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Friday, September 13, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Men in Black and Blue


Within two hours I was given my street clothes, given my possessions (all in a manila envelope), and released with a paper telling me to return to court in a few days. I also had the paper saying I couldnít go anywhere near my home or wife. I didnít have the heart to put my wedding ring back on. I held it and looked at it for a while. I wanted my wife to put it back on when I could someday see her again.

I was so upset with how badly they had botched my case that I walked directly from the San Francisco County Jail across town to the Mission Police station on Valencia and told them I wanted tell my side of the story. I wanted to make a complaint against my wife. I said she had committed domestic violence against me and had made a knowingly false report to the police. The San Francisco policeman behind the glass window said no complaint would be written up because the case was already being handled. I explained that false charges had been made and the police were looking in the wrong direction; they also had to listen to me, because whether they believed it or not I was the victim. He said the case was already being handled. I asked to talk to someone else, someone higher. He said he was sorry he couldnít help me; the case was already being handled. "Yes, handled up side down!" I told him. He basically told me he would not take a report just because I was unhappy with my wife.

I went down the street to my bookstore. The store was closed and dark. It was very nice to be someplace familiar.

I went in and looked at the back storage room, which was cluttered with boxes and junk. This would be my new place to live because I could not return home. I couldnít even go home to get clothing or my toothbrush. Still, it was so nice to be out of jail. My cats, Hank and Kafka, came to greet me.

I started to see the San Francisco Police in a whole different light. I started to remember things. I remembered how often men in the holding cells had described how police would plant drugs on them. How they spoke of excessive police violence at the time of arrest. I heard about how the police would lie about facts up on the witness stand. I think itís fair to say my confidence and my image of the police was irreparably broken.

After a couple weeks I asked my public defender for a copy of the police report. I wanted to read it for myself. I had told the police as clearly as language can make it that my wife had deliberately broken the window. There was no fight, struggle, or threat on my part. She had deliberately punched a big hole in the window. But for some reason these details got turned into something with a completely different flavor in the police report. The report said, "Harrison stated Wahab began flailing her arms and broke the kitchen window cutting her hand." For one thing, suppose it went to trial and the prosecutor asked me, "Mr. Harrison, you told police that your wife was flailing about when the window got broken." And suppose I answered, "No, thatís not what I said happened. I never use the word flail and I said she had deliberately broken the window." Why canít the prosecutor then ask, "So, Mr. Harrison, now you are changing your story. So were you lying when you were questioned by the police or are you lying now?"

But aside from that, I had told police of a deliberate action that was done by choice and then lied about; I had told them of a clear violation of the law. But the written police report managed to slip my wife out from any direct incrimination while nailing me to hers. Then to dovetail it, the reporting officer used his favored word, "flail," in my wifeís account too. He wrote, "Wahab told Harrison again she wanted to go to bed and Harrison pushed her in the chest forcing her backwards and her left hand went flailing, breaking the kitchen window, cutting her left and middle ring fingers." So it sounded like we were in agreement about the sequence of events when this wasnít true at all. (By the way, within the week, in a sworn written statement to a second court to obtain a second restraining order, my wife said, "He finally pulled me so hard that my hand went through a window").

The police account had changes and omissions. Most important, it altered, shifted, and omitted details of what I said. I really do not know if this was deliberate on the officersí part or they were hearing what they wanted to hear, but I realized that Miranda was important after all. Having an attorney present is an essential safeguard against words being reshaped or twisted.

The weeks passed and my trial approached. I went to the Hall of Justice on the day my trial was to begin. Courtroom15, second floor. Prospective jurors filed into a courtroom. Fifty-three of them. My public defender informed me that four police officers were going to take the witness stand against me. My wife was also going to testify against me; in addition there would be two battered-wife syndrome experts. Four police officers? All impeccably dressed? Guns on, hair clipped. No, I guess they donít allow guns in the courtroom. Sharp posture, superb grooming? Each to tell jurors that I was guilty? Iíd never spoken with any of these people, except the one man who watched me outside the apartment that night and to give a quick description to a second officer when I was questioned. None of them knew what happened. Why were they pretending to know? What had I ever done to them?

For reasons I will explain in greater detail later, instead of going straight ahead into trial, I accepted a plea bargain out in the hall as the fifty-three prospective jurors for my trial sat in the courtroom, silently waiting. The public defender first said I could plead to one count of battery and not face any jail time. Iíd have probation, counseling, a fine, and community service. When I asked if battery meant I had hurt my wife, he said, "yes." I told him I had never hurt her or threatened her or even called her a bad name, so I would not ever let anyone or any record say that I did. He then told me they had one other offer. I could plead to a small charge of dissuading my wife from calling the police. I told him that wasnít true either. She had been on the phone with the police when the police arrived. But pleading to this one charge seemed a way to resolve the matter without catastrophic consequences. So I pleaded "no contest" to that one count.

I did this because, for one thing, I had no confidence that the truth could be determined. From the moment my wife dialed 911, everything had gone wrong. I wanted resolution of this legal nightmare; I wanted to restore my broken marriage; I wanted to see and talk to my wife again, if that was somehow possible. My wife had done terrible things, but I loved her. I understood that in the part of the world she came from you do not, ever, EVER, criticize the king, the Prophet Mohammed or the Koran. I could forgive her and ask for her forgiveness in return.

