frames of a movie that had been on the hard drive.”
“That’s great,” I said. ”That’s possession. That’s enough to make the charges.”
True, as far as it went. But it wasn’t the sheer amount of porn the investigator had expected. Then again, given that the suspect had so thoroughly cleaned his hard drive, we were lucky to find anything.
So the mood lightened considerably, as odd as that sounds to say given that we were searching for kiddie porn. But now we had something and the suspect wasn’t going to walk free. Granted, his jail term, assuming he was convicted, would be short, but it was the best we could do. He hadn’t won, but it felt like we hadn’t either.
I went downstairs to get something to drink and as I passed through the dining area, I glanced at the unpacked boxes on the table. One of the men who’d been first through the door saw it the same moment I did.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he said.
It had been there the entire time. An older computer, sitting quietly amongst the unpacked boxes and trash and detritus of this strange place with old sports memories and a decade’s worth of dust and not a single femine touch. All of us had scoured that house and yet had somehow not seen this machine.
We rushed it upstairs, gave it to the forensics guy, and waited.
The entire team waited, hardly breathing, sweating bullets.
Because that computer was dusty.
The suspect had cleaned his computer the night before but the one we just found hadn’t been touched in a while. He’d forgotten about it, just as easily as we had missed it during the search.
I have to give the team credit. When the forensics guy popped open that computer and very easily found thousands of images of sexually exploited young children, when he found hundreds of self-produced movies, when he found enough material to put the suspect away for the better part of forever, no one on that team cheered.
They high-fived each other, gave the forensics man a giant clap on the back, then went outside and to figure out why that computer hadn’t been seen until that moment. Standing in the suspect’s front yard, the search team completely refined their search procedures. They were not going to let a missed computer happen again.
That was it for me on that warrant. I helped the team back to the station, helped catalog some of the items we seized, but was mostly done. Now it was up to the State’s Attorney, the forensics man, and the investigator’s interview skills.
I wish I could say I came away from those two days with some greater understanding of the human condition. I didn’t. I knew evil existed before I went and what I saw confirmed that. One man traded in the massive sexual exploitation of children for cash, the other because he was attracted to young girls who looked exactly like his granddaughter.
It was as simple as banal as that. There was no larger story, no over-arcing comment of any kind. It was nothing more than two pathetic men, both still legally innocent as they’ve not been brought to trial yet.
And so when I begin executing my own search warrants (after completing more training), will it be the same? Will the reasons why my bad guys trade be that empty? Will my own bad guys cause that much carnage among children just…you know…’cause?
Sunday, August 26th, 2012
The line was six cops deep.
Each officer touched the shoulder of the man in front of them. Everyone crouched low, weapon out, fingers indexed away from the trigger.
Up front a cop carried a battering ram. The next guy had a ballistic shield.
Six helmets, six weapons, six officers holding their breath tightly in their chest.
While a dog barked incessantly.
Not even six in the morning yet. Today we were in a neighborhood a few steps down the ladder from the one the day before. These houses were not quite as manicured. There was no color-coordination, the yards were scraggly, the cars decorated in post-modern rust. It was an older neighborhood, where the best years were years ago and exhaustion was the only thing remaining.
The entry team was grim. There was, after all, the chance of gun play and violence if their knock was ignored; or worse, if it wasn’t.
And still that damned dog barked.
I had nothing to do with the entry and yet I was nervous. Because of the guns and shields, because today’s suspects had extensive rap sheets that included violence, because the dog’s barking gave us away.
Because if this operation went bad, the bad would happen during that entry.
Generally, entry is when teams are most vulnerable. Dynamic entries – either a ‘no-knock’ entry or a ‘knock-and-announce’ but with forced entry – are scary. They involve a chaos designed to confuse the suspects. Because confusion lessens the chances the bad guys will flush evidence or shoot hostages or kill officers.
But that very created chaos also puts the cops at a disadvantage.
I am not a huge fan of dynamic entries. I understand the need for them, they just make me anxious. And that day, with a dog that wouldn’t shut the hell up, I was extremely anxious.
This family was not the family of the day before. Where the previous subject politely opened the door and showed us where he kept his kiddie porn, this family had a number of convictions between them…including resisting the police.
Yesterday we’d been looking for one of the top traders in the state. Today it was a man who traded kiddie porn less frequently, but what he did trade was of rougher grade, grittier and harsher.
