Editor's note: This is the conclusion of a three-part series by Crosscut writer Ann Bauer, who had an unexpectedly rough landing when she arrived in Washington last summer. The first two "Island Girl" installments ran here and here.
In the end, this is a story about how the system genuinely works — as most, I’ve found, are.
That councilman contacted the island’s chief of police who turned around within a couple hours and called me. He asked me to describe the whole situation, from beginning to end. This took a long time but he was patient. He asked several questions then told me to hang tight, he’d get back to me. It might take time but I could trust him.
And strangely, I did.
The attorney I’d hired for J did not. He was furious at me for having spoken to the police. “You’ve given them more ammunition,” he said. “Their only goal is to build a case against your husband. And you’re handing it to them!”
I wavered. I wished, more than anything, that I could discuss the matter with J whose wisdom I rely on in such matters. But we were still not allowed to speak. So I took a deep breath.
“I think he’s really trying to help,” I said. The attorney sighed loudly and hung up.
From what I was able to piece together, we’d run into the one guy on the force who was known to be whimsical with his power of arrest. And I suppose I can see, looking back, why he jumped to the conclusion he did: He came across a large, barefoot man lying on top of an injured woman and reeking of booze. Other officers might have listened to the story we told, run our licenses and taken into account the fact that at 47 and 43 respectively, J and I had no record of any kind. But this was a man more instinctually reactive. I imagine he’s the kind of cop you want around if, say, you need to be pulled out of a burning car.
Certainly, both the arresting officer’s history and ours had to play into what happened next.
First, the chief spoke to the domestic violence advocate to confirm my story. She then called me to offer a variety of resources, including counseling for my daughter and free emergency housing so I would not need to keep paying for a hotel.
Now mind you, this was still less than 48 hours after the time of arrest. Already, our case was being examined and we were receiving assistance from the county. You can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.
I received a second call from the police chief the following day, telling me he had made a formal request that the prosecutor drop all charges. It could take some time, he warned me again: The county had undergone budget cuts and workers had to take mandatory furloughs. Convening all the right people could be tricky, but eventually it would get done.
Then he wished me a good weekend and told me to call him if I needed anything. He gave me his personal, off-duty cell phone number. He even told when he was unavailable because he would be attending his child’s soccer game.
Early the following week, the charges against J were dropped.
We moved back in together — gratefully, which is not a bad thing for a marriage — and set about finally furnishing our house. Despite the stress this bizarre interlude had caused, and the roughly $2,000 it cost us, I’m pleased to report neither of us said an incriminatory word.
Since the first installment of this story appeared last Monday, I’ve had a steady stream of calls and emails from men who claim that they, too, were wrongly charged. Most of them, frankly, have made me cringe. Especially the two that claimed most domestic abuse is committed by women — which is simply untrue.
Statistics compiled by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence show there were nearly 50,000 cases of domestic violence in 2006 (the last year for which rates are available), and 85 percent of them involved a woman being abused by a man. What’s more, police are more likely to be injured or killed when intervening in a domestic than almost any other time.
My husband was not abusing me that night in August. Neither were the police trying to bully or railroad us. They erred — extremely, perhaps — on the side of caution. But given the statistics, it very well may have been the right thing to do.
The only thing that grieves me still is that J is the one who paid the largest price — in terms of comfort, dignity, and personal safety — though he was the least culpable. Luckily, he is a decent enough man to put it behind him and move on.
Author's note: This story is entirely true. But I didn’t think it responsible to disclose places or names until it was completely told. So for the record: The island is Bainbridge, the police chief is Fehlman, and my amazingly understanding husband “J”? It’s John.
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