Last Wednesday morning at 9:54, I got a message from my wife, Beth, saying a man had attempted to grab her while she stood in front of her office downtown on St. Michael Street. I called and she described talking on the phone on the sidewalk and becoming aware of a man moving closer, so she backed up toward the door and was able to duck into her office as he lunged and swung his arm at her. All of this was captured by the company’s security camera.
She had already called police and was waiting for them to arrive.
My first instinct was to jump in the car and go find this guy. Previous interactions with the Mobile Police Department since moving into our office downtown in January had left me less than certain this would be handled quickly. I hoped that just four months after Douglas Dunson was arrested for allegedly attacking and attempting to rape a woman in a downtown parking garage one weekday morning, something like this would be a priority, but I wasn’t going to take that for granted.
It didn’t take long to locate the man. He was in a parking lot on St. Louis Street pulling on car door handles and looking in their windows. Surprisingly he came out onto the sidewalk and started slowly walking down the street in front of me. At 10:04 a.m. I called MPD to let them know I was following their suspect. And as he walked along, oblivious to the car creeping along behind him, I gave the operator one update after another.
Along the way I realized a couple of men from the Downtown Mobile Alliance (DMA) were also tracking this dude. I was able to talk to one of them and he said they had also called police earlier and were waiting on them. So we all kept creeping along through downtown as this would-be attacker zigzagged his way toward Government Street.
After several minutes on the phone with MPD I began to get irritated. I finally asked the operator if they were actually coming or if I was just wasting my time. She said she was waiting for someone to return her call. As the guy reached Government, the man from DMA confronted him and got him to walk into the Social Security Administration building. I hung up after 14 minutes on the phone with police.
Two officers finally showed up at 10:22 a.m., more than half an hour after they were called about an attempted attack on a woman on a downtown street. It had been even longer since DMA called.
But the officers didn’t offer any reason for the delay. In fact, they seemed sullen and pissed off to be there. They asked nothing about what I had seen. Sgt. Elsie Boykin was actually far more interested in trying to stop me from taking a picture of the arrest while standing on public property. Might be time for a First Amendment refresher at MPD.
As we stood there watching the officers crush one of the suspect’s legs in a car door until he screamed, I asked the men from DMA if a 30-minute response time was something they normally saw downtown. They indicated it wasn’t terribly unusual, particularly for certain officers. They also told me the guy had said he was smoking mojo, a synthetic marijuana.
Next we went to my wife’s office to get her statement. The officers were curt and showed little to no “bedside manner,” just telling her to fill out a statement and then going back to their cars to talk to each other. There were few questions and zero interest in seeing the security video.
When Beth took the statement outside, Boykin told her to bring it over to the car where the guy who had just tried to attack her was sitting. Beth said she didn’t want him looking at her, so Boykin trudged over and got the report.
She informed us we’d need to go immediately to sign a warrant with the magistrate since the charge was misdemeanor harassment and the officers hadn’t personally seen it, technically making this a citizen’s arrest. The nearest magistrate, she said, was in Tillman’s Corner, and if we didn’t go right then she was going to release the man. “It’s not like it is on TV,” she explained.
So we got in the car and headed west. Along the way Boykin called to make sure we were on the way and to reiterate that if we weren’t she would release him. But when we got to the precinct building the woman inside said we couldn’t sign a warrant without having an appointment. After some protesting on our parts she told us to have a seat and wait.
While we sat, a man came in to file a warrant on an employee who stole $1,200 in cash from his business. He said he’d been sent there from another precinct. But he was quickly told he couldn’t sign a warrant in TiCo either and would need to go to an office on Virginia Street. His frustration was obvious and I walked up to ask him what was going on. He said he’d been given the runaround a few times and couldn’t even get a detective to come see him about the crime.
Beth finally got called back and as I waited in the lobby, an officer walked out from the back offices and began talking to one of the women out front. He said he had six or seven warrants and asked if he could get them signed there. He was told no. He replied that he’d been to about three other places to get it done and no one was at any of them.
“They’re fixing to walk free!” he said in frustration before leaving.
The lack of organization was shocking. How was it possible victims of crime were expected to drive all the way to Tillman’s Corner to file warrants, only to find confusion and a lack of helpfulness when they arrived? Even the cops couldn’t navigate the system.
When I got back to my office, we looked up Christopher Walker, the 25-year-old man who tried to grab Beth on the street. What we found were nearly 30 charges since 2013. Those included 15 domestic violence charges, others for theft of property, criminal trespass, receiving stolen property and drug possession. A frequent flier for sure.
The plot thickened the next day when Fox10 News ran a story about a good Samaritan who had helped a man who passed out in the downtown McDonald’s on Tuesday night. Apparently he’d been smoking mojo and she rubbed his chest and soothed him until authorities arrived. You guessed it — the passed-out guy was our hero, Christopher Walker. I’m not sure what authorities did with Walker after he flopped out at Mickey D’s, but by the next morning he was again wandering the streets high on mojo.
I don’t mean for this to come off as being down on MPD, because I know it’s a tough job and the vast majority of what they do is very positive for our community, but it was disturbing to see not only the length of time it took to respond to an attempted attack, but also the disinterest by officers and then the clear administrative mess that exists in getting warrants signed.
Public Safety Director Jim Barber told me he has been working with the city of Mobile’s Judicial Adviser Charlie Graddick to get magistrates set up at more locations around town so victims can file warrants more easily. He also told me the police operator mistakenly held the call for 22 minutes on Wednesday because three downtown units were busy, instead of calling another precinct.
I know there’s not much police can do about the revolving door of crime intersecting addiction and mental illness that puts potentially dangerous people on the streets over and over. But still, MPD and the city need to do what they can to handle their end of the equation better. History would suggest Walker will be wandering the downtown streets again soon. How safe should we feel?