A Weak Case

Lawyers will tell you, it’s not what you know but what you can prove. Sometimes even proof isn’t enough. Other things often come into play.

 A Weak Case

It seemed like I was always in trouble for going too far; I usually felt other officers didn’t go far enough.

It’s not often you get a “domestic” call in the middle of downtown and in the middle of the workday. But you know these things can explode quickly so you always go to them with an open mind. When dispatched to something like this, you have to remain aware.

The car was stopped at the curb and two men and a woman were standing next to it, but not next to each other. One  of the men was a uniformed fireman, who probably stopped to see if he could help, the second guy was wearing shorts, tank, and of course slippers; she was in business dress, and was standing by the car hood crying.

She was a tiny thing, and he looked like he spent a lot of time pumping iron.  He didn’t have the look of an ex-con, but he was obviously was a heavy gym rat and surfer. They weren’t exactly fighting but there was real tension between them.

He was not yelling but appeared to be speaking very forcefully and took an immediate aggressive attitude when I arrived. He was in his early 20’s, as was she, and he seemed intent on her not talking with me. I was a little uncomfortable in trying to talk with both of them so it was a relief when another unit showed up for back-up. I separated the two, asked the back-up to just keep him there while I go get her side of the story.

She began by telling me her name was “Toni” and he was “Erik”, and they hadn’t been boyfriend and girlfriend for almost a year. She had broken up with him because he was too demanding and possessive. Today he had come to her work place and asked her to have lunch with him. She agreed, not thinking he meant anything but lunch.

He didn’t take her to lunch. He drove to her bank; he knew where to take her from when they were dating. He told her he was in trouble and she needed to withdraw all her savings’ and give it to him. When she refused the first time, her grabbed her hair and twisted. When she still refused he punched her in the breast. Then, as if to just make his point, he punched her breast several more times, until she got the idea he was going to hurt her badly if she didn’t do as he said.

She went into the bank and took out several hundred dollars, not all of it like he had demanded. She was so frightened of him she didn’t say anything to anyone in the bank. He was so sure of his hold over her, and her fear of him, he didn’t even go inside with her. She went back to the car and he demanded the money before he’d give her the car keys back. She gave him the money, got back into the car and started to return to her workplace. As she drove, he counted the money and told her it wasn’t enough. They had stopped for a traffic light when he told her she needed to go back to the bank and get a cash advance on her credit card. No ATM’s then, really.

Once again she found the courage to tell him no. He put the money in his pants pocket, and reached for her hair again. She got out of the car and standing in traffic where she could be seen by other people. He got out and started to berate and yell at her but couldn’t convince her to get back in the car. She was afraid that if she got back in the car, she might never get out.  Someone must have seen them and called 911. It was about this time the fireman saw them standing in traffic and stopped to see if he could help. That’s where they were when I got there.

About then the fireman told me he had to get back to the station and could he leave? I told him to go ahead and if I needed information from him, I’d contact him there.

After hearing her story I had her standing by the front of the car, and approached the ex-boyfriend. I told him to empty out his pockets. Now it was crunch time. He stared back at me with a hard look and I knew he was getting ready to try and fight. I stepped back, popped the safety snap on my holster and put my hand on the revolver butt. I tried to force a look that said I would use it if he tried to fight.

My back-up unit arrived and was a young officer named Jeff. He and I were friendly, and he had often spoken of how he liked the way I handled cases, but it appeared he wasn’t ready of this. Fortunately he was standing behind Erik so the confusion on his face couldn’t be seen.

The standoff lasted several seconds, they only seemed like hours, when Erik finally turned around and took out his wallet and some loose change out of his pockets and put them on the car. I had him place his hands on the trunk and spread his hands and feet, and then I reached into his right front pants pocket and withdrew a large bundle of cash. I asked where all the money came from and he replied it was from his paycheck. When I asked why he hadn’t taken it out he said that he knew all cops were thieves and he didn’t want his money taken. I asked how much was there and he gave me a figure that was quite a bit less than Toni had said she had taken from the bank.

Funny, he didn’t know how much his paycheck cash was or what was in his pocket. I quickly counted the money and what a surprise, it was exactly the same amount as Toni had told me she had taken out of the bank.

I will be the first to admit I didn’t like this guy from the beginning. I may have been the victim of some male hormone thing, she was pretty and small and I wanted to protect her. Mostly this guy pissed me off with his “can’t touch me “attitude. He seemed to think he was going to walk away from this situation. I had other ideas.