“Damn dog’s fucking announcing us,” one of the officers said.
The team, with the commander, myself, and the computer forensics man behind, moved silently through neighbors’ front yards, hugged tightly up against neighbors’ houses. We saw no shocked faces staring out, no one grabbing a phone to make a call.
Except at the very last house before our target house.
“Hey, wha’choo doing?” the lady asked.
She sat on her porch, drinking her morning coffee, holding a newspaper, and staring goggle-eyed at the cops in front of her. The commander took her aside and a moment later she went inside…where she watched carefully through the curtains.
Between her house and the subject’s house, we found the dog. It belonged to the subject and was going batty inside its run. The team got worried the owner was awake and wondering why the hell his dog was so cranky.
At the door, I heard the knock, then the announce. Then I waited for an eternal twenty seconds before the team entered the house.
It was like the morning exploded. Voices everywhere. Clear all the way outside. Commands and demands, orders and calls of “One male in basement,” or “One male secured in front bedroom,” or “Where’s (suspect)?”
And a cacophony from the subjects, too. Confusion, anger, disbelief, a lack of comprehension, that mumbled nonsense that comes when you’re awakened loudly and suddenly.
But within minutes, all the subjects were secured in the living room. No one had gotten hurt and the search team went to work.
It was a nightmare.
There were computers, hard drives, thumb drives, and discs everywhere. But also hundreds of music CDs, thousands of movie DVDs; software instruction discs, hardware driver discs.
Every conceivable square inch of that house was awash in media. It was a cyber buffet for American males raised in a media-saturated environment.
And it all had to be checked. Much of the music and many of the movies were commercially available and so probably weren’t a problem, but much of it was consumer-recorded and that had to be reviewed.
Ninety minutes of ‘Hunt For Red October,’ then an hour of sex with pre-pubescent boys, then forty-four minutes ‘Hunt For Red October.’
Happens that way with music, too. A few five-minute tracks that are visual – or sometimes only aural – hidden in the middle of a metal mix, or a dance mix, or the best of whatever flavor of the week is melting the pop charts.
Everything had to be checked.
So we started with the media that probably wasn’t involved, with the computers and external drives that belonged to the sons and the visitor. The father was our focus and while I personally believed the sons probably knew about his tastes, I wasn’t convinced they were directly involved in it.
The sheer amount of media belonging to everyone but Dad took us the better part of two hours to scrutinize. While we did that, the team continued searching the house, bringing us even more media, more internal hard drives that were scattered and stored everywhere.
The entire time, command plagued us.
“We’ll let you know.”
“Anything? We gotta find it.”
“Damnit, we’re looking.”
Every fifteen or twenty minutes command came into the bedroom where we worked and demanded their evidence. They gave us space, but an oddly constricted space. It was nerve-wracking and made my job that much harder.
Eventually, we closed the bedroom door and forced command to stay out. We got through the sons’ toys…no kiddie porn (though massive amounts of adult porn). We got through the visitor’s toys…no kiddie porn.
Then we started on Daddy’s toys, beginning with Daddy’s brand new, high-powered computer.
And two hours later had found nothing.
“Damnit,” the primary investigator said. ”He was trading on-line last night.” He stormed through the bedroom. ”Where is it?”
The main computer forensics guy shook his head. ”He’s used a cleaner.”
“There are file names that indicate possible child porn, but no actual files. He’s cleaned this computer. There’s nothing here.”
“Are you saying I have to let this guy go? I know he’s dirty.”
“You may know it…but we can’t prove it.”
The entire team stood in that cramped bedroom now. No one said anything. This forensics guy was the best in the state. Everyone used him, from Springfield all the way up Interstate 55 to Chicago. There simply was no one better and he was coming up dry.
The Commander sighed. ”Pack it in, boys. We’re done.”
“Hang on,” the computer guy said. ”I think I’ve got an idea. Might be a shitty one, though.”
Sunday, August 19th, 2012
When I got there, the house was under siege.
It was a nice house and it fit the neighborhood. Every house upper middle class, each groomed just so and color-coordinated, yards immaculate. Two vehicles in every driveway, usually a sedan and an SUV, both polished and gleaming in the early morning sun. Cats watched from living room windows and dogs barked, though none too loudly or aggressively.
