Women Are From Venus, Cops Are From Mars

Most of the time, there is a tragedy that overshadows the two fundamentally different views of what happened, so that it’s impossible to divorce the consequences from the mechanics. Not so when it comes to the story of 59-year-old Louise Goldsberry in the Herald-Tribune, where it’s about as clean and clear as it gets.

It’s basically a he said, she said story when the operating room scrub nurse arrived home from a day at work, only to find as she washed some dishes at her kitchen sink a guy outside in a “hunting” vest pointing a gun at her face.

“I screamed and screamed,” she said.

But she also scrambled across the floor to her bedroom and grabbed her gun, a five-shot .38-caliber revolver. Goldsberry has a concealed weapons permit and says the gun has made her feel safer living alone. But she felt anything but safe when she heard a man yelling to open the door.

Threat? Well, it surely looked that way to Goldsberry, who couldn’t conceive of any other reason why someone was pointing a gun at her face or banging at her door. Why would she? Why should she?

He was claiming to be a police officer, but the man she had seen looked to her more like an armed thug. Her boyfriend, [Craig] Dorris, was calmer, and yelled back that he wanted to see some ID.

But the man just demanded they open the door. The actual words, the couple say, were, “We’re the f—— police; open the f—— door.”

Police use profanity to convey fear and the seriousness of their mission. They are also all pumped up, not knowing what they will find on the other side of the door. But to the ordinary person inside, it runs contrary to the whole Officer Friendly thing law enforcement has fought to perpetuate while arming themselves with tanks and drones. Police are our friends. Police are polite and respectful. Police would never, well, you know.

They eventually broke down the door, dozens of United States Marshals from the fugitive division, together with local cops and anyone else hoping to get an easy medal.

“Drop the f—— gun or I’ll f—— shoot you,” he shouted, then said it again and again, Goldsberry and Dorris say.

Dorris noted that they had tactical shields, even though a bright light blinded them, and realized they actually were cops rather than robbers.

Then she set the gun down and walked out, shaking and crying, and also was quickly handcuffed.

They remained cuffed for close to half an hour as the apartment was searched for a wanted man who wasn’t there, never had been, and who was totally unknown to them.

They were shown his picture.

Then they were released, the police left, and that was that.

No harm, no foul, as far as the police were concerned. Just doing their job, according to federal marshal Matt Wiggins. They got a tip that a wanted fugitive was at Goldsberry’s apartment complex. Not her apartment, but at her complex. So they went to find out.

But when the people in Goldsberry’s apartment didn’t open up, that told Wiggins he had probably found the right door. No one at other units had reacted that way, he said.

Maybe none of them had a gun pointed at them through the kitchen window, I suggested. But Wiggins didn’t think that was much excuse for the woman’s behavior. He said he acted with restraint and didn’t like having that gun aimed at him.

“I went above and beyond,” Wiggins said. “I have to go home at night.”

There it is, the First Rule of Policing. Wiggins expected immediate compliance because he’s a federal marshal and that’s what people do: as he commands. It’s not, in his mind, a contempt of cop thing, but a matter of priorities. He has a job to do and if somebody has to die, it surely won’t be him.

“We were clearly the police,” Wiggins insisted. “She can’t say she didn’t know.”

She does say so, actually.

“I couldn’t see them. They had a big light in my eyes,” Goldsberry said the next day. And that man she saw aiming a gun through her window had nothing visible that said “cop,” in her mind.

“I was thinking, is this some kind of nutjob?”

Clearly tends to be a by-product of where you’re standing in situations like this. Wiggins knows he’s a cop, so that means Gooseberry had to know. How could she not, since anything obvious to him must be obvious to everyone else? Duh.

Stories like this rarely reach the outside, as it’s “dog bites man” for newspapers. There was no blood, and without an emotional hook, who cares?  But in these rare instances where tragedy doesn’t happen from the confusion, arrogance, self-serving stupidity and, well, First Rule of Policing, it lets us see clearly how easily tragedy can occur when the police, the zebra in the lives of ordinary people, just can’t grasp that the rest of the world isn’t anticipating their breaking down the door at any moment.

“I feel bad for her,” Wiggins conceded, finally. “But at the same time, I had to reasonably believe the bad guy was in her house based on what they were doing.”

Goldsberry wasn’t arrested or shot despite pointing a gun at a cop, so Wiggins said, “She sure shouldn’t be going to the press.”

No harm, no foul, and Wiggins had a job to do. From the law enforcement perspective, this was a damn good day, as Wiggins got to go home for dinner.

