Initially, the call was a domestic in progress.
Those are always scary. There is more potential for danger at domestics than anything else other than traffic stops. So there is always a bit of adrenaline. But this call – involving a couple with whom my department has dealt endlessly – amped up pretty damned quick.
“He’s got a gun,” she screamed. “He’s gonna shoot me. And my dog.”
I was first on the scene and parked about 50 or 60 yards away from their long, isolated driveway, killed the car and lights, and listened.
No gunshots, no screams. That’s either a good sign (things aren’t as bad as they could be) or a really bad sign (everyone is already dead).
Carefully, hand on my gun, I walked to the driveway and peered around some brush. She was in the yard, obviously drunk, chasing the black Lab. He stood in gray sweats in the yard with no shoes, socks, coat, or hat.
And with a gun behind his back.
After seeing me, she ran toward me. I ordered him to put the gun down or be shot. He eyed me, from about 75 yards away, and calmly walked into the house, without making an aggressive move toward me or her.
Taking the drunk wife with me, I backed away and waited for assistance. While waiting, I interviewed her. She admitted there had been no hitting. No pushing. No shoving. No scratching or spitting. In short, there had been no domestic. Just the threats of death.
Backed up, she said, by a handgun.
So we got all Rambo’ed up. The state troopers put on their special hats and gloves, their special vests with hundreds of extra rounds of ammo. They pulled out their AR-15s and walked like they were in-country circa 1968 Vietnam. Hand signals and whispers and don’t leave tracks in the snow and the rest.
Let’s understand: it was comforting, all that firepower. To know that, if he started shooting, he’d be answered back overwhelmingly…sort of a low-scale version of mutually-assured destruction. But it was also bizarre and surreal. I felt, honestly, like some Hollywood director was going to yell ‘Cut!’ at any second because this was nothing more than some B grade action flick, some straight to video badly written film meant to appeal to 14-year old boys.
While we approached, dispatch got the husband on the phone, which I liked. If he’s on the phone, at least one hand can’t be full of weapons. Plus his attention is on something other than me and my approach.
“He wants to know if you’re coming to the front door,” dispatch said.
“Uh…maybe DON’T tell him where we are?” I said to dispatch. “Seeing as how he’s in a house full of weapons?”
A deputy checked a window, saw him at the kitchen table, phone in hand and other hand empty on the table and so I made entry.
That’s it. After all the weapons and tactics and calls for assistance and grilling of the wife. After all the adrenaline and information gathering and agreed-upon approaches. After all the swallowing down of fear and the self-questioning (“Is this the day I kill someone?”).
After all that, it was as easy as opening the door.
I opened the door at an odd angle while another deputy watched him through a far window. I looked through the crack and saw both his hands. And so I went in.
We questioned him, searched the house, found a case worth of empty beer cans and all his long guns, lovingly laid out on a table. But no handguns, which he swore he didn’t have. And he agreed with her that there had been no domestic. He also denied the gun-threats.
So after all that, the 9,472 cops who showed up for a gun call left with no arrestees and no charges.
Except that everyone involved knew he had threatened her with the handgun we never found and that she had threatened him with us and that both were drunk and both were hitting each other. And trust me, every single cop there knew – and continues to know – we will be back again, probably this weekend.
And at some point, as inevitably as the sun will rise, one of them will be blinded enough by booze that they use one of those guns. At some point, it won’t be a domestic call, it’ll be a shots fired call.
Or a murder call.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.