HEAD TRAUMA

“… Only a fool here would think he’s got anything to prove…
Lotta water under the bridge… lotta other stuff too.
Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m only passing through.
People are crazy and times are strange…
I’m locked in tight, I’m outta range…
I used to care but…
Things have changed.”

(Bob Dylan - THINGS HAVE CHANGED)


26 September 2004
Charlie Shift (4X12)
Approximately 0241 Hours
Home

I almost killed a man tonight.

As quickly as you will read that first sentence, I almost extinguished a life. And not a vicious man, either. Just a guy who messed up. This was not a man that had tried to shoot me, or anyone else for that matter. This was a man without weapons. This was a man without violence in his heart. This was a man without any means to defend himself. This was a man who was in fact handcuffed, with his hands behind his back. Defenseless as a child. And I almost killed him.

Not intentionally, of course. In fact, there was no malice in my actions whatsoever. What happened was not the result of anger or aggression on my part, nor was it the result of force used. It was not the result of lost temper nor was it the result of ego. I did not intend for it to happen. It was an accident.

On 25 September 2004, I was working Four Charlie Twenty-Two car in the Northeast District. I was still counting down my days until the silly ninety-day detail would end…and as I headed out for another 4X12 shift, I made a mental note:

“Sixty-five days and counting.”

At approximately 1720 hours, KGA advised of a Hit and Run accident at the intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard and Windemere Avenue. Although this location was deep inside Sector One, I answered the radio and offered to back the unit responding for the incident. I did so honestly because I thought Windemere Avenue was in Sector Two. This would turn out to be twist of fate number one.

At the time, I was at the intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard and East Coldspring Lane, with my car facing east on Coldspring. For some reason, I made a U-turn and headed west on Coldspring Lane and made a right turn onto The Alameda. I was now heading north on a parallel street to the one on which the accident had occurred. The accident was actually several blocks south on Loch Raven. I took The Alameda almost all the way to the county line before I realized that I wasn’t even on Loch Raven. I quickly headed east on one of the intersecting streets, and started south on Loch Raven. I made it all the way to Argonne Drive, which was the border between Sectors One and Two, and turned around again…thinking that the accident must have been on the north bound side of Loch Raven. By the time I got to the county line again, I figured the accident must have been in Sector One. Ten minutes wasted going back and forth.

As I sped back down Loch Raven, the unit handling the accident, Four Charlie Fifteen, had begun broadcasting a description of the vehicle he was looking for. He stated that a Chevrolet pick-up truck, red in color, with a Maryland tag of 95N-727 had struck a parked car and fled the scene. He said something else that I didn’t quite catch about three wheels, and asked KGA if I had any luck locating the vehicle. I wasn’t even in Sector One yet…so I stalled. “No I haven’t located any vehicle matching that description yet. Where did you say you last saw the vehicle? “

“On Kimble.”

Kimble? Where the fuck was Kimble?

I kept going south figuring I had to cross Windemere eventually. I did. I saw the lights of Fifteen’s patrol car and slowed as I neared the scene. Both his and the victim’s vehicles were facing north. I saw that Fifteen was a new guy named Fitzpatrick.

“Where is Kimble?” I asked.

“That way.”

He was pointing northwest. Then he did something that caught me off guard. He pointed to the ground near the victim’s car. There was a long scar on the roadway heading north and across the street onto Kimble Avenue.

“The guy lost his wheel. He’s gotta be around here somewhere. He’s only driving on three wheels”

That was what he had said about three wheels. I made another U-turn and began following the trail. It was about five inches wide and white…not like paint…more like a scar. It looked as if someone had dug a trench into the road as they drove. In fact, that is exactly what had happened.

The trail wound west on Kimble for almost twenty blocks, then north on another street, then east onto Chesnuthill Road. I almost lost the trail at this point. In fact, I thought it had stopped right there in the middle of Chesnuthill Road. I asked for the tag number again and started canvassing for the truck. I notified KGA that I had the trail and would probably find the truck soon. When I figured that the trail must have turned somewhere, I backtracked and picked it up again. This thing was so obvious, a blind man could follow it. I really don’t know how I missed the turn it made. It went north through an alley, then west through another alley, then across Rexmere Avenue and into the rear alley of the 3900 block of Rexmere. This guy had gone a long way on what I would find out was only three tires.

