I was working one night with my partner, Danny Guerin. Danny and I worked together for about 2 1/2 years while assigned to the MPD Domestic Violence Unit. He was senior to me, and wasn’t shy about pointing that fact out to me on a regular basis. So, unofficially at least, he was my boss. Dan and I had one or two pretty significant blowouts between us while working together, but generally speaking, I liked to work with him and even though I had more than 6 years on the job when I was partnered up with him, I still learned a lot while riding with him.
On this night, we reported for duty at 6PM, which was normal. When we arrived, we found a case left for us for follow up by the supervisor of our unit who normally worked days. Anything important from dayshift was often left for us to follow up on. To make a long story short, or as short as I can make it, it seems that a guy had visited a pawn shop in Manchester earlier and attempted to purchase a pistol. Normally not a problem, but in this case the guy had a Domestic Violence Protective Order in effect against him. The protected party in this order was his wife, and she lived, I believe, with their children (it may have been three or four, don’t remember which) in a small town north of Concord NH called Boscawen.
Because there was a protective order in place, it was a crime for him to purchase or possess a firearm. It was a violation of that order. Furthermore, at the time it was also a federal felony to possess a firearm if you were the subject of a restraining order (RO), and the issuing state or jurisdiction process complied with the Federal law.
So, this individual, I’ll refer to from here on out as our suspect, went into this shop and handled several pistols to examine them, which itself was a violation of Federal Law in his case. He also selected a pistol and tried to purchase it. In doing so, he filled out the normal ATF form that anyone who purchases a firearm from a dealer completes. In this form, he lied about the RO. There is a question on this form that specifically asks if the purchaser has an active RO against him. He checked the box NO, then signed under penalty of perjury that he was telling the truth, which he wasn’t.
The shop owner then called in the purchase, which is required when someone tries to purchase a firearm in NH. When he did, he was told by the NH State Police Gun Line that the suspect was not eligible to make that purchase because he had a Final RO in effect against him. This now was an additional Federal felony. The first being his handling of any firearm at the time, the second was trying to purchase it, and the third was that he lied about the RO when he filled out the ATF form. The violation of the RO was also a state crime, but only misdemeanor. However his attempt to purchase the gun in Manchester at least gave us local jurisdiction to follow up on the case. But, what case or crime exactly? He hadn’t left the shop with the gun in his possession, and we technically didn’t have the authority to investigate federal crimes and arrest for federal warrants. At least not unless we were working with a federal prosecutor on a specific case.
However, due to the fact that the suspect tried to purchase a pistol after being ordered not to possess a firearm by a judge in a domestic violence case raised all kinds of red flags for us. We were worried about his intent, as well as the safety of his wife as we were for any DV victim. In any case, the NH State Police notified MPD that day of the attempted purchase and that was standard anytime a gun purchase was denied by the gun line.
Danny and I decided we’d start the night off with this case. So, we answered our phone messages left the office and then and were off to the pawn shop while it was still open. We were in luck. The clerk who waited on the suspect earlier in the day was still working. We had done several of these types of cases by then at various gun dealers in the area so the proprietor at this shop knew us from those cases. I’m sure he thought we were pains in the ass every time we came through his door, but, that went along with the type of business he was in. He was able to outline the encounter he had, that the suspect had handled several pistols and selected one for purchase, filled out the paperwork and was then denied. We then confiscated the original paperwork that had been filled out by the suspect, with his signature and took it all into evidence.
Danny and I then got our first cup of coffee in what turned out to be the beginning of a long night. We kicked the case around and over and over in our car as the radio crackled with various calls. The DART Unit (Domestic Violence Response Team) as we were called, were pretty autonomous, and only required to answer calls where we were requested or we felt required our response. We had to go back to MPD to handle the evidence we had just seized. We also read up on the related Federal and State Criminal codes as well as the NH AG’s Manual, to see what our options were, if any, at the time.
We both felt it would be worth while to track this guy down and try to determine what his real motives were for attempting this purchase. It was not lost on us that the RO was made final by the court either that day or the day before, I forget which. Since we both worked DV cases, we were seriously concerned that he tried to buy the gun to kill himself, or worse yet, murder or threaten his wife. We took this seriously and felt compelled to drop everything in order to investigate further. So, we called out of service and rolled up our sleeves.
