Behind closed doors
is a volatile task
October 21, 2009
Editor's note: The following is another in a series of columns written by Doug Hunter as he rides along with deputies from the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department. Hunter, a writer, historian and farmer is a lifelong resident of the Capac area. The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication.
The words 'Domestic Violence' send shivers down the back of every law enforcement person. When you enter the home of feuding family members to get control of a situation, any and all sides can and will turn on the officers.
Every time I go out with the deputies, at least one domestic violence incident comes up. One time five were called in at the same time.
Every incident is different. It isn't always a man assaulting his wife. It seems women are just as prone to violence when alcohol and drugs are involved. In all of the domestic violence calls I witness, drugs and alcohol are an igniting factor.
It's 2:30 a.m. and patrol car 240 had just fueled up in Capac at the truck stop in preparation for the end of the shift at 3 a.m.
The radio sounds "Domestic violence, respond 240 and 256."
An 11-year-old called 911. She tells the dispatcher that her father is beating her mother with a pistol in the bedroom behind a locked door and her mother is begging for her life.
Car 240 responds for the short run. 256 was nearer and comes racing in from the east.
The computer spouts out information on the subjects. There is a continuing problem at the address—as in many of the domestic violence cases. The prior month, the same situation occurred, only that time no gun was involved and the woman refused to sign a complaint against her husband. Again, this is typical, Deputy 240 tells me as the patrol car exceeds 110 mph on I-69.
Deputy 256 radios 240 and says he'll enter from the north and asks 240 to enter from the south to prevent the subject's escape. Dispatch keeps the terrified 11-year-old on the telephone, soothing and trying to comfort her in this moment of turmoil and distress.
The radio barks out "Lost contact with girl. Telephone is dead." Tension escalates as lights go off and we come to a stop. Looking at the clock, I note it took 12 long minutes to make the location.
The night is still. Clouds envelop the full moon and stars, only the shape of structures can be made out. Deputy 256 says "Last time I was here there was a yard light." Tonight there is total darkness.
The deputies form a quick plan and like nocturnal creatures enter the darkness, not knowing what awaits them. Straining my hearing and vision there is nothing but darkness and silence as they proceed with their approach on the unlit structure as silent as cats stalking their prey in the night.
Thoughts of the terror-filled 11-year-old and her mother keep revolving in my mind, then the question "as fast as we got here, was it fast enough? Are we too late?"
The heavy banging on the house and commanding voice saying "This is the Sheriff Department. Come out!" rings through the stillness of the night like a church bell. Silence.
Again the pounding and command. This time expletives and the challenge to "Come in and get me. I'm waiting for you." The voice is deep and slurred. The expletives continue, laced with threats directed at the deputies.
Coming back to where I wait the deputies plan out their final approach. They are as calm and collected as anyone would be while looking at a menu in a restaurant. This is courage and dedication in the raw. Not even once do they show any concern for themselves. They are going in.
I watch in awe and admiration as they turn to confront the perpetrator on his terms.
Just then the radio breaks the silence. "240 and 256 stand down. The victim and her daughter have escaped with the gun. They are at a neighbor's. She doesn't know if he has other weapons. Hold off. 256 go interview victim at location. 240 stand by."
With the safety of the victims no longer in the equation, command has rightfully determined that time will calm the situation and to retreat. They will apprehend the subject in late morning, after the effects of alcohol and drugs wear off.
A week later I ask of this incident and am told the woman wouldn't sign a complaint or testify against her husband. "She loves him and they are back together again," I'm told...
...Deputy 258 had just started his 6 o'clock shift, still pre-tripping the many systems of his cruiser when the radio blurts out "Domestic Violence. At least three subjects in front of house. 259 assist 258."
Looking at me, Deputy 258 says "Must be a full moon tonight. They're starting early."
The two cars arrive together. Neighbors meet them in front of the residence. A man identifying himself as the 911 caller says "the man is in the house." The wife and the man's stepdaughter are gone. The deputies quickly go to the door and knock. Out steps a bloodied man with clothes torn. He says repeatedly that there is no problem here.
"Do you need medical attention?" both deputies ask several times.
"No, I'm fine," is the response.
Leaving the embarrassed man the deputies talk to the neighbor and others. The story they're told is one of a hard-working man trying to make a go of his marriage but the twenty-something stepdaughter would show up and get her mother on vodka and pills. The man comes home from work, they start a fight with him over money and continue partying. Normally, the deputies are told, the fights remain indoors. This time, ringside was the front yard for all to see. The neighbors are upset as many young children had gathered to take advantage of the entertainment.
It's a busy night under the now visible full moon, the the action intensifies after the 2 o'clock hour when the bars close.
The call comes in at 2:30 a.m. The caller says a female neighbor is at her door, the victim of violence from her boyfriend and his mother. Both 258 and 259 respond to the address of the incident. Arriving, we find the alleged victim. She lay prone on her stomach under a tree which is decorated with her undergarments. They hang like ornaments on a Christmas tree. On higher branches are drawers of more clothing—even the laundry hamper rests in the tree.
Helping the 20 year-old girl from the ground, Deputy 258 immediately determines her physical condition to see if she needs medical attention. Deputy 259 knocks and enters the residence to get the boyfriend's side of the story.
Watching Deputy 258 interview the totally intoxicated and stoned girl under the tree of personal garments I fight back the urge to laugh. All that changes when Deputy 259 emerges from the house and says "there's a baby in here under a year old." He adds that the boyfriend (and father of the child) is in the same condition as the girl.
Hearing of her baby propels the girl from a sympathy-seeker to an enraged woman. Finally the truth is emerging, but what to do with the child? Both demand custody. Neither is fit or capable to attend to their own affairs right now.
The father suggests his mother. The girl calls the grandmother of the child words I had not ever heard. She becomes more and more obnoxious. Then she spots the undergarments and she's off into a rage that words can't describe.
Both deputies agree the best avenue is to get Grandma over here. Both admit she had watched the baby in the past and if she's fit, let her take the baby until these two are able to assume their rightful duties.
The grandmother is called and within minutes a fifty-ish woman shows. Embarrassed and oblivious to the taunts of the girl, she takes the baby with her. The man is ordered into the house. It is his home and he is instructed not to leave until he's sober or else he'll be arrested for child endangerment. The girl is taken to the neighbor's and told if she leaves before 10 a.m. she'll find herself in jail also. The neighbor is told to call 911 if she leaves the residence.
During this ordeal the radio continues to report another domestic violence incident.
Deputies 258 and 259 have more perseverance and patience than anyone I've ever met. How they keep cool and collected I will never know. All I know is sunrise never looks so good as I emerge from the patrol car. Closing the door, the radio blurts forth "258 and 259, need support." As I look at the tired deputy he says "Gotta go. Crime never takes a vacation."
No, it doesn't. But I'm glad a full moon only comes once every 28 days.
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