I cut left into the alley and followed the trail directly to the rear yard of 3930 Rexmere Avenue, although I didn’t know where the fuck I was yet. I didn’t even know what street I was on. There I found a Chevrolet pick-up truck, red in color. It had no tag on the rear bumper and the right side of the front windshield had been shattered from the inside. It had that spider-web effect that had obviously been caused by someone’s head colliding with it.

There was a man standing beside the truck, on the driver’s side. He was wearing overalls and a white New York Yankees baseball cap. He had a garden hose and was spraying down the parking pad near the truck. There was also a woman standing near the right rear bumper. They froze when the saw me pull up. I got out of my car and walked to the rear of the truck. As I did, I observed that the rear door to the row home was open. Inside looked vacant and under construction. There were three small brick steps leading up to the door. They were crumbling and in need of repair. This would turn out to be twist of fate number two.

“What street is this?” I asked.

Garden Hose Guy didn’t look at me. “Rexmere” was all he said.

At least I knew where I was now.

“What’s the address here?” I asked them both.

“Thirty-nine thirty,” Garden Hose Guy replied.

“Where’s the tag?” I asked the man.

By now, I was convinced that Garden Hose Guy was the driver, however, he had no visible injuries.

He said nothing. He simply dropped the hose and reached into the cab of the truck through the open driver’s side window. He pulled out a rear Maryland tag of 95N-727.

I keyed my mic quick. “Send me a Ten-Sixteen. Thirty-nine thirty Rexmere. I’ve got the truck.” I took the man’s ID, but the woman had none. She gave me her name and address, but I had no way to verify its authenticity. I gave the tag number to KGA and asked for a listing. None came back. I began to question the two individuals. I asked where the driver of the truck was. Garden Hose Guy told me that the driver had left the truck there about half an hour ago and walked away. He told me that he was working on renovating the house for a friend. He told me that the driver had not gone into the house. The woman didn’t say much except that she didn’t know what was going on. They both told me that they didn’t know the driver personally. They both were lying.

I have to say that I honestly never thought that the driver was inside the house. Oh, I thought the possibility existed…but the place looked empty.

When my back-up arrived, I filled him in on the circumstances and told him that I thought the two individuals were lying. “They know who the driver is,” I told him.

I gave KGA the VIN on the truck. Then, I went into the house. I drew my weapon and moved right into the kitchen. The house was definitely not being lived in. There was construction material everywhere. Dust, boards, nails. I could feel the back-up officer behind me. He was a big hulk of a man. I didn’t know him personally, but I later learned his name was Officer Antwan. He was operating one of the transport wagons tonight. I moved towards the front of the house and looked to my left. And there he was. Lying on his right side on the steps leading to the second floor was a large black man. I paused for a moment. He looked like he was sleeping. As I approached him, I immediately saw a laceration on his left forehead area. This was my driver.

“KGA, notify Fifteen I’ve got the driver. The wagon’s already here. And send me an ambo. He’s got a laceration to the head.”

We rousted the driver from his slumber and tried to get him to stand up. As I stood over him, I could tell right away that he was heavily intoxicated. The guy was shitfaced. He could barely stand. His breath reeked of alcohol. It had that sour/stale smell that comes from hours of heavy drinking. The kind of smell you can only get from hard liquor. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, work boots and had a hat that was lying on the stairs. It was one of those Panama Jack hats. There was blood on it. There was also a piece of mail on the steps with a female’s name on. it. I suspected that this might be the woman who was outside, but the names were different. With our guns drawn, we directed the man to kneel on the floor in front of us. He had a lot of difficulty with this task as every time he went to kneel, he almost fell over.

“Put your hands on top of your head…your hands on top of your head.” I had to repeat it in order for the driver to understand. He complied.

Once he managed to kneel, I cuffed him quickly and helped him stand. He was a big man, only about five foot eight inches tall, but at least two hundred pounds. I led him outside to the back steps where Garden Hose Guy and the woman were now seated. I helped the driver to sit on the crumbling steps by maneuvering his body to a place on the steps that was relatively flat and unbroken. He was dazed.

I told the female to walk with me to the back of the truck. I informed her that I knew that she knew who this man was, and that I was going to give her one chance to tell me who she was. Was she the woman whose name was on the piece of mail? She said no. She began to talk about having her ID in the car which was out in front of the house.

“Officer, I can get my ID for you. I swear I’m…”

Officer Antwan looked at me from the steps.

“Are you taking this guy for lying to you?”

He was referring to Garden Hose Guy. I thought about it for a minute.

“Yeah, take him.”

Antwan cuffed the man.

