'Freeze! Put your hands up!' Oh, sorry
At home, watching TV -- then an erroneous 911 call leads to a brief, tense encounter with the LAPD.
Los Angeles Times Op/Ed September 09, 2009 by Michael Krikorian
I was at my girlfriend Nancy's home in Hancock Park. She was out with a friend, and her 15-year-old son, Oliver, and I had just finished eating our superb 10:30 p.m. dinner -- al pastor tacos from the truck on 3rd Street and Normandie. He had gone upstairs to go to bed. The next day would be the first day of school after summer vacation.
I was watching a recorded episode of "Entourage" when Zeke, our golden retriever mix, got up and looked out the thick wood-and-glass front door. Now, this dog barks like an Akita on angel dust, wailing plaintively when anybody comes up the sidewalk, unless its family. So I thought it must be Nancy.
I looked out the front door and noticed a spotlight on our yard. I heard a helicopter. I opened the door, went out to investigate and closed the door so Zeke wouldn't get out.
"Put your hands up!" yelled another voice. "Put your hands up over your head. Now!"
I turned in the direction of the voices and said, "Are you talking to me?" I actually said that. And I meant it. Were they talking to me? Yes.
"Put your hands over your head!"
"Lock your fingers on top of your head."
I did. I couldn't really see them because the bright flashlights nearly blinded me, but it had to be the cops.
"Turn and face the door." I did, and then I had a frightful thought. Maybe it's not the police. Maybe it's some elaborate plan by a street gang to kill me. I have reported on street gangs for more than a decade and amassed a deadly share of enemies. I took a quick look at the invaders and could see they had police uniforms. No gang I ever reported on would go to that much trouble to kill me.
"Turn around and start backing toward me."
I marveled at how calm I was. I thought, "Just do as they say." Just do as they say. We all have heard stories in which the guy resists and gets roughed up or worse.
I backed down the three steps of the porch to the driveway, where I bumped into Nancy's car, parked with the top down. I got a closer look at the gendarmes: five uniformed LAPD officers with guns at the ready, including a policewoman who sadly bore no resemblance to Angie Dickinson in her TV cop days. Pepper Anderson could cuff me all night. The most impressive thing about this policewoman was the pump shotgun she was holding.
I hoped Roger, our next-door neighbor, had a video camera and was watching. This could go Rodney.
I was led next to the giant ficus tree in Roger's frontyard and was tightly handcuffed. Well, the cuffs weren't overly tight. I've been in overly tight cuffs in the past.
And that is why I wasn't all that upset, why I was so calm. Every other time in my life that I had been handcuffed -- and there have been several -- I was guilty of something. Here, I knew I had done nothing wrong. Not unless I was unaware that buying tacos at the truck on 3rd and Normandie was some sort of felony now.
"Spread your legs!" I did. "Wider." I did. "Do you have a weapon?" No. I was frisked.
"What are you doing here?"
"I live here. What's going on?" I asked. No answer.
It was like I had a good view of that bad show, "Cops."
There were three cops, guns still drawn, on the front porch, yelling and scrambling about as if John Dillinger were in the house. I told them Oliver was the only person at home and asked if they could call the house and let me speak to him so he wouldn't freak out. They called; he finally answered, and they talked to him.
After a few minutes, he came out. I yelled at the police -- for the first time -- to put their guns down. Oliver looked stunned.
He later told me his first thought was: "What did Michael do?" He had heard all the commotion but thought it was some TV show I was watching.
Finally, after what seemed liked an hour -- but was really about 10 to 12 minutes -- the cops were informed via radio that they had received the wrong street address. A woman down the block had heard a bang at her back door, thought someone was breaking in and called 911 to report it. In her panic, she reversed the last two numbers of the address. She gave them my address. So the cops were waiting to storm the house when I walked out to see what was going on. (The next day, the woman apologized profusely to me.)
A second policewoman, Officer Solley -- not the shotgun wielder -- was fairly pleasant. She apologized and kept saying, "You understand what happened and why it happened, right?"
Yeah, sure. You all messed up.
But I also thought about all the black friends of mine who have been stopped and harassed over the years for doing nothing wrong at all. This is what it was like. Being in the wrong place. In this case, at home. I was angry, but not outraged. I wondered how many people got handcuffed for nothing at Nickerson Gardens over the years? How many at Jordan Downs? Then Oliver said, "At least I'll have a good story to tell for 'what I did on my summer vacation.' "
As for Zeke, who barks furiously at the mailman, the gardener, the walkers, the joggers, even other dogs like they are all aliens from "District 9" -- but was quiet as Marcel Marceau in my hour of need -- well, let's just say that porterhouse bone I got for him is going to stay in the freezer for a while. I might even heat it up and gnaw on it while he watches.
Like just about everything in life, it could have been a whole lot worse. Oliver told his mother the story when she came home 20 minutes later, adding his what-could-have-happened, worst-case scenario.
"You know how you yell at Zeke when he barks a lot? How about if you were cutting a bagel in half and walked outside to see what was going on, and you had the knife in your hand and were yelling to Zeke 'Shut up!' " Only he suggested I might have added a four-letter word as I shouted.
I guess if that had happened, you would have heard all about this on the news already. Maybe the president will have me and that shotgun lady cop over for a beer at the White House.
Michael Krikorian covered street gangs and the LAPD for The Times. He recently completed his first crime novel, "The Southside of L.A.," and a children's book, "The Sunflower Who Loved the Moon."