I attended my 30-year high school reunion this past weekend in Tulsa, OK.1 After the reunion gathering concluded Saturday evening, I was walking to the parking garage where I parked my car (on the grounds of the Casino where the reunion was held).
It was late… 2:45am to be exact. I had said my goodbyes to my classmates and had a final conversation with Brad Kallenberger before starting my walk back to my car alone. Less than a minute later, a police car pulled up quickly with full lights flashing. I assumed he would drive past me, so I stepped to the left to move out of the way. When he angled the car in my direction to cut me off, I presumed he was stopping to talk to me. Interesting.
As the car came to a sudden stop, the police officer jumped out and said very curtly:
“Can I help you with something?”
I replied, “No. I’m just walking to the garage where I parked.”
I thought he might offer me a ride or was perhaps just checking on a guy walking by himself in the parking area at 2:45am.2
He then yelled sternly,
“OK! STEP IN FRONT OF THE CAR AND FACE THE VEHICLE!”
I was already in front of the vehicle, directly in front of his driver’s side headlight, so I assumed I should turn and face the vehicle as instructed, which I did.
He yelled again,
“STEP IN FRONT OF THE VEHICLE!”
This was somewhat confusing because I was, in fact, standing in front of the vehicle. So, I surmised he must mean further away from him, toward the center of the front of the vehicle. If this was for his safety, it seemed an odd request, as he was approaching me. In fact, when he said this, he stepped into his comment toward me, somewhat threateningly I thought. My impression in that moment was that he was really intense, excessively so, and seemed just one step removed from engaging physically.
I took a short sidestep away from him toward the center of the front of his car and I remained facing the vehicle.
He then put his hand on his gun and yelled,
“I SAID GET IN FRONT OF THE CAR!!”3
At this point, his intonation was infused with anger, approaching rage. It spiked my adrenaline and made me concerned I was somehow mere moments from being push down to the hood and handcuffed. I noted the pace of escalation was both absurd and bewildering.
I made another sidestep to the exact center of his car and tried to remain both calm and rational, although calm was not how I was feeling.
Fight or Flight
To better understand this story, you should understand my personality. Under duress, I become extremely rational, analytical and calm, almost completely unemotional. I suppose this is helpful in most emergency situations. However, in direct opposition to my normal demeanor, was a very strong internal Fight or Flight reaction within me. This is a natural, instinctual response in situations like these.4
With spiked adrenaline, I felt a surreal ability to view the scenario from a calmer, third-person perspective. The interesting point here is that the chemical changes produced by adrenaline (and whatever else the brain pumps out) somehow accelerate thought processes. Gather data. Play out scenarios. Weigh options. These thought processes help determine, very quickly, the optimal path forward and help to manage the guttural Fight or Flight response.
Under any other circumstance, approached this way, the most natural response is to either move to avoid the conflict or decide to engage in conflict. That is the nature of the Fight or Flight response. I’m not a fighter. That just hasn’t been the narrative of my typical response to tense situations, but I also don’t typically permit people to mistreat me verbally or physically, because I know this is a recipe for more of the same in the future.
However, when the opposing force is a police officer, both Fight and Flight options play out poorly, for all parties, as far as I can tell.
Consequently, my conclusion was that I needed to suppress the momentum of my natural instincts to hopefully help the situation return to a more normal and rational level of intensity.
I could begin to see, for the first time, the impossibility of this situation. It renders you completely at the mercy of someone else, due to the power betrothed to him by the state, even if he is completely irrational and threatening.
In that moment, I thought there was a real possibility the officer might put his hands on me. His body language conveyed this as a potential option. I could feel the internal pressure mounting within me. While I’m not certain, my guess is, based on how I felt, if he had put his hands on me, I might have engaged physically. It’s just instinctual to protect yourself from an external threat. But this would have certainly been called “resisting arrest”.
Considering my natural response is one of control, I did not react to his irrationality, fearing it might escalate further. However, I suspect it might be common to react like I felt I should but didn’t.
And this is an interesting point to note… to engage physically would be a very atypical interaction for me. And yet, even I was feeling this urge. Swap me in this situation with someone who is just slightly less level-headed or with someone with just slightly more propensity to react emotionally, and I can easily see how these situations go south quickly.
Given this experience, I have a whole new appreciation for what might be happening when people resist arrest. Not in all cases, obviously, but I can infer from my heightened state that, of all people,5 I would likely have resisted arrest in that moment too. I just don’t know if I would have had the mental bandwidth to overcome the natural propensity we have for defense when under personal attack. Fortunately, he did not touch me.
