Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Great Banana Caper

Did you ever have one of those times when you go a little out of your way to try to be helpful and it comes back on you? well I had one of those not too long ago. It's still referred to around my department as "The Great Banana Caper".

It all began one day when I decided to camp out in a local highway construction zone and slow traffic down a bit. As i did so, I got to talking with a couple of the construction workers and they told me that for the past couple of weeks, a woman had been driving through every morning between 7:30 and 8:00AM and throwing a banana at them. Not a banana peel, but a whole banana. And she did this every weekday.

I admit, my first thought was that this was kinda funny, and they'd thought so too, until a couple of guys had actually been hit by the flying bananas. Apparently a banana launched from a car at 40-45mph hurts when it hits you. I had to take their word for that, but being a nice guy, I promised to come back for the next few mornings and see if I couldn't catch the Unknown Fruiter.

That was my first mistake. The second was when I put a slip in identifying my special enforcement project so that I would not get a bunch of low-priority calls during that timeframe. You can bet that that one raised my sergeant's eyebrows at the next roll call.

"You want to be blocked out to catch WHAT?!"

And word spread around the station that I was on the hunt for a dangerous criminal. Support was offered by small containers of milk and recipes for banana bread left--anonymously of course--in my mailbox.

What made it worse, however, was that I couldn't actually catch this woman. For almost two weeks I failed to make the connection with her. Either she wouldn't show up, or else she'd come by and pelt the workers when I wasn't there waiting. It actually got to be pretty embarrassing, especially when my co-workers inquired daily as to when they might expect to read about the arrest of this criminal mastermind in the morning papers.

Finally I caught a break. I showed up one morning for my stake-out, which had now been dubbed "Operation Dole" by my professional peers, and the work foreman told me that she'd just come by not two minutes before. I sighed. But this time was different. This time someone had actually gotten her LICENSE NUMBER--something that hadn't happened this far into the game. I ran the tag and got the name of the owner, along with a local address within our jurisdiction.
As I figured she was probably on her way to work in the morning, I decided to go pay her a visit in the later afternoon, just prior to end of shift, and talk to her about her little game.

And later that day, I drove up to a nice townhouse and saw the vehicle in question parked under the carport. Finally I could put this one to bed.

I rang the bell and a rather attractive woman about 40 years old answered the door. I asked for my suspect, and she admitted that she was the one I was looking for. And when I told her why I was there, she laughed and freely admitted that yes, she'd been throwing bananas at the workers almost every day for the past month or so. She actually stopped at the local stop n' rob to buy one every morning along with her coffee and paper. It was a joke that she thought was quite funny, and when I asked her why she threw bananas, she said it was because construction workers reminded her of apes. Nice gal, eh? And she was a money market manager at a big firm downtown.

Well I advised her against doing it any further and I left, figuring that this was finally over. I went back and wrote up my reports, including her statements, and submitted the packet, expecting to hear no more about it. I let the road workers know that I'd talked to her and that it shouldn't happen again. I did get a round of applause at roll call the next day, but what I didn't expect was the call from the prosecutor's office a couple of days later, telling me to come in and pick up the arrest warrant. Apparently one of the workers had called over there saying that he wanted to press charges, so now I had to go pick her up for multiple charges of FELONY ASSAULT since she'd thrown objects--bananas--from a moving vehicle, which under our criminal code, was a felony regardless of what the object was. So that afternoon, I once again drove to the townhouse and rang the bell. The banana lady came back to the door, laughing and claiming that she hadn't thrown any more bananas, so if there was fresh fruit out there, it had to have come from someone else. I asked her to step outside on the stoop for a moment, and when she did, I informed her that she was under arrest and suggested that she get her ID and her credit cards and lock her door. It took her a few seconds to figure out that I was serious, and when she did, she tried to jump back inside, but I grabbed her and pulled her back out and got the cuffs on while she screamed and hollered and basically caused a scene in front of her neighbors and anyone else who might be around to watch. Now she wasn't friendly any more, and she bitched about how embarrassing this was, and how ridiculous, and told me several times that she was going to sue me for emotional distress because all her neighbors would think that she was a criminal now. And she said that she should have thrown the bananas at cops, because we were all apes, too. Again with the "ape" thing in reference to men who do real work. Now I'm thinking that someone's probably got some interesting fantasies.

But I brought her back in, arriving at shift change, and both shifts got a good look at the Rotten Banana, as she was now known. Sigh... Everyone else in the processing center has drug dealers and thieves, and I have a banana-tossing money manager. Freaking great. And she ran her mouth the whole time, just making it all that much more special.

Long story short, it was pled down to a misdemeanor Disorderly Person charge and she actually got twenty days community service, roughly a day for every banana that she'd thrown. So for ten week-ends, she got to don a day-go vest and go out and clean up trash with the rest of the local petty criminals. I have to wonder how many banana peels she picked up while she was out there.

