Monday, December 31, 2007

Worst Christmas Ever

The day after Christmas, a 45 year old man decided to plan a surprise visit to his mother. The man loaded up his wife and four kids and drove into town from California. His 77 year old mother had no idea he was coming and would surely be surprised to see her son and grand kids.

After the long drive, he walked up the driveway to mom's house and knocked on the front door. The anticipation of the surprise was building and he couldn't wait to see the look on her face. After his unanswered knocks the family walked around to the backyard of the house to try the rear door. His wife looked in the large window and saw the sitting in a chair bent forward with her head on her knees. She wasn't moving.

"Kids -get back in the car: Now!"

The man and his wife went inside to find her dead in her sitting chair. She was wearing only a pair of underwear. Lividity (settling of blood near the skin) had set in making her face, hands, and feet a dark bluish color.

Nobody likes to see a dead body close up but imagine the shock of finding your mother this way.
Obviously, the family was terribly upset and distraught over their holiday 'surprise'.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Officer Scrooge

Awhile back I drove into the parking lot of a Sprout's grocery store for my usual restroom break and snack purchase. As I walked up to the front doors I saw a small SUV parked in the handicap space.

I looked for a disabled parking placard on the dashboard and on the rear view mirror but did not see one. The vehicle was running and I could see an adult sitting in the rear seat. I opened the rear door to ask the woman if she had a disabled parking placard. The woman stared at me blankly and did not answer due to her inability to comprehend or speak English. A 6 year old girl was in a car seat next to the woman so I asked her if she understand me. The girl did not answer and looked away.

I wrote a citation for parking in the handicap parking space and was about to place it on the driver's door when a woman walked out of the store carrying a few bags of groceries.
"What are you doing?", she asked me.
"Writing a citation for parking in a disabled parking space without a permit."
"But my daughter is autistic."
"Do you have a disabled parking permit?"
"No, but I only went in for a few minutes to get some thing for my daughter."
"I'm sorry, but you need to have a permit to park in this space. Here's your citation."

Fast forward a few months to a downtown courtroom where the driver has requested a trial to challenge the citation.

We are sworn in and I sit at the plaintiff table while the woman and another woman she has brought as a witness sit at the defense table. The judge asks to present my case first:

"Your honor, on the date and location listed in the complaint I saw a Honda CRV parked in a clearly marked disabled parking space without the required disability permit placard. I contacted an adult passenger in the car and asked her about the permit but she did not speak English. A child seated in the backseat also did not respond to my question. As I completed the citation, the vehicle owner came out of the store and told me her daughter was autistic. The child remained in the car the entire time the driver was shopping. I issued her a parking violation citation."

The judge then turned to the woman and asked, "Do you have any questions for the officer?" She nodded and began her brutal cross-examination:

"Officer, did you see the 'I love an autistic child bumper' sticker on my car?"
"Was my child screaming or acting erratic in any way?"
"Did you see an open handicap parking spot next to where I parked?"
-"Not that I remember."
"If I brought my daughter into the store, wouldn't you agree it would be difficult and strenuous?"
-"I'm not familiar with your daughter's behavior and could not predict how she would have acted."
"No more questions."

She then told her side of the story:
"My daughter is autistic and needs a special diet of goat's milk, goat yogurt, and goat cheese. She's a flight risk so I always need to have a adult with her. I parked in the handicap space because if she got out of control I need to be able to see her from inside the store. There weren't any other close places to park and I was only shopping for few minutes."
She showed the judge a temporary disable parking permit she obtained after being cited. She then told the judge through an outburst of tears she didn't apply for the permit earlier because she hoped the girl would get better on her own.

Her witness was the child's behavior specialist and testified the girl was difficult to handle so her mother needed to park close to the door in order to get her into and out of the car safely.

The judge was moved by the emotional plea but knew he had no choice but to find her responsible. Trying to make me the bad guy he stated, "Well, you did commit the violation and I'm required to impose a minimum fine of $250. I have to find you responsible, UNLESS, the officer wishes not to proceed."

And there it was. He called me out. The judge, defendant, and courtroom filled with citizens and officers all looking at me with anticipation of my response.

