In late March of 2018, I received a phone call at ten-thirty PM on a Sunday night, purportedly from the County Sheriff’s Department. The caller informed me in an officious manner that they had a warrant for my arrest, issued by a local Superior Court Judge for failure to register as required by law. I replied rather matter-of-factly that I have, indeed, registered as required by law, and recited to him the time and date of said registration, as well as the name of the police officer who processed it. The fact that I was holding a photocopy of the paperwork in my hand as I spoke to this person on the phone helped to fortify my outward indignation, even as I felt a growing knot of dread in my stomach.
He was nonplussed, and countered, “You may have registered at the local police department, but you were also supposed to register at the County Sheriff’s Department as well. You didn’t. You’re non-compliant. Do you want to come down here and get this straightened out right now, or do I need to send an officer out to your place to put you under arrest?”
Whoa, I thought. That got ugly really fast. Maybe just a little too fast. I decided to try and slow things down a bit, so I could better take stock of what was happening here. I said, “No, no… There won’t be any need for that. I’ll be glad to come down to the Sheriff’s office to straighten this all out. But, you know, it’s eleven PM on a Sunday night. Couldn’t I just come down first thing in the morning and take care of this matter?”
“No,” he replied. “Look, you can come down on your own right now, or I can send a car out to pick you up and bring you in wearing handcuffs. It’s your choice.”
Well, I thought. Since you put it that way. I asked for the address of the Sheriff’s Department, and he gave it to me. I googled it as we spoke; it checked out. I asked for his name and noticed a momentary hesitation in his voice before responding. “Why do you need my name?” he asked.
“Well, for starters, the terms of my parole require me to report any contacts I have with law enforcement to my probation officer. And besides, I need to know who to ask for when I get there.”
“My name is Detective Sellers.” he grumbled.
Plenty of yellow flags here, I thought. First, my requirement is to register with the local police, not with the County Sheriff. Second, any arrest warrant for a routine matter such as this would have been issued at the latest on the preceding Friday, yet this person was trying to make me believe that it had suddenly become an urgent matter at eleven PM on a Sunday night. And finally, his reluctance to tell me his name made me deeply suspicious. Even so, I had to play along on the remote chance that any of this was for real.
I said, “Fine, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“Wait!” he quickly interjected, “Do you have a cell phone? Give me the number.” And like an idiot, I did. He then continued, “Here’s how we’re going to do this. I am going to call you on your cell phone, and you are going to stay on the phone with me the whole time you are en route to the Sheriff’s Department. That way, I’ll know you are really headed here, and if you get stopped by the police because of the warrant on the way, I can clear things up over the phone with whoever stops you.”
That, I thought, was quite possibly the dumbest thing I’d heard in a long, long time. But I hid my incredulity and replied with a cheerful “Okey-dokey! Bye!” and abruptly hung up the land-line phone. I knew I had about thirty seconds before he’d be calling me on my cell, so I immediately called my Probation Officer, instead. He didn’t answer, which was unsurprising. It was, after all, pretty late. I left a brief message, saying, “Please call me back. It’s kind of an emergency.” In the midst of all that, my phone beeped, indicating that “Detective Sellers” had tried to call me. I ignored it.
I told my wife I was going to drive down to the local Police Department, rather than to the Sheriff’s Department as instructed. Hopefully, I’d be able to clear things up there or, at the very least, have some real cops around if things went south. I told her to avoid answering the landline phone until I got back. We didn’t have Caller ID at the time because one of the preconditions of my home detention several months earlier was you’re not allowed to have caller ID. I have no idea why this is a thing. The better to make you a victim of vigilantes and telemarketers, perhaps.
I got in the car and headed for the police station. I was about two blocks from home when my Probation Officer (sounding half asleep) returned my call, and I explained the situation to him. He agreed with my assessment that it was probably a hoax of some kind and advised me to turn around and go back home.
When I got home, I called the (real) Sheriff’s Department and spoke to a very nice deputy named Jeremy who was the only one there. He verified that they had no one there by the name of Detective Sellers, and that there was no warrant for my arrest. Even if there was, he told me, they wouldn’t be calling me about it. They’d just come and arrest me. Not the most comforting thought, but good to know.
I fumed about it for the rest of the night. I got no sleep at all. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got, and the more convinced I became that this was either an attempt to mug me, extort money from me, or burglarize my home while I was away. If I’d followed his instructions, the caller would have directed me by phone at the last moment to an isolated spot where he and his buddies could apply a little vigilante justice without being interrupted. Or perhaps, as I pulled into the parking lot, he’d “meet me outside” and offer to make it all go away for a hefty sum of cash. Another possibility is I’d be left downtown trying to explain to a real Sheriff’s deputy what I was doing there at midnight, while the caller burglarized my home and/or assaulted my wife. I suppose I’ll never really know what their plan was.
I was angry about the incident for quite a while. I simply could not fathom why my own government would aid and abet these criminals by publishing my home address and making me and my family targets for extortion and violence. I have no problem whatsoever with law enforcement knowing who I am, where I live, and what I’ve done. I do, however, have a problem with that information being given to every Tom, Dick, and vigilante who wants to use that information for their own nefarious purposes.
In every crisis lies an opportunity. I’m told this is an ancient and venerated Chinese proverb, but then again, I’ve been told a lot of stuff over the years that turned out to be complete bull crap. Nevertheless, I choose to believe this particular cookie fortune. After wallowing in my anger and frustration for several weeks, I concluded that whining about my problems wasn’t my style, and it accomplished absolutely nothing. I decided that it was time to get off my duff and actually do something about it. God grant me the serenity, blah blah blah… and the wisdom to know the difference, right?
And so here I am, repurposed: Author. Researcher. Activist. Podcaster. Spokesman. Blogger. Advocate for rational sexual offense laws. And let’s not forget – fortune cookie believer. Wish me luck.