During that time frame. Danny and I were given a lot of latitude by the Chief of Detectives to determine what we worked on, what we didn’t, and we were allowed to stay late on overtime without permission if we felt it was prudent. It often drove the shift commander crazy, but, the Chief of Detectives told us he trusted our judgement, so in that respect it was a great assignment. This night, before we were finished, we would have to use all that latitude.
Dan and I talked and debated. The obvious solution would to arrest him, then at least we’d have him off the street and his family would be safe for a short time anyway. The problem is that the felonies were federal crimes. We could arrest on a federal warrant (always a highly debatable subject during my time at MPD) but we had no ability to obtain a federal arrest warrant for a federal crime, and thats what we would need to arrest him for the felonies that night. One dynamic with federal law enforcement is that generally speaking feds and the federal courts generally did not work nights, weekends or holidays. There was no one from either the ATF or FBI or the US District Court that we could contact for assistance.
We continued war gaming the case and decided the next step would be to visit the wife. We could interview and to try to get a sense of how dangerous this guy was. We also felt obligated to inform her that he had tried to purchase a pistol, but we had to find her first. Also, not all victims of domestic violence would cooperate with police for various reasons we know all to well. We started by contacting the Boscawen Police. There was one officer on duty that night, and we had to contact him through the Merrimack County Sheriff’s office. We did and we met him at his station a short time later.
One thing I love about small town cops is that they knew everybody in their town. This officer was no exception. “Yes”, he told us. He knew the victim and her family. Knew all her relatives and grew up with the suspect. Yes, the suspect was a pain in the ass. Yes, he had responded to domestic disturbances at the house over the years. And, finally, yes, we should take this attempt to purchase the firearm seriously, although none of us had any idea how we could act on it immediately. As far as Boscawen PD went, he hadn’t committed a crime in their town.
Dan and I met with the victim. Her kids were home and we spent quite a bit of time with her. She filled in many blanks for us on both the suspect and their abusive relationship. She was immediately terrified when we informed her he tried to buy a gun, and she talked about going into hiding, but with the kids and no family nearby, she didn’t know what to do. We tried our best to make her feel a bit safer. We talked again with the Boscawen Police they promised to keep a close eye on her house as well as a lookout in case our suspect meandered into town.
Finally, after along discussion, we left and headed back to Manchester. In the end, we felt it was weak, but we decided to attempt to get an arrest warrant for Attempting to Violate a Protective order. I had never tried this before or since. It was the best immediate solution we could come up with. Normally, someone would either violate an RO or doesn’t. The one thing we had going for us legally in this case was that the suspect took an affirmative step to attempt carry out this violation by trying to buy the gun. This was the main element in charging someone with an Inchoate (attempted or incomplete) crime in New Hampshire. I was however, concerned that if we bothered a judge at their home in the middle of the night for a seemingly minor matter (the rule was never call the duty judge overnight unless it’s an urgent matter that can’t wait until the court opens in the morning) and Danny and I were forever looking for arrest and search warrants at night. We did not want to fall out of the good graces of the duty judges at the District Court. We figured this case was exigent enough to wake a judge.
Being the junior guy, I authored the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Danny helped with the verbiage for the affidavit and the complaint itself. When we were satisfied, we called the judge that was on duty. In the affidavit, as well as when we saw the judge at his home we emphasized our specific and substantial training in DV matters, as well as our concern for the safety of the suspect’s family. My hope was that if the judge saw the charge and at first glance thought we were attempting to lock someone up for the Mickey Mouse charge of Attempting to violate an RO, he would see from the facts we presented this was potentially a serious incident.
I needn’t have worried. This judge was in tune with Domestic Violence issues and the dynamics that go on below the surface. He had prosecuted several DV related homicides before he was appointed to the bench, so we were in luck. He signed it and wished us luck in finding this guy. We left his house with an active arrest warrant. We went back to MPD and placed the warrant in the statewide system. We also sent it to Boscawen PD. Because it was for a misdemeanor, we could not send the warrant nationally in case, for example, he was located nearby in Massachusetts or Maine. However, If we accomplished nothing else that night, he was now wanted throughout the state of NH. If he did show his face in Boscawen or anywhere else in NH he would now be arrested and returned to MPD. But there was more work to be done before this night would be over. We actually had to find this guy and arrest him or I wouldn’t have slept well later. Then, if possible interview him to try to determine his intensions.