A woman crying about her poor sick daughter being victimized by the mean old police officer. I don't think she is a bad person and I feel for her situation but I didn't agree with the way she handled this. She never took responsibility or apologized for her action. She used her daughter as an excuse and pleaded for sympathy and pity. I thought of the people with actual physical disabilities that need to park in the designated spaces and how many times they've thanked me when they saw me issuing these tickets.

"Officer, do you wish to proceed with this matter?", the judge asked in a way that suggested I drop the case.

"Your honor, the defendant intentionally parked in a disabled parking space without a permit. I feel for her situation but her daughter never left the car while it was parked there. The defendant's own witness testified the reason for parking close is to control the girl while getting in or out of the car. Since the child remained in the car, there was no reason to park in that space. I don't believe the defendant has a reasonable excuse to park there and believe the citation is justified."

The judge found her responsible and ordered her to pay the fine. This was the first time a guilty verdict did not inspire a feeling of elation in me. This close to Christmas, I wondered if I should have just let her off the hook and dropped the case but something inside me wanted her to be accountable.

A word of advice to those of you caught in a minor offense: Take responsibility for your action, show regret, and don't make up excuses. You'll almost always get off with a warning.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When I'm 63

A common call I handle is from Taxi cab drivers with passengers that refuse to pay for the ride. Usually, these minor disputes are handled quickly when police arrive. Many times, drunk passengers don't have enough (or any) money to pay for the ride but can usually find a friend or relative to cover the shortfall.

The other night I took one such call. 'Mohammed' the cab driver picked up an senior citizen from a bustling restaurant and drove her about 8 miles to her home. The woman wanted cigarettes and cash so asked him to stop at a convenience store. The first store didn't have an ATM so they made 2 more stops before arriving home.

The driver quoted a fee of $20 and the woman was outraged. She stormed off into her house and shut the door without paying.

When I arrived, the cab driver told me the story. I then walked up to her door and knocked. The woman answered the door with a phone to her ear. She was on the line with the Taxi company complaining about being overcharged. She hung up the phone and launched into rambling complaint about cab fares. I say 'rambling' because her story was excessively long, contained numerous irrelevant observations, and repeated the phrase, "I'm a 63 year old woman" at least 80 times.

I felt great relief when she stopped talking: For a perceived end to the lecture and for the lack of a nearby open flame that surely would have ignited an inferno from the alcoholic content of her breath.

I tried to explain to her that refusing to pay for the ride she received was theft. She would hear none of it. Trying to reason with the heavily intoxicated is never pleasant. They don't hear a word you say and are incapable of accepting criticism or responsibility.

I was able to get these facts from her:
She was at a company party and had $15 in her purse when she called the taxi.
She is a 63 year old woman.
She asked him to stop at a few places to get cash but none of the ATM's were working.
She takes a taxi to work every day and is used to being charged about $13 to $15.
She is a 63 year old woman.
She claimed the driver wanted $25 but she only paid him what she felt was fair: $15.
She was kidnapped by the driver, feared for her life, and was traumatized.
She does not drink alcohol and I could even call her friends and ask them if I don't believe it.
She is a 63 year old woman.

She then offered the following solution: "You get the taxi driver's supervisor here and if he can justify the fare of $25; I'll pay it."

I asked the driver to call his supervisor who advised he'd be there in 20 minutes.

While waiting for the supervisor, I asked to woman to look in her purse to verify how much money she had. She pulled out $15. Since she told me earlier she only had $15 to start with and didn't get any cash at the 3 stops, it seemed apparent she didn't pay the driver anything. My attempt of explaining grade school math (you can't have $15, use that $15 as payment, and still have $15 left over) were in vain. She angrily refuted, "All I know is that I paid him $15."

Then she complained I didn't take her kidnapping accusation seriously. After confirming she was "traumatized" and "in fear of her life", I asked why she didn't call 911 to report the violent felony. "Because I needed the phone to call the cab company and didn't have time to call police!"

The driver's supervisor arrived but all hope of a mutual agreement was lost when I listened to the following exchange:
"Ma'am, did you look at the fare meter when the ride was over?", he asked.
"He didn't even use a meter."
"Yes he did. The meter is installed in plain view and is still running."
"Well, I'm a 63 year old woman!"
"O.K., but the driver charges the fare displayed in the meter. Since you asked him to make three stops, the meter continued to run."
"I know my rights and as a legal citizen will not pay."