But this place was besieged by law enforcement. County officers, city officers, officers whose uniforms I didn’t recognize. Squad cars, both marked and plain, lined the street and extended all the way around the corner.
At the suspect’s house, everyone was grim. The cops who weren’t inside working the warrant were stone-faced. There were no jokes or flip comments. The tension was as thick as a west Texas sand storm and I understood it…even as a rookie on the task force I understood it and felt it. I knew what the search warrant was for. I knew what we were all hoping to find.
Or rather, what we were both certain and afraid we’d find.
Last year, I backed into a case. It was simple enough…a registered sex offender playing basketball on school grounds. But that simple case ballooned into one that included 17 possible felony charges for everything from sexting minors to grooming minors to actual sex with a 14-year old girl.
Because of that case, my sheriff attached me to the Illinois Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Kiddie porn traded over the internet; via computer or cell phone or tablet or whatever other electronic means come along.
Which sounds great…except I know dick about computers. Thus I spent the last year getting trained on how to track this stuff and put together prosecutable cases.
So on this day, in this quiet and perfectly-coiffed neighborhood, what we were looking for?
Evidence of one of the top traders of child pornography in the entire state.
We found it…easily. There was no serious hunting involved, no need to search and probe and take apart his computer’s every byte.
We knocked on the door, his wife answered, he took us to his computer, showed us where the images were, said his wife didn’t have anything to do with it, and sat quietly while we brought his life down around him and left it in flaming rubble.
But it wasn’t us. We didn’t set him to delve into this world, we didn’t set him to contact people around the world and trade pictures of sex with 8-year olds or sexualized poses of 10-year olds. The spark that set flame to his life was not the task force, it was him and him alone. It was whatever desire drove him to dive into such a sordid world.
Was he sexually attracted to children? Or was he attracted to the money that could be made from those who were attracted to children? I don’t know. Even if my job had involved dealing with that guy after we found the material, I’m not sure I’d have found an answer. Maybe he didn’t even know. There were no indications that he’d ever touched a child, but there had to be some draw, right? I mean, there has to be some attraction beyond the money. I can’t imagine someone getting involved in kiddie porn simply for the money.
So the operation, the first of two spread over two days, went smoothly. Our part was over in just a few hours. And afterward, we all went to a late breakfast and there wasn’t another mention of that guy in that upper middle class house. There were stories and jokes about hundreds of other search warrants, but no more about that day’s arrestee.
It struck me as strangely aloof.
I’ve been in law enforcement for the better part of a decade and I’ve come to understand – and wildly appreciate – the gallows humor and the perversity of the job (when I’m having a good, fun day, someone else is, by definition, having a really shitty day…and that’s totally perverse).
But the ‘after’ of this operation seemed oddly detached. Either the team didn’t want to talk about this guy because he’d affected them so profoundly, or they’d seen so many of these guys, with so much of this material, that it had become routine unless there was something specifically challenging and new and different.
Honestly, I think they were bored with this guy and his images. The senior members of the task force – those guys who’d been doing this for some years – recognized a vast majority of the pictures we found so in a strange way, it was simply business as usual.
“Oh, that’s the ‘Ashlee’ series,” or “Yeah, that’s from the ‘Maddy’ pictures,” or “A guy in Jersey took those a decade ago.”
So I believe they were bored. This guy had been easy to crack and his images had been the same old images everyone had seen a thousand times.
That would change dramatically the second day.
Thursday, July 5th, 2012
I was parked at the old train depot in one of our small towns. Watching for speeders and drunks, listening for whatever might come along, generally chilling out.
Working nights is sometimes quite exciting (such as the car crash I had recently but won’t be able to write about for a while yet) but sometimes nights are impossible to navigate. When everyone is behaving, when the weather works against people going outside and carrying on, when the economy keeps drinkers at home rather than in the bars or on the road to and from bars, nights become interminable.
During summer weekends, the night shift can be over before you realize it. Arrests and fights and car crashes and all manner of humanity behaving badly. But during the week, it can seem like the entire world stops dead, frozen in its tracks by the very heat it seeks to escape.
It is actually much worse in the winter, when snow and ice coat everything and the wind howls down to zero or lower. No one moves, no one drives, people hardly dare to breathe. Those nights, when the sun is already down when I sign on and has yet to come up when I sign off, are horrifying in their emptiness.
