A Policeman in the Free State
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
A Policeman in the Free State
by Tom deSabla
7:00 A.M. 2017 - I get out of bed energized to go to work. Why not? After
all, I'm making 70K a year to do what I love - law enforcement. I give my
sleepy wife a kiss as I prepare to dress for work. Noticing my work pants are
still too tight, I sit down for a bowl of fruit and some coffee with no fat
creamer. No way am I getting suspended for exceeding the body fat guidelines
again. That was embarrassing as hell. Ten lousy pounds overweight and they
suspend me without pay. Of course, I love my job; and it pays more than what
cops make in the O49. Still, just like them, we take pride in how well we do
our jobs. We do our jobs better, if you ask me. Our standards are so much
higher, it's almost unfair to compare. It's not our fault the free state does
things differently; in fact, that's why most of us came here.
After my distinctly unsatisfying breakfast, I hop in my car, radio the
station, and take off. Driving down the interstate at a comfortable 95 mph,
it's remarkable how polite everyone is about yielding to faster traffic. I
chuckle at my recollection of the heated debate over the changes in our state
traffic laws - changes that resulted in the lowest fatality rates ever; and
brought sanity back to a deeply flawed process. Oh, how the statist judges and
politicians screamed. Most of the people, however, came to realize that it made
perfect sense for traffic laws to be refocused on protecting our rights,
instead of mindlessly creating and enforcing violations.
Nowadays, every traffic ticket has a section where the officer must specify
how the infraction impacted a specific other driver or vehicle. Faced with this
new requirement, speed violations tumbled to record lows, leaving cops better
able to catch true rights violations, such as blocking traffic, failure to
yield, and running red lights in traffic. This resulted in a much more polite
and respectful driving experience for everyone. And they got where they were
going quicker than ever. When drivers see my vehicle this morning, they don't
suddenly slow down, like they do in the O49; instead, they maintain speed, and
stay to the right so as not to block me, or anyone else.
All except this one brown Lexus with Vermont tags, stubbornly cruising in
the left lane at about 70 mph, with a line of 7 cars backed up behind it. I
knew what this could lead to - impatient drivers pulling into the right lanes
to pass, increasing the potential for a rush hour mishap. I pull in behind the
Lexus and flash my lights. The driver pulls over on the left side of the
highway with me behind, radioing in the stop and the tag # of the Lexus. I walk
up to the drivers side, and a man dutifully hands me his license and
registration, "What's the problem, officer," he asks. "I was only doing 70."
"That's the problem," I inform him. "I pulled you over for blocking
He looks at me as if there were rutabagas growing out of my ears. "How can
I be blocking traffic if I'm going the speed limit?" I explain to him that
speed limits are only suggestions; and that he can be cited for impeding the
flow of traffic, regardless of what speed he's traveling. I remind him to stay
to the right if he wants to do 70 mph. I ask him if he understands the law now,
he assures me he does. After reminding him that we have a warnings database, I
issue him a warning. As he drives away, I notice an old, faded "speed kills"
bumper sticker on the back of his car. Good old NHTSA. I sigh and continue on
12:00 Noon - A turkey sub with light mayonnaise. Dry as a bone, but I wash
it down with cola.
1:18 PM - I get called to a house in a nice suburb of Concord. Apparently,
there's a man locked in a room, bingeing on cocaine. His wife is terrified, and
wants the police to intervene. Hyper alert now, my brain racing, I remind
myself that totally new strategies can be used - different from what I had
learned years ago in training. The reason is that 18 months ago, in a very
bitter debate, the state had courageously and completely legalized cocaine and
narcotics in the face of federal threats and opposition.
Opponents feared that the new law would ensnare many more citizens into
drug addiction; while proponents said it would reduce overall harm. This
afternoon, this particular problem and the way it is handled will go a long way
toward determining which group was right. I am dispatched to the Williams' home
along with a two-man team in another cruiser.
I arrive first; but resisting temptation, I wait for the two junior
officers, Sanders and Pino, to pull up with their lights flashing. I walk up
and ask them to turn them off,
"Hey, turn out your lights, will you? Yeah, listen, this guys supposed to be high as a kite, and I don't want to agitate him, ok?
