An attorney I know once said to me, and I’ll paraphrase, “It’s good to know the law. It’s better to know the judge.” When I was a rookie police officer, I had the rather idealistic belief that the law was fair… and I was, for the most part, correct. Those who are trusted with the administration of the law can be, at best, as stupid as the rest of us. At worst? Oh my.
One summer evening in the late 1960’s a man named Elazier Adkins took it upon himself to beat his wife and four-year-old daughter with an automobile radio antenna. Hearing the curses and screams, a neighbor phoned the police. Alone in my squad car, and only a block or two from the scene, I was assigned the call, another two-man unit was dispatched as back-up. When I arrived in front of the house, I could hear the screams and shouting from my position in the street. Deciding not to wait for assistance, I entered the open front door, stepped over the form of a four-year-old child where she lay sobbing on the floor, and moved across the room to where Mr. Adkins was striking his wife as she writhed on the couch. As he drew back his arm to continue the beating, I advised him that he was under arrest and attempted to disarm him. A large man, he then attempted to strike me, and the battle was joined. My back-up arrived as Mr. Adkins and I fell out his front door, rolled across the narrow porch, down three steps, and into his small front yard.
As is all too usual in domestic violence cases, Mrs. Adkins, screaming for help only moments before, declined to sign a complaint against her husband. I did not. I charged Mister Adkins with disorderly conduct, (his shouting and cursing could be heard all over the street) public intoxication, (he was drunk when we battled our way to the sidewalk, a public place) resisting arrest, aggravated battery, (he got a lick or two on me with the antenna) and interfering with the lawful execution of duties by a sworn officer of the court. I would have charged him with shoplifting and cattle rustling if I could have. He was beating a woman and a child. Shortly thereafter I was summoned to testify at his preliminary hearing. My case was sound. I had witnesses to the screams for help and the subsequent struggle, photos of my injuries, a breathalizer to confirm intoxication, Mr. Adkins statement admitting guilt, and a signed Miranda rights waiver. More than enough to warrant him being held for trial.
There was a heavy rainstorm in progress outside the courtroom that day as the evidence was presented to the judge, sheets of water sluicing down the windows on a dark and blustery morning. The judge, regal in his long black robes, distinguished in stately spectacles and graying sideburns, his stern visage dominating the courtroom as he weighed all the statements, charges, and depositions carefully. He questioned Mr. Adkins and my back-up officers thoroughly, then turned to me.
“Officer Lewis,” he said, “you suffered injury at the hands of Mr. Adkins, did you not?”
“Yes, your Honor.”
“And you suffered these injuries as he fought with you while resisting arrest, correct?”
“That’s correct, your Honor.”
“You entered his residence as a response to seeing Mr. Adkins in the process of beating one LaVina Adkins, his wife, with an automobile radio antenna?”
“Yessir, I did.”
“You heard his curses and her screams while outside the home?”
“And the door was open, was it not?”
“The front door was standing open, your Honor.”
“Officer, were you invited into the home?”
“Did you hear Mrs. Adkins calling for help?”
“I heard Mrs. Adkins screaming for help, your Honor.”
He leaned back in his chair and carefully deliberated as he watched the heavy rainfall through the large windows behind the bench, his templed fingers against his chin, obviously in deep contemplation. At some length he turned again to me.
“Officer Lewis,” he said, “I have just one more question.”
“Yessir,” I replied.
“Officer,” he said, indicating the view through the windows, “how much rain do you suppose falls on a city this size, during an hour in a rainstorm of such magnitude?”
A bit confused by the question, I replied: “I don’t have any idea, your Honor.”
“Neither do I,” he said. “Complaints are dismissed.” He then stood up and walked out of the courtroom.
In retrospect, I wish I had said 8million, 792 thousand, 431 gallons. Perhaps then Elazier Adkins would have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to jail time. Perhaps he would not have returned to his home very early the next morning. Perhaps his wife would still be alive. Perhaps his daughter would have seen her fifth birthday.
One never knows, do one?