It was a solitary street in an upper-class neighborhood with beautiful, trimmed shrubbery at every corner. And there he laid on one of those corners like a dead man. He had every appearance of being healthy. Young, tall, with full thick, clean hair, clothes that were pressed and clean, and he was shaved. He was a completely presentable human being, but for being collapsed and not breathing on this particular manicured corner.
I tried to rouse him. He mumbled something. I asked an idiot question, “Are you OK?” to which I received an equally idiot reply, “I’m fine.”
And so, the colloquy continued on this same inane path. “Do you need help?” and “No I’m fine,” to which answer he added the ability to stand on his two feet, walk several yards and collapse again.
I called 911. The police viewed him as a vagrant, publicly under the influence of something illegal. They failed to note that he was under the influence of something legal but equally dangerous, specifically them. The paramedics who later arrived said he needed to go for emergency care. This development interrupted the arrest, but dutifully, the police followed the ambulance, and I followed the police. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps he reminded me of the son I did not have and of the daughter that I did.
His stomach was pumped, he was placed on an IV, and his girlfriend came to bail him out of what could be a long time in jail. She was not in very good shape herself. The police, seeing the opportunity to arrest two for the price of one, suggested that she have involuntary breathalyzer or blood alcohol test after seeing her drive away from the parking lot and pulling her over. She submitted and was promptly taken in to share a cell with her boyfriend.
I had stayed at a safe distance watching all of this develop, but now I approached the police and said that I was an attorney and that these were my clients. I noted in passing to the chief officer that my clients had been arrested without being told the nature of their charges or that they had a right to an attorney and that they had the right to remain silent. The officer frowned. Had he been chewing tobacco it would have been understandable, but he managed anyway to spit a few feet from my shoes. “Counsel, you’re interfering with officers in the performance of their duties.” He motioned me into the rear of the police cruiser. “But you’re welcome to come along.”
“You got a card?” the girlfriend asked me just before she was pulled away to a squad car. I pulled a card from my pocket. She was handcuffed, so I tucked the card in the tight rear pocket of her pants.
That night, just as I sat down to a warmed-up can of soup, I got a call from her telling me her boyfriend was dead. “The police are saying that he was under the influence of PCP and that they had to restrain him with a chokehold. It was no chokehold. It was a George Floyd style knee on his neck, as if BLM had never happened.” Had she forgotten her boyfriend was white?
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m in jail calling you for bail.”
“Stay put,” I said, making my fourth idiotic statement in less than twelve hours.
“Does he have family?” I asked.
“I don’t know we were only together for a couple of weeks. We never talked about family.”
“Where’s his body?”
“I don’t have a clue. Probably in the morgue.”
Why did the police think a chokehold was necessary?
“It wasn’t necessary. He was having a psychotic break. He thought he was being attacked by killer ants. He started running at everybody pounding on them picking on them trying to save everyone from flesh-eating ants. He started pounding on them, slapping the police to kill the ants. He was screaming like a crazy man. He was telling them there are ants everywhere, and they had to do something. They didn’t care. All they knew was that he was coming at them with his fist raised. They slammed him to the ground and squeezed the life out of him.”
“And you saw all this?”
“Not exactly. I couldn’t see it because I was in the woman’s cell block down the hall. But I could hear it. I’m telling you everything I heard. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what happened.”
“And you? What was your state of mind at the time?”
“You mean other than scared as hell?”
“I mean, were you clear headed?”
“Clear headed enough to know they murdered him.”
I wasn’t so sure. But a kid, someone’s son, with no criminal record and arrested for being under the influence was dead at the hands of the police while in locked custody, and I was going to find out why.