The Tale Of Deputy Dennis
February 10, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Cops get a bad rap at Fault Lines, largely because the contributing staff is really good at rooting out instances of police misconduct and shining a bright light on how they affect people. Our contributing staff does not hate cops. It’s the lies, the continued cover-ups, and the lack of accountability the Fault Lines contributors despise.
There are good cops out there, ones that realize not every person needs a beating, tasing, or bullet for failure to comply. Some actually manage to take into account the considerations of the community, and act accordingly. One such cop is Deputy Dennis*, a Sheriff’s Deputy in my hometown with whom I interacted daily during my early years practicing law.
Small town law is a strange bird. You’re expected to follow the “adversarial system” that pits the State against the individual, but there’s often times when you’re waiting on the DA to hear out your case or plea deal and have nothing else to do but jaw with the cops or other lawyers in the room. Deputy Dennis was one of the fun ones to shoot the breeze with. If you wanted a good story, he was the first person to ask.
The tale that comes to mind involves a potential DUI case that never made its way to court. During a lull in courtroom activity, I asked Deputy Dennis if he’d ever stopped someone for a crime and not arrested them, even if there was a damned good reason to do it. He responded “Absolutely, in fact one case just happened last weekend.”
What follows is a story I can do no justice by telling in the third party. It’s a story burned into my brain ever since Deputy Dennis told it. I will do my best to tell it in his words, years after the fact.
“I was on patrol Friday night down the main drag when I saw this guy stumbling down the side of the road near the local Big Lots shopping complex. The guy was drunk. There was no question about it. So I hit the blue lights and sirens and stopped the guy.”
“After questioning him, it turns out he’d had one too many at the local den of ill repute, and decided to walk home. I asked him why he’d walk home instead of calling someone, and he slurred out “Officer, I am too damned drunk to drive, so calling someone wouldn’t help a bit. The best I can do is walk home.”
“Now at this point I’ve got a decision to make. I either arrest the guy for public intoxication or figure out some way to get his drunk ass home without him getting hurt. I look at his driver license, see he’s about three miles away, and then tell him I’m putting him in the back of the squad car.”
“Now at this point the guy raises a fuss until I tell him I’m simply taking him home. I didn’t want to deal with the paperwork for booking him on a PI, and I figure if he’s got enough faculties to realize he’s better off walking home than driving drunk he shouldn’t be jailed for it. So after a bit of protest, he gets in the car, and I drive him home. It takes him less than three minutes to start snoring like a buzzsaw in the backseat.”
“I get him to his house and wake him up long enough to get his keys to the door. He hands them over without incident and manages to stumble into his house and collapse on the couch before passing out again. I leave the keys on the table next to the couch and start to sneak out, locking the door behind me, when I hear a cell phone ring.”
“Turns out it was the guy’s wife. She wanted to know where her husband was and why a Sheriff’s deputy was answering his cell phone. I told her he was intoxicated, I found him, and brought him home because it wasn’t worth arresting him over being drunk in public and his realizing he shouldn’t drive. The wife asked how much he’d had to drink and where he’d been. Sounded like divorce material. I said “Ma’am, that’s an issue you’ll need to take up with your husband when you get home.”
I’ve not seen Deputy Dennis in years, but I’ll never forget the night he chose discretion and a bit of empathy over being a “warrior cop” and making a PI collar when he realized a dude was just trying to get home after realizing driving drunk wasn’t worth it. The world needs more cops like Deputy Dennis.
*Of course, not his real name