This particular night was fairly quiet. It was warm and the lack of calls wasn’t bothering me too badly. (It is a perverse truism in law enforcement that my good nights, my really good, fun nights, are – by definition – bad for someone else.)
While I sat, while I thumbed through law enforcement magazines, while I listened for kids squealing tires on the bottom road, or big trucks tearing through someone’s back pasture, or sedans driving too slowly through town (which usually means a drunk concentrating on not speeding), I realize I saw movement.
In the far corner of my eye, barely visible, something waved.
An old man, on his front porch. In one of those Hover Round wheelchair contraptions.
Waving at me. Not like, “Hey, how’s it going, cop-dude?” but more like, “Hey, cop-dude, get your taxpayer-funded ass over here.”
I watched for a second, to get a sense of the landscape, and he started whistling for me.
Which set me on a slow burn. Yes, I was on duty, in a marked car, and am a public servant, but too often there are people who have a sense of entitlement when it comes to public servants. We are public servants, therefore it is our job to eat their shit and then do their bidding…which often includes telling their kid to do their homework, or giving them a ride from one town to another.
So I headed to him and when I pulled up in front of his house, he said, in a weak and quiet voice, “Can you take me to the hospital?”
Okay, well, hit me with a big stick. Repeatedly. Suddenly I felt like an ass for getting all up in this old dude’s grill (figuratively) ’cause he was obviously hurt or sick or maybe dying.
“What’s the problem?” I asked, trying to make a decision between rushing his ass to the hospital myself or getting some EMTs on scene.
He stared at me, face completely blank. ”Huh?”
“Sir? You okay? Do I need to call an ambulance?”
Again, that blank stare. It was absolutely endless, like he wasn’t seeing me at all, but maybe something 50 or 60 years ago. I assumed Alzheimer’s and that he was lost within himself.
“An ambulance? For what?” he asked.
“I don’t know. You asked me to take you to the hospital.”
He shook his head and confusion was ripe on his face. ”My cat’s not at the hospital. My cat’s dead.” Then he looked at me. ”So’s my wife.”
“And she was talking to me.”
Then, suddenly, his face cleared. ”Officer, I’m so sorry. I don’t need to go anywhere. I’m fine.”
He’d been dreaming, he said. And in the dream his wife came to him and said they needed to go to the hospital and retrieve their cat. He lost both of them in the last few months and his head was playing with him, he said. In the dream, she told him there was a police officer coming to give him a ride to the hospital.
Then he woke up and through his open window, he saw my car sitting across the street from him.
“It was all so real.”
I stood in his living room and he sat in his little contraption. He ran his hand through his thinning hair. The place was covered in pictures of his wife…and cat…and children and grandchildren. He kept offering me coffee, apologetically offering, actually.
“She told me you would be there and then I saw you. Didn’t really know what to think.” He looked at me. ”I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think so.”
He wasn’t, he was just lonely and dreaming of when life was more fun. When it was filled with someone who shared everything, with a cat, with kids who visited more often, with grandkids who weren’t put off by the hospital bed dominating his living room.
I think, from where he was that night, he could see the end. Maybe it wasn’t coming quickly, but it was coming. And during that dream, it was further away and had to look harder to find him. So why not let that dream slide into reality if he had the chance?
Hell, I’d have done the same thing.
Just never would have had a cat. Yuck.
Thursday, April 19th, 2012
Simple noise complaint, nothing else.
We get them all the time, especially during warm weekends. People get out and have a good time, talking and laughing until late at night. Not a big deal. Or sometimes it’s the dogs. They’ve been cooped up all winter and now it’s warm and they’re outside and so start barking.
(Which I’ve always thought of as the canine version of standing on a street corner shouting at random passers-by: “Hey! Hey! Hey hey! Heeeeeeyy!”)
Regardless, noise complaints are usually pretty benign.
Except when they’re drunken parties. Those bastards get ugly in a damned hurry. Wanna feel uncomfortable? Jump into the middle of 15 or 20 young drunks, all beer-brave and bullet-proof.
Best way to handle young drunks is stride right up to the toughest, meanest son of a bitch you can find and beat his or her ass.
