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