Christmas Cheer gone bad

This morning I came into work and checked our jail roster. Only one Christmas arrest. I talked to a few officers that worked yesterday and they stated that it was quiet.  I started to reminisce about my experiences patrolling the streets on Christmas, and I remembered a holiday that wasn’t so quiet…

I had just completed my first year as a Hammond Police Officer and was scheduled to work Christmas Eve into Christmas morning (10PM to 6AM). I had half hoped it would be quiet as I intended to sneak into St. Joseph’s Church and catch some of the annual midnight mass. When I came into briefing that night, I checked our roster and saw we were going to be running the shift a little short on manpower. This was way before the days of the “Henry Units  (additional power shift) but we didn’t field as many “high speed” calls as my modern counterparts. Because it was Christmas Eve, the night of peace on earth, goodwill towards men, our shift supervisor had allowed several of the veteran officers on my shift to take a holiday, or personal day. In my deluded early career, I thought this would be okay, because “what could possibly go wrong on Christmas Eve?”

Right out of the gate, I started taking domestic fight calls. It seemed that when some families got together, they liked to “pass the jug around” and talk about the “old days”. Unfortunately, when their jaws loosened up a little, old skeletons began coming out of closets, and family arguments ensued over past transgressions. All night long, I ran from call to call, fixing one problem or another. I was separating families, and arranging places to stay for drunk loved ones that needed to get away from the rest of the family. This was back in the day before mandatory domestic violence arrest statutes. We would try to separate the combatants, and get one or the other to stay at a cousin or friend’s house. We always hoped if they got together to fight again, it would be after we went home, and the next shift would have to deal with it. Not the best of solutions, but we had to play with the cards we were dealt.

As I responded to family fights, one after another, my cheery, holiday mood quickly dissipated. Every fight participant I had contact with was intoxicated, and I began to wonder if I was the only person that wasn’t drunk. Every family fight turned into a shouting match as soon as I arrived.  It didn’t take long before I started to shout at the participants too, if only to be heard over their traded insults.

The final call of my night is the one I remember all too well. At about 1:00 a.m. I was dispatched to Sohl Avenue in reference to several subjects fighting in the street.  I had just left the old police station in city hall, and was only a few blocks away. As I responded, my back up officer radioed that he was a long ways from the call, and it would take some time for him to arrive. Stupidly, I didn’t wait and like the Lone Ranger (sans Tonto) I turned onto Sohl Ave. My headlights caught a scene that was surreal. One male subject was kneeling in the middle of a snow covered street. Another man ran up, and broke a wood handled snow shovel over his head. The first man fell immediately to the ground and was not moving. I activated my emergency lights and quickly used my radio to call for non existent back-up. I exited the car and saw several more subjects, with various weapons, approaching the downed man. My revolver cleared leather and I ordered everyone to get on the ground.  The combatants reluctantly dropped their weapons and laid in the snow. Any cop will tell you, the best sound in the world when you’re in the middle of a bad situation, is multiple sirens getting closer. It seemed like an eternity passed before the first squad got there, but we finally had strength in numbers, and we secured the scene. While getting an ambulance for the downed man, we got bits and pieces of the story from the assembled players, and other family members that ran out of the house.  It seems that the ‘snow shovel’ victim was actually the cause of the problem. He (let’s call him “John”) was the drug addict that the family had ostracized years before. While the rest of the family assembled to celebrate Christmas Eve, “John” was not invited.  Late that night, John showed up at the party, and the sister that was hosting the event, reluctantly let him in. Even though John, had in the past, stolen from and fought with every family member present, they figured that it was Christmas Eve, and allowed him to stay. Predictably, John began drinking and “badmouthing” everyone in the house. At one point, his sister told John to get out and he began walking towards the door. In the blink of an eye, he ripped down a louvered closet door ( one of the thin light ones) and began swinging it at all the assembled guests. He hit his sister square in the face, and clobbered a brother or two. One of the uncles grabbed the door away from John, so he dashed in the kitchen and pulled a knife out of the butcher block. With his new found, lethal weapon, John began swinging the knife wildly at his family.  An alert brother picked up the discarded closet door and battered, and pushed John out towards the front door. In return, John slashed the brother’s arm, and gave him a solid puncture wound in the shoulder. Once John was on the porch, the brothers ganged up on him and forced him into the street. When I arrived, they were using a snow shovel to lay the final “coup de grace” on John’s head.  John and the stabbed brother both got an ambulance ride to the hospital (in separate ambulances, I’m not an idiot).  The sister received an ice pack for her face, and the rest of the family departed for their homes. Christmas for this family, was over. I drove my squad behind the ambulance, and waited until John was examined and treated for his head wound. Afterwards, I handcuffed him and transported him to the station for processing. Our crabby booking Sergeant did not want to book my arrestee. It was Christmas Eve, and he was mad at the world because he had to work (come to think of it, he was mad at the world every day).  After several minutes of angered mutterings, he reluctantly agreed to provide “John” with a home for the holidays.

I spent the rest of the night on paperwork. Every family member wanted to prosecute “John”, so I had to complete a detailed report to cover all their accusations. Finally, at about 6:00 a.m., I walked out of the back door of the police station. The sun was starting to come up, and I was finally finished. I was dog tired, and disgusted with the world. I began to have serious doubts about the “Christmas spirit”.

Plastic Santa

Plastic Santa

The ride home was short.  As I walked by my four foot tall, lighted plastic Santa, I turned and sucker punched him in the face. I’m not a big guy, but Santa felt that one, and he never saw it coming…

Later on Christmas day, I visited my own family. They asked me if I had any “good” stories from my Christmas Eve tour of duty. I took a deep breathe and said ” no, it was a quiet night”.

Didn’t have a single drink that day…

Chief Brian Miller

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