I won’t go into the details, but sometime later that night we caught a break. We learned that he was staying with a new girlfriend and her infant son on the West Side of Manchester. I don’t remember where we got that info. But, we did. We went to the apartment, and low and behold, we found him there, within our jurisdiction. His new girlfriend was there, along with the baby. The suspect was not the baby’s father. We placed him under arrest, and had a chat with his new girlfriend. She was not happy we locked him up, but we did tell her about his attempted purchase of the gun and the RO in effect. I hope that gave her something to think about, meaning her safety.
Back at MPD, we booked the suspect. Even the booking officer, when he saw the charge started giving us crap. Talk about chickenshit he went on. All this in front of my prisoner, a real No No in this line of work. You don’t shit on other cops in front of civilians, and especially not in front of their prisoner. The sympathy showed by the other cops present seemed to embolden him, and like all batterers, he played up the role that he was the victim in this case. He was a good guy, he assured us all. He worked hard. His wife was a bitch and now he can’t see his kids and be a good father to them. On and on he pled his case to anyone who would listen.
Actually, this ended up working in our favor. “Absolutely” he said when I asked him if he wanted to tell us his side of the story. He wanted to tell us how foolish and minor this misunderstanding is. In fact, he demanded to do so. It was his right! OK then, come with me…
He came upstairs with us where we presented him with a Uniform Miranda Rights Form. He went over each item. We explained each. He signed off saying that he understood his rights, he wanted to talk with us and waive his right to an attorney. I had no idea at the time, where this interview would lead us. I was hopeful we could get a glimpse of his state of mind as it related to his wife and his behavior. Perhaps, I hoped, he’d tell us something that would make the judge he went in front of later in the morning take the charge seriously.
The interview started. He painted himself as a victim. A victim in life, the victim in his relationship and so on. This went on for a while. I nodded sympathetically as though I understood. Danny and I talked to him, but we couldn’t get much more out of him. It was a low key interview in that we figured that being confrontational with him would only cause him to shut up. We wanted him to talk to us. We told him he was in a lot of trouble. We talked and talked. He talked about his life, wife, anything to deflect any blame from himself as to how he ended up in handcuffs in that room that night.
At one point I was ready to end the interview. I just spoke up. It was a long shot, but it had worked for me before. I told him that I could see he loved his wife and loved his family and I knew deep down inside he would never want hurt them. I went on to tell him that I thought he was in extraordinary anguish, and the only way he could ever receive help for himself was to tell the truth. About his relationship, his marriage, his behavior and his intent when he tried to buy the gun. All of which was true.
Well, sometimes, you never know what works. I was grasping at straws at that point. I wanted to find out, with some certainly whether or not he intended to hurt himself or his wife. Suddenly, out of the blue, he started to sob. He cried. He cried about his wife leaving him, his having to leave his house, not being to be able to see his kids. He just broke down and cried. Danny and I told him we understood and encouraged him to go on.
And then he shocked us. There haven’t been too many times during my career that someone said something that left me speechless. But this was one of those times. We told him we could see he was in agony, and one of us asked him if he was thinking of killing himself. “Yes!” he suddenly blurted out. He hadn’t completely made up his mind when he went into the shop, but that’s why he tried to buy the gun and lied on the ATF form. To kill himself. We talked a bit about that, in a sympathetic way, and that he needed to get help. Then the real admission came.
He told us while continuing to sob that he had planned to first kill his wife, their three kids, then go to the apartment in Manchester, kill his girlfriend and her baby. He then wanted to turn the gun on himself. It just poured out of him, as though a dam had burst. On and on he went. No additional prodding was needed from us. I was astounded at this revelation. It hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightening. And, although it took a while, the entire interview didn’t last more than 90 minutes. This man had just admitted to us that he was seriously considering murdering as many as seven innocent persons and then killing himself. Would he have really done it? Who knows? But to have him admit it, this would have to be taken seriously, although thinking about killing someone isn’t a crime in itself. I do believe that he was seriously contemplating this course of action. Apparently, the issuance of the Final Protective Order had brought him to this precipice. To me, his saying he was thinking about it was more than enough to get him held on a high bail, at least until a bail hearing.
However, the interview was not recorded in any fashion, other than our own handwritten notes. At that time, we routinely did not record interviews because we were always fearful that the presence of a recorder or camera would inhibit any suspect we interviewed. This was pretty much standard practice back then. We weren’t worried about that at the time. I don’t believe it would have mattered anyway.
