Lessons from the barrel of a gun

So, at least I can now say that I know what it's like to be at the end of a loaded firearm.

Last night I fell asleep at at about nine, something I've done not in a while. I didn't mean to. I just put my head down and crashed. But, I usually only get about five to six hours of sleep a night, so I popped right back up at around 2:30 or so, and could not go back under.

After an hour of laying there I decided to get up, and went downstairs into my basement office. I decided to watch Chuck, which I missed last Monday. More on that later. I goofed off for a while, hoping I'd get tired again.

At about 4:30 or so, my dog started barking in the space above my head. He was very agitated. This annoyed me an awful lot, as I'm sure it was bothering my wife. He usually growls anytime there's a cat outside, which is a lot. Sometimes a dog or some other critter will get into our mud room. Billy was upset, and Amy opened the door to the basement and cried down for me.

"There's someone on the back deck with a flashlight," she said.

I didn't believe her at first. But, my neighborhood has been having a rash of burglaries, loud parties, and a lot more people wandering around then there used to be. Three weeks ago, a drunk guy broke into our across-the-street neighbor's house to sleep. So, I went upstairs, in only my boxers, quickly trying to assimilate what she had said. I tried to think if it was real, partially thinking she was dreaming.

But, why would she make something like that up? My heart was thumping. I knew that something was happening, and in the next few seconds, life was going to change. I grabbed a walking stick that belonged to Amy's father. I could hear rustling noises outside the door leading to our mudroom, which leads to our back deck.

"Open the door!" someone shouted from the other side.

"No! Who are you? Go away!"

"Open the door immediately!"

"No way! Not until I know who you are!"

"Charlottesville Police Department! Open the door!"

"I don't believe you! I'm not opening this door!"

Would you? People will say anything. It was my back door. Why would there be police officers in my back door, in my mud room? What was going on?

"Open the door immediately sir!" the man shouted. I could see powerful lights coming from the cracks of the door, and so I decided to take a risk and open the door, clutching the walking stick in my right hand, ready to use it, somehow, if I had to protect my wife and daughter.

So, I opened the door, and was staring at a man in black with a rifle pointed at my face. I could only see the man's silhouette, as there was a bright powerful flash light, but I could make out his weapon.

"Let me see your hands!" shouted the officer. I was still clutching the stick in my right hand. I immediately dropped the stick and opened the door all the way to show that I wasn't armed. The police officer had been ready to shoot, but he lowered his gun. He didn't take both hands off of it, though. Right behind him were two other men, possibly more.

"What's going on?"

This is the part where I'm not quite sure what I heard. He either said that there was a report of a break-in in the house behind ours, or there was a report of a suspicious person trying to break in. I was a little unclear, and still trying to figure out what was going on. The officer explained they had seen that the door to our mudroom was open, and assumed that their suspect had forced their way into my house. They told me I should keep my doors shut. We usually do, but it's an easy thing to do when you live in a place you assume is safe.

And now? I don't believe it's very safe at all. I don't know what to think about the police, who left a few minutes later without saying they were sorry for disturbing me and my wife. I don't know how to feel. On the one hand, I feel protected that the police are trying to catch a potential criminal. On the other, I now know what it's like to have a gun drawn on me, in my own home, in the middle of the night.

After they left, my wife wouldn't stop shaking. I was fairly calm about it, though it took a while for my heart to return to normal.

I should have asked for their names and badge numbers, just to get it on record. Just to have someone to follow up to know exactly what kind of a call they are on.

I am glad I was awake, because I don't know what the outcome would have been if I were asleep, still in the throes of dream logic. I can imagine myself being more belligerent. I can imagine myself not really thinking straight, groggy, less inclined to cooperate.

And what if I had been armed, as is my constitutional right? Would the presence of a gun have escalated things more, me very quickly the victim of mistaken identity? You hear about it happening fairly often, no-knock raids on the wrong house. I'm very sure that kind of thing can happen here.

What if they had seen my wife peeking through the windows, and trained the gun on her? What if she reacted poorly to that, and they assumed she was their suspect? She's pregnant, and freaks easily.

I want to repeat that I don't know if the police officers were right or wrong. In my head, I don't see why they wouldn't have gone to the front door first. Is it a crime to have an open door? The door sometimes sticks, and re-opens. What was their thought process? Did they also look into my outdoor shed, which also has an open door? If so, was that a violation of my constitutional rights?

I really don't know. But, I'm curious to know what you think.


Jennifer said...

Omigoodness, this good have easily been someone else. I am glad you and your family are ok, I am sure this will take some time to process, I cant imagine. Thanks for posting on it, even if it is shake inducing on the readers part too.

Eric F. said...

Sounds like a very intense situation. I'm glad things worked out - they could have been much worse. Not something easily shaken off, I'm sure.