I could see this going nowhere so I gave her a final ultimatum: Pay the driver for the service he provided, or be cited for theft.

"Listen to me, young man! I could be your grandmother.", She announced.
"No, my grandmother would never act this way.", I replied.
After a brief pause, I asked, "Are you going to pay for the ride or not."

"NO!" She shook her fist a few inches in front of my face while holding a pen. Fearing an accidental or intentional eye puncture, I gently grasped her wrist and moved her arm away from me. She demanded my name, badge number and police report number. "I'd be happy to provide that info, I just need to get it out of my car and will be with you in a minute."

I returned a few minutes later with a citation written out for theft of services.
"My name and badge number are on the bottom of the ticket", I explained.
"The police report number is on the top, and your scheduled court date is listed below. You are being charged with one count of theft of services, a class 3 misdemeanor", I continued.
"Now will you please sign the bottom of the ticket? It's not an admission of guilt but a promise to appear for your court date?", I finished.
"But I'm a 63 year old woman: I won't sign it."
"All right." I wrote 'served' on the citation and gave her the appropriate copies. "Don't forget to attend your court hearing or a warrant will be issued for your arrest."

I sensed an impending tongue-lashing and made my exit just as a new volley of nonsense erupted from her mouth. "You can provide all that information to the judge. Good night.", I said and quickly escaped to my patrol car.

The woman called my police station for the next several hours and tried to complain to every Sergeant available. Each one of them was stuck on the phone for an eternity listening to the same babbling nonsense I experienced.

As I left the station at 2:30 a.m., I could hear a Sergeant on the phone saying, "I know you're a 63 year old woman, you've told me that several times -now what is your complaint about the officer?"

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I've seen better taze

When a cook at a country club was fired, he decided he wasn't leaving. The head chef explained his employment was terminated but the stubborn cook kept saying, "I'm not leaving -I'm going to work today." The chef called police and I arrived a few minutes later along with a female officer on my squad.

We walked into the kitchen and saw a young man wearing a chef's coat standing in a narrow aisle of stainless steel tables and a wall of industrial sized ovens. In his had was a large butcher knife and a few other long knives. I told him it was time to leave but asked him to first set his knives down on the table (we officers don't make it a habit of walking next to disgruntled ex-employees with deadly weapons in their hand.) The cook signalled his refusal by shaking his head.

I commanded in a louder and more stern voice to set the knives down on the table. Again, he refused. My third attempt to get him to comply was done with two tasers pointed at his chest. The cook looked down at the two red laser dots on his chest beaming from my partner and my tasers.

"OK", he snapped angrily and tossed his knives on the table.

We holstered our Tasers and I told him, "Now step away from the table and we'll all walk out of her together.


"Yes, it's time for you to leave."

Since the knives were within his reach my partner stepped forward and positioned herself between him and the knives.

I stepped forward to make sure he was going to leave peacefully.

He responded by slapping and pushing my hands away from him. His active aggression and non-compliance dictated a swift response. My partner and I attempted to grab onto him and he started flailing his arms and trying to shove us aside. I could feel the heat emanating from the large ovens next to me and didn't want anyone to get burned so we took him down to the rubber mat covering the floor.

He tried to break free from us and kept yelling, "NO! Get away!". We repeated told him to stop resisting and to put his hands behind his back. He refused to put his hands behind his back and kicked me and my partner in the legs. I took out my Taser, removed the cartridge containing the metal barbs and applied the contacts to his hip. "Stop fighting or I'm going to Tase you!", I commanded. "NO!", he refused.

Usually, a "full ride" of 5 seconds is applied from the Taser but I tried my best to get him to stop resisting and only gave him a 2-second charge. "OKAY!" he shouted and started to put his hands behind his back. He then got up attempting to shake me and my partner off of him. She fell backwards and he started to charge down the aisle but I was able to coax him back to the ground with a longer charge of the Taser applied to the Trapezoid muscle on top of his shoulder. This was enough to convince him it was time to stop fighting.

We lead him out of the kitchen and into the back of a patrol car. He escalated his misdemeanor trespassing charge into 1 count of resisting arrest and 2 counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer.

Later, an employee mentioned to us he was ex-military and said after being fired, "I have M-16 training and you'll be sorry." I think he'll be the sorry one after learning the consequences of fighting the police.