I looked at the female again. “I’m gonna give you one more chance to tell me what’s going on, then I’m gonna take you to jail.”

She froze. I made up my mind. Both of them knew who this guy was and that he was inside that house.

“He could have had a gun lady. He could have shot me, and you knew he was in there. Put your hands behind your back.”

I was surprised at how quickly she complied. I cuffed her and walked her back to the steps. Now I had three arrests. I went from one arrest to three in less than a minute.

Just then, the driver started wincing. He asked me to loosen the handcuffs because they were hurting his wrists. As a rule, I don’t generally loosen handcuffs. They are not designed for comfort. But for some reason…I gave in. This would be twist of fate number three.

I walked over to the driver and helped him stand. I had both hands on his left forearm. Garden Hose Guy and the female were seated to our left. Officer Antwan had gone back to the wagon, which was parked halfway down the alley, to retrieve toe tags for the prisoners. I could not see him, nor him me. I was on my own. As he stood up, the driver finally noticed that I had handcuffed the female. He became enraged. He looked at me and began shouting:

“Let her go! She ain’t do nothing.” The words came spilling out covered in alcohol fumes and saliva.

I told the driver to calm down, but this only upset him more. The driver then shifted his body and started to shove his chest against mine. Now, I know what you are thinking…so he shoved you? Big deal. But remember, this guy was at least two hundred pounds to my one hundred sixty…and he was drunk. The weight of his body forced me back a few steps. I was now off balance. One more shove and I was going over. After that, who knows what this guy would try?

“Sir, sit back down.”

“No. Fuck that. Let her go.”

He shoved again.

“Sit down!”

At this exact point, I almost killed this man.

While still holding the driver’s left forearm, I opened my stance by sliding my right leg back a foot or so. This is a move I have practiced many times in the Academy and at In Service Training. It is called “opening the door,” and for me, it is locked into my muscle memory. Once I had “the door open,” which simply means that you open up your body to allow space on the ground for a suspect or attacker to be placed, I thrust the driver straight down into what I saw as a large, flat, open, debris-free area on the concrete parking pad. That area was clear, and the driver landed hard on his ass. It was what was to my immediate right that would almost take this man from all he knew and loved.

As his ass hit the ground - and this all happened in an instantaneous flash – I went with him, dropping to my knees. His back struck the concrete, arched, and his head landed squarely on a large pile of discarded bricks. Contact was made between the top left back portion of his head and the jagged corner edge of a broken brick. There could not have been a more perfect location for this man to land in order to kill him. As long as I live, I will never forget the sound it made. It was as if someone had taken the claw end of a hammer and slammed it into a watermelon.

THUNNNNK!

Several factors played a part in this: the fact that the driver was extremely drunk and off balance, his body weight, and the fact that when your hands are cuffed behind your back, and you fall suddenly, your body will automatically fall backward. It’s called gravity and momentum. Oh yeah…and then there were the bricks.

I stood up quickly and looked down at the driver. I heard vague screams coming from my left, but my brain was not processing this information fast enough yet. I looked hard into the driver’s eyes. Just then, they glossed over. I have seen that look. It’s the look a person gets when Death is near. I have seen only one other person take their last breath as they looked into my eyes, my mother, but believe me when I tell you, this guy was dying right fucking there in front of me. And it was my fault. Ladies and Gentlemen…make no mistake about it…Death was in that alley at that exact moment.

The driver became very calm. He seemed almost peaceful. This was not a good sign at all. And I swear on my life, he looked directly at me and whispered, as a single tear slid down his left cheek:

“Officer…why are you trying to hurt me?”

His words came out in a sad, tragic whimper, and I knew… I knew, that those eight words would be this man’s last. At that exact moment, I had only one thought in my mind: “I just killed this guy.”

I have never, never been so totally consumed with terror in my entire life. I had just killed a defenseless human being. A man whose only crime was drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident. An accident, I might add, in which not one single person – save for the driver himself - had been injured. He hit a parked car for Christ’s sake! And I just fucking murdered him!

Blood was trickling down the pile of bricks as the driver lay dying. I could see his life fading away as the blood oozed thicker. I was frozen. Petrified. I almost lost it right there and started sobbing. I could see my whole career, my whole life, over. Later, I would start to think about jail and manslaughter charges, but for now, all I could focus on was this man’s imminent death at my hands.

All of what you have just read – from my forcing the driver to the ground to his agonizing, whimpered last words - occurred within the span of about two seconds. But for me…it was an eternity.