We talked about these issues for a while, told him it was important to be honest about this to himself and others so he could get the appropriate help he needed and maybe one day in the future he could begin to rebuild his life. He actually thanked us for arresting him, preventing him from hurting those people in his life that he loved and thanked us for being so decent to him. Although I was appalled at what he had just told us, I never was one to kick someone when they were down in life, and that included most people I arrested. We handled him with kid gloves that night.
We returned the suspect to the cellblock. We made sure that he was held on a reasonable bail, at least until he saw a judge later in the morning. We then went back to Boscawen and later the girlfriend’s house to let her know what we did and what he told us. Of course, we wanted to make sure the prosecutor had the whole story the next morning, so as the sun started to come up, we were still typing our reports and the details from the interview. The fact was that, we had only charged him with an attempted misdemeanor, and regardless of the seriousness of the matter, there was only so much that we could do to him for an attempted misdemeanor.
The suspect was arraigned and held pending a bail hearing on a relatively high bail. The judge apparently got the message that this guy was a serious threat to the community. After he was arraigned and held, we were able to shop the case to a federal prosecutor in Concord. The Feds took the case, and he was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury for lying on the ATF form as well as being a prohibited person from possessing a firearm (while he was shopping for the gun) while subject to a final protective order.
A few weeks went by. I never heard much from the girlfriend. I don’t know if she felt she dodged a bullet that night, or took what we told her seriously. But we did stay in close contact with his wife. She breathed a little easier knowing he was locked up at the Valley St. jail on the state charge, and he wasn’t going to make bail on the new federal charges any time soon. The wheels of federal court system started to turn. He was now detained on the federal felony charges as well.
The suspect had a federal public defender assigned to him, and they developed a defense for these very serious allegations. His defense was that we badgered him so badly, so throughly that he would have told us anything to get us to leave him alone. He admitted during pretrial motions that he told us he was going to kill all seven persons and himself, but, he said, he only told us what he thought we wanted him to say. We wouldn’t leave him alone until we got him to say he wanted to kill them.
The fact of the matter was that aside of suggesting he really loved his wife, and his kids, we never mentioned that we thought he was going to kill them. Nor did we ever bring up the woman he was living with and her child. The fact that he voluntarily told us, when he tried to buy the gun he was thinking of using it to kill them all and then himself, as I said earlier came as a complete shock to both of us. Also, the interview was very low key. No accusations, no yelling, threats, nothing like that. We wanted to get this guy to talk to us so we could make an honest evaluation of the threat level that existed, if it did, for his wife. The idea that he may kill the other children and his girlfriend never entered our minds.
Eventually, there was a hearing for a Motion to Suppress his statement to us in Federal Court. Danny and I both testified to the presiding justice of the United States District Court of New Hampshire. I answered all the defense attorney’s questions in as reasonable fashion as possible. I told the judge of our concern about the safety of the suspect’s wife after he tried to purchase the gun. I was allowed to testify about my training (much of it federal by the Justice Department) regarding the dynamics of domestic violence and quote various statistics.
The judge then caught me by surprise by asking me a strange question. He asked me if I ever watched the TV show NYPD Blue. I told him occasionally, but I normally worked nights. He then asked me whether or not the interrogations depicted on the show were accurate depictions of police interrogations in general, and could they describe the “interrogation” that my partner and I subjected the defendant to, when we extracted this confession.
Once again, I was shocked. This time by the question itself, and the apparent naivete of the this federal presiding justice. Now anyone who has ever watched NYPD Blue was often treated to the sight of Andy Sippowitz threatening and manhandling child molesters and rapists around the interrogation room at the precinct, which always resulted in detailed confessions. I knew as an experienced investigator that this type of treatment only worked on TV. Furthermore, I learned that if an investigator hoped to get a rapist or some other deviant to talk to him about these deeply personal issues, the interviewer must establish a rapport with the suspect, and give that suspect some kind of motivation or rationale to do so. We could rarely coerce an admission to this type of behavior from an offender. To me “leaning” on a suspect (figuratively, not literally) was a last ditch attempt to get a suspect to talk to you. So, to me, the suspect’s defense that we sweated or coerced these admissions from the suspect was laughable. I explained all this in a patient and respectful way to the judge. Later, when the hearing was over, I compared notes with my partner who also had testified, and the judge asked him exactly the same question.
