A Police Story

Just Hangin' AroundTonight Gary, Tracie, my dad and I went for a walk over to the World’s Tallest Tepee. We took a few photos on our way.

Being over at the Tepee reminded me of a pretty interesting story, which now that I’ve had a few years to get over it, I’ll now relate to you — the internet. I should mention that now looking back on the situation I can see things more from the cops point of view especially as the world seems to get crazier and crazier with terrorist bombings and RCMP shootings. But this story takes place in the year 2000, at a time when terrorism wasn’t such a buzzword and the idea that some random guy with a gun at the tepee seemed so far fetched that I never even considered the possibility that I could be mistaken for that random guy.

Having said all that it was still traumatic for me and the cops did make a couple of harsh mistakes in handling the situation.

The night of excitement happened on the 21st of June, 2000 but before I get started though, I need to go back a few months, to February of that year.

My friend Geoff and I were feeling pretty bored so we decided to make something out of wood with my Dad’s shop tools. I’ve never been overly into building things but my friend wanted to make a toy gun, one that would eventually be painted silver to look authentic. We worked on them for a couple of days, cutting, sanding, and crafting realistic looking toy guns. It was just for the fun of creating something — had I known what would happen with that imitation I probably never would have even cut the first piece of wood. After its completion, I sort of lost interest in it. I never even bothered painting it, but Geoff didn’t mind, so he took it home and added the finishing touches. When I got it back a month or two later I never really did anything with it. It just sat around the house collecting dust.

World's Tallest TepeeOne day my friend Janie came over to visit the family. She and I decided to go over to the Tepee (yes the World’s Tallest Tepee) and take pictures wearing eccentric costumes and holding that now infamous wooden prop.

We took a few photos posing with the wooden creation. We took a few more without it. There was a gentleman that happened to be visiting the tepee with his kid. I noticed him acting kind of funny when he jogged to his car and left his son behind. It was really weird though, the way his kid was left standing there. I just thought maybe he was late for something, and he yelled to his kid to hurry up after him. It didn’t seem to me like he thought the toy was real but as it turns out the guy was a retired police officer from Ontario. He was about to call 911.

We happened to set the toy aside and climbed up on the lower part of the tepee. I heard sirens in the distance. Thinking back I even wondered if somehow maybe that guy thought we had a gun and called the cops, but then I thought, “no that’s ridiculous — anyone could tell this is a wooden gun”. The sirens faded and we continued to take pictures.

The cops showed up in force and we were surrounded by two officers in uniform with their hand pistols drawn but pointed at the ground. I got the sense there were other officers nearby for backup. We were hanging from the tepee and (as silly as this is) I wondered if we were in trouble for climbing it. They told us to get down and to kneel on the ground with our hands above our heads. (Remember at this point I didn’t even have the toy gun near me). We got down and a third cop cocked his shotgun (creating a loud “CHK-CHK” sound purely for effect) and whipped around a corner of a nearby building with his weapon pointed right at our heads.

Up until this point Janie seemed to think the whole idea of the cops coming for us was kind of funny. Her nervous giggling stopped when she exclaimed, “Jeff! He has a real gun and he’s pointing it right at our heads!”

The first cop – the one that had done all the talking to us up to this point, and the one that appeared to be in charge, got on his radio and asked the shotgun wielding cop if he was pointing his gun at us. That cop, the youngest of the three, took his aim off of us and radioed back that no, he was not aiming his shotgun at us (the liar).

I figured they wanted to see the toy gun and I explained that I didn’t have it with me, that it was on the stands nearby. The young cop looked upset that we didn’t even have it on us. I tend to think that maybe at this point he was feeling a little guilty for aiming his weapon at us and putting our lives at risk.

The cops decided they would confiscate the gun which I didn’t really understand. I couldn’t see that as far as the law was concerned that there was any difference between this toy gun that I had made and a toy gun that you might buy at a store. The cops wouldn’t hear me, the decision had been made, the gun would be taken and later destroyed. I suggested that they destroy it then and there but they said no. I wanted to actually see it destroyed if that is what they said they were going to do.

