The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff III


He Was a Real Sonofabitch

 

Dispatch called Sheriff Dan Anderson to a family home. Dispatch would later state that the woman that called 911, informed the dispatcher that she “finally shot” a man that happened to be her husband.

“Even though I knew the residents of the home were elderly, and I knew some of the details the woman confessed to the dispatcher, I knew enough to know that one can never knows how such a scene is going to play out. So, I drove onto this woman’s estate prepared for anything,” Sheriff Anderson said, “and I saw the wife sitting on her porch in a porch swing. I couldn’t see anything that would cause greater suspicion on the scene, so I exited the patrol car.

“We received a call of an incident,” Dan said he informed the woman. “Do you mind if I enter your property?”

“‘That’s fine,’ she said. ‘The rifle is over there,’ she said alluding to a corner of the porch. “‘In the corner.’

“I entered the woman’s property, walked onto the porch and secured the rifle. I determined that the rifle had been recently fired.

“‘My husband’s body is in the living room,’ she said, mentioning her husband by name.

“I secured the body,” Dan said, “and I left the house to discuss the matter further with the wife.

“She informed me that her husband was violently abusive, and that he had been throughout the course of their long marriage. She said that she decided that she wasn’t going to put up with the abuse anymore, and she said that she decided to end it.”

“The wife stood without further incident, and we handcuffed her. We then placed her in a jail cell, and we went back to the scene of the crime to examine the evidence for the case. With all of the preliminary evidence, I considered further evidence collection largely unnecessary in this case. The wife signed a full confession, she provided a minute-by-minute recounting of all that had taken place that day, and she provided us a full backdrop for her motivation for doing what she did. The wife was very forthcoming, in other words, saying that she’d rather spend the rest of her life in jail than put up with another day enduring her husband’s abusive ways. Even though the evidence we had, prior to returning to the scene, was largely preliminary, I considered it the duty of a lawman to go back to the scene, no matter how open and shut I thought it was, to do my due diligence on the matter and collect every piece of evidence available.

“We determined that the rifle that had been sitting on the porch, was the rifle used in this incident,” he said. “We determined that it was her fingerprints on the gun. The husband’s fingerprints were on the gun too, but the nature of the wound suggested to us that it was not self-inflicted. All of the evidence we found, and gathered at the scene, suggested that the idea that anyone but the wife was the alleged shooter were remote.

“As her arresting officer, I was called upon to sit in on the trial of her case. I was there to offer my testimony, if necessary, and any other character assessments of the wife and husband I might be called upon to make, should that be necessary. Again, I didn’t think any of this would be necessary, for we had a full confession, and such an overwhelming amount of evidence that I didn’t think this would be anything but an open and shut case.

“Before the trial begins, the wife’s defense lawyer asked the judge for a sidebar,” Dan said. “The judge agreed to this, and he invited the state’s lawyer, and me, to attend this sidebar.

“‘Before we begin your honor,’ the defense’s lawyer says. ‘The defense would like to submit into evidence the idea that the accused had every reason to shoot her husband, because he was a real sonofabitch.”

“To this point in my career,” Dan said. “I had attended hundreds of court cases. I’ve witnessed such a wide variety of claims of innocence that it would take months to document them. I’ve witnessed defense attorneys make insanity claims and temporary insanity claims. I thought I’d heard everything, in other words, but this defense was a new, almost laughable, one to me.

“That was the beginning and the end of the defense lawyer’s submission to the judge, and the only reason he asked for the side bar, and the judge turned to the state’s attorney, and me, to ask us if we had anything to add. We both said no, the judge ended the sidebar, and he ordered us back to our seat.

“I walked back to my seat with a little bit of a laugh. I considered that defense so laughable that I wondered if the judge would declare a mistrial on the basis that the lawyer for the defense was incompetent, and that the wife would need a new lawyer.

“The defense has submitted the idea that the victim in this case of murder against the accused, was a real sonofabitch,” the judge stated. “Well, I knew accused’s husband, and he was a real sonofabitch. Case dismissed.”