H/T Rick Horowitz

18 comments on “Women Are From Venus, Cops Are From Mars

    1. SHG Post author

      Maybe the guy with the rifle pointed at Goldsberry’s face thought she was destroying the DNA evidence? It’s amazing how perspective completely changes the view.

  1. Stephen Heath

    Wiggins: Had we NOT made a violent, paramilitary entrance – I may not have gone home safe to my family that night.

    1. SHG Post author

      Why would you put me in the position of defending Wiggins? He still had a job to do. The solution isn’t for cops to take their paycheck and sit around doing nothing all day long so they don’t get hurt, and don’t hurt anyone else. We can’t forget that they serve a purpose.

      1. Matt

        Fair enough, but I think the point he was trying to make is that its a bit Kafkaesque for police to carry out their duties in a way that (in my view) unnecessarily increases their own risk of harm, and then rely on that increased risk of harm to justify such violent behavior. My sense, however, is that you, Mr. Greenfield, understand that point very well.

        1. SHG Post author

          Looking back at his comment, I realize now that I misread it when I left the reply, so yeah.

          Also, if you don’t want to leave an email, that’s fine, but then your comment won’t post next time. Sorry, but that’s how it is here.

  2. Kit

    Excuse me Mr. Greenfield but Deputy Marshal Wiggins is an ass who should be relieved of duties. His justification to search an apartment is simply that an individual refused to admit him to their residence with no warrant? Did I miss something? A “tip” is received that a suspect is in a neighborhood and that gives one the right to enter a given dwelling when a resident chooses not to open their door simply because he says “We’re the fucking police”?

    As for the vulgarity, cops cuss because they want to. They say they cuss to intimidate but that’s either a lie or self-justifcation. They cuss off the job, on the job and at the job. I’ve known numerous officers who have a command presence and they did not need to be vulgar.

    As for identifying oneself as a law enforcement officer, the Marshals Service generally wear no uniform, wearing plain clothes on the job. Some will put on a raid jacket and a ball cap – the design of which I have found to vary by jurisdiction and when originally obtained (last year or a decade ago) and also show little similarity to what the public expects police to dress as (which is also a problem with SWAT units dressing like a version of some radical right-wing aryan militia groups). Other officers think simply wearing a badge around the neck or on their hip is acceptable – some of those have actually been shot by their own when approached from the rear or the offside of where the shield is exposed.

    I’ve also learned over the years that law enforcement types hate to apologize. It’s a shame as, in cases such as these, it’s a moral responsibility to do so. i believe W. D. Ross considered it a prima facie duty labeled reparation.

    So sorry but Deputy Marshal Wiggins needs to confirm if his liability insurance premiums are up to date.

    Enjoy the blog. Stay safe.

    1. SHG Post author

      So why start out with the words, “excuse me, Mr. Greenfield”? To note, at great length, that Wiggins was wrong is state the obvious. This post offers an opportunity to see the rationalization process that goes into law enforcement engaging in such wrongful conduct, and for cops to understand why their perspective leads to harming innocent people.

      Or, we can turn every interaction into an opportunity for a hyperbolic rant reflecting blind rage that illuminates nothing. If that’s your only concern, to vent your outrage, then head over to reddit and curse cops at will. Here, I try to do something more useful.

      Edit: I see that Turley wrote about this today, plenty of outrage, nothing to give you a headache by making you think. You would probably be more comfortable over there.

      1. Kit

        “Police use profanity to convey fear and the seriousness of their mission.”

        “Clearly tends to be a by-product of where you’re standing in situations like this. Wiggins knows he’s a cop, so that means Gooseberry had to know. How could she not, since anything obvious to him must be obvious to everyone else? Duh.”

        And in closing; “No harm, no foul, and Wiggins had a job to do. From the law enforcement perspective, this was a damn good day, as Wiggins got to go home for dinner.”

        My amends MR. Greenfield but I would suggest that your choice of wording reads as much as, at times, an apologia as it does as an exemplar of police rationalization.

        I would further suggest that it is more than simply an expectation that the public should/will have a view of policing identical to the officers’ view. Historically the police have an expectation of [i]respect[/i] and if that respect is not given, it will be taken, if necessary, at the end of a baton. The failure of a citizen to follow the instructions of an officer is considered but another example of that lack of respect. Another illustration is the citizen who fails to immediately pull over when an unmarked police unit hits their lights and siren, instead driving further down the road to pull over in a lighted and safe area. The first response by many officers is anger, followed by cuffs and a possible ride to the county lock-up.

        It is part of a world view instilled in officers that the community is a dangerous place and that all civilians are a potential threat. I suggest that it is more than simply the spotlight effect playing out. It is a much greater sub-cultural issue.

