Nothing, as the cliche goes, is etched in stone. This includes police policy and procedure. When you've been a cop a long time, as Deputy Hussey has, you see things come and go. And sometimes, you're even on the cutting edge of new policy. Read on as Deputy Hussey shares another case with us.
After a few years as a police officer, most cops have responded to all kinds of "signal sevens" or dead body calls. I've seen the human body in almost every form: burned, dismembered, decomposing, mummified. I've seen people shot, cut, hung, run over, bludgeoned, strangled and sexually mutilated. I've found people dead who were partially eaten by their pets; I've kicked in doors and had putrefied bodies explode. I've seen them decompose and drip down through the mattress, and I've seen them decapitate because they hung too long. I've worked 'em all and its never ceased to amaze me the things human beings do to themselves and each other.
The homicides and suicides are somewhat interesting, but the natural death calls are just kind of a chore. Usually the deceased is an elderly person who has been bedridden and had some terminal disease. Some family member is usually there, and you have to tell the people how sorry you are and appear to be saddened as you complete your report and try not to be late for dinner, which is usually when these calls come.
On this particular summer evening, my partner, Glenn Seacrest, and I had already eaten. We'd stopped off downtown to look at the new TV sets. There was a brand new channel on one of the sets. It was called "Cable News Network" or CNN.
"It'll never make it," I said. "Who the hell would watch news 24 hours a day?"
We got the call for an address on West Quincy Street. As we pulled out of the appliance store parking lot, the dispatcher said it was a "natural", which meant that the person died of natural causes.
It was an African American family, and as we arrived, there were several carloads of people just arriving and getting out of their cars. The older families were very close and they usually congregated quickly after a family death. Sometimes you would have to help subdue a distraught family member who would be beside him or herself with grief. That was not the case here. The crowd was rather subdued. As we entered the neatly kept house, several people were weeping softly and comforting each other.
"Where is he?" I asked.
A large motherly looking black lady motioned us to a bedroom where the door was shut. "Papa been so sick," she said. "It sho is a blessin' dat he gone home."
I nodded. "Yes ma'am."
As Glen called the medical examiner and gave him the information, I started the paperwork. Event form, narrative, persons form, death investigation form, and of course, the toe tag. The toe tag was a dark red, 2"x5" tag which had blanks for the decedent's name, address, time of death and the name of the investigating officer and the case number. The tag had two strings attached to one end, and was to be tied to the "great" toe of the decedent.
I was finishing the paperwork when my partner came into the room. "How's he look?" Glenn asked.
"I haven't looked yet. I'm almost finished with the report. I just gotta' fill out the toe tag."
"Let's have a look." Glenn pulled back the sheet.
Willie Jasper Jones was born in 1886, which made him 96 years old. What a long life this man had lived. He was the son of former slaves. He had seen the first automobile, the first airplane, and the advent of the telephone. He'd gone from kerosene lamps to electricity. He had taken all these changes in stride. Yes, Mr. Jones had seen many changes in his lifetime, many not so good.
As we pulled down the sheet, I was somewhat shocked to see that the old man had no legs. I guess I wasn't prepared for it. The shriveled old torso was lying on its back. Only a medic alert bracelet adorned his naked body.
The legs were amputated even with his buttocks, and his limp penis hung unnaturally between what used to be the man's legs.
"I didn't know the guy was leg-less," I said.
"Yeah, he was a diabetic and had his legs whacked off a couple of years back."
"Well, let's tie the toe tag and get out of here," I said without thinking. I looked over at Glenn, and he was grinning that sick grin of his. He looked at me, looked at Mr. Jones, then at the toe tag. I realized what he had in mind.
"Let's just leave the tag with the funeral home guys," I said.
"Can't", Glenn said as he snatched the tag from my clipboard. "The back of the tag says to affix it to the great toe."
"He has no great toe.
"We'll tie it to the lowest place on his body," Glenn said.
"I don't want any part of this."
"Even kinda' looks like a big toe." Glenn giggled.
Glenn securely tied the string to the man's private parts, and shortly thereafter, the guys from the funeral home arrived and picked up the body. I knew we hadn't heard the last of this. I was right.
My phone rang about 8:30 the next morning, waking me from a sound sleep. It was the Chief's secretary. The Patrol Captain wanted to see me in his office right away. When I got to the Captain's office, Glenn was coming out with a large chaw of tobacco in his mouth and grinning from ear to ear.
"What happened in there?" I asked. I could hear the Chief screaming at the Captain inside his office.
"Oh the fuckin' M.E. couldn't take a joke, thought we should have tied the tag to his finger or something. I told the Chief the thing I tied it to was more like a big toe than his finger was. I asked the Chief, hell, haven't you ever stubbed your dick?" Glenn laughed out loud at his own joke. "The Chief didn't think it was funny either."
When I went into the Captain's office, I played the dumb rookie, "Just following the lead of my veteran partner." He apparently bought it, and I was glad. Several days later a memo circulated through the department. It read:
"In cases where the decedent is an amputee or the toe tag cannot be tied to either of the great toes for various reasons, the red medical examiner's toe tag shall be given to the funeral home personnel when the body is released to them."
There we were again, making policy.
Have a great weekend, everyone.