I don't think I would've opened the door right away, either. I've sent city workers away before because I wasn't 100% sure they were legit. That was in broad daylight, and they were knocking politely.

Sean Tubbs said...

Thanks guys for responding. I'm still taking it all in, and wondering what to do next. I would have liked follow-up from the police this morning, for instance. Did they catch someone? The house that may or may not have been broken in to, is only about 150 yards away.

The fact that they did not immediately say they were police officers is what bothers me. Well, one of the things that bothers me.

I didn't actually review Chuck in the post, but there's a scene where the main character has a gun drawn on him. He totally doesn't expect it. And, then it happens to me about 30 minutes later. That was certainly an odd meta-moment.

Matthew Rosenberg said...

I am glad you are OK Sean.

Darren said...

Glad to hear it wasn't some hair-trigger rookie looking to kick someone's door down and starting cuffing people first before asking question. But still, a rifle in the face, that is ridiculous. As you said, on the one hand you want to appreciate that they're out there patrolling the neighborhood, but it should also be part of their job to offer the common courtesy of an apology in situations where they frighten or disturb innocent citizens at gunpoint.

Darren said...


"Glad to hear it wasn't some hair-trigger rookie looking to kick someone's door down and start cuffing people first before asking questions."

Sounds like I need ESL classes.

emory said...

hey Sean- please send the text of your account to Chief Longo. The Charlottesville Police Department hopes to build positive relationships with citizens, it would be helpful for him to have your story and interesting to hear his response. I am so glad you all are ok. Hope this incident will transmute into an opportunity to improve procedures and understanding.

longo at charlottesville.org

Anonymous said...

Scary stuff Sean. I'm glad everyone's OK. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that one of them could've come to the front door. Hard to say what I'd do in that situation but sitting here comfortably now I'm inclined to say I would've refused to open the door and instead dialed 9-1-1. Would they have kicked in the door then? At any rate I think you at least deserve an apology.

Patience_Crabstick said...

How scary and disturbing. They should have identified themselves immediately as police, and you definitely deserve an apology. I hope you do contact Chief Longo about this.

Sean Tubbs said...

Thanks again to everyone. We're okay - just very thoughtful about these things. I keep reliving it over and over again. I've been in touch with City Councilor Dave Norris, who says he's going to speak with Chief Longo.

I'm thinking about what I want to say. In general, I want to know what call they were on, and if the level of force was adequate, or possibly an over-reaction. As I said, I don't have the answers.

maiaoming said...

Easily-freaked Pregnant Lady Here: Aside from my own shakiness and fear about where we live now - the police did nothing to make us feel safe during this interaction - I am awakened to and horrified by how people both in this country and in others must feel who are ALWAYS scared of their local police force -whether because they live in a "bad" neighborhood and the color of their skin represents "crime" to the cops, or whether they're in Iraq where even children are suspected of insurgent activity. I feel privileged to have have witnessed, if briefly, how others must live all the time. I also realize that we are extremely lucky, not just to have survived, but because we CAN get access to the chief of police, and have a voice on a blog. Not everyone has that. Thanks to everyone for the support.

Jack Landers said...

They screwed up BADLY. If I were in your shoes, there is no way I'd have opened the door. I'd have made sure it was locked, informed them that I was going to call 911 and then I would have done exactly that.

These cops just were not thinking straight. They should have kept a couple of guys watching that back door while a couple of others went around to the front to knock on the front door in the manner that an actual police officer should be expected to. So that you could look through the peephole and see that they were really cops.

Of course, from the cops' perspective, they are probably reading all of this and thinking 'what the hell? I was up in the middle of the night and risking my life to try to protect these people from a home invader and all they can do is criticize?' So thank you for that Charlottesville police. I realize that your hearts were in the right places.

That said, those cops really screwed up. Had Sean acted a little more defensively (which would have been wise given that he had a pregnant wife to protect and no good reason to open the door), this story could have ended with a trip to the hospital or the morgue. I'm not saying that anyone should be fired here, but those officers owe Sean and his wife an apology and they need to never do something this reckless again.

Semi said...

Geez Louise, Sean, I don't think I would have opened the door, but it's difficult to say. I've seen your house and I can picture how this must have played out. I like to think that I would have been rational enough to shout back "I'm calling 911!", but I cannot really imagine these circumstances.

On a lighter note, congratulations to you and Amy on her pregnancy.

Silvia said...

I'm afraid my husband would have gotten to the door with a shotgun (we have bears, raccoons and other animals trying to get to our chickens, and he's gone outside at 2am to see what was making noise), and our dog would have been going crazy and probably would have bitten the police officers if he felt we were being threatened. I could see this ending badly. Dead dog, dead husband, dead cop? I would have called 911, if I'd been thinking straight, but how do you do that when this is going on? We do have motion sensor lights on our house, though, which is very helpful in letting us know when something or someone is approaching the house. Hope you get an answer.