I remind them that as far as we know, according to the laws of our state, he hasn't committed any crimes yet; so our objective should be to assess the situation, and basically either be of help to the family, or failing that, at least do no harm. Seeing the looks on their faces, I suggest what I had wanted to do from the beginning, "I'm pretty familiar with this type of situation, so how about you let me handle it, and back me up if I need it, ok?" They don't question how I got familiar with it; but they sure look relieved anyway.
I realize now that the situation is mine to deal with, for good or for ill.
I walk up to the door with Pino ten feet behind me, and Sanders out at the car.
A distraught woman immediately opens the door and motions for me to come
"It's my husband, he's locked in the basement."
"Is he doing drugs, ma'am?"
"I'm sure he's doing cocaine."
Even though I already know this, the implications still give me a chill of fear,
"How long has he been in there?" I query, trying to conceal my mounting sense of dread.
"Since last night."
"All night ma'am? How do you know that?"
"Well, he never came to bed, so I got up about 1:00 AM and went knocking on the door. He kept saying he'd be out in minute but he never did come out."
"He hasn't come out?"
"No - I'm scared, officer, I don't want him to die from that stuff. And he acts weird when he does a lot of it; sometimes he talks about suicide. I want him to stop; but I don't want him to go to jail. That would ruin his life - our lives. But it's legal now, right? So you won't take him to jail?"
"I won't arrest him unless he breaks the law, ok ma'am?
She nods her head and looks grateful.
"Has he threatened you?"
"Does he have a weapon down there?"
"Yeah, he probably has his pistol, and I think there's a shotgun down there too."
Swell, I'm thinking, now I've got to deal with a coked up Rambo. I ask her if she had ever seen him violent, and she said she hadn't. Nor did he ever talk about shooting other people. Somewhat relieved, I decide not to rush.
"Do you have any reason to believe that he's going to come charging up out of there with guns blazing, ma'am?"
"Well...no, I don't think so; he's only talked about killing himself. He's probably too busy with his drugs, anyway."
"Let me ask you something, what do you want me to do? I can't arrest him unless he breaks the law. You DID say that you didn't want me to arrest him, right?"
"I understand, but can't you do something? Can't you make him leave or something?"
"That's going to drive him out into the street with his stuff. Is that what you want?"
"Can't you take the drugs away from him?"
"Mrs. Williams, he could just get more. Besides, if I try to do that, he may become more dangerous than he is now. And, they are his drugs, his property. I have no right to take them away from him. Unless he was forcing them on others - then I could take the drugs away and lock him up. Has he done that?"
"Of course not," she says indignantly, "he would never do that."
"Ma'am, please remember, he's your husband. I don't know what he would or would not do. I'm depending on you to help me with that - ok?
"Now, what I can do, is try to talk to him a little. Maybe I can get him to stop. If he stops, he can go right up the street to the clinic if he wants. I could give him a ride if needed. They might be able to help him come down from the drug a little easier."
"Can't you make him go?"
"No ma'am, I cannot make him go."
"Why does he have to stay here?"
"Is this house partly his ma'am - doesn't he live here?
"He has a right to be here, as long as he isn't violating someone else's rights. Do you understand that, ma'am?"
Reluctantly, she nods her head.
"You know, Mrs. Williams, it might be safer for you to leave the house for a while."
She shakes her head and says "Officer, he's my husband and I love him; I won't leave him like this. I want to help."
I tell her I appreciate that, but I'm already thinking of what to say to this guy. I go over to the basement door and knock quietly.
"Mr. Williams? Mr. Williams? Can you hear me?"
After a pause, a thick voice answers, "Who is that? I'll be out in a minute..."
"This is Officer Paine, state police, Mr. Williams." I hear a sound like a glass pipe clinking and a chair squeaking, and then an alarmingly familiar metallic clicking sound.
"Now I'm not here to arrest you, Mr. Williams." I quickly say, trying to keep my voice low.
"That's right," his voice is stronger now. "I'm not breaking any laws, and this is my house. Why don't you leave me alone?"
"I respect your property rights Mr. Williams, but..."
"Doctor Williams - I'm a doctor." What a butthole.
"Yes, Dr Williams - I'm here because your wife has given me permission to come in. She's worried about you. She says you've been down there all night doing cocaine."