As for me, I learned to just stay on the highway and mind my own business.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

So there I am one night, just minding my own business...

Not bothering anyone. Nope. It was about 4AM, the night was dead, and I'd just finished my reports and was on the way to the local Stop n' Rob to get a cup of coffee.

I was rolling down a highway, about to get off at the exit where the coffee was, when I saw headlights in my rearview. They were way back and had just been visible for a second when they'd crested a hill. I almost let it go, but since it was so slow out tonight, I pulled to the shoulder just before the ramp and doused me lights, figuring I'd at least check this guy's speed on my rear radar as he came past. If he was really speeding, I'd peg him. If not, at least one more guy would see that we actually ARE out here at night. So I waited that few seconds...

My radar unit screamed and nearly jumped off of the dashboard. 112 mph. Holy Shit! I turned my lights back on as the car rocketed past me and had just put my hand on the gear shift when he slid into the curve just past the exit ramp--a curve that was the reason for the speed limit in this area being posted at 50mph. And sure enough--going into the curve, he lost it. He skidded and slammed into the left side Jersey wall, hitting it hard enough to bounce off and spin completely across the two-lane highway to impact the wall on the right side. The car--a full-size Mercury Marquis--disintegrated before my eyes, car parts large and small flying everywhere.

I got on the radio and called out that I'd just witnessed a crash and that Rescue and additional police units were going to be needed, then I rolled up to the wreckage, expecting to find a dead moron or two.

A teenager got out of what was left of the car. He was a bit woozy, but actually appeared uninjured. "Inconceivable!" as Fezzini would have said.

I sat him down and had just started talking to him when everyone else started to show up. I smelled booze on him and when I asked him if he'd been drinking, he admitted it. He also did not have a driver's license. He was 18 and had never had one. The car was his sister's. Great. So much for getting off in two hours like I was supposed to.

Now I wanted to pop the little turd for DUI, but he quickly figured out the score and even though he'd told me several times that he wasn't hurt. he began asking to go to the hospital once I told him that he was going to be taken back to the station for a Breathalyzer. And of course as bad as the crash was, I couldn't deny him. So I let Rescue package his dopey ass up and he was probably thinking that he was getting over, not realizing that I'd be following him down there with a blood draw kit.

But first I had to deal with the questions from my peers.

"Dude--what were you chasing him for?"

Of course I hadn't been chasing him, but no one wanted to accept the fact that I'd just been parked on the shoulder when this goofball came by and coincidentally destroyed himself right in front of me. Cops being cops, everyone was jumping to the conclusion that I'd been chasing this kid without putting the pursuit out over the radio and only called in the wreck to cover my ass. I must have been asked at least once by every other cop who showed up. "What were you chasing him for? You know they're going to hammer you for chasing off the radio..."

I really can't blame them. I'd have had trouble believing my claim too. I mean, what are the odds?

Even my sergeant pulled me aside and told me that there were liable to be some questions later about my role in this, and that I might want to call up the shift union steward.

I finally exploded. "Look, dammit! I was NOT chasing this kid! I was really just sitting over there minding my own business! Hell--go to the hospital and ASK HIM! And do it before I get there so there won't be any question about him being coached! In fact, Sarge, I insist that you go ask him and get a statement from him right now."
My sergeant, being a good guy who takes care of his people, said that he would go over and do that just to make sure that nothing bad came down from the Monday morning quarterbacks at headquarters. I'd hoped that he would. I quickly grabbed a blood kit from my duty bag. "Oh--and while you're over there, would you be so kind as to get a blood draw for me?" I could play the game too. That just saved me about an hour and a half that I would have blown over at the hospital. Besides, I still had to document all of this carnage and I had some questions for the actual owner of the car.

The sister came to the station to talk to me just as I was finishing the crash diagram. And she was incredibly cooperative, admitting freely that she'd let her brother borrow her car and that she'd known that he did not have a license. She even said that she'd known that he was going to a party and figured that he'd be drinking. And all of those statements went into my report. I also cited her for allowing an unlicensed driver to use her car, and I found out later that based upon my report and the citation--which she paid (basically admitting to the charge)--the insurance company denied the claim on the car. It was only two years old. She also got a bill for damage to the Jersey walls, and that's never cheap.

Long story short, the kid did state that he'd been speeding long before getting to that curve, and he also stated that I was not chasing him and that he hadn't even seen me when he passed me. And his BAC turned out to be 0.21, so he got pegged for DWI, Underage Consumption, Reckless Driving in addition to Operating Without a License and Uninsured Motorist.

DISPOSITION: A plea deal where he took the DWI and OWL and got 15 days jail and no driver's license until his 21st birthday, with the judge telling him that if he got caught driving again before then, he could count on being locked up for at least thirty days.

And of course big sister was out a car that she was probably still paying on.