‘Cause literally? Yeah, that’ll get you fired, sued, maybe thrown in jail. There’ll be a ton of paperwork. Plus, you take the chance that maybe you aren’t quite as tough as you think and you end up fired, sued, thrown in jail, drowning in paperwork, and on the bloody and bruised bottom of the pile while a bunch of drunks laugh at you.
Or you go the other direction. Surprise them not with fear and awe, but with something so stupid they simply can’t believe that’s what their seeing.
Which would be my strength.
So I get to this noise complaint, find the only house on the block surrounded by cars, climb outta my crime cruiser, straighten my gunbelt a la Barney Fife, and get to work.
The problem is…there’s not any noise.
Seriously. I have to strain to hear anything.
In the deep, dark distance, I can finally make out a thump. A rhythmic thump. A deep, rhythmic thump.
Dude, that’s a bass drum!
I’ve played drums for the better part of 32 or 33 years…plus, I’m a trained observer…and I can sniff out a clue when I have to.
Not only a bass drum, but an entire kit. Banging snare, crashing cymbals. And damn if there isn’t a guitar and bass laid right over the top.
Now, you gotta understand how excited I get about live bands…even shitty ones. That someone is up there, wailing away on whatever music they love best, exposing themselves, just gets me off every time.
Here’s the thing: this band is playing some good old R & B but I can barely hear them. So 1) the person who complained about the noise is probably just jealous they didn’t get invited and 2) this band needs me to teach them how to WAIL!
(which means, first of all, turning those damned amps up to 11, obviously)
So I wait until they finish a tune, then I bang on the door. And what do I hear, yelled through the closed door?
“We got enough beer…thanks, though!”
Finally, someone yells for me to go to the other door. I get around to the other side as the garage door comes up. Five or seven big drunk boys…well, boys with bellies and gray beards and at least one walker are staring right at me.
One of them looks at me and in one of the most hilarious stage whispers I’ve ever heard, says to everyone else, “It’s the fucking cops.”
I tore past them like a stiletto blade through flesh down to bone, and headed into the main room. Acting like I actually was in charge, like I knew what I was f’ing doing, like I was Johnny Law.
And almost crapped a brick. At least 20, probably closer to 5,264. All drunk. All whooping and hollering and ALL staring at me like I was the local leper working as a waiter.
So, rather than trying to figure out whose ass to kick, I went to the drums.
And started playing.
Have you ever seen 5,264 people stroke out at once? It’s a helluva sight. They had no idea what the hell was going on.
Which is a pretty good place for a herd of drunks.
So I’m banging away, just noodling around, playing a few licks, showing off just a touch. Then I stop and they cheer.
And that’s when I tell them there’s been a complaint and ask if they can pull the noise (which wasn’t all that damned much, remember) down a touch.
Then I get up to head out and the birthday girl cornered me, pummeling me with both beer breath and too-tightly packaged and too-heavily displayed boobs, and said, “Where you going? You can’t sit down and then leave. You gotta play a soooooooooonng.”
Okay, not what I’d expected. Not even close.
The guitar player started playing, the bass player fell in with him and they hit ‘Mustang Sally.’
Hey, I know that song. One of my old bands played it.
I hesitated, I’m still on duty after all, but then said, “Fuck it,” and dove in.
It was the best 3 1/2 minutes I’ve had in I can’t remember how long.
(though it was incredibly difficult to play wearing a gunbelt, ballistics vest, and trying to hear my radio in case I got called to…I don’t know…a traffic crash or murder or something slightly more important than a noise complaint)
When we finished, everyone cheered and clapped and when I asked again for them to tone it down, they all assured me everything was fine, the party was mostly over anyway ’cause “We’re all old,” one of them said.
They were, too. Gray hair, stooped shoulders, the walker. And they weren’t playing very loud, either. Sort of embarrassing for a band, I thought. Damn sure not playing at 11. At best, they were turned up to maybe 8.
And as I drove down the road, my back hurting and my right hand slightly numb even from just 3 1/2 minutes, I realized my ears were ringing and my head hurt.
Damnit, next time I bust and play at a party, I’m going to have to turn it down to 7, maybe 6.
Sunday, March 25th, 2012
It was just another traffic stop (the best stories always start out that way, don’t they?)
In this case, it’s true. It was just another traffic stop. I’ve made a million of them. They’re memorable for about half a second.
