Thursday, April 12, 2007

Shoe on the other foot

I had court last Fiday, a Grand Jury appearance in Washington, D.C..

Last fall, my wife was the victim of an attempted purse snatch right in front of the White House, walking arm in arm with her camera-toting husband. I was there for a meeting and Tonja came along for a little Christmas shopping on Connecticut Avenue. We were strolling after dinner.

It was a pretty frightening event for her. She'd never seen her husband in a fight before, or seen a fight at all for that matter. She'd never seen 15 police officers pounce on a a couple of guys grappling in the street. She'd never given a statement to a police officer clenching a flashlight under his chin. She didn't want to come out of the hotel the next day, and it has bothered her a lot over the past few months.

So when the subpoenas directing our appearance at the Federal Grand Jury arrived, there was no joy in Mudville. Now for me, hiking across the country to court is an annoyance. To Tonja, it was something else entirely. To say she was apprehensive would be a massive understatement. Abject terror would be more like it. But she was a trooper, and did a great job.

The hallway and waiting areas in the Lancaster County Court at the Hall of Justice here in Lincoln can be a rather surreal experience to the uninitiated. But the Judiciary Center in the District is downright bizarre by comparison. Running the security gauntlet and rubbing shoulders in the waiting room would cause hives with their own area codes to break out on the meek and feint-hearted. She survived that, then learned that I would not be going into the Grand Jury room with her. I hadn't told her that part, and thankfully, she hadn't asked. Fortunately, by the time she figured that out, the Assistant United States Attorney was whisking her into the room.

I sat in the waiting area with a dozen tired police officers and a couple of civilian witnesses waiting for other cases, along with Officer Mike Stafford, of the Secret Service uniform division. He was the arresting officer, and the artful flashlight holder. Typical cop. Great guy, here on his day off, with other places to be and a lawn to mow. I told him what a good job he and the other officers had done. It was textbook, and they had no idea who I was for quite a while. We were asked about 10 times if we were okay. They handled the defendant superbly. He said ,"We're used to being on videotape." Killing time, we had an interesting chat about how frightening the whole criminal justice process is for ordinary people--victims and witnesses. It's something we lose sight of.

A half hour later, Tonja came out and I got up to take my turn. She was crying, but there was only time for a quick hug. I wondered what the Grand Jury had done to her, but I soon realized that it was the other way around: she had done something to them.

To me, this incident was pretty minor. To Tonja, is was a Great Big Deal. Seeing how it has affected her has been a real learning experience. I thought that I was pretty empathetic with victims, but now I think I've been mostly clueless. On the outside, they tell us that everything is okay. They seem to be alright. But on the inside, they are not. I think seeing this first hand over the past six months is going to make me a better police officer.


Angela said...

I am looking forward to reading your blog on a daily basis!! I have a list of Nebraska bloggers going over on mine and am going to add yours!! I think you will find some interesting tid bits now that you are in the world wide blogosphere. Welcome aboard!! Oh and my name is Angela and I'm in Omaha not far from you. :)

blux said...

great idea for talking with the community..keep up the good work..blux

Anonymous said...

Yeah Yeah, just another way for Chief Tom to prove what a Media Darling he is, aka, Media Ho.

Anonymous said...

I think it is neat that you aren't afraid of posting what is going on with you. I would rather have a Chief who is honest and able to talk about shortcomings, or bad days then someone who pretends like it is all perfect. Thank you for letting us in your head a little bit. God bless and be safe.
A LPD Fan and supporter

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4-12 4.27 pm:

Perhaps before you allow your dislike of Chief Tom to show through, you should understand history. LPD has always been an open door agency. For many years, with Chief Dean and Chief Alan, long before Chief Tom, the news media often joined the Command Staff briefing every morning and is often briefed at the scene by officers or sergeants. The public has a right to know what "their" police are doing, and what the Chief thinks.

Keep the remarks on target, and not personal.