“You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” Dan said. “As I said, I’ve worked so many cases, and sat in on so many trials that swung in a direction contrary to the evidence that I compiled, that I thought I was above being shocked at what can happen in a courtroom. This was beyond anything I ever witnessed. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.

“After the trial, I thought about the husband, and I thought that even if the man was a real sonofabitch, he doesn’t deserve to die for it. If this man physically assaulted his wife, he deserved jail time. If the wife feared that the abuse was escalating, and she feared for her life, I could see the judge being more lenient, or even dismissing the case based on the nature of that abuse. I could even see the courts dismissing a case against the wife if she physically assaulted the husband, and the court judged her assault to be retribution for the years of abuse. The idea that a judge could dismiss a murder on that basis that a man was deemed a disagreeable person, was unprecedented to my experience in such matters. I was a lawman who believed in the justice system, and I had had that belief tested throughout the years, but this dismissal shook my beliefs system to its core.

“I also thought about the man hours law enforcement officials put in to collecting evidence for a case. I thought about how what I believed to be either a corrupt, or incompetent, judge can undermine those efforts and our beliefs in a fair and blind justice system in such a manner that it makes one question everything they do in the aftermath. I didn’t let it affect how I conducted myself on the job, going forward, but one cannot involve themselves in such a bizarre case without being affected by it.”

*This story was used with permission.

Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff I: “I Want to Kill Someone!”

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff II: “Is He Dead?”

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff II


Is He Dead?

 

“Dispatch called us to a lonely stretch of highway in a small county in Arkansas where we discovered the headless body of a young man lying in the middle of the road. We were able to locate the head some distance from the body. There were no signs of struggle in the dirt, on the shoulder of the highway, and there were no signs of activity on the road that would indicate that a car accident, or a hit and run, occurred. The preliminary indications suggested that the body was not moved or dumped there, so we widened our search out for any signs of activity that would lead to a decapitation out in the middle of a lonely stretch of highway. We were unable to find any answers.

“After we decide that the evidence at the scene will not further our investigation, I make the call that every lawman regrets having to make,” Sheriff Dan Anderson continues. “I call the man’s wife to inform her of the incident. When the wife answers the phone, I inform her that her husband was involved in an accident, and that I need her to come out to this lonely stretch of highway to meet me there, so we can discuss the matter further. Information like this is not the type that one should deliver over the phone, so my reason for calling her was to look her in the eye when I delivered the news about her husband, and so I could console her in her time of need. I began to tell her the exact location of the incident, and I’m ready to follow that up with any directions she might need to find it, when she cut me off.

“‘Is he dead?’ she asks.

“‘Your husband was involved in an accident,’ I said, and I asked her to come down to this stretch of highway, so we could talk,” Dan said. “I began telling her where we were on this highway again, and I prepared to give her the directions to this location again, when she cut me off a second time.

“‘Is he dead?’ She repeated this with a sense of urgency that I believed contained a desire to cut through what she might perceive to be the painful details of a matter that would shock her. My experience in such matters is that when a sheriff calls a home, most people fear the worst, and they don’t want to flirt with the possibility of a worst-case scenario on their drive over. They think that they will be better able to deal with such matters better if they can have those fears confirmed as soon as possible. I have not found that to be the case. I have found that most people need immediate comfort at such a moment in their lives. Most people need to have someone call their family members, to drive them to the scene, so that they can share that grief with a loved one.

“I began to inform her that it might want to consider asking someone drive her to the location,” Dan said, “but I’m not halfway through that sentence when she cuts me off a third time with her, ‘Is he dead?’ question.

“‘Yes ma’am,’ I say breaking all protocol. ‘It appears that your husband met an untimely demise at the side of a highway.’ I also inform her that with the details available to me, at the scene, that I am not able to report to her exactly what happened.