In this case, I had Deputy Amy Reuter with me. She’s a rookie, still training, and so everything is still new to her, still surprising and shocking.
Recently, I put more of our traffic stops on her shoulders. I’d ask her to recognize the probable cause, decide if the car needed to be stopped, figure out when it was safe to stop the car due to other traffic, blah blah blah. Lots and lots of internal poh-leece stuff that bores the crap outta regular people.
But I also decided that she should actually handle the stop. In other words, don’t just watch me, but actually make contact with the driver.
“What?” she said.
“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” I said.
“Just introduce yourself, ask for their license and insurance.”
“Don’t sweat it, chances are nothing crazy will happen.”
“‘Chances are?’” She stared at me and I think if she could have figured out where to dump my body…she would have.
So we found a car and lit it up and made our stop. I followed her to the car and everything started okay.
“Good evening. I’m Deputy Reuter with the Sheriff’s Office. Can I see you license and insurance?”
An older guy stared back at us. His gaze moved back and forth and he seemed really embarrassed. It was just a burned out plate light, not a big deal, but some people get stopped so rarely they actually are embarrassed.
No big deal.
“The reason I stopped you is your registration light is burned out.”
And so the guy said, “Can I get out and look?”
Okay, let’s stop right here for just a second. Letting people get out of their cars on a traffic stop is bad bad bad. As long as I’ve got someone detained, I am their total caretaker. Everything that happens is my concern or liability. The safest place for any driver, therefore, is generally inside their car.
Also, every once in a while, a driver wants to get out so they can shoot you more easily…so, yeah, want to avoid that.
But sometimes, especially in rural areas and when we’re talking about headlights or taillights, people want to get out and see. It’s not that they don’t believe us (though I’m sure some think we just make shit up and stop them based on that), it’s that they’re just curious.
So there are a couple of pros and cons an officer has to weigh. Reuter looked at me and my decision?
Yeah, pretty sure I shrugged.
Top shelf, Training Officer, freaking top shelf. Support your trainee with all your years of experience and wisdom.
“Sure,” Reuter said.
So the guy got out and looked and Reuter said, “Okay, sir, have a seat for just a minute.”
Okay, let’s stop here for just a second. In law enforcement, we see all kinds of things. We hear all kinds of things. Things that make us angry and sad and anxious, that make us long for cosmic justice rather than what might pass for legal justice, that make us want to move Heaven and Hell to help someone, or to make sure they get every single day of prison time they’ve got coming.
We peek into people’s lives with a scrutiny they absolutely would not allow anyone else to have. They impart secrets to us that sometimes they can’t even admit to themselves.
And understand this: people will say anything to get out of a ticket.
“Do I have to sit down?” the man asked.
“Well, this is humiliating,” he said.
We didn’t say anything.
Then he said, “Well, just before you stopped me, I thought I farted.”
Again, silence from us.
“Actually, I think I pooped my pants.”
“I really don’t want to sit down if I don’t have to.”
I hadn’t known what was coming, but I knew something was. So I watched my deputy. This first time that something sort of surprising, sort of shocking, maybe a little disgusting, certainly embarrassing, came her way, I wanted to see how she handled it.
She never even cracked a smile.
“That’s fine, sir,” she said.
All the way back to the squad? Not a sound.
Ran the guy’s license? Not a sound.
Back to him, finish the stop, and send him on his way? Not a damn sound. Didn’t say anything, didn’t laugh, didn’t even smile.
She was professional, polite, the very picture of a highly-trained law enforcement officer.
And I thought: what the fuck? It was all I could do not to bust a colon I wanted to laugh so hard. I didn’t but I sure as hell wanted to. I mean, I felt for the guy, don’t get me wrong, but I’m pretty sure my heart stopped I was working so hard not to laugh at the situation.
And she never even broke a sweat.
Damn, I thought, she’s really good.
Then I thought she was going to drive me into the ditch. She laughed and laughed and I think she even cried a little she laughed so hard. She laughed so hard she might have even snorted.
Then she stopped suddenly and wondered if it was bad to laugh.
Hell, no, it’s not.
Sometimes, laughing at the absurdity of it all is the only thing that gets me through the day. Sounds horrible, sounds harsh and hard and that’s fine, I don’t really care if you think it is. But after spending a week learning how to investigate piles of human shit who take pictures of themselves having sex with tied up six-year olds, I’ll take the release of laughing at a guy who inadvertently pooped himself.
