I work for a large police department in Texas. In November 1997, I was on patrol near the local university when I received a call of a suspicious female dressed in a plastic bag carrying a large broken metal fence post. While en route to the call I received an update stating that the suspect was now at a local pizzeria terrorizing the patrons with the fence post by swinging it at them as they attempted to exit the restaurant. Although I had only been with the department for a little over a year, I recognized the description of the suspect to be a homeless lady I had dealt with on several occasions in the past. The older officers assigned to the beat had nicknamed her “Gypsy Mary” because it was common for her to wear a large black plastic bag as a dress, lots of makeup and adorn herself with gaudy jewelry she made from ornate pieces of plastic and metal she found in the area’s dumpsters. More importantly, due to my past experiences with Mary, I knew she suffered from schizophrenia and when not taking her medication her behavior could be extremely erratic and unpredictable at best.

Upon arriving at the scene the witnesses informed me that the suspect had left just moments prior to my arrival. It wasn’t more than a few minutes before I located her sitting near a dumpster in an alley across from the pizzeria. As I notified my backup of our location, Mary sprang to her feet and started walking toward me with the broken fence post in her right hand, which was by her side. Mary was about 25 yards from me and was very slowly closing the gap. I ordered her several times to drop the fence post and to lie on the ground.

Mary continued to ignore my orders until I pulled out my gun. At that time she raised the fence post above her head as if she were preparing to hit me with it; however, she stopped moving toward me. I thought to myself that if she began charging me, I would be forced to have to shoot her. In the past I had pretty good rapport with Mary so I attempted to reason with her by saying, “Come on Mary, just drop the fence post, I don’t want to have to shoot you. I like you.” Mary looked at me in the eye and said, “If you promise to shoot me between the eyes I will drop it and not kill you.” I decided to call her bluff so she would drop the post and not force me to shoot her; so I said, “Sure”, while I reached for my pepper spray with my non-dominant hand.

She obviously believed me and promptly dropped the fence post to her side as I deployed a rather gratuitous stream of pepper spray just below her eyes. Mary must have thought that I had actually shot her because she suddenly threw the fence post away from her side, dropped on the ground and screamed, “So this is what hell feels like?” My backup and I were then able to take Mary into custody without much resistance. At the jail Mary was still very angry with me for not having shot her and screamed, “Liar, liar, @#$%!! liar!” as I booked her in.

Mary spent a few months in jail, but most importantly was able to get the psychological help she needed. I had spoken with her several times after the incident and she was unable to remember anything that occurred that night. Mary has since passed away (of natural causes) but I am glad that one little lie kept both of us alive that night.

I learned from that night that you should always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. I wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot Mary if she had charged me with the fence post. I would rather die of old age than being bludgeoned to death. Also, have an alternate plan just in case the situation changes at the last minute. Deadly encounters are not always predictable and although deadly force may be authorized in a situation, take advantage of the alternatives if they exist and your safety will not be jeopardized. I never took my gun off Mary until my backup had arrived and we were prepared to move up and actually handcuff her. Even though I was familiar with Mary, I never once hesitated to believe that given the opportunity she would have killed me. Always keep that in the back of your mind regardless of how familiar you are with a suspect.
— RR, TX

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