Back to Yelling
“LET ME SEE YOUR ID!”
Now, I know my rights, and I know I could have asked him to cite the crime he suspected me of committing. I also know I do not have to produce an ID. I am a US citizen and we are not required to carry IDs with us everywhere we go.6 That said, I have seen the YouTube videos where someone antagonizes the police officer, insisting they do not have to produce an ID. While they might be right, it usually doesn’t end well for them. In these videos, what could have been a 3-minute dispute-and-resolution often ends up with them handcuffed and in the back of a police car. That could have easily been avoided by just showing an ID. This all went through my mind in a brief instant. Because I have nothing to hide, I thought it best to produce my ID and just go with the flow here. Again, it was an effort to show compliance and to hopefully de-escalate.
So, I opened my wallet and handed him my ID, responding “OK, but can I ask why?”
“Because I got a call about you,” he said with disgust in his voice.
Trying to demonstrate rationality, I responded with an intentional, calm demeanor.
“That seems strange. I…uh, think you may have the wrong person.”
He spoke into his radio.
“What did you say he was wearing?”
Oh great. I’m wearing a blue shirt and jeans, like 40% of the guys at the casino. This is going south quickly with attire as the identifier.
Although I was unable to hear the response in his earpiece, the clothing description must not have matched what I was wearing (fortunately for me) because he exhaled, sounding both exasperated and annoyed.
I think it was at this moment he realized he had the wrong person.
“I’m happy to call my friend I just left to come over as a reference if that would help.”
He replied sternly,
“So, you didn’t just come from the [unintelligible] bar?”
I had no idea what place he was referring to. But he said “bar”, and I hadn’t been to a bar, so I answered,
This also seemed like the correct answer, given the situation.
“And you are not inebriated?!”
“And you haven’t even had one drink?!”
“I haven’t had a drink in… years.”
OK… this was an exaggeration. I should have said “in months”, which would have been true. My intention was to convey a long duration and “years” came out first. Besides, at this point, he was hunting for any reason at all to justify his screwed-up detention.
“OK. You can go.”
This would be an ideal time in the story for him to continue with something like:
Sorry about that. I was looking for someone else and I thought you fit the description but obviously, I have the wrong person. Really sorry to trouble you this evening. Please accept my apology and have a nice evening.
Had he said that, this blog post probably wouldn’t exist. But he didn’t. He just walked away to his car.
I said, “Good luck to you.”
And I meant it, in a sort of “no hard-feelings” kind of way… just trying to smooth over any residual angst. But I think he thought I was being a smart aleck. The brief micro-expression on his face, coupled with his pause in movement to get in his car implied he considered approaching me again, but then a flash of remembrance crossed his countenance as he recalled he was actually in a hurry to find the other guy. So, instead, he smirked at me, audibly exhaled through his nose and jumped back in his car to leave.
I made a few steps toward the parking garage, continuing my original journey. Simultaneously, the officer put his car in reverse and cut his wheels hard to back out. This swung the front of his car in my direction. He didn’t hit me, and probably wouldn’t have hit me, but it was uncomfortably close. Close enough that I moved back a few steps out of the way. He sped off. Perhaps that was an accident… but at the time, it felt like intimidation or maybe just distracted driving. We’ll say he was probably just in a hurry and leave it at that.
And that was the end of my interaction with the police that evening.
If he managed to find the guy he was after, that guy had a rough night, because this officer was already triggered when he left me… and somehow, I think that was going to come out on someone before the evening was over.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a police officer’s job is difficult. Most of the people he encounters lie to him, every day. Consequently, this becomes his default assumption about humanity. I get that. I also do not know the severity of the accusations against the culprit. Perhaps it was something very serious that warranted extreme caution. Regardless, I would politely suggest that he come in a little less hot in his initial approach to people. The whole interaction did not feel like “an officer of the peace”. It felt like a threat.
This is my first negative experience like this with the police. Upon further reflection, the most troubling part was that I had no recourse to his imbued power. Realistically, the only available option was to comply, even if that meant being mistreated verbally and potentially physically. That is a difficult situation to put people in. A more emotional person, although innocent, might have found themselves receiving a personal tour of the police car’s back seat and a scenic ride to the station.
In the end, I am grateful for this experience because it opened my eyes to how some people experience the police habitually. It is also instructive as a training exercise should this happen to me again. Hopefully it won’t. But if it does, I’ve had a practice round.
Considering this was a very minor interaction in the day of a police officer, I have no intention of pursuing it further.7
I also wonder if it is possible to request the video (if he has one) of this encounter. I am curious how this interaction looked from his perspective, and if I have remembered and recalled it accurately.8
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- Yeah, where did that time go?
