November 21, 2011 in Crime and Punishment
On Cinco de Mayo of this year, I was working at an off-duty detail for extra money at a local department store. I was in the car—probably typing or editing something for this blog—but I honestly don't remember what I was doing. At about nine o'clock the dispatcher came over the radio with a car crash that was just south of my location—about half a mile away. Normally a crash wouldn't take me off of my detail, but the notes said that it was a three-car collision where multiple children had been ejected from the vehicle and were lying dead in the street.
Those ones you go to. You don't think, you don't ask your boss—you just drive.
I never made it to the scene. Cops that were in better positions and a little bit faster had arrived already. What they needed was someone to divert the traffic that was coming from the south. I was immediately in the right place for that, so I threw my car in park, grabbed a flashlight, and tried to make some order out of the chaos that inevitably comes from telling people that they have to go somewhere other than where they want to. The intersection where I was could have definitely used a second officer, but we're all used to making due with less. That's not a gripe. Even when times are good and we're fully staffed, we don't always have a backup when we need one.
It was pretty early in the whole operation when I noticed that there was a truck behind me that had been going southbound and was trying to make a left turn, which would have taken it right across the path that I had established for the u-turning vehicles. Allowing it to go was out of the question. If I let it get past me, it would be heading right back in the direction of the crash scene where people were lying dead.
Without much emotion, I shouted over my shoulder, "You can't go that way. You have to go south."
I heard something like, "But I live over there."
The plea fell on deaf ears. The driver was a woman, and I just didn't care about where she lived, or why she wanted to make the turn, or anything else that was in conflict with what I knew needed to get done. She just couldn't go that way and she had to be all right with that. Things like that are pretty routine with traffic direction, and I needed to keep my focus on what I was doing. Cops get killed looking away from traffic. It's easy for drivers not to notice the stick figure dressed in black with all of the flashing lights going.
About a half a minute went by when I noticed that her truck still hadn't moved. I yelled that I couldn't do anything for her and that she should keep going. Again I heard some plea about her house. I had a little break in the traffic, so I tried to offer a quick bit of advice.
"You can either drive around for a while, or park your car somewhere and walk in. You can get it later."
She responded by putting on her hazard lights and starting to get out of the truck. In the meantime, the traffic in front of me had started building again. I yelled over my shoulder for her to stay in the truck and drive away. She didn't listen.
"Do not get out of the truck," I said in a tone that could probably be described as authoritative or menacing, depending on perspective.
She got out of the truck.
"You need to get in that truck or I will arrest you," I shouted in a less than professional tone of voice. Dead children. Recalcitrant driver. I was losing a little bit of my composure.
"Is this how we talk to each other now?" she said as she tried to get me to look down at something in her hand. It was a gold police shield in a badge wallet.
Traffic, incidentally, was still a problem.
"You're kidding me," I said, now in a normal speaking voice, "You're a fucking cop and you're breaking my balls. This is a fatality."
"Lieutenant. Miami. Thirty-Six Years," she shouted.
"Well, lieutenant, if you don't get in your vehicle and get off of my fucking scene, I will throw you in the back of my car and take you to jail."
My threat was a lie. If I arrested anyone, there would be no one to direct the traffic. (I was still managing to do this while addressing her.) In addition, because I'm a supervisor, my vehicle isn't properly equipped for securing and transferring prisoners. Arresting her was impossible without another cop there, and that was something that was in short supply.
"My name is Sergeant Latrigue, I.D. number four-fifty-nine. My lieutenant's name is Maroni. Complain if you need to, but leave here now." My last sentence sounded weak. I had lost the bluff and as a cop, she knew it.
I caught a break in the traffic again, so I asked her for her information. If she complained on me, her captain would be getting a call as well.
"Who is your commanding officer," I demanded.
"I'm retired," she replied before driving off.
When I was relieved from the traffic post, I responded to the crash scene. Thankfully, there were no dead children. The initial report had been wrong. A kid had been ejected from the vehicle, but it was his mother who had died in front of him. I walked back to my car and drove to the detail.
A few days later I received an official notice that I was the subject of an internal affairs investigation for conduct unbecoming of an officer. I was called in for a recorded statement and asked if I had use profanity and threatened the complainant with arrest. I told the truth about both.
My punishment was the mildest one that they give for a policy violation. It's essentially a written warning not to do it again, but it's still an official document saying that I didn't do my job properly, and that bothers me. If you take away the fact that I had a difficult and dangerous task to accomplish; that I had a civilian—a former police officer—making that task even more dangerous; and that I had threatened an arrest that I had the legal authority to make, but was logistically unable to; the bottom line is that I admitted to using profanity, and that is what you'll find in my record.
To be honest, I don't actually care about the complaint, the investigation, or the paper in my jacket. I just keep thinking about that kid growing up without his mom. I think he was eight for some reason, but I don't remember if anyone ever told me or not.