If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

WWK's May interviews will be: 5/2--indie author Bobbi Holmes, 5/9--TG Wolff (aka--Anita Devito), 5/16--Chocolate Bonbon author Dorothy St. James, 5/23--Lida Sideris, 5/30--Food Lovers' Village (and multiple Agatha winner) Leslie Budwitz. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our May Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 5/5--John Carenen, 5/12--Judy Penz Sheluk, 5/19--Margaret S. Hamilton, 5/26--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here.

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with the authors in this anthology on 4/14! Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Is It a Crime? by Carla Damron

It was a typical Friday morning; I was down in my home office writing and drinking (worshiping) my coffee. Around ten, as I climbed the steps for a refill, I glanced out our dining room window. A young man ran down our porch steps and across the lawn. A delivery guy, I decided, so I opened the front door expecting a package. Nothing was there.

I watched the young man bolt across the street to a house which is being renovated. He climbed the front steps and tugged on the door knob. He then ran to a side door and attempted to open it. Unsuccessful, he moved behind the house.

I grabbed my cell and dialed 9-1-1.  “I think someone’s trying to break into a house,” I said. The kid reappeared and approached the brick ranch next door to the home he’d just tried to enter, again trying to open a side door.

“Can you describe the suspect?” the 911 operator asked me.

“I’m looking right at him.” I watched him scurry around to the front and pull on the knob to that door. “White kid, dark sweatshirt and dark pants, thin, has short black hair. And now he’s crossing the street again and going to my next-door neighbor’s.”

This kid was not a subtle crook.  I wondered if he was very desperate (drug seeking?), or simply not very smart.

“Police are on their way,” the operator said.

Ten minutes later, a police officer arrived and asked me to again describe what I saw. I repeated what I’d told the operator.

“We already have him. He was running up the road. He says he came to rake yards.”

“I didn’t see a rake,” I said.

The officer shrugged. “Neither did we.”

“Let me call my neighbor.” I should have done that immediately. I dialed Gloria’s cell phone and told her what happened.

“I’m not at home,” she said.

“Did you hire anyone to rake your yard?”

“Yes. A teenager who lives up the street. Bobby Johnson (Not his real name). He’s emotionally disturbed. Autism, I think.”

I described the “suspect” and Gloria said that sounded like Bobby. “Maybe he came to the house and when I wasn’t there he tried the other houses,” Gloria said.

So now I felt terrible. This kid with autism had come to rake and I’d called the police on him. When I ran up the road to explain the situation, I found six police officers surrounding the pale, very scared looking teen. He looked at me and said, “Hey, Miss Gloria.” Clearly, he was confused. I felt relieved when I saw they hadn’t handcuffed him.

I pulled an officer and his captain aside and explained what I’d learned. The captain told the other officers, “Special needs, guys,” and the tone immediately changed. An aggressive, “What were you doing at those houses?” turned into “You can’t try to open people’s doors. It can get you in trouble. It isn’t even safe to do that.”

Bobby’s mom was called. No charges were filed.

That afternoon, his mother called me. We had never met. I worried she’d be angry about what happened, but instead, she wanted information. We ended up having a forty-five minute conversation in my front yard. She explained how Bobby was only recently diagnosed. He’s a highly intelligent, yet very disabled young man, who functions socially between the ages of five and eight. He attends a special school program Monday-Thursday where he receives an hour of therapy every day.

“But I now see I can’t leave him unsupervised on Fridays,” she said.

After his encounter with the police, Bobby had spent the afternoon in bed crying. I tried to imagine how terrifying his experience had been. My guilt about calling the police quickly dissolved; he needed to learn how his behavior was dangerous.

There are several ways this could have gone horribly wrong. For example, Bobby is lucky that he is white. Had he been an African American young man, dressed in dark clothes, attempting to enter houses—would the police response have been more hostile? I want to say no. I want to think we are all treated the same, but that isn’t always the case, is it?

Would my response have been any different?

Also, we live in a “stand your ground” state. Had Bobby tried to open the wrong door, something catastrophic might have happened.