The decision came down. The judge wrote that he believed the suspect had knowingly and freely waived his Miranda Rights when we explained them. The judge further found that he believed that both my partner and I were truthful when we testified about the suspect’s admissions thinking about killing his family when he tried to buy the gun. The judge went onto say, however, that he believed the defendant was in a state of mind where he would have told us anything to get away from us. Otherwise, why would he say so? The judge ruled that he would admit the statements during trial, but he warned the prosecutor he would give them no weight whatsoever. He would advise a jury of the same. Apparently, this judge had the ability to look into the suspect’s heart, if he had one, and was able to determine the suspect really didn’t mean what he told us. At least, I thought, the judge didn’t outright call me a lair. But, it got worse.
Based on this ruling, and the judges comments, the entire federal case was dropped. I never understood that in as much as he wasn’t charged with trying to murder anyone, he was charged with lying on the ATF Form, a felony. And, we had plenty of evidence to convict him of that. I believe that to this day. And, I think it was worth presenting our testimony to a jury and let them decide. However, in retrospect, if I was the defense attorney, based on this ruling, I would have opted for a bench trial rather than disclosing our testimony to a jury. The judges message was clear. We weren’t going to get a conviction in federal court.
The case now went back to the Manchester District Court for the original charge of attempting to violate the RO. A deal was struck. The suspect pled guilty to that charge. In light of his statements to us, which were still admissible in state court, he was given a brief jail sentence and given pretrial credit for the time he had already been locked up. The maximum amount of jail time he could have been given was a year, with a third deducted for good behaviour. I think maybe he did five or six months at most.
For a while, his wife, or ex-wife which I believe she became, was able to sleep at night. That was a good thing, even if temporary, but I felt good about that. Although Danny and I occasionally spoke with the wife from time to time, we never heard anything about the suspect after he was released from jail. We may have even driven out to Boscowen once or twice on slow nights to check on her, and I hope that made her feel a bit better. At least, I thought, she knew we cared.
As for the suspect, I think if nothing else, at least I hope, he realized he dodged several bullets. The outcome for him was as good as it could have been. I also hope that the court forced him to get the help he needed. But then again, the Criminal Justice System is designed to protect the rights of the offender, not the victim. I was astonished that the Presiding Justice of the United States District Court could be taken in and manipulated by this see through defense. Also, I was even more dumfounded that this judge’s knowledge of real world police procedure came from watching a fictional TV show.
As for me, I never doubted, not for a minute that this guy seriously thought about killing all those people he named when he decided to purchase that pistol. He had much to lose and nothing to gain by making these disclosures to us.
The good news was that in someways the system worked that night. The wife obtained the RO, the suspect tried to purchase the pistol, the salesman followed the law, and he was flagged by the State Police due to the fact that the RO had been issued and it was properly filed within the system. Furthermore, the State Police reached out to us and notified MPD of the attempt.
Finally, the case was given to my partner and I to follow up on and figure out a way to protect his wife, if only temporarily. We did. Mostly because we were hard working detectives who believed in what we were doing. It didn’t hurt that our bosses gave us free reign to figure these things out at night and then do them. The case also provided proof positive that for a victim of Domestic Violence, the most dangerous time for her is when she decides to leave that relationship. In this case, her having obtained the final restraining order against her husband, truly turned out to be that moment of peril. Not only for her, but for her children. And others.
This case began what eventually became for me, a serous distaste for fictional TV series about cops and movies as well. Both often portrayed cops as corrupt and brutal, and I saw how these things colored the perceptions held by honest citizens about cops. Not only did these shows influence a sitting federal judge in this case, but as the years went on, and defendants lied about how they were teated by me, or tried to impinge my integrity during court proceedings, I saw that many, many people who sat on juries were too often persuaded by these false defenses and outright lies. Yeah, they believed the defendant’s outrageous claims because they often saw cops behave like that regularly when they watched these fictional dramas play out on TV regularly.
The years flew by. Danny is gone now, and I miss him. We were partners for about 2 1/2 years. We rode together eight hours a day and often much longer. I had two more great partners while I worked in the DV Unit. I lasted there for almost six years. Looking back at this arrest, despite the fact that at first glance the case charging the suspect with an attempted misdemeanor may have appeared trivial, and although it resulted with a short jail term, this may have been one of the most important cases which I participated in during my police carer. Although I was and still am unhappy about the outcome, I feel good about it.