"So what? I'm not hurting anyone. If you come in here, I'll kill myself." His wife gasps and begins quietly sobbing.
"Why would you do a thing like that, Dr Williams?"
"I just want to get high right now. I just want to be left alone."
"Dr Williams, do you love your wife?"
"Sir, you've been locked up in the basement all night, your wife is very upset. You do realize that something is wrong here, don't you sir? Something IS wrong, isn't it sir?"
"I know, I know, but I can't stop right now, I just can't. I'll stop in a little bit."
"Ok, Dr Williams, let's reason this out, ok? We can do that, can't we? I'm not busting in there, and you're not committing a crime. So...it doesn't hurt to talk, does it?"
"I guess not."
"You got this coke from a pharmacy, correct? So, you can always get more, right?"
"How much coke did you buy sir?"
"Two ounces," Jesus Christ, two freakin ounces?! That's enough for one guy to stay high for two weeks. In other words, enough to kill himself with.
Trying not to show my concern, I ask him "How much did you spend on it, sir?"
I note this admission with guarded relief. After all, the more money someone blows on drugs, the more despondent and suicidal the user becomes. $120 isn't going to break this guy.
"Ok, so you have most of it left then, right sir? You've only used what, a couple of grams?"
"I don't know, an 8th of an ounce, maybe."
"Dr Williams, I know, and I think you know too, that it's going to be very difficult for you to stop doing the coke. You have a very good chance of killing yourself if you stay in there long enough. You don't really want to kill yourself, do you, doctor? I mean, what about your wife?"
"I don't want to die, but if I let you in here, you'll take it away, and you'll put me in jail."
"I won't do that Dr Williams, but I'd like you to, at the very least, take a break."
"You're telling me that if I just stop for while, and come out, you won't take my stuff, or lock me up?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying." Now an idea was coming to me, a little unorthodox, but it might work.
"I'll make a deal with you, Dr Williams, I'll hold your coke for you, while you take a pause. My only condition is that that pause is at least one hour. I'll give you my pager number, and when you page me, I'll drop it off. Also, if you want to go down to the clinic, I'll be glad to take you down there. I'll still hold your coke for you."
"How do I know you're telling me the truth?"
"It's not a crime for you to possess the coke, so it isn't a crime for me to possess it either. If it'll get you out of that basement for a while, it's worth it to me."
"Swear to God that you're not lying to me. If I give you my stuff - you promise to give it back?"
"I promise, but you have to stop for one hour, and you ought to eat something."
"I'm not hungry."
I snicker to myself upon hearing this - of course he wasn't hungry - he's coked out of his mind. But still, if he eats, he may get tired, and maybe quit. I decide to go for broke.
"Dr Williams, you have to eat; that's part of the deal. You stop for at least one hour, and you eat something. Then, if you still want to keep destroying yourself and your marriage, I'll drop off your stuff for you."
"I'm going to want it back in an hour, officer, I'm sorry."
"Ok. If you want it back, I'll bring it."
"I'm going to do one more hit, and then I'm coming out."
"Dr Williams, please don't do that." We hear the noise of a torch being lit coming through the door. She looks at me helplessly, silently asking me to break in and stop him. My mind is swirling, but I realize that I can't do it because he hasn't committed a crime. I'm also remembering that metallic clicking sound, and hoping he'll come out voluntarily. I turn to her and speak quietly and quickly "Mrs. Williams, you love him, right? When he comes out, have some food ready, and stay very loving with him." I lean close to her, "Ma'am, I'll deny that I ever said this, but if you want him to stop, feed him, and then try to get him into bed. If you can do that, however you do that, he may be able to go to sleep."
She looks at me quizzically for a second; then she understands and nods her head.
"I understand. I sent the kids to the neighbors; they can stay there the rest of the afternoon," she confirmed.
"Dr Williams? You ready?" No answer for a couple of seconds. I'm getting worried. Finally his thick voice answers, "Ok, I'm coming out." I breathe a prayer of thanks. But, "You aren't armed, are you Dr Williams?"
Panicked now, "What, are you all out there getting ready to shoot me? Oh my God, I'll kill myself first."
Damn, this is going south in a hurry.
"No, Dr Williams, there is no we, I swear it's just me and I'm not going to shoot you. I'm trying to help you. My gun is in my holster, isn't it Mrs. Williams?"
