“IT HAPPENED TO ME!”

teen-with-knife-final-art-2_phatch
Jim Brown illustration

BUTCHER KNIFE STANDOFF

It was a typical busy weeknight, several years ago now, in the “rough” part of town. I was working a truck loaded with our SWAT gear. My partner and I were assigned to supplement patrol officers in this drug-plagued, high-crime precinct. A 911 call came out over the radio for a residence just around the corner: “Person with a weapon. Unknown weapon at this time.” I responded to radio dispatch that we were en route.

My partner and I used to work in this area before being transferred to the tactical team full-time, so we knew the streets well. Although not regular partners, I knew my partner since high school—same grade, even sharing a few classes. Fast-forward 20 years and here we were, both cops, responding to this priority job. Those are some curious odds, and life is funny like that sometimes.

As we pulled up to the location, a standard two-story row house in the middle of the block, we were flagged down by a man and a woman out front. They were parents that had the look of fear in their eyes—they tried to explain the crisis in Spanish. I did my best to figure out the story, but my Spanish is limited. We were quickly led upstairs to the small, middle bedroom of their 15-year-old daughter.

In the far corner stood the young lady. A bed was in the center of the room and evidence of a struggle littered the floor. I noticed a picture frame with smashed glass and a torn photograph, a knocked-over, 20-inch box fan, and shards of a shattered mirror strewn everywhere. We looked in from the doorway to assess the situation, which was, again, met with a language barrier—the girl spoke no English.

We immediately noticed the large-bladed butcher knife she grasped firmly with both hands above her head. She was bringing the blade tip down to her chest and then up again in fits of rage, motioning a thrust to stab herself, all the while screaming incoherently with a contorted face full of tears and fury.

We requested over the radio for a Spanish-speaking officer to respond, as I did my best to communicate in my limited Spanish with phrases such as “What is your name?” and to “slow down.” I had no success with this hindered dialogue, and if my partner and I ventured slightly into her room she would lunge at us with the knife. We were at a cautious stalemate.

After the interpreter arrived, we learned from the Dominican family that their daughter had broken up with her boyfriend. I guess that’s who was in the ripped photo. We needed a plan to resolve the incident and stop this girl from hurting herself or others. My partner thought to grab the Taser from the truck. Our plan: I would slowly enter the room and be a distraction—eye candy—keeping the bed between me and her, and my partner would then get off a shot with the Taser. I knew him well enough to know he never misses, no matter what weapon he is given, so I was not concerned about his accuracy.

I entered guardedly, making my way to the fan a few feet away. My thought was that I could grab the fan and use it as a makeshift shield if the knife came near me. As expected, my partner found his mark. The Taser prongs struck the girl center-mass, and the knife went flying towards the ceiling. She fell down and was promptly cuffed. A happy ending. No one was hurt, and a teenager still had her whole life ahead of her. —PM, VA

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