Lastly, Bobby has a mental illness. For years, people with mental illnesses have ended up in jails and prisons; it’s even said among mental health advocates that Richland County’s Alvin S Glenn Detention Center is the largest psychiatric institution in our state. But Bobby didn’t go to jail. Once the police learned of his autism, they showed concern and sensitivity in how they dealt with him. They backed away. They used a gentler, more paternal tone. They wanted him to see that what he did was wrong, and could get him hurt.

I feel for Bobby and his family as they come to terms with his disorder. He does have a habit of “sneaking into places,” his mom told me. I hope what happened will discourage that behavior. It may, or may not; Bobby processes information in a different way than you and I. If he does have future interactions with law enforcement, I pray they treat him like the officers did that afternoon--as a confused kid who needs help.

Your thoughts? 

(Another version of this blog appeared in the NASW-SC Newsletter December, 2014)


E. B. Davis said...

Unfortunately, in Fredrick, MD, a young man, described as a "gentle giant" (I forget if he was autistic or another disorder) caused a disturbance at a movie theater (he wanted to see the movie again) when he was with a young woman caretaker, who either wouldn't or couldn't pay for watching another movie.

She didn't know how to handle him. The theater management called the police. In the minutes after the police arrived, somehow, the young man was killed.

The parents who didn't blame anyone, called for an investigation. They were not satisfied, and I don't think they ever got justice or found the truth. The young man had four younger and normal brothers and sisters. He lived at home and was a cherished member of their family.

The fact that the police were called at all seems ridiculous. Certainly someone would understand that the young man was disturbed. What would it really have cost them to allow him to watch the movie all the while allowing time for the parents to come and get him. Our values have gone to hell. It's a dollars and cents world.

Shari Randall said...

Thank goodness you were able to intervene, Carla. I agree, this story could have had a very different ending. I found myself wondering if law enforcement training includes dealing with people with special needs.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

A different slice of life. I think you did the right thing. It’s good the police changed their style with additional knowledge. They are there to protect (which they did by apprehending the youth) and serve (which they did by changing their tactics once they had additional information.)

In the days of the local cop on the beat, the officer would have already known the kid and would have been able to handle the situation better. Unfortunately, those days are behind us.

~ Jim

Carla Damron said...

In SC, Law Enforcement does receive training re: special needs. The issue is getting this identified as soon as possible with situations arise.

Kara Cerise said...

That could have easily turned into a tragedy. Thank goodness you found out that the boy was autistic and told the police and that they responded appropriately. I have a couple of friends with autistic children who use service dogs to help keep their kids safe. Also, when people see a child with a service dog they have more information to help them make a more accurate assessment of the situation.

Gloria Alden said...

What a touching blog, Carla. I'm glad it turned out okay, but it could have been much worse if he'd been a young black male dressed as he was. I'm hoping things will change with all the media coverage that has highlighted the problem lately.

I've had several students who had Asperger's and found them to be sweet and wanting to please. One of my brightest young students, a girl, took one young boy under her wing and watched out for him. I found that touching.

Warren Bull said...

I know the Kansas City, MO police department has training from mental health professionals. It must be difficult to respond repeatedly to unknown situations.

Kait said...

What a huge lesson. Things are not always what they appear to be. It's good that the officers on the scene followed their training. Thank you for sharing.

KM Rockwood said...

A potentially tragic situation that was saved by communication and personnel trained in handling special needs people.

I do have to question, though, why the mother ever thought the kid didn't need supervision on Fridays, and why he had only recently been recently identified as special needs. I have seen many children who need specific instruction in how to behave and interact with others, since it doesn't come naturally to them, and the earlier it's started, the better off everyone is.

Usually, no one can tell by looking when a person is mentally ill, crazed by drugs, drunk out of his/her mind, or very angry. They can appear unpredictable and dangerous. Those who have custody of special needs people have to keep that in mind.

A belligerent attitude toward police, or anyone in authority, can easily escalate into trouble for anyone.

All young people should be advised to be respectful, to recognize the authority invested in a person by his/her status as a police officer, and obey all commands. If you, or anyone else, has a problem with it, or thinks the commands are not lawful, make a complaint. There are effective channels for that. And the situation can be evaluated away from the unknown dangers faced by everyone during a tense confrontation.

AUTHOR Rebecca Jean Downey said...

I thought for sure that when you said you went and grabbed...it was for a gun.