Tonight I locked up a woman on a domestic violence charge. The husband called about 2100 hrs, reporting that he'd been hit by his wife. When I rolled up, he was standing on the sidewalk outside their nice townhouse in his pajamas. When the beam of my flashlight hit him, I saw that he had a nice shiner under his eye, and a couple of fresh-looking scratches above it. He said that he and his wife had gotten into an argument after getting a little drunk, and that she had popped him one, before locking him out of the house.
She wouldn't come to the door, but the place was unlocked, so I and my backup went inside. The husband (I'll call him "Dick") had told us there weren't any guns in the house, but that she had kitchen knives and "a big flashlight like yours, and she's capable of anything." Well, I don't care how big someone's flashlight is, I won't be deterred. That's just the kind of intrepid public servant I am.
We announced ourselves at the bottom of the stairs. No one answered, but I could hear faint murmuring coming from upstairs, where Dick had told us their 18-month-old baby was sleeping. I knew the layout already, because these people lived in the same neighborhood as Jack S. and Jill
, and had the exact same floor plan (the "Marital Discord" model). When I got to the top of the stairs, fingers curled around the grip of my Glock, I edged around the doorjamb, and saw a ghostly hand reaching out of the dark room beyond. The wife (I'll call her "Jane") came out of the room, scolding me to switch off the flashlight lest it wake the baby (she slept through the assault and battery, so I figured she'd be all right.)
Dick had made a point of warning us that Jane was going to lie to us about what happened "She's good," he said. "The best." In the event, Jane wasn't much of a liar (she wasn't even as good a liar as Dick, I would say). She answered many of our questions by refusing to answer. However, she did have a scrape on her back from where she said Dick pushed her into a shelf, and a splinted finger, the cause of which she was evasive about.
Now, the law in Southern State says that in any situation of domestic violence where there are visible injuries, police have a "duty to arrest". This involves identifying what the law calls the "primary aggressor", which can be either of the parties but not both.
In my interview with Dick, he had said that all he wanted was to get some clothes and crash someplace else for the night. His injuries, however, meant that wasn't possible. The duty to arrest means you must arrest, regardless of the feelings of the victim (which are typically unstable and tend to change from one part of the incident to another). Jane, while half-heartedly giving her half-story, blurted out that if I had to arrest her, then that was just how it would have to be (this is a sign of what people who charge by the hour call mens rea
What I had, then, were two people with visible injuries, both of whom claimed the other had been the primary aggressor, and neither of whom I trusted any further than I could throw my trusty late-model Crown Victoria. I talked it over with my buddy, and we agreed that the whole thing stank, that they were full of it, that Dick's injuries were slightly more serious, and that Jane's behavior upon our arrival was a little fishy. By such ways is justice made.
When we announced our intention, of course, Jane, who had moments before been willing to take one for the team, began bawling, "You're arresting ME? You CAN'T! It's not FAIR!" Dick declared that if someone had to be arrested, we should take him. Sorry, folks. No substitutions.
Jane was barefoot and wearing pajamas, so I, not wanting to seem like a complete ogre, suggested that she get some shoes (I know I wouldn't want to walk around the SCPD prisoner processing area in bare feet).
You know, I really should give some thought to being a complete ogre. As soon as Jane walked into her spacious walk-in closet, the trouble started. She asked if she could change clothes, on the grounds (I swear) that "I can't go to jail like THIS!" I denied this request, and told her to just grab something to put on her feet. (Yes, as a matter of fact the Officer IS a single guy. Why do you ask?) She began studying her multi-tier rack of footwear intently, before finally asking me if she should go with the white sandals or the red sandals. If the E! network ever develops a cop show, it will be something like this, I imagine.
I told her to get the white ones (she later told me that they were a bad choice and she should have gone with her wedges. It was, naturally, entirely my fault) and get moving. She did, but then paused at the bathroom mirror and began brushing her hair. I pointedly suggested that I was prepared if necessary to put her in an armlock and handcuff her in front of her vanity mirror, and she relented, but not before fussing over whether she needed to grab her purse (to tip the washroom attendants at the Southern City Municipal Holding Facility, I presume).
Before starting down the stairs, she turned and pleaded for a chance to kiss her baby daughter before she left. This one I agreed to, both because it seemed a small kindness, and because I didn't want to listen to her whine about it all the way to the station. I told her to make it quick.
As she rode in the cage, she asked me rhetorically if I thought I had done the right thing by arresting her. While this was little more than a bush-league guilt-trip ploy on her part, it is
an interesting question. And I frankly don't know. I did the rightest thing I could, under the circumstances, with good intentions, and the knowledge I had at the time. But was it the right call? Did I really get the right primary aggressor? Who knows?
One thing I do know: Dick is not going to prosecute this thing. They both separately mused about filing for divorce, but I doubt they will. He'll come to court and drop the whole thing, she might get some half-assed anger management course, and they will resume bad housekeeping. And they'll raise their little baby daughter to be a victim, an abuser, or a little of both. And somewhere there's a kid playing Little League who will answer the radio call to her house. And so on.
There's an old saying that says it's not hard to do the right thing - it's hard to know what the right thing is. I would add a corollary: sometimes there is
no right thing.