        Again, my thanks for an enjoyable blog and if I failed to recognize nuance within your writing, my apologies.

        1. SHG Post author

          I think you’ve grossly misapprehended what I do here. First, this is a law blog, not a police-hating blog. Second, my posts deal with narrow issues, not the grandiose idiocy one finds on non-lawyer blogs. Finally, I’ve dealt with a great many issues in the more than 5000 posts here. Before you presume to enlighten me as to cops, read them. When you’re done, then we can talk about what might not have been said.

          SJ may be new to you, but it isn’t to me. You have some work to do. And if you’re looking for simplistic outrage and anger, this isn’t the place for you.

  3. C. N. Nevets

    My wife and I used to live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in one of the rougher areas of town. Our apartment was a bit of a target for traffic we did not care to receive. Prior to our taking up residence it had been the base of operations for a drug dealer, some of whose customers took a couple of years to realize he no longer lived there. Soon after, we declined to by newspapers from a group of teenagers who then tagged our door and made us a target of minor gang vandalism for a time.

    TL;DR version: we got to be pretty darn careful about opening our door.

    One night, at about 10pm there was a knock on the door. I looked out the peep hole. No one there. A few minutes later, another knock. I checked again; still no one. A few minutes later there was another, much louder knock, followed by the two words, “The police.”

    I looked at the peep hole. Still no one.

    I said, “I’m not opening the door until I see some identification.”

    The person said, “We’re the police.”

    I asked, “Then why are you hiding so that I can’t see you?”

    The answer was, “It’s not safe for us to stand in front of closed doors in this neighborhood.”

    “But,” I challenged him politely, “it’s sage for me to open doors to people I can’t see?”

    “Of course, it is,” he said. “I told you: we’re the police.”

      1. C. N. Nevets

        I think it’s a variation on what psychologists call the spotlight effect — the idea that we all think we’re so much more visible and transparent to others than we really are. Most of us are in our own spotlight and have a hard time understanding that we’re not in the spotlight of the rest of the world. Generally, the only ill effect of that is along the lines of miscommunication or misunderstanding. When it’s the police operating under such assumptions with potentially lethal force, it’s far more problematic.

      2. ExCop-LawStudent

        That was one of the hardest things I had to get across to my officers, is that they had to make sure that the public could identify them as police officers. One officer on bicycle patrol stopped a car for some violation (I don’t remember what for) and then called out on the radio when the female driver took off when he approached the vehicle. A squad car stopped her a couple of blocks away. When I got there, the initial officer had her handcuffed and was going to charge her with felony evading.

        My idiot was wearing a ski mask because it was in the mid-30s with a windchill in the 20s. As soon as she saw a guy dressed in all dark clothing and a ski mask she drove off, scared to death.

        I had her released, apologized to her, and sent her on her way, and then chewed on my officer for about 15 minutes. His explanation fits what C.N. says below perfectly – he was the police and she should have submitted to his authority.

        The problem is, particularly when you get SWAT types involved, is that they think of nothing but the fact that they are the police and they have the right to go home at the end of the shift. They never, ever consider that citizens have the same right to survive as they do, and have been taught that officer safety trumps everything else. Many believe that it trumps the constitutional rights of citizens. None believe that they ever need to apologize.

        1. SHG Post author

          This seems to be a root problem that gives rise to so many of the tragedies and “ordinary injustices” that people suffer at the hands of cops. One detail: Police are citizens too, just as they are civilians too. They just happen to wear a shield and gun on the job.

  4. Stephen Heath

    My initial comment was intended as low level rhetorical snark towards Wiggins’ cited quotes. I was not trying to pin Scott to a cop-defender role nor was I particularly attempting to slam LEOs in general. I am a civilian who comes from a career law enforcement family. I read here primarily for discussion of First & Fourth Amendment-related items, not to engage in tedious cops good cops bad blah blah. Thanks for the friendly forum.

    1. SHG Post author

      As noted above, I misread your original comment when I replied. I could have deleted it, but my preference is to let the discussion happen, warts and all.

      That said, bear in mind that “low level rhetorical snark” from commenters whose style isn’t known don’t always come off as intended, and sometimes it’s impossible to discern snark. A lot of commenters assume that everybody should be able to tell what they’ve got going on in their head. That’s frequently not the case, and leads to issues that wouldn’t exist but for the confusion.

      As for what you come here to read, that’s not particularly relevant. What’s here is what I decide to have here. Whether someone finds this a “friendly forum” or not, interesting to them or not, satisfying blah blah, isn’t the bar. If it’s not to your liking, you’re always free to go elsewhere. But to the extent that anyone expects SJ to adjust to suit their preferences is going to be sadly disappointed.

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