“‘I can tell you what happened,’ she said. ‘I can tell you exactly what happened. That sonofabitch would not leave me alone. He was always on me about such stupid stuff, and I warned him to leave me alone on this particular night, he said he wouldn’t, and this led to a big fight. I decided that I wasn’t going to put up with his stuff anymore, so I got into my truck to take off. Well, he up and jumps into my truck bed, saying, ‘I ain’t leaving.’ I tell him he is, and he says he ain’t, so I tell him he is. One way or another, I said, you’re leaving. I drove down the road as fast as I could, and I swerved to the left and right, and he does leave … the hard way.’

“With that new information in mind,” Dan said. “I walk up the lonely stretch of highway to find a highway sign bent at the corner. The logistics suggest that when the wife swerved at one point, at a high rate of speed, the husband flew out of the truck’s bed, and his neck met with the corner of a roadside sign in such a manner that it led to his decapitation.

“The reason I remember this case, to this day, has less to do with the sad and horrific details of it,” Dan continued, “and more to do with this woman’s callous reaction to the news of her husband’s death. Was her reaction the result of a flurry of emotions she still felt regarding the argument she had with her husband? Was the reaction fueled by a sense of remorse over what she did? The instinct is to discount remorse, as she didn’t sound remorseful, but I’ve found that remorse takes many forms. I couldn’t answer those questions, and I still can’t, as I don’t know what was in her head, but my experience, while working in this particular county in Arkansas, suggested that her reaction to the news of her husband’s demise was characteristic of the people in that Arkansas county. My experience with the residents of this county suggested to me that these people didn’t value life in the manner the rest of us do. This wasn’t the only example of the experiences I had with this characteristic in this county, but it was one of the more brazen. I didn’t witness such uniform callousness in Kansas, in Phoenix, or in any of the places, I’ve worked in throughout my career. It would define for me,” Dan said of his characterization, “how I would work in this county, and it happened early on in my tenure there.”

*This story was used with permission.

Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff I: “I Want to Kill Someone!”

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff III: He was a Real Sonofabitch

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff I


I Want to Kill Someone

 

“I want to kill someone,” a man said after entering a small town’s police station. Any time someone issues such a threat, it can be alarming. When that person enters a police station to confess such a desire to his local sheriff, all parties concerned should consider this an elevated threat. When that individual making that threat is a 6’8” and 350lb. man with a history that warrants a level of scrutiny from local law enforcement officials, the audience to such a threat drops everything else to address the man’s concerns.

Officer June, the wife of Sheriff Dan, was on front desk duty the morning this 6’8” and 350lb. man entered the station and issued his threat, and she was also working the radio dispatch. The problem was she was the only person in the station when this man entered.

The sheriff’s office did not consider the man violent, as he had no criminal record, but he did have a history of unpredictable behavior that put him on their radar. He suffered from a mental illness that required regular medication, and the idea that he was not on his medication on this particular morning was obvious, for he did not direct his anger at one particular person. His anger was more general, and he sought a release.

“He had his hands splayed out at the sides of his head, and he was squeezing his fingers together, as he repeated that line, ‘I want to kill someone,’” June said. “When I asked him for how I might be able help him, he repeated, ‘I want to kill someone,’ and he added, ‘I need to talk to Dan.’

“Dan is not here right now,” June informed the man. “Dan is at the hardware store, and he’ll be back soon. The man told me that he could not wait,” June added, “and that he wanted to kill someone, and he started in with the fingers again.”

“I’m six foot tall,” Dan said, “and I would have to look up to the man when he talked. When I run across a person that has a somewhat troubled past, I’ve always consider it a lawman’s job to lay some groundwork in the event that something could happen at a later date. Especially, when that person is large as this man was, and his history suggests that he might be capable of really hurting someone. It’s been my experience that the key to diffusing possible future situations is day-to-day contact. When I would see this man on the streets, or in the hardware store, I would stop to say hello to him. ‘Hey, how you doing today?’ I’d say. I would ask him about the particulars of his day, and I would ask him about his job. I would then ask him questions about how his family was doing. I would make small talk, in other words, to establish what I considered a vital link with the man. I did this so often with him that he and I developed a relationship. I would do that, with the thought that if a day like the one June is describing should ever arise, he’d look for me, his friend, if he needed to talk to someone.”

