Thursday, August 14, 2014

Arrested, Sort of....

Small town police officers not like this...

Growing up in a small town, you realize that things are pretty penny-ante, and what's more, the locals sort of run the place for their own amusement and profit.

We had a mayor, who was also a C-level history teacher at our high school.  Nice guy - he tried to have me expelled, once, for going to the restroom without permission.  He never liked me, because I was an A student and dressed like a hippie.  He told the vice-principal that I "assaulted" him, which was a lie (he tried to punch me, I ducked).   I learned a painful lesson that day - teachers are not saints.  Adults will lie if they think it will get them what they want.

 He managed to buy some inexpensive land out of the village, and then have it annexed into the village so it would have sewer and water service.   He then built low-income rental apartments on the land, which was not a real asset to our community.   I went back 40 years later, and his son is now mayor (Dad retired with a six-figure teacher's pension, no doubt) and the article in the local paper was about how the son was trying to annex some land into the village to build another low-income housing project.  Apple.  Tree.  Distance between them is negligible.

This is why you should leave a small town and never go back.  Small towns are incestuous little nightmares, where you will get screwed over, unless you are the one doing the screwing, which isn't likely, as they are not about to let you join their little club.   And bear in mind the small town I lived in was an "upscale" suburb with a lot of wealthy folks.  Impoverished small towns are even worse.

But that is not what this story is about.

Small towns hire small-time cops.   And often only the worst sort of people end up as small town cops.  It ain't like Mayberry, where Andy Griffith dispenses justice with a side order of wisdom and compassion, to the locals and visiting out-of-towners.   That's television, not reality.

We had a police officer, I'll call him Office Gusher.  He was a former postal worker, and apparently couldn't hack the Post Office, so he tried his hand at Police work.   This is not uncommon in small towns.  I have a friend in Georgia who was the Chief of Police in a small town, at the age of 25, with little or no training ("here's the keys to the cruiser, and your side-arm.  Go get 'em, cowboy!" - that was the extent of his training).

Office Gusher was going to "clean up" our small town, and by that, he meant harassing the shit out of the teenagers in town, who he felt were causing too much trouble.  Granted, some were - stealing cars and breaking into stores.  He never caught them, of course.  He did harass the shit out of everyone else.

Back then, the drinking age was 18, and of course, we started drinking at 15 as a result.  So there were four of us in the park, having a few beers and possibly smoking pot (likely).  I was 18, as was another fellow (who I will call Brad) who was my ex-girlfriend's uncle.  He was actually a year younger than her - one of those trailer-park families, I'm afraid.  He and I were buddies, although he was from out-of-town and just "visiting" for a few months.

With us were two others.  The girl, who I will call Chastity, was about 16 or 17.  Her Mother put her on birth control pills at age 13 when she started to menstruate.  She liked boys, beer, and pot, so I was hardly "corrupting" her in any way.  Besides, I was more interested in Brad.  Rounding out the bunch was Steven, a nice young Irish Catholic fellow who came from a devout family of 12 children.   Steven might have been dating Chastity at that point, I don't recall.   He was 16 or 17 as well.   I used to hang out with him and his brother.   Steven would die, two years later, of undiagnosed leukemia.   We used to kid him about being red in the face all the time.  Apparently, it was a blood disease.  How sad.

So anyway, we are hanging out in the park, drinking beer, which is illegal in the park (Village Ordinance and all) and along comes Officer Gusher.  We had hidden the beers in a gopher hole, but he nosed around and found them.  He hauled us all in to the "cop shop" which was a small closet underneath the volunteer fire department.   He made a big deal about how we were all criminals and were going to go to jail.   He wanted to ticket us for violating the village ordinance, of course.  But he also wanted to nail me and Brad for "corrupting minors" because Chastity was 16 and Steven was 17.

So he calls Chastity's Mother first.  Chastity's Mother was a drunk, and she was drunk when Officer Gusher called.  She swore at him like a sailor and told him to tell Chastity to come home.  And no, she wasn't going to press charges against me (She was friends with my parents) as after all, she also drank with her daughter, so what's the big deal.  She then hung up the phone.

Frustrated, Officer Gusher called Steven's Mom.   As a devout Catholic, she was an easier pitch.   Officer Gusher told her how Brad and I were like the pied piper, leading all the children astray, and that she needed to press charges against us, to put us in jail for good.  She was about to go along with this when Steven ripped the phone out of Officer Gusher's hand, and said, "Ma, if you do this, I will never talk to you again!"

That settled that.  He sheepishly handed the phone back to Officer Gusher.   Steven's Mom told him she had changed her mind and hung up.  I have to hand it to Steven, he had some balls!

Frustrated, Officer Gusher let Steven and Chastity go.  He handed me a misdemeanor ticket ($15 fine) for drinking in the park.  But Brad, he decided to keep.  "He's from out of town, and he'll have to pay a fine, or we'll send him off to jail!"

This is where it gets weird.  He called the local judge and explained the situation.

They wanted $50, in cash, paid to the Judge.  He let me go, with the ticket, to go raise the cash.  I told Brad I would be right back.

So I bummed a ride and found my brother and his girlfriend and borrowed some money until I had $50 with the money I already had.  I went back to the cop shop and offered the money to Officer Gusher.  "Not Here!" he said, and gave me the address of the Judge's house down the street.

I went there and rang the doorbell.  The door opened a crack, and a hand came out.  "You got the money?" he said.  I handed him a wad of ones, fives and tens.  The hand snapped back and the door slammed and bolted shut, leaving me on the porch wondering "What the Fuck?"

So, I went back to the cop shop and apparently the Judge had called Officer Gusher.  He let Brad go, with the usual haranguing warnings.  Brad did not get a ticket or have to appear in court.  We never got a receipt for the $50, nor did we ever see it again.

Small town justice.  That's how it works.   And what is really pathetic is how small the bribes involved are.  I mean, fifty bucks?  Well, it was a lot back then.  But still, they could have really raked us over the coals.  But then again, if you charge too much then people would complain.  Or we would have had to let Brad go to jail, and then questions would have been asked, and people in authority would get into trouble.

I am not saying we were saints, or in the right.  We were breaking the law.  But the way the local "authorities" handled things - lining their own pockets instead of dispensing justice - was a real eye-opener for me.

We were not "arrested" but rather just hauled into the station.   I paid the fine by mail, as I recall.  There was and is no record of the incident in any Police files, other than the misdemeanor ticket I received.  The rest, well, is just my word against theirs.

What ever happened to Officer Gusher?  He was fired, eventually.  The story was, he beat the pulp out of some kid one night, and the kid was the son of someone with a lot of money.  There's a lesson right there.  If you are going to practice police brutality, make sure you do it on someone who can't fight back, financially.  Limit your brutality to trailer parks and minorities.

If I sound a little jaded, well, it is because I have a realistic view of humanity.  People try to swing things their way, and if you asked them about it, they would never think they were doing anything wrong.  Officer Gusher and the people who hired him, no doubt would tell you they were trying to eliminate teenaged crime in our small town.  The Judge no doubt thought the $50 "fine" was a good deterrent, and an off-the-books solution meant speedy justice.   And since Judges are so underpaid, it meant his bourbon supply was re-stocked for a week (no word on whether he split the proceeds with Office Gusher).

And as for our mayor?  No doubt he would paint himself as a hero, by providing low-income housing in the village (and not a villain for attracting low-income people to our village).  He's not a slumlord, nosiree!

Anyway, I am not sure what the point of this story is, other than it was an incident that I remember - and a great learning tool as well.  I learned a lot about the law, that day.  Not, of course, what they intended to teach me.

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