It was a March night Jack the Ripper would have loved. Cold, blustery and dank. An indecisive mist morphed between fog, rain and sleet.
A good night to be indoors, but not necessarily in a jail cell. Yet there I was, handcuffed, in the lockup at Detroit’s 1st Precinct.
My crime? The temerity to ask two Detroit police officers for their badge numbers.
I had joined two colleagues from Metro Times — promotions director Jason Schusterbauer and sales administrator Mira Hill — on the People Mover, bound for the State Theatre. We wanted to see the Sights, a band in which another staffer plays.
We had asked our pal to put our names on the band’s list, so we could get in free. But only my name appeared. As the line at the ticket window backed up and people began to complain, we forked over $20 and proceeded into the theater.
Whoever promoted the multi-band show should have been sued for malpractice. There were about 400 people in a venue that holds 3,000. A mediocre band was doing its best rock strut before the smattering. Hill reconnoitered and informed me that the Sights had gone on earlier than expected and had completed their set.
Crowd surfing ensued.
“Let’s go,” I said.
We shambled out, disappointed at our timing and the money wasted. But when Schusterbauer and I reached the door, Hill was no longer with us. Mira could fend for herself in Kabul, but being the gentlemen that we are — not wanting to leave her alone on the downtown streets without transport — we waited for her at the front door, chatting with the bored security guys.
She showed up and informed us that she had just run into her boyfriend, who was due to head out of town within the hour, and that she would be right back.
All three of us went back up the lobby toward Craig, the boyfriend. We brushed past a couple of oblivious security guards en route.
Suddenly, from the far side of the lobby, the voice of undeserved authority rang out. “No! No re-entries!” it cried shrilly. I turned and was confronted by a very short guy with very broad shoulders. Perched securely on one of the shoulders was a colossal chip. There was no mistaking his identity: Napoleonic Security Dude.
I assured him that we would be gone as soon as Hill was through conversing.
“Besides, we didn’t re-enter because we didn’t leave,” Hill informed him.
Indecision flashed across his face as he pondered these disclosures. There was a flicker of reason and relief, the realization that we weren’t smuggling bazookas, that everyone might go on enjoying the night. But his Security Gene got the best of him. He reached out and grabbed Hill and me.
“No! No re-entries!”
I kept my hands in the pockets of my jacket and reiterated that I hadn’t re-entered but that he if he insisted on removing me, he was welcome to proceed. I am 6-foot-5 and, I’m sorry to say, weigh 260 pounds.
He needed some backup. Voices were rising. Hill was reading him the proverbial riot act. The normally circumspect Schusterbauer chimed in, trying to defuse the situation.
Reinforcements arrived. I discovered this when one of them put a body block on me from behind, buckling my knee and knocking me over backward. I lay there, torn between outrage and surreal bemusement, suppressing the urge to scream “Attica! Attica!”
I got to my feet when Detroit Police Officers Cole and Burley arrived from the direction of the theater.
I began to explain that the spawn of Napoleon was attempting to eject us without cause. Officer Cole, a stocky guy with a red cop-stache, cut me off.
“We’re going to mace you and take you to jail,” he said cheerily.
Incredulity turned to disgust.
“Well, go ahead. Spray me, then,” I said.
The officers were taken aback.
More attempts at negotiation fell on deaf ears. The officers each grabbed one of my arms, and I knew the cause was lost. In their report, they would claim that I struggled with them. Which is fiction. If I hadn’t intended to move, I wouldn’t have. We whisked down the sloping lobby toward the big plate-glass doors that open onto Woodward. For good measure, they flung me with all their might into the glass. I was astonished that I didn’t shatter it, but the doors swung open.
I stood on Woodward chortling about the absurdity of it all. I’d been capriciously 86’d, but no harm done.
Then I turned around and beheld a sight that gave the night a new magnitude of chill. I saw harm done.
A wild-eyed Officer Cole had Schusterbauer jacked up against the doorjamb, both his hands around his neck, thumbs squarely on larynx. He was nose-to-nose with his captive, saying something through gritted teeth, and lifting and squeezing with his hands. Schusterbauer’s face was crimson. His eyes bugged out. His hands flailed helplessly at his sides. Let me note here that if one made a list of adjectives to describe Schusterbauer, “menacing” would be quite a ways down the list.
I know enough about procedure and training to know that cops are taught proper holds, but two hands around the neck isn’t one of them. It’s potentially lethal. In this case, it was beyond excessive. Officer Cole had lost it, and he was assaulting an innocent man.
I shouted, “I want your badge numbers!”
This is not a request one should make of Detroit cops, who apparently don’t need no steenkin’ badge numbers.
Officer Burley, his own eyes now aflame, sprung to the fore, puffed out his chest, pumped a clenched fist twice against his badge and put me against the wall. I didn’t resist. As he cuffed me, I inquired, “Does this mean you’re not going to give me your badge number?”
Schusterbauer had assumed the position as well.
We were crammed into a squad car. When Cole got in to drive, he was snorting like a racehorse on crystal meth. Interestingly, though, he turned to his partner and apologized.
“Sorry about this,” he said.
I asked Schusterbauer what his crime was. He explained that after I had been flung into the glass, he had asked Cole, “Why are you guys being such pricks?”
Burley stared stoically ahead while the hyperventilating Cole drove like a Duke of Hazzard to the 1st Precinct. He cursed us periodically.
“You fuckers can go back to the fucking suburbs,” Cole huffed cleverly.
Shusterbauer and I rejoined in unison, “We live in Detroit!”
(Apparently, Detroit cops believe we pale-skins must have come in from points north to slum and cause trouble. Incidentally, both Cole and Burley are white. The phenomenon is not without precedent. A fellow downtown denizen tells of watching a white guy getting throttled by officers who kept ordering him back to the burbs. They didn’t relent until she intervened and told them that their human piñata lives downtown.)
We were taken to a low-security cell. So low security that they didn’t bother to lock the door. We were the only inmates. A droll wall placard informed us that our captors didn’t care who we were, didn’t care who we knew, didn’t care, period. But they would be certain to show up in court and shame us before the commonwealth.
The handcuffs came off as the officers busied themselves documenting our misdeeds. We hummed Johnny Cash tunes and debated whether teardrop tattoos would be appropriate. We weren’t read our rights, and we weren’t offered a phone call, which was not a problem because Schusterbauer had his “cell” phone. Get it? Hell, he could have had a Glock. We weren’t searched.
After an hour, we were inexplicably handcuffed again. Perhaps they’d caught wind of our diabolical plot to tunnel out. My wrists bled and my bad shoulder ached. I overheard Cole seeking guidance in proper handcuffing technique.
That explained so much. A rookie.
Hill showed up and we scraped together $150 bail — $50 for me for a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, $100 for Schusterbauer for “interfering.”
Two hours after our arrest, we were free. On our way out, I asked the sergeant if our escorts were new to the force. “One of ’em is,” she said, rolling her eyes.
The prosecutor offered us pleas under advisement, meaning our records would be expunged if we completed short probationary periods. We demanded a trial. I wanted to hear Cole tell of the police academy course that taught him that swell choke hold.
Last week, our day in court finally arrived, even if prosecutor and cops didn’t. The judge knew they weren’t coming. She was waiting for us when we walked in.
“This matter is dismissed,” she said with a knowing smile.Jeremy Voas is editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]