Monday, September 15, 2008

The Police Raid

Anyone who watches even the slightest amount of TV is familiar with the scene: An agent knocks on the door of some seemingly ordinary home or office. The door opens, and the person holding the knob is asked to identify himself. The agent then says, "I'm going to ask you to come with me." They're always remarkably calm, these agents. If asked "Why do I need to go anywhere with you?" they'll straighten their shirt cuffs or idly brush stray hairs from the sleeves of their sports coats and say, "Oh, I think we both know why." The suspect then chooses between doing things the hard way and doing things the easy way, and the scene ends with either gunfire or the gentlemanly application of handcuffs.

Occasionally it's a case of mistaken identity, but most often the suspect knows exactly why he's being taken. It seems he's been expecting this to happen. The anticipation has ruled his life, and now, finally, the wait is over. You're sometimes led to believe that this person is actually relieved, but I've never bought it. Though it probably has its moments, the average day spent in hiding is bound to beat the average day spent in prison. When it comes time to decide who gets the bottom bunk, I think anyone would agree that there's a lot to be said for doing things the hard way.

October 12, 2004
I had been acting out wildly for the past several months.
I felt a simmering rage since my job termination in late October 1991 by a local law firm.
I had been defamed, seriously defamed by coworkers, supervisors, and even senior management attorneys.

Rumors had been spread in the firm that I was potentially homicidal. One coworker had confronted me with the bizarre accusation, "We're all afraid of you, we're all afraid you're going to buy a gun and shoot everybody."

In August 1998 two federal special agents of the U.S. Capitol Police forced their way into my home, and based on mistaken identity had accused me of having threatened to go to Capitol Hill with a gun and shoot two federal officers at point-blank range, execution style. I was told that I had been placed on a list of potential terrorists, another case of mistaken identity that had its origins in reports made by my former employer that I suffered from serious mental illness and that I was potentially violent.

In April 2004 I was banned from my local library. The library manager Brian Brown summoned Police officers who escorted me from the building. The library manager had found a letter I had written in which I expressed my anger about having been defamed at my former place of employment. I wrote, "people will pay for my pain." Those were the offending words. "People will pay for my pain." For that I was banned from the library for the next six months.

In August 2004 I had started to write letters to prospective employers inquiring about job opportunities. The letters were cynical parodies of job inquiries. I described my history: the allegations that I was potentially homicidal, the police raid at my apartment, and the ban on my access to the public library.

I knew that eventually I would get a visit from the local police or federal agents. No one could get away with writing letters of the kind I had written indefinitely. Someone would eventually put a stop to my activities. I knew that. I used to lay on the couch in my apartment in the evenings and every time I heard voices or footsteps in the hall I was convinced it was the police. I lived in that state of suspense for several weeks.

Columbus Day. October 12, 2004. I was sitting in the lobby of my apartment building. The lobby has a full-length window that looks out on a driveway that leads up to the building.

A police car drives up to the building, which I see from my seat in the lobby. The front-desk manager of the apartment building goes outside to inquire. "We're here to see a Gary Freedman. We're waiting for backup." "Backup!" says the front-desk manager, incredulously. "Mr. Freedman is a very gentle man, that's him sitting in the lobby." The police look at me from their patrol vehicle.

The police cars start to arrive, one after another. Five in all. Ten police officers of the Metropolitan District of Columbia Police Department arrive on the scene. In addition, four FBI agents show up. Fourteen police officers and federal agents in all.

The police enter the lobby. "Are you Gary Freedman?" "Yes," I say.

"Did you write a letter to St. John's University, a job application?" "Yes."

"Don't you know you can't write a letter like that to someone?"

The police frisked me for weapons. They escorted me back to my apartment, at my suggestion. Apparently that allayed their concerns to some degree. They no longer believed they were dealing with a homicidal maniac, but a severely disturbed individual. They didn't ask to search my apartment.

"Here," I said. "Here's a copy of a brief I wrote defending my position against allegations made by my employer that I'm a dangerous person."

"Who wrote this for you," the police asked.

"I did." An officer leafed through the brief that I had filed with the DC Court of Appeals. "Apparently you have your lucid moments." Yes, they thought I was crazy.

"I have clothes in the laundry room. I'm doing a wash. Can I go downstairs to get my laundry?" "No. We're certainly not going to let you go anywhere."

"This matter needs to be resolved," I said, referring to the allegations that I was potentially violent and homicidal. An officer said, "This is going to be resolved. Believe me, this is going to be resolved today!"

A police detective questioned me. "How can all these people say these things about you and none of it is true. Some of it must be true." There were two officers and a detective in my small studio apartment. The other officers and agents waited in the hall outside my apartment. Some were in the lobby.

An officer walked out of my apartment to talk to officers in the hall. They reached some kind of decision.

I didn't volunteer any information. They didn't read me my rights. I knew I was not going to be arrested. If they were going to make an arrest, they would Mirandize me. What were they planning to do?

"Come on. We're going," an officer said to me. I walked out of my apartment, and locked the door. I was led up to the lobby. "Is everything all right?" the front-desk manager called out to me.

I was led to a waiting patrol vehicle on the street in front of the apartment building. An officer handcuffed me. "This is just protocol. We don't think you're dangerous."

I was taken to DC General for a forensic psych exam. It was called a transport. We arrived at the psych ward of the hospital, where the handcuffs were taken off. It was early afternoon.

I was assigned to admitting. Someone took my valuables. I was given a hospital bracelet. A nurse took my blood pressure and temperature.

A brief time later someone questioned me about the letter I had written. The letter that had landed me in the hospital. "How do you know I'm not just a scam artist?" "A scam artist? the man said. "How so?" "Maybe I just act crazy to keep my disability checks flowing. Maybe there's nothing wrong with me. Maybe I just act crazy as part of a scam on the Social Security Administration. Well?" "That's what we're here to find out," the man said.

I was told to sit in the waiting area. A television blared in the room, while security agents monitored the patients. Some were asleep on couches. Others mumbled incoherently, or stared into space.

I wasn't scared. I thought, "I'll talk to the psychiatrist and then they'll let me go."

The hours passed. "Do you want something to eat?" a security guard asked me. "No," I said.

I waited and waited. I watched the psychiatrists, the patients, the security guards. I ignored the television. How long can this go on, I kept thinking.

It was now about eight o'clock in the evening. Finally, I was led into a small room by a psychiatrist, a Dr. Martin. She was a psychiatry resident. "Why did you write the letter?" "Why did people say these things about you?" "Have you ever had thoughts of committing a violent act?" "Are you seeing a psychiatrist?" The doctor's questioning was polite. Her demeanor was casual. Though I knew that meant nothing. She could just as easily decide to commit me or let me go.

The questioning lasted about thirty-five minutes or so. The psychiatrist left the room to consult with her supervisor. She returned. "We have decided not to make a commitment." The wait was over.

I was allowed to leave. I kept thinking:"Am I now free. Really free?"

Fortunately, there was a Metro station about two blocks from the hospital. I took the subway home. By about 9:30 that evening I was back at my apartment.

Though it probably has its moments, the average day spent in hiding is bound to beat the average day spent in confinement. That I now knew with certainty.

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