Sometimes People Just Need a Break….
When a police officer starts his shift, he never knows what will happen or who he will have to deal with. I worked the night shift, even after I was elected Sheriff, because that is when most of the serious incidents occur. Also, many of the drunk driving arrests occur late at night. Most of these arrests by officers are handled without incident. People who are intoxicated can exhibit a wide range of behavior…from a belligerent, fighting attitude to meek, crying submissiveness. I always felt my main job was to get the person off the road before he hurt himself or others. Police officers have some latitude in deciding to place a person under arrest. If a driver was honest and took responsibility for his actions, and had not been involved in an accident, I took that into account. If a person lied, cursed, or resisted, they were in trouble. Here are three examples…
Late one summer night I got behind a car that was weaving all over the road. After I pulled the 19-year old driver over, I quickly determined that he was very intoxicated. He had been to a bachelor’s party and was only a mile from home. Young, stupid, and drunk…no accidents involved and non-combative. OK, I’ll give him a break. I took his keys, placed him in the back seat, and told him I was taking him to his parents’ house. However, after driving a short distance, my little buddy in the backseat spit on the back of my head. And with my driver’s side window down, I also felt raindrops on my left arm. No rain on the windshield…weird. Then it dawned on me. I glanced back at my drunk happy-go-lucky rider. He had unzipped his jeans…and was spraying all over. By that time, the back of my seat and my duty shirt were drenched in urine. Sorry, bud, that was just not very polite. Off to jail he went.
On another warm summer night I came across a car parked on a bridge east of Ladoga. When I exited my car to see what was going on, I noticed a man standing near the bridge railing…pants down around his ankles…looking up at the starry sky…and urinating into the creek. After finishing his bladder duty, he wobbled over, “Hello, officer…how’s it going?”…he was drunk as a skunk…beer on his breath. “Great, where are you headed to?” To which he replied, “I live in Ladoga…just headed home.” And then I asked the usual question, “Well, how many beers have you had?” Ninety-nine percent of the time, intoxicated drivers say, “Only a couple.” This fellow looked me straight in the eyes, “Well, officer, I ain’t gonna lie…I had twelve beers, and I’m drunker than hell.” An honest person. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed his keys and took him hme…asleep on the couch as I shut the door.
When I was Sheriff, I was sent up north near Bowers at 2 a.m. to a report of a car floating in a small creek…no one around. On that particular road, there is no bridge. Seriously. You have to drive through the creek, which is normally very shallow. However, it had rained all day and the water was about 30 inches deep. As I pulled up, I aimed my spotlight at the car. My Lord…a Mercedes bobbing in the water! And standing in the water was a woman…wearing only a bra and panties. What the…? I motioned her over to the bank, handed her a blanket to cover up, and told her to have a seat. Yes, she was drunk. “I was headed home. and I got lost.” “OK, where are you going?” I inquired. “Indy…I just got off work…but officer, I did have a couple of drinks.” No kidding. After further questioning, I found out that this lady was a doctor. She lived in Indianapolis and was working at the Home Hospital emergency room in Lafayette. She had a horrible night in the ER…the deaths of two children. Now what? I called for a wrecker to remove the car. I had every right to arrest her. I just didn’t have the heart to possibly ruin her life and career. I transported the 30-year old lady physician back to the Sheriff’s Department, gave her an orange jail jumpsuit to wear, and called her husband, who showed up about an hour later to pick her up. I have no idea where the rest of her clothes were…she could explain that to her husband.
I could give numerous other examples. Most of the time, I made an OWI arrest. But sometimes, people just needed a break.
John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.