The justice system coming into our marriage was like plowing a house down because of a broken toilet. Sure, the toilet problem is fixed, butÖ It was just so crazy. It was like bringing in a chainsaw because someone has a toothache. (I donít mean to minimize much more violent and serious cases of domestic violence; Iím just talking about mine.) So, to get out of the bear trap, I pleaded to a small charge. I believed at the time that it would free me from any criminal suggestion that I had hurt her.

After I agreed to plead to the minor charge, the prospective jurors were dismissed. I was given three years probation. Fifty-two weeks of domestic violence counseling. A fine. Hours of community service. And the stay away order would remain in effect for three years (unless my wife came to court and succeeded in getting it changed, as frequently happens).

I left the court. That night, as I was working at my bookstore, a woman came in and asked if I was Scott Harrison. I said yes. She handed me an envelope and left.

I wondered what it was. I thought maybe my wife had written me a long letter (she can contact me, but I am forbidden to contact her). I opened the envelope. It contained a whole bunch of court papers. My wife had filed for divorce and was requesting that the court award immediate spousal support.

I sat there in complete shock. I just couldnít move. I couldnít even bear to look at those papers with the court filing stamps on them. I carefully put them back and tucked them into a drawer in the desk. I just couldnít look at them. Not until many hours later, with a lot of tears. Within a couple weeks I was ordered to send monthly checks to her lawyer. A lawyer was working without charge for my wife, pro bono to assist victims of domestic violence.

In the next weeks I wrote to the San Francisco police and explained to them that they had totally botched up my case, that I wanted them to look at it again and I wanted them to talk to me. I told them they had made serious mistakes in my case. Everyone makes mistakes but now was the time to have a better second look.

I got no answer.

I wrote a longer second letter explaining how my wife had a black belt in taekwando, how by staging a domestic violence scene and lying she also had secured permission to remain in America by special INS rules protecting domestic violence victims. I sent pictures of Khadija in her black belt outfit. I explained that after she broke the first window, she had taken a swing at a second window. There were details and evidence that they really needed to consider. They ignored my second letter. And my third letter. And my fourth.

Then just a few weeks ago, after I sent a fifth long letter to the police, Officer Peterson from the Domestic Violence Unit of the San Francisco Police called me at 7:50 in the morning. He was concerned because I had written in my fifth letter that I felt I had no alternative left but to consider filing a civil court suit against him, the other officers involved, and the San Francisco Police Department, since all my attempts to remedy a very serious miscarriage of police procedure and a serious miscarriage of justice had totally failed.

So Officer Peterson phoned me.

I explained the whole case. I said to him, "Mr. Peterson, not only does she break American law with righteous impunity; she makes a total mockery of domestic violence laws and the true victims of domestic violence who need these laws. She hijacks these laws. She uses the INSís own rules to defraud them. She violently silences someone freely expressing an opinion and she had accomplices to help her pull this off. Now, Mr. Peterson, you can believe what Iím telling you or you can think of me as a liar but if what Iím saying might be true (I guarantee you it is true), then just for the sake of the scales of justice, I should think these matters are serious enough to look into. Serious enough to investigate at least half as much as the false accusations against me. If every man that is arrested says they are Ďset upí and you decide that you should never listen to anyone who says it, what kind of justice is that! You see people do get set up. I was set up and the only possible way to stop it is to have very clean, very good procedures, to genuinely presume innocence without merely giving lip service to it, and to conduct investigations that seriously consider both sides to any story and proceed with genuine objectivity. Look, Mr. Peterson, I have no interest at all in going to court or suing the police department but I just want this mess looked into because it was handled terribly wrong. I just want the truth to be known. "

Detective Peterson said I should have talked to him when he came to speak to me in jail (I had tried but wanted legal guidance). He said that because I had pleaded guilty to a charge, any charge, didnít matter which charge, the case was officially sealed, done, and complete. He said that one way I could reopen my case was to stop following all conditions of my probation; then the matter would go before a judge. (My probation officer assured me such an action would not open the case but would only guarantee that Iíd be in violation of my probation and sent to jail.)

I tried to explain to Mr. Peterson that whatever the San Francisco Police Department internal rules said, this advice did not address the wrong done to me. It did not correct procedures that were wrong. It did nothing in the slightest to prevent other women from doing exactly the same thing. He was a very good listener. I had been working for many months writing letters and I was glad someone had called me. I asked Mr. Peterson, "Iím curious. My wife broke the dishes and the window but she didnít directly hit me. From what Iíve described, would it be considered domestic violence? Would she be guilty of domestic violence?"

He answered, "Yes. Because of the fear she would have induced with that level of violence, yes, it would be domestic violence."

"So despite everything Iíve told you and despite the fact that you were the chief inspector on this case, you are telling me there is nothing you can do?"

"Thatís correct. There is nothing I can do."

We had talked maybe half an hour. It took three quarters of a year to talk half an hour.

It was so convenient for the police to have rules such as they do. How can I describe it? Itís like I am admitted to the hospital for a broken hand and instead they take out a kidney and half my stomach (Oops! Wrong patient. Sorry!) And when I finally talk to the head surgeon he tells me, "Oh, Iím sorry Mr. Harrison but we can not reopen your case because you left the hospital. Once you leave the hospital there is nothing we can do. Your case is closed and sealed."