“The first question I’ve been asked,” June said. “Is if you were on radio dispatch that day, why didn’t you get on the horn and tell Dan what was going on in the station? The problem was that Dan never answered his radio.

“I was lucky this day,” June continued, “because Dan informed me where he was going before he left. He told me he was going across the street to the hardware store. He normally didn’t tell anyone where he was going. He just went. So, when this 6’8” and 350lb. man walked in talking about wanting to kill someone in such a manic state, and with him being so insistent that he wanted speak with Dan, and only Dan, I sprinted across the street to the hardware store and retrieved him.”

“Learning the details of such a situation might have led a less tenured law enforcement official to believe that such a situation required force, especially when your wife is the one providing these details in such a distressed manner,” Dan said. “I thought I laid the foundation for a decent relationship with this man, and I thought this might lead to a peaceful resolution, but peaceful resolutions are a two-way street. I knew this man could be unpredictable, and I decided that the best course of action was to prepare for the unpredictable nature of this man.

“Before we made it back to the station,” Dan continued. “I told June to put a gun on the two of us, and if anything should happen, just start firing. My rationale being, that if my interaction with this man devolved to a tussle, I would rather take a bullet than the haymakers I feared this man could deliver.”

“He had these enormous hands,” June said to illustrate why Dan’s concerns might have led him to believe that it would be better to take a bullet as opposed to a punch from this man. “I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say I’ve never seen hands as large as his, in person, and I would say that if you think you’ve seen large hands, go ahead and assume his hands were larger than that.”

“So he and I start talking once I arrived at the station,” Dan said, “and he informed me that he wanted to kill someone today, and I suggested that he might want to go back into a cell and cool off, but he did not want to do that.”

“He did not want to go into a cell,” June interjected. “I invited him to sit in the cell when I went to retrieve Dan from the hardware store, and he made it abundantly clear that he did not want to be in a cell.”

“So, I said, okay,” Dan said, “and we start talking again. He began explaining his situation to me, and I decided that the best course of action for me was to just sit back and listen. I developed a relationship with him as I said, and I knew various details about his family, so when he went through the details of his situation, I offered a sympathetic ear. When he finished, I told him that I understood his situation and that we would work together to rectify it. I also told him that when I was done at the hardware store, I had been planning to get some ice cream when. I told him that I still wanted to go to the ice cream store, and I asked him if he would like it if I bought him a dish of ice cream too. He said, ‘Sure.’ I knew the man had a weakness for ice cream, so I said, ‘Well, why don’t you go have a seat, and I’ll go buy you some ice cream.’ We looked for a chair for him to sit in, but we couldn’t find one, until I suggested one. The chair I suggested happened to be in a cell. When he sat, I locked the door behind him, and I went to get him some ice cream. We called the family and told them to find the medication this man required, and there were no further incidents. The man ate his ice cream and took his medication.”

“One of the things I tell less tenured law enforcement officials is that one simple act of kindness, and understanding, can go a long way with people,” Dan continued. “Some of the times, a lawman needs to be strong and forceful, but some of the times, a lawman can be just as effective by listening to the complaints a person has about their day, and that they should display a genuine level of interest and understanding for the person’s problem. A lawman can be too kind of course, and people like this 6’8” 350lb man can sense this. They can misconstrue it as weakness. In the case of this 6’8” 350lb. man, however, diffusing the situation that happened that day at the station, occurred long before he entered the station all worked up. He and I developed a friendship founded on mutual respect, and it concluded with one simple act of kindness.”

*This story was used with permission.

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff II: “Is He Dead?”

The Strange Days of a Small Town Sheriff III: He was a Real Sonofabitch