The screams were coming faster and louder now. My brain was catching up. I was back in real time. I knelt down and pulled the driver’s torso forward, sitting him upright. I grabbed my radio mic and called desperately for KGA to send help.

“KGA, get me an ambo here NOW! I need a Supervisor here. We need an ambo.”

“They are on the way Twenty-two.” The dispatcher sounded irritated.

I knew I had already requested an ambulance, but that was before. Before I killed a man.

I have never sounded so desperate on the radio as I did then. I still thought the driver was dead, when just as quickly as his eyes had glossed over, they suddenly cleared. He was still drunk and was now clearly groggy…but he was back. This is not to say that he actually died and came back. It just seemed that way. He never actually lost consciousness. He just faded a bit, kind of like the hot water in your shower when your wife flushes the toilet.

Garden Hose Guy and the woman were screaming. He more so than she.

“You mother-fucker! Help us! HELP US! This mother-fucker’s trying to kill my friend.”

And I had the strangest thought just then: “Well, at least now I can prove he knows this guy.”

The driver became more coherent and started raging as well. “You mother-fucker. You mother-fucker! Why you try to hurt me? Let her go! Let her GO!

He was actually still worried about her! Well, at least he wasn’t dead.

I knelt behind the driver and braced him against my left knee as I began assessing his injury. He had sustained an approximately one-inch long gash to the left upper portion of the head. There was blood running down his head, neck, and onto his T-shirt. A large stain was forming. I looked back at the bricks and saw for the first time just how close this man had come. The pile was about twelve inches high and contained broken pieces of concrete and bricks, culminating in that jagged piece which had penetrated the driver’s skull. There was a thick stream of dark red blood running down the pile, and I think I may have even seen some hair and skin on that jagged edge. I can’t be sure though; I looked away too fast and I couldn’t bring myself to look back.

If he had fallen directly from his feet onto that pile, there would be no question. Death would have been instantaneous. But the fact that he landed ass first seemed to have cushioned the blow. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. I had to make sure he was responsive.

“Sir…can you tell me your name? What is your name.”

He hesitated. Garden Hose Guy kept screaming. More threats and accusations that I had tried to kill his friend. Then the driver told me his name. Right then I started to think that he just might be okay.

He would be…eventually. After he sobered up and went to the hospital. But for those brief moments…and every time I think of it…I am convinced we almost lost him.

I almost killed a man tonight.

And I will never be the same again.

*************************************

The Supervisor showed up moments later. It was Sergeant Folks, Four Charlie Ten. He was even more irritated than the Dispatcher. Once I filled him in on what had occurred, all he had to say was:

“Look, next time you fuck some guy up, don’t call for a Supervisor. Just deal with it.”

Fuck some guy up? I almost fucking killed him!

I drove the driver to Good Samaritan Hospital personally. The medics were just taking too damn long, and frankly, I was worried he would slip away again. The Admitting Nurse was shocked at how much blood was on his shirt. He received six staples to his head. CT scans revealed no brain damage…thank God. We were there several hours. The driver was starting to sober up by this point and finally, finally the truth came to light. Apparently, the female whom I had arrested was this guy’s girlfriend. She had announced to him just this afternoon that she was pregnant with his child. Oh, and the guy was married. And not to her. We talked and talked. Him about his fucked up life; me about what I had done to him by accident. The driver finally looked me dead in the eye and said:

“I know you never meant to hurt me, Officer. It was all me. It was all my fault.”

The man was crying. I believe he meant it. For the next hour and a half, all the driver said was:

“It was me. It was me.”

It was like a mantra.

The hospital discharged the driver and I drove him directly to the Central Booking Intake Facility, or CBIF. Once we arrived at Central Booking, I found the female and Garden Hose Guy. I explained everything that had transpired while we were at the Hospital, and I pleaded with them to believe me when I told them that I never meant to hurt their friend. Garden Hose Guy believed me. The woman, I’m not so sure. Out of guilt for allowing their friend to hit the ground and almost die at my hand, I requested that the State’s Attorney inside CBIF drop the charges of hindering against Garden Hose Guy and the woman. They - along with the driver - seemed to appreciate this.

In the end, the driver was sentenced to sixty days incarceration for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. When I saw him in court about a month after the arrest, I approached him and asked how he was doing.

“I’m fine Officer. Don’t worry…it was all my fault. It was me.”

You know what buddy…it WAS you. But it very easily could have been me.