- Keep in mind, this is not late for a casino. There were still a lot of people inside playing games and the parking lot was still at least half full.
- Red font intended to convey emotion… not the words of Jesus.
- Typically, when one guy presents himself to another guy in a potentially physically intimidating manner, (I count stepping toward me and barking commands with one hand on his gun as “potentially physical”), adrenaline spikes and it invokes a strong Fight or Flight response internally, which it did for me in that moment. I felt the chemical rush instantly come over me.
- My only police record was a single traffic ticket 25 years ago… and that was for a broken taillight. I didn’t realize that the bulb was burned out.
- I’m not sure how this translates to Tribal Lands. Clearly, I was on premises of Tribal Land… because it was a casino.
- UPDATE: I have subsequently been told that this is almost certainly NOT the Tulsa Police Department, but the Tribal Police.
- I acknowledge that the exact recounting of this story may differ some from the actual event. It happened so fast and with such intensity, there could be errors in dialog and event sequencing as told here. That said, it is an accurate portrayal of how the interaction was perceived by me… and that is the intended purpose for this post.
Don’t have or will offer an excuse for the interaction or behavior…..
If you do opt to inquire or complain, the casino is tribal jurisdiction and the officer likely wasn’t TPD. He was either a tribal armed security guard or Creek Nation tribal police.
You’re right, a lot of different reasons why the interaction started and ended the way it did on his end and a lot of different reasons why or how an officer may not take the time to explain themselves. None I can think of apply in the fact pattern given. A couple extra seconds and an apology would have gone along way. Precisely a point I try and drive home to young officers and reiterate to older officers at my agency.
Pat, thank you for your comment and for the clarification on the potential department involved.
That is an amazing, if not horrifying turn of events. You are of course completely right about the
Fight VS Flight response and I, having been there many times myself and am a fighter.
You are kind of my new hero, no kidding. Good for you for keeping a cool head.
With all my encounters with the law (and there have been a few in my youth), only one became physical. When I lived in California and was much younger I was walking down the street that I lived and a van (discreetly marked as Police) pulled up quickly next to me from behind and three guys jumped out and tackled me to the ground. Now, growing up with mostly brothers and rough-housing frequently the physicality wasn’t as bad as it sounds. But similarly, after asking me questions like “where I live” and “where am I coming from” another guy from the van hollered out something I couldn’t understand. The main guy said sorry to me and yanked me up (he was a pretty big guy) onto my feet and they left as quickly as they showed up. Honestly, back then it seemed to have an element of “fun” to it (I knew I didn’t do anything wrong) but, I think if the same thing happened today, I may not have been so dismissive about it.
Great story Patrick. Thanks for contributing. Too bad no one was there to video it… of course, it would have been in black-and-white because that was before God invented color.
Luckily you are level headed. If it were me I would have asked for his badge number. You can also always ask for another officer to assist with the stop as well. But by then the situation had deescalated.
Good thought… can’t say I was thinking optimally in the moment… but good to know for next time… when you get stopped, I mean. 🙂
I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this until after you left! Crazy story. Well told and thoughtful. Glad you’re ok that I didn’t have to bail you out at 3am. ?
Thank you… somehow I think it wouldn’t be the first kid you bailed out at that hour! It’s really good of you guys to have a revolving door of teenagers all these years… including a 48-year old teenager who crashed your spare room this past weekend!
Loved this story. I appreciate your reflection and insight. So important for us remember that things happen fast with law enforcement which doesn’t bring out the best in either party.
You KNOW mom has to comment. As you’ll recall, when you related the story of this encounter to me, my question was…did you see his name or badge number & secondly, was he Tulsa police or tribal security. After processing this, here’s my current thought…that man should be fired. That’s your mom…always taking the high road. ?
We never know the full nuances of situations like these. Much can happen below the surface, such that, if we knew, we might be inclined to say, “Oh, in light of that, I can understand why…”.
There’s another point I’d like to mention here while I’m thinking of it. A police officer’s job is one of those positions where a single mistake or even a small lapse in judgement can ruin someone’s career or worse. Considerably worse. Even 20 years of outstanding service in the job can be overwritten in a single instant. By contrast, my position might give me carpal tunnel syndrome, worst case. I think we often mistakenly apply the rules of engagement from our office jobs to those of public defenders. That’s likely an unfair comparison. So, while the interaction could have been handled better, I’m cutting some slack here precisely because we do not know what lies below the surface of this exchange.