April 22 • 07:02 AM

Busy night under blue moon

Times columnist rides along with sheriff's deputies

January 06, 2010
Editor's note: The following is another in a series of columns by Doug Hunter as he rides along with deputies from the St. Clair County Sheriff Dept. The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication.

"Once in a blue moon'' is an old proverb meaning something odd or rare taking place. With New Year's Eve being a blue moon I figured this would be an excellent night to ride with the sheriff's dept.

I had no idea I would visit the darkest side of the human intellect. Occurrences that would prompt me to question our system of law and order and how it operates.

I was to ride with Deputy 256, a man of unquestionable loyalty and integrity, a deputy who commands a knowledge of the criminal mind like few others. Before coming on the road patrol Deputy 256 had spent 15 years as a corrections officer, 13 years in the St. Clair County Jail and two years in the Wayne County Jail. That experience gives him a wisdom of criminal behavior we could never match or perceive. What he knows can't be learned from a book, only first hand.

The briefing is short. Sgt. Jones says most of the previous shift is still on duty and the department is being overwhelmed. It is not yet 6:30 p.m. We hadn't left the parking lot when the radio blurts out "256 assist Memphis police on a domestic violence. State Police and Macomb County deputies also advised.'' This sets the tone for the night. All the different departments in the area will assist each other.

Heading west on I-69 the radio is never silent. Assaults, domestic violence, accidents, burglar alarms and motion detectors are crying out from homes and businesses all across the county and we're nine hours away from the deadly hour of 4 a.m. That's when the bars close and violence strikes, according to Sgt. Jones. That is two hours later than the bars normally close and as the Sgt. says, "Two extra hours of fuel before ignition!'' Entering Memphis the GPS tells the deputy to turn right onto Boardman.

A chill goes down my spine as I think back 40 years ago to my youth. Capac Police Chief William Lewis was killed in the line of duty responding to assist the Memphis Police Dept. He was an outstanding officer that I always respected and admired. The GPS says turn. Deputy 256 tries to make contact by radio with Memphis Police but is met with only silence.

Spotting the Memphis patrol car Deputy 256 accelerates and frantically tries to make contact over the radio. Was it the same location? Would history repeat itself? Deputy 256 wasn't even born then! There isn't time to warn him of the hideous past as he slams on the brakes and runs to the house. Strange sensations come over me as I race behind him. I do not know what lurks in the darkness or inside the dwelling but I will not let history repeat itself if I can assist this fine deputy.

Approaching the closed front door the radio barks out "Memphis police have suspect in custody.'' The door opens and the youngest police officer I had ever seen tells us to come in.

After appraising the situation and advising the young officer, Deputy 256 concurs the incident is under control and we leave the premises. Informing dispatch he closes by saying "256 clear.'' The response is quick "256 respond to (a club) in Goodells, stalker has struck again female victim waiting inside.''

The stalker as he was described in briefings is disturbed. This is the first time he has struck terror outside of Port Huron. He allegedly singles out females and after they park their vehicles and exit he breaks the windows out of their cars and leaves a large sign saying he is a woman and wanted to fight them for stealing her lover. He includes instructions where to meet. Always the same name and location, a bar in Port Huron Township.

Arriving at the Goodells location, Deputy 256 checks the parking lot to see if the person is still on the scene. Two females about 25-years-old exit the bar carrying a large poster with a message on it.

Word for word it matches the prior signs. The car's windows are again broken out, but this time, he had hit the body of the car with his vehicle leaving damage on the side.

The women say they had been there less than a half hour when they went to leave and found the damage. The suspect had apparently been lying in wait profiling his prey, targeting only women unaccompanied by a male. The victims are from western St. Clair County, our neighbors. This is not Detroit, New York, or Los Angeles. This is here.

Waiting for the victim's father to arrive the radio never stops. Domestic violence, assaults, a vacant house on fire and the scariest calls of all, 911 hangups.

A 911 hangup sometimes involves an incoming call concerning violence, the call is interrupted and a return call is unanswered. The victim is now at the mercy of the attacker. These calls get the highest priority and are usually rare but not tonight.

As the victim's father arrives the victim races from the bar and exclaims "The barmaid (in Port Huron Twp.) just called the bartender here. The suspect might be at (the Port Huron Twp. location) right now.'' In her hand is a napkin with a name and vehicle description written out by the bartender inside.

Leaving the bar the temperatures had dropped and the drizzle makes the road slippery. I say out loud to Deputy 256, "Where in the hell are the road commission salt trucks?'' His response is quick and concise, "Same problem we have, budget cuts.''

The mood of elation I had from the previous incident now turns to consternation as I look at the speedometer and we're at 35 miles per hour. The radio is still blurting out situations.

Reaching the location we circle the building. The vehicle is gone. As 256 parks the car to interview the barmaid the radio again breaks the silence. "256 assist 244 domestic violence.''

We're off again at 35 miles per hour. During the long ride from Goodells, Deputy 256 manages to secure the address of the woman's name on the written threat.

The radio calls out "256 assist with 244. Proceed to Port Huron. Assist Port Huron police. 911 hangup.''

Arriving, Port Huron police advise they now have the situation under control and thank 256. He advises dispatch that we're going to interview a female about the stalker. We arrive at the address and identify ourselves. The 40-year-old single woman opens the series of locked doors to allow us entry. She is living in terror.

She knows the man casually as an acquaintance and all this started after she rejected his advances about going on a date.

Port Huron police are involved, she says, but he is very elusive and confronts her almost daily no matter where she is, then disappears before help arrives.

The radio rings out "256, 911 hangup on Oakwood Drive. Proceed immediately.'' The deputy assures the frightened woman he will touch base with Port Huron police even if it means when he's off duty.

I know where Oakwood Drive is. An elderly aunt of mine lives there. The night is now getting personal.

The radio shoots out another command "256 felonious assault in progress with device on Lapeer and 11th.'' We are one block away. We do a 360 degree turn on 10th Street and go through the red light.

Someone is being assaulted with a gun, knife or a club. This is just as serious as a 911 hangup.

Pulling into the driveway two men stand. One is massive in size. He jumps in front of the patrol car. He is challenging the vehicle and everything it stands for. The man is huge and aggressive as he comes for Deputy 256 as he exits the patrol car.

With only one foot outside the car 256 yells out "Hold up *Gary! Remember me from jail? I treated you fair. Don't do something stupid now you will regret later. Calm down *Gary.'' The enraged man stops cold.

The aggression from his face disappears and he calms down. Another man is on the ground almost naked as his clothes are tattered and torn. A crowd had gathered around.

Two Port Huron police cruisers show up, then a third. The man tells Deputy 256 his friend had come across the man beating a woman with something a block away and they chased him and caught him. The third policeman runs down the street. He radios for an ambulance when he finds an unconscious woman lying on the sidewalk severely beaten and bleeding profusely.

From his past experience, Deputy 256 corrects a mistake that everyone has wrong. The huge man was the good guy, not the thug. He was using street justice.

Deputy 256 quickly turns over the situation to Port Huron police. Oakwood Drive is on his mind and mine. He advises dispatch. They reply all is well now at Oakwood.

"Proceed to a western township juveniles are partying out of control. Neighbors called," we're advised.

This call would test me to the very core foundation of my belief in the American judicial system.

Editor's note: *not his real name.

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