I wanted to take him down for hitting her and then it occurred to me, he had taken money from her by force and she certainly was afraid of him. That “force or fear” made this a robbery.

Without further comment I took out my handcuffs, advised him he was under arrest for the crime of robbery and hooked him up before he was really aware of what I had said. He was so surprised he didn’t even try to resist. I asked Jeff to put Erik into his patrol vehicle so I could have her secure her car and I would transport her to the detective’s office and then begin the booking process.

Later Jeff told me that on the way to the station Erik had said I must have been afraid of him since I had my hand on my gun. Jeff told him that I wasn’t afraid of him at all; I was just trying to decide whether or not I should kill him. There was less paperwork that way. Jeff could be very convincing at times. Judging from the way Erik was acting in the station, this must have been one of those times.

When Toni realized someone had believed her and was really doing something about it, she really started crying. I figured it had been a bad relationship, and she was relieved it was, maybe, finally over.

We got to the station and I walked Toni to the booking area. Jeff and Erik were already inside starting the process so I had her sit outside while I went to the watch commander to give him the facts of my arrest. I’ll say I felt pretty proud of myself.

I stood in front of the Captain and laid my case out step by step, and he looked at me like I had grown a second head. Then he slowly, as if speaking to a very young, very stupid child, explained to me that a boyfriend cannot rob his girlfriend. I did not have a robbery, what I had was a domestic beef involving the couple’s finances. I was to write a report reflecting just that. I stood there with mouth open and a pretty confused look on my face so the Captain went on to explain to me that the girlfriend wouldn’t show up for court, they never do, and it would waste the detectives time, my time, his time, the prosecutors time and so on and so on.

But I was nothing if not determined. I told the Captain this girl would show up, and she would take this case all the way and basically fought to get this case filed. He wasn’t the Captain for nothing, so he told me to go ahead and take it to the detectives and they’ll also tell me there was no case.  Maybe then I’d believe there was nothing here.

I guess I got lucky that day. I got detective to accept the case, as long as I did all the paper and leg work, and file the charges. I had a pretty sure bounce in my step when I walked back to the captain and told him the detectives were accepting the case and would file the charges. He, in all his sage wisdom, just sort of shook his head, and told me to go ahead and process the paperwork. I felt good.

I felt good because it was a good arrest and a pretty good piece of police work. I knew that 996 out of 1000 cops would have written it off as a domestic and let this guy walk. But not me, I was too much of a cop.

I followed up with the detectives and he had filed the charge with the prosecutor’s office. He had interviewed the “victim” and found her to be credible, but he did say he felt the case was week due to the former relationship.

Three months later I got a subpoena for a court appearance and met Toni outside the courtroom.  We sat there for over 4 hours and the case was never called. During the lunch recess I approached the prosecutor and asked him what was happening. That’s when I found out the “handling detective” had decided it was a weak case, advised the prosecutor to let Erik plead out to a misdemeanor assault, and drop the robbery charge. All without consulting me, or the victim.

I walked outside to tell Toni, I didn’t feel very good. Not good at all.

The next day found me in the detective watch commander’s office with the detective, my sergeant, and the detective’s lieutenant and they all wanted to know why I was making such a big deal. Was I banging her or what?

My response to that comment got me my first suspension for “insubordination”. Before it was over I told all of them; “You’ll see him again.”

When asked how I knew that the answer was easy; “He just beat the system. He thinks he’s bullet proof. He’ll do worse next time.”

Seven months later there has an atrocious crime committed in the middle of one of Honolulu’s favorite beaches.

A young man and his girl were sitting on the beach in the evening when they were attacked by three men. The young man was repeatedly beaten and stabbed. At one point the knife wielder put a finger in one of the 9 stab wounds and remarked he could fell the victim’s heartbeat.  After months in the hospital the young man “recovered”, but he had lost the hearing on one side, and was ruled totally blind for the rest of his life.

The three attackers took turns using the girl in every vile manner possible extending the assault to over 6 hours.

She was badly beaten but was able to identify one of the assailants. Of course, it was Erik. He gave up his partners quickly enough, and they all stood trial, were convicted and given really long sentences

Over the next 2 years I’d see Toni now and then. We even went to dinner a couple of times.

Then came the day when the attorney that had handled Erik’s defense was arrested for cocaine trafficking. The arrest was big news because it caused many of the attorney’s cases, convictions only, to be overturned and set for retrial due to “inadequate legal representation”. One of those he had “inadequately represented’ was Erik. Erik was released on bail pending retrial.

About 7 o’clock that night Toni called me from the airport. She was scared and was leaving Hawaii.

She never came back.

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