I wasn’t in any trouble, though the cops assured me that what I had done was extremely serious, and that we were lucky they didn’t make us lay down prostate with our faces in the dirt. The incident put me into quite a state of shock, and I felt like I was the victim here — after all they robbed me of something I made without any real explanation as to the law I broke.

I worked hard on that toy and I wanted it back. A family friend and lawyer told us that, in fact, no law had been broken and that we should go down to the police station the next day and get it back. He explained that if they won’t give it to us, then he would go down there and get it himself.

I had my parents call the police station and find out what the deal was. (In an unrelated coincidence the officer in charge that night was an old student of my Dad’s PhysEd class at Hat High.) My parents left a message for him and a few hours later he returned the call. However they were out and though I didn’t want to speak to him myself, he asked me to.

During the conversation he told me that the law in Canada defines a weapon as “anything which a person actually uses or intends to use to cause death or injury. It also includes any item which is designed, used or intended for use to threaten or intimidate.” So for example a beer bottle is not a weapon until a person decides to use it to threaten, to intimidate, or to hurt someone.

Well I said to the cop on the phone, I didn’t use the toy gun to threaten or intimidate, and as far as I could see it was no different than if I bought a toy gun from the dollar store and furthermore that they had no right to steal it from me. He got pretty mad and told me that if I didn’t drop it, he would press charges and that it could be decided in court. I asked him (and I have to be kind of proud of myself for not backing down especially considering how traumatic the event was to me at the time), “For what? It’s a toy gun. I didn’t use it as a weapon. What did I do wrong?”

The cop got really loud. He told me he didn’t want to talk to me. I told him that that was fine and that I personally never wanted to talk to him in the first place. I reminded him that he was the one who called here! He really lost it at that point and started yelling at me. Now what I said next isn’t something I would normally say but I was pretty upset and felt very violated, but as it turns out I’m glad I did. I told him that if he needed I could have my lawyer contact him. He quickly declared in a loud voice — trying and failing to sound completely serious — “Oh good, because I love talking to lawyers!” I’m not sure why he said that. I had him completely flustered. I know full well that NOBODY enjoys talking to a lawyer especially when they know they’re in the wrong. It led me to think it’s the part of his job that he hates most. I told him that if he didn’t want to give the gun back to me or my parents, that my attorney already offered to pick it up for me.

I really felt extremely horrible. I couldn’t believe the way he was trying to intimidate me like that. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong and I wondered if I would ever see the gun again. I have to add that this cop was pretty much as big of a jerk of a police officer as I’ve ever encountered.

World's Largest TepeeA few days later I did get the painted wooden gun back. Over the years things have really changed in my own understanding of what it’s like to be a police officer. We’ve seen terrible things happen in the news and you can’t help but have a lot of respect for what the police do. If I think about it, I can only imagine how stressful it must have been for them when they got a call telling them that someone was waving a pistol around at the tepee. Then they get to race over there with their sirens blasting and their imaginations bouncing off the walls thinking about what’s going to happen. They still shouldn’t have pointed a loaded weapon at our heads while we knelt on the ground, going on nothing but the word of some semi-anonymous phone caller but at the same time something I didn’t realize — I was getting older, I didn’t look like an innocent kid playing cops and robbers.

In the end I did get my toy gun back, but the police kept to their story that they never pointed their weapons at us and never ever explained what it was that I officially did wrong. I’ll always know what actually happened that day and although the police put us in danger by aiming a loaded weapon at our heads, it’s pretty obvious that I shouldn’t have been posing with a toy that looked so real. Also it’s important to try and understand the stress the police are under and I guess I understand that the reason they don’t want to admit to any wrong-doing is that it could seriously tarnish their reputations and potentially cost them their jobs.

After all is said and done, I’m just glad that this instant wasn’t one of those cases where some unarmed person — like myself — got shot because of a jumpy cop. For that we can all be thankful.

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