Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My ride-along: Eff the police

My Ride-Along, Part Two

It's almost 8:30 and I've been hanging out with the Asheville Police Department for more than two hours. I've been on a ride-along with APD in the person of Officer Doug Sheehan and I'm beginning to wonder if there's going to be more to it than a lot of good intentions.

We stop at what Doug said used to be a decent breakfast diner at the crest of a hill along Patton Avenue across from Groce Funeral Home. Homeless people have broken into the place in recent weeks, so he wants to check it out. He radios in and we get out.

Doug's flashlight hits the windows and doors as he walks around the place. He keeps walking, but there's a hitch as he listens to his radio. There's been a shooting in Erskine, he tells me matter-of-factly. That would be Erskine Street Apartments, one of Asheville's public housing projects. My adrenaline starts to flow.

Feeling my excitment, Doug picks up his pace to get back to the car. He checks his laptop for the latest info. A young man says his brother has been shot. Police should be on the lookout for a champagne-colored Lincoln Town Car. Doug says there's no need for us to drive out of the west district he patrols. We'll just be on alert.

Asheville is split up into three districts. On any given night, there are five or six cops on patrol in each district. Doug gives me the boundaries of the west district, but I don't really comprehend it. I just know it's a lot of territory to cover - from Bingham Heights in the Emma Community out to where Asbury Road intersects Smokey Park Highway (the "Enka red light" as we used to know it) to Pisgah View and Deaverview and down along Brevard Road.

There's more information now from dispatch. The brother who reported the shooting at Erskine did so from a house in West Asheville. Doug knows the street. He radios in. We're on our way.

We pull up to the house, just off Haywood Road, and there in front of us sits a champagne-colored Lincoln Town Car. There's an Ingle's bag covering the right rear window. I spot a bullet hole in the fender. Doug radios in, then walks up to knock on the front door.

Mom answers the door. Inside, I can see a young man sprawled out on a couch. He's holding a video game controller in his hands. He doesn't seem to pay much mind to Doug, who's trying to figure out what the hell's going on.

Suddenly a 20-something with a do-rag on his head bounds down the street and up the stairs into the dingy living room. "What's going on? Who the fuck was that? Is he out already?" Do-rag is hyped up, talking to his brother, yelling at his mother about calling the police.

Doug radios in, telling dispatch that the young man reported to have been shot had, in fact, not been shot and is standing before him. He's got three conversations going at once, trying to figure out what's real.

Doug tries to talk to Do-rag. "Fuck you. Y'all lame ass cops. I'm the one who got shot at. I'm not telling you shit. We're keeping this street!" Doug has tried to calm the guy down, but it's no use.

Out on the porch, Doug tries to talk to Mom. He asks who owns the car. It's a third brother, the oldest. Does the owner of the vehicle want to file a report? Mom checks back inside. No. No report. One note here - I recognize the last name of the brothers. It's the name of trouble. The oldest brother, some 10 years ago or so, was reportedly one of the biggest drug king-pins of Western North Carolina. Now I'm wishing for some more of that boring drive time.

Doug is back down on the street looking over the Town Car one more time and two more officers have arrived as back-up. Do-rag has continued his rant against the police, but it's died off some. Meantime, one of the newly arrived officers and the oldest brother are having a low-level argument. Something about how DA Ron Moore is out to get them. The other newly arrived officer, a short-haired man, has heard Do-rag's ranting and not taken a liking to it. Do-rag is telling the police to go fuck themselves, in so many words.

"What's that? Don't talk to me like that, boy," the short-haired officer says, whipping his flashlight up to the front door. He drawls "boy" in his best Buford Pusser. This does not go unnoticed by Do-rag, who starts up with a new string of invective.

It's on. Doug and his two back-ups rush up the stairs to the front door, which has been slammed in their face. They yell for the door to open and briefly discuss kicking it down. Then it opens, the officers are in and Do-rag is in hand-cuffs.

"Don't put no charges on me, man," Do-rag complains. "I'm a student at A-and-T. Damn, man, I knew I shouldn't a come up here this weekend. I'm the one that got shot at. Why you arresting me? This ain't no type of justice."

Doug informs Do-rag that he'll be going to jail on a charge of cussing in a public street. On the drive to the jail, I can't help myself. I ask Do-rag about the guy who shot at him, a guy whose name he mentioned in his initial rant. "Fuck you" is the response I get to my two questions.

Doug laughs. He says this is the first time he's ever had a ride-along get cussed. Welcome to the club.

At the jail intake, Do-rag begs and pleads for Doug not to hit him with "charges." Then he starts to cry. Then he gets quiet. Doug explains what happened to the magistrate, who also listens to Do-rag's version. The magistrate sets a $200 secured bond. Can't it be unsecured? No, the magistrate tells Do-rag.

On the drive back to West Asheville, I tell Doug straight up I didn't like the way the whole situation was handled. The whole "don't talk to me like that, boy" was inflammatory. Unnecessary. It smacked of a derogatory put-down. Close to the n-word, I told Doug.

Doug said he didn't see it like that. He said the arrest was made to keep Do-rag off the street because the guy was clearly going to look for trouble later. But I said you guys didn't seem to think that at the time - you were all on the street and pretty much ready to move on until the situation blew up.

Doug told me the arrest was good, wasn't a bullshit charge. (As a sideline, Doug notes that he couldn't have charged Do-rag with cussing in a public street if the same thing happened in either Swain or Pitt county. That's all Doug says. But I know that's because former state Sen. Herbert Hyde of Buncombe County famously argued years ago that a man had to have someplace to go to let out a bad word. Hyde got the two-county exception added into state law.)

I understand the situation, sorta, but I didn't like it. It seems fucked up. But I'm glad I'm not the cop having to deal.


To be continued...

Cross-posted from Ashvegas.

1 comment:

Jim Jenkins said...

Damn fine reporting, Ash! Riveting stuff. Is there a chance you could be called to testify in this case?