Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Crime Story

I want to tell a story this week. If you've already heard me tell this story, well, too bad. If you haven't heard the story, well, it's a fun one. Criminal activity, a high-speed chase, courtroom drama . . . and caricatures!

Back in 2003 I bought a used '95 Saturn. I loved that car pretty instantly upon seeing it. It was in my price range and it was a sweet gold color! With tinted windows! I paid for it, registered it, and happily drove it over to my boyfriend's place so he could check it out. (I had started dating this big hunky guy, Rob, and it was getting pretty serious). Anyway, he made the appropriate ooooo and aaaah sounds, and the two of us went off to a movie, leaving my fancy new-ish car safely in the parking lot.

When he dropped me off at my car so I could drive home, I happily took my keys out to unlock my delightfully new(ish) car, which I hadn't owned for an entire 24-hour-period yet . . . and it moved. The car moved. I stood there for a moment not quite processing, but the car had jostled. It was dark, and the side windows were pretty tinted, remember, so I couldn't see in.

Someone is in my fucking car, fuck fuck fuck fuck, said my brain. "Wha--Oh!--Rob!--Someone's--Ohmygod--Rob!" is what came out of my mouth, I think.

From the passenger's side door, out popped a young man. In a stunning display of hubris, he turned and looked at me, then smiled at us before beating a path out of the apartment complex.

Rob chased after him while I fumbled my phone out and dialed 9-1-1. Quickly I described the guy from what I'd seen: medium-complected black man, young, between 17 and 22, around 5'10", medium to thin build, a little bit of facial hair, wearing a black "do-rag" and white and dark blue plaid top and dark jeans. The operator told me I had a very detailed memory, I thanked her. I started looking at the damage in my car . . . the ignition was gutted, and my door lock was certainly damaged. The 9-1-1 lady was asking me about the area and if I was safe, and I was telling her my boyfriend was chasing after the guy and my heart was racing but otherwise everything was fine. Then within about a minute and a half, I kid you not, she tells me "Stay where you are, officers have apprehended a suspect."

Talk about right place, right time. There was a patrol car very close by when the call went out. And, as I was told later, there was one particular spot in that complex where delinquents tended to hop a low wall for access. The officers went right to that spot. Rob isn't built for speed, but he cuts an imposing figure and I'm sure that put some hurry-up into the would-be car thief. So the kid ran as fast as he could, took the quickest way out of the apartment complex, and practically jumped into the waiting arms of the two cops.

Rob came jogging back, out of breath and annoyed that the guy got away; he was pleasantly surprised to hear that he'd flushed the guy right into a cop car. And, he admitted, he had gotten so worked up from the chase that he said he may have broken a few laws himself if he had managed to lay hands on the creep.

A second pair of officers drove me up to the location where the young man was being held, shine a gazillion-watt light on him as he stood hand-cuffed by the front of a second patrol car, and had me do an on-the-spot identification. That was the guy, I said. He wasn't smiling at me anymore, but that was the face. And the outfit was the same but he didn't have his do-rag. I mentioned that to the officers, and they informed me that they had found the do-rag in his shirt pocket; a common tactic when fleeing the scene of a crime is to change something quick about your attire (such as throwing a hat on or taking one off) so as to not be so easily identified. I filed reports until around midnight, and the cops were helpful and supportive.

Rob and I later analyzed what we'd seen and remembered of the guy that night, and it was a surprising little insight into the way each of us approaches caricature work in the chair. We both do a lot of the same things, but we lean toward different approaches. Rob has always been more analytical and deconstructs things feature-to-feature (or, if he's doing a studio piece, he works pore-by-pore) as he formulates a caricature. I tend to snap a mental picture and get a roundabout "feel" for a face much like a speedy gesture drawing. And, in practice, I have always been the faster one at parties (where a quick, gestural approach helps you create a spare likeness in minutes); Rob has been the better architect of studio pieces that have hyper-stretched but accurate exaggeration (where attention to detail and holding to an algorithmic approach can knock it out of the park). Both approaches have their benefits, and over the years since this little crime took place, we have certainly learned from each other's approach and (as married couples tend to do) ended up taking on some of the habits of the other person.

Anyway, that night I had "flashed" a quick mental gestural image of the perpetrator and was able to relay the details to the 9-1-1 operator. Rob had no time to process or concentrate, but rather was focused on the "fight or flight" instinct (or, rather, in this case the "fight or chase" instinct). Afterward he couldn't recall any real details about what the guy looked like or was wearing except for a vague memory of the color red (the cops said that people in a stressful crime situation where their heart is pumping blood furiously tend to recall seeing flashes of red).

Fast forward some weeks later, there was a trial date and Robert and I had to show up and repeat to a judge or jury that this guy tried to steal my car. The district attorney (or some deputy form of district attorney) interviewed us in a small room and tried to let us know what to expect. He looked through the paperwork and let us know this kid was still a juvenile but was on his "third strike" and had still been on probation for the first and second strikes on the night he broke into my car. Lovely.

So, the attorney cautioned, the defense lawyer was going to try to say that the identification was bad. It was at night, there was confusion, he was running, etc. etc. We answered questions about the level of lighting in the parking lot, and how far I could comfortably see. After going over all that, I shrugged and said "Well, this kid had the audacity to turn and smile at us before he ran." I remember being so annoyed by that display of "fuck you" criminal attitude, it really irked me. And then I added, "I'm not sure if this matters, but I'm a quick-sketch artist, and I've drawn three-year-olds that didn't sit still and smile as long as this guy did."

The attorney lit up and smiled. "You said you did what now?"

"I draw caricatures and quick portraits of people. So does he." Rob nodded.

"Like for your job?" the attorney asked.

"Yeah, it's my full-time job."

He smiled. "Oh yes, that matters."

That actually makes me an expert witness, he continued, and it changed everything. The district attorney left the room to go confer with the other lawyer and then came back a few minutes later, informing us that the defendant and his lawyer decided not to fight the ID. They had changed their plea to guilty. So, no trial. Or at least nothing we had to stick around for.

And, since Nevada has a victim's compensation law, I was awarded damages to cover the cost of fixing my ignition and door lock. It arrived in small chunks over six months, as the inmates earn money by doing work while incarcerated and then that pay is processed and sent out to their victims.

A very happy resolution. Despite the trauma my car endured on the very first day I owned it, that Saturn served me well for nearly a decade afterward. I even had the word "CARICATURES" and my phone number emblazoned on the back windshield, which got us a number of gigs. And only one voicemail complaining about my driving.

My sweet baby at the end of her life. Last year I donated her to a women's shelter, where volunteers kindly scraped off my advertising and auctioned off her working parts. (Sniff!)

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