Crime & Punishment
Josh OlsenA guy was chasing a nurse. So I sent him to the hospital.
About midnight on January 9th, a young woman came running through the door of the store where I work. She was frantic, uttterly distraught. She said that a man was following her, and I had her get behind me where she would be out of sight of the door and I would have space to interpose myself should it come to that.
Immediately a young man burst into the store, raving that she was a bitch ruining his life and that if she called the police it would tear apart his family. If he went to jail it would destroy his life. He was going to get her, going to teach her a lesson. I yelled at the man to leave the premises and already I was dialing 911, steeling myself for a physical confrontation. It stopped him from moving on the woman, but the mouth kept going, the abuse, the threats. The woman burst into tears, shrinking from him in terror. Though he ignored me, I knew he was aware that I was calling for the police. He backed away and out the door, walking to the center of the lot. I stood at the door, giving the 911 dispatcher his description and the direction he was heading.
Always talking, ratcheting up the toxic rhetoric, he had goaded himself into a greater burning rage. Then he circled back, coming directly toward me, his obvious intention to wreak harm regardless of consequences.
I dosed him full in the eyes with pepper spray and he dropped to his knees, crying like a babe, help me help me, but still trying to crawl back into the store to get to the woman. The dispatcher asked me if the situation was escalating and I said yes yes yes. Even as I grabbed him by his hoodie and half-tossed him, half-rolled him into the parking lot, I could see the squad cars turn the corner Police officers arrived, laid him out on the sidewalk, cuffed him, threw water in his face.
A domestic dispute gone horribly wrong, no. The man had never met the woman before. She was an unlucky random target.
The man had been in the store twice previously that night. The first time he had come in the company of a woman whom I recognized as a semi-regular. She bought a six-pack of what the industry calls thrift beer, cheap stuff with a slightly higher alcohol content, not for the discriminating palate. He made inappropriate comments about ethnic background, asking me if I were German or Russian. I detected a whiff of weed. She handed him the beer and they exchanged phone numbers as they were newly acquainted.
An hour later he was back and much the worse for wear. His eyes were glassy, his body language less determined, his demeanor deteriorated. He wanted a screwdriver. I showed him the tool section and he declined to buy anything. As I suspected, he had no money and was hoping that I would "lend" him a screwdriver. He gave me a stillborn squib of an excuse about scraping away crud from his car battery and what I had in stock was not appropriate to the job. He was on foot, wearing a backpack, no car. He went outside and I had a sense that he was lingering. I usually give lingerers a few minutes grace before requesting they move on.
He waited until other customers had left the lot and approached a young woman, an emergency room nurse just off work, and asked her for a ride. When she refused, he became belligerent, aggressive, insulting and threatening. He was a guy used to preying on women and If I had been in a more charitable mood, he would have been carrying a weapon. I got lucky in that he was not a large man, and even luckier that he was not the sort of guy who could just shake off the pepper spray.
<c>* * *</c>
The woman told police that she was not interested in prosecuting, but really wanted to get home as soon as possible to her baby and boyfriend. She told the officer her story, but I wrote out a statement and signed it. The officer suggested that I include certain details, not asking me to falsify my story, but to assure that the crucial points were covered in order to assist the prosecutors in deciding how to proceed.
In the weeks that followed, officers that had not responded to that call dropped by the store in the course of their patrols, and to stock up on energy drinks and bottled water, and congratulated me on a good job. One officer expressed a little envy, wishing that he had more opportunities to pepper-spray the exceptionally rancid skels, the bad ones who deserve a little rough justice on their way downtown.
<c>* * *</c>
Middle of February, I received a subpeona to testify against the malefactor. In the municipal court, I sat a few rows behind the prosecutor, a stunning Asian woman with waist length shimmering hair, dressed smartly. In contrast, all the defense attorneys, mostly public defender grunts advocating for indigent clients, were schlubs. It was a trial readiness exercise with the attorneys wrangling pre-trial motions, some were meeting their clients for the first time, and the first opportunity for both prosecutor and defense counsel to interview the witnesses.
It seemed chaotic, at first, the attorneys trickling in, checking in with the prosecutor or the court clerks, asking if there is a computer available, everyone seeming to know everyone else. The atmosphere was collegial, even chummy. Deference was even paid to a first time attorney who was filling in for an absent colleague. And in back of the court sat the witnesses and defendants, silent and grum, ignored.
I was bit apprensive lest this character I had pepper-sprayed should decide to show up and sit behind me. To my mild surprise, he came in as part of a gaggle of prisoners, dressed in horizontal grey stripes, and guarded by a trio of police officers whom I recognized. They were led to the boxed area where a jury would sit during an actual trial. Forty-five days after the incident and he was still incarcerated.
After about an hour of the attorneys milling around, trying some horse-trading with the prosecutor in which there was some give and take, but mostly not, the prosecutor called me out into the hallway and I told her my story. She took copious notes and offered to schedule the trial to fit my schedule, if possible.
Back in the court room, the defense attorney, the most extroverted person present, sat next to me. As I told him my story he seemed to deflate, as I included many details that the spare statement given to police omitted. He said his client had been on the fence about accepting a plea deal. Perhaps, I suggested, the man’s memory of that night was hazy. I observed that while in the courtroom his client had been rather subdued, no pun intended. Yet that night, on each of the three occasions I had encountered that man, his mouth was running nonstop. He was manic. Whatever was fueling his rage had a much higher octane that mere cannibis and alcohol. Further, when he went with his original companion to her apartment across the street, he would have found her boyfriend which might have cramped his style and libido, adding a sexual edge to his frustration.
The defense attorney seemed resigned. He thanked me for my time and explained how I could use the subpoena as a voucher to collect $10 for showing up, a token amount mandated by law back in the 1950’s and never updated. Lunch money, he said.
<c>* * *</c>
Well, I wasn’t there for the money. Even though I was listed only as a witness, I was as much a victim as the nurse. That night was memorable for a number of reasons. Before I left home for work, my mother had been transported by ambulance to the very hospital in whose emergency room the nurse worked. Did she help my mother. I don’t know. But I do know that I had never seen that nurse before. She told me that she did not like stopping at the store after dark because she never felt safe. It is not likely that I will ever see her again at the store, on my shift or any other shift.
The number one complaint I receive is from people who will not shop at the store if they see sketchy characters hanging around out front. This is not broken down along racial divides, but cuts across most demographics. Trouble mostly comes from young males, of any ethnic group, hepped up on that troublemaking testosterone.
I called the prosecutor’s office to verify if my testimony would be needed the next day and I was told that the case had been closed. I suppose his public defender leaned on the culprit and emphasized how damning my testimony would be. If he had been betting on the chance that no one would shop up to testify against him, he had lost. He probably had more than one legal entaglement as he was still incarcerated. I had assumed as much when I saw how eager the officers were to arrest and charge him with as much as the prosecutor would allow. Not to mention the long lingering desire to treat the culprit to a little extrajudicial punishment.
There had been an icy rain that night and the temperature plummeted as we stood about outside, the officers writing their reports while I drafted my own statement using the hood of one of the police cruisers. The parking lot had become a sheet of glass and it was difficult to keep our footing.
- Doc Sigerson