By the way, this is exactly how the stop happened…mostly…though I suspect if you asked Deputy Reuter, she’d have a completely different version. Probably one in which the training officer who’s driving her crazy is…somehow…more of an idiot.
That’s all right, ’cause I still got pooper-guy and I’m still laughing about it.
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
He was walking.
And carrying a heavy backpack.
I pulled up behind him, gave him a little blast of my horn. When I climbed out, I asked, “Where are you headed?”
He stopped walking and stared at me, a chuckle rumbling deep in his throat. “Well…Texas.”
Didn’t surprise me. I’ve had all kinds hitchhikers going all kinds of distances. Cross county, cross state, across the country.
He wore dirty jeans, a couple of shirts, a coat. And a ballcap of the U.S. Navy ship on which he had served.
“A Navy veteran,” I said.
“Must not have been a navigator.”
He stared at me, brows furrowed. “What?”
I pointed east. “That’s where you were going.”
Then I pointed south. “Texas.”
He pointed, southward, at the empty farm field. “No road.”
I shrugged. “Okay, fair enough. Tell you what, I can’t take you to Texas, but maybe I can get you a little closer.”
He stared at me. “Yeah?”
“A big ‘ol truck stop…and an Interstate headed south.”
He looked doubtful. “Well, I know the best rides are on the big roads, but so are the crazies. Feel safer on smaller roads.”
Seemed like, to me, hitchhikers weren’t particularly safe on any road, but I didn’t want to dim his spirit of adventure.
So he looked east, then back west, then at me, and nodded.
“Okay,” I said.
I took a step toward him to do a pat-down (I don’t let random people off the road in my car…behind me…without checking for weapons or drugs or old pizza or whatever, just how I do things).
He held up one arm and told me to go ahead.
“Do your best,” he said, laughing.
The arm he didn’t raise? Yeah, ’cause it wasn’t there.
Sort of felt like I was in ‘The Fugitive.’
So I did what I could, we piled in the car, and headed out.
“Where are you walking from?”
“Iowa City. Left yesterday.”
I whistled. For a fairly frail, one-armed, limping guy that was impressive.
“And what’s in Texas?”
“My son. He’s got cancer. I want to see him before he dies.”
So we talked for a while about cancer. I shared my experiences and he shared some of his own. He’d had cancer, too, when he was younger.
And by younger, I mean years ago.
“How old’s your son?”
“Which makes you?”
He laughed. “I’m just about 80.”
I nearly pissed myself.
Obviously, I’d known he was old. Hell, his cap didn’t just list a naval ship, it said ‘Korea.’
That was a clue.
And we talked about how he’d gotten caught at Chosin Reservoir. Google that, it was a hairy nightmare where nearly every American soldier died.
Dude was getting stronger every moment I talked to him, one-armed limping or not. Still, he was 80 and hitchhiking along the highways to get to a dying son.
And I started to get concerned. I had no plan other than moving him a bit further down the asphalt. There was, in fact, damn near nothing else I could do even if I had a better plan.
All I could do was hope he made it to Texas in one piece.
He won’t. Mankind simply isn’t built that way. The times he’s in a cop car, and most of the times he’s in a big truck, he’ll be fine.
But when he’s walking down the highway, through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, someone will find him. Someone will realize he’s an old man with one arm.
Someone will victimize him. And maybe they’ll just rob him, knock him around a little, and be done.
But because I’m not only a not ‘glass half full’ guy, or even a ‘glass half empty’ guy, but actually a glass is smashed and someone’s going to use the shards to open up some third party’s jugular, I think what’s going to happen to my Korean War vet is going to be nothing but ugly.
Hell, he might already be dead.
Except there’s some little part of me…some tiny, little, microscopic shred of me that thinks that old dude might actually already be sitting at his son’s bedside.
He might be holding his son’s hand, whispering to him about family vacations when everyone was younger; about school pageants when his son forgot his lines; about the prom when his son embarrassed himself trying to pin a corsage to his date’s chest without grabbing her.
‘Cause if anyone can get on down the highway and not take any shit from anyone, it’ll be that tough old bird.
Would that I could be half as tough as that frail, old, one-armed limping vet.