"Walter, honey, he's telling the truth," she immediately supplies, to her credit.
Williams wants to make sure; "You swear you'll give me back my stuff in one hour?"
"I swear." I just got another idea, "Dr Williams, I'm going to slide my pager number under the door. You can call it from down there, right? You'll hear it go off when you call. I'm not lying to you sir, I promise."
2:28 PM - A bedraggled and zombie-eyed man opens the door with two bottles in his hands, looking frantically around like a wild animal. "Ok, I'm taking your word on what you said; here's my stuff, now will you leave?"
"I have permission from your wife to search the basement to make sure that you keep your word."
"Oh, great honey, thanks a lot."
"I left more down there. I'll go get it." Screw that, I'm thinking, I quickly block his way. Technically, this is a rights violation, but I felt justified.
"No, No Dr Williams, you stay up here like you promised. Tell me where it is, and I won't have to search for it."
"I can't believe this crap."
"Please, Dr Williams, let's just both of us follow through on our word, ok?" I'm a little bit scared now, because this whole plan depends on his voluntary cooperation. If he craps out, there would be little I could do, absent the commission of a crime. Seconds pass, though they seem like hours. Finally...
"It's in the bottom drawer of my toolbox."
"All of it, Doctor?"
"Yes, but you promised all of it back."
"I know, Doctor. I'll keep it all safe 'till you page me."
Five minutes later, the smell of bacon wafts through the house, as Sanders,
Pino, and I prepare to leave. The basement is clean of coke, as far as I can
tell, and Williams is sitting in the kitchen with his wife fussing over him.
She looks up at me with a tight little smile that speaks volumes. As we walk
out to our cars, the two officers both start talking at once.
"Jeez, Paine, are you freakin nuts? I can't believe you're going to carry this guy's dope around with you."
"Paine, you are one crazy mother. Did you really tell him you'd give him his stuff back?"
"Sure I did, why not?"
"What are you going to do if he pages you while you're on a call, you're just going to run his stuff over to him?" Worried now, afraid they've been party to something improper.
I stop and lay it out for them. "Look you guys, first off, I'm not going to drop everything and run the guy's stuff back to him. He'll probably page me in an hour; then I'll call him back in another ? hour, telling him that I'll be by in ? hour to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, his wife is going to be feeding him and keeping him in bed. By the time I finally DO get by there, it'll be at least 3 hours from now, by which time I'll bet the guy will give up the binge, and hopefully tell me to throw his stuff away."
This seems to impress them somewhat; but then Pino says, "I would have just busted in there and taken the guy's stuff. You had the wife's permission, why didn't you just do it that way?"
I then tell them what I'd just seen in the basement: A loaded automatic pistol and a loaded shotgun, and a suicide note wadded up and thrown in the trash. I remind them of all the cocaine suicides in the O49.
"He was ready to shoot himself, guys. If I had busted in, he might have done it, or shot me. This way is better - less risky."
Sanders persists "You don't think he's going to just wait for you to bring back his stuff and start all over again?"
"Maybe, but look at it this way, that family is better off than when we came there. And we did no harm. I mean, if the guy's going to be a stupid cokehead, in the end, there's not much we can do about it anyway. At least he didn't spend his whole paycheck on it like I used to do. Talk about wanting to kill yourself."
They look at me wonderingly, and seem to understand a little.
"I can't believe he's a freakin' doctor," says Sanders.
"I know! Some doctor he is, I don't want him working on me," Pino adds.
4:45 PM - As I head in to the station for end of shift, I reflect on the
Williams situation. Sure enough, one hour after I left his house, Williams had
paged me. I called back ? hour later, and his wife answered. "He's right here,"
she said in a husky voice. There was some fumbling and whispered argument, and
then he came on the line and said, "Just throw the stuff away, will you Officer
Paine? I don't want to do any more right now. I'm going to the clinic when I
wake up tomorrow. And thanks for what you did."
Chalk up one for the good guys, I think to myself. It's a good thing that
this little episode happened in the Free State. Had Mrs. Williams' call for
help been answered in the O49, someone would have likely been shot or sent to
jail, or both. But not today, not in the free state, and not on my shift, I
affirm with pride. Maybe I'll splurge on a rib dinner tonight. I've earned