I can’t remember the man.
I’ve looked at the picture maybe a thousand times. Thick-necked, short-cropped hair. Brown. Eyes too far away to tell the color, and cast sideways anyway. Head slightly down, as though somehow embarrassed to be in this particular picture.
It’s a mug shot.
I didn’t book the man into the jail, but I did deal with him for two days before he made bail, and I can’t remember anything about him. Not his voice, not his smell, nothing. I didn’t even remember what he’d been arrested for.
When I looked up those charges, Saturday’s affair made a bit more sense. Arrested in early March for domestic battery and violating an order of protection.
Two Saturday’s ago, he got arrested again. Driving under the influence. He managed to make bail on the charge before he ever even got to the county jail. A few hours after that, he got arrested again. Violation of an order of protection.
Less than an hour after that, he lay dead, a bullet to the head, his own finger on the trigger.
But before he killed himself, before the Illinois State Police called out their SWAT team and their helicopter, before all the K-9 units in the county came out, before damn near every police officer in Bureau County raced to Spring Valley, before all of that, I heard the scream.
Short, less than a second. Garbled. I couldn’t understand any of it. But somehow as clear as the mythical summer days when I was a kid.
The dispatcher at the Spring Valley police station screamed into the radio, desperately calling for help. At the Sheriff’s Office, we heard that call. More to the point, our dispatcher understood it and immediately ratched up a response.
“10-33,” she radioed to every cop in the county. “Officer down.”
The man, whose face and picture and stay in my jail I can’t remember, had attacked the arresting officer, had savagely beaten him, and then battered his way out of the holding cell. He also managed to snatch the officer’s gun.
He fired once.
We didn’t know until later it was a suicide. At the time, with the single officer at the station covered in blood, with the dispatcher screaming for help, all we knew was there had been a shot.
Bureau County is a small county, only 35,000 people. Spring Valley is our second largest town at about 5,500 people. We are not Chicago or L.A. We are not New York or Miami or even my hometown of Midland, Texas. Our last killing was more than a year ago. Before that, the last had been in the last century. Things like this don’t happen here.
Except they happen everywhere, all the time.
The man I can’t remember had been waiting for transport to my jail. That freaks me out pretty good. Would he have fought with me? Would he have done as much damage? More, maybe?
And yeah, the entire thing scared me…continues to scare me around the edges. Every day I’m in that jail, I do the same thing the Spring Valley officer did. I do all the things he did and he ended up in the hospital. But this is my job and in spite of that ever-present threat, I dig it.
I just wish, as I still sometimes look at his picture, I could remember him. I wish he didn’t so easily disappear into the sea of inmates’ faces.