Tales From The Blue Line 23

I was initially assigned to the general duty section of the Detective Bureau. We investigated every kind of major felony, but mostly kept track of burglaries in our respective areas.

Three of us were assigned to the same unit, to cover the days when one of us was off. We got to be good friends, and socialized a lot. We all had young kids and typical Norman Rockwell type families.

We were all married. One of our wives was a registered nurse who worked at a local hospital, the others were homemakers.

We were seasoned veterans, but there are always investigations that are beyond one’s ability to anticipate. I believe it’s called “life.” When the result of the unexpected police event is a large, above the fold headline story on the front page of the local newspaper, it gets the blood flowing and the temperatures rising – to abuse old quotes.

One day my partner and I were at our desks, right after roll call. My partner was on the phone and I was checking new crime reports. A short while later my partner hung up and said we had an assignment, that we’d discuss it on our way to the squad.

Out in the hallway my partner quickly explained our assignment: Our third partner, who was off that day, had a “problem.” We were going to his house, to talk to him and his wife, the nurse. He smiled.

“You’re not gonna like this,” he said.

A queasy feeling quickly grew within me. He had the strangest look on his face; a simultaneous smirk and frown. We were both highly intuitive, and later agreed that we knew we were headed into a Twilight Zone kind of thing.

Our partner had called the shift commander to tell him about a situation his wife had been dragged into at the hospital where she worked. An incident had occurred. Actually, as we were all to later learn, several incidents had occurred.

One night after work some of her fellow nurse friends invited her to join them at a nightclub for some socializing. She’d initially declined. One of her nurse friends then grabbed her hard by the arm and said in her ear, “You’re going. We’ve got something to tell you.”

She went.

hospital2She was last to arrive at the club. The other women were sitting in a booth, looking extremely upset. Our partner’s wife went from concerned to alarmed. Another nurse was on his way to the booth at the same time she was. She said the other nurses could barely look at him.

After sitting, one of the nurses said to him, “Tell her,” while pointing at our partner’s wife. He then said what the other nurses had already known:

“I pulled the plug on a comatose patient. She died.”

One can imagine her reaction: Shock. Fear. Nausea. This was insane! She wanted to kick the offending nurse’s ass. At least, that’s what she’d told her husband.

The women had tried to explain the gravity of the man’s situation. They’d somehow hoped that our partner’s wife, being married to a detective who investigated homicides, might be better able to explain it.

The offending nurse defended himself; euthanasia was proper under certain circumstances, he insisted.

Our partner’s wife was truly sickened. She wept incessantly She could not sleep. Our partner considered the possibilities: Was his wife in danger of being charged with not immediately going to the authorities? No. She’d known no further details, or whether it was even true.

One of the other nurses had checked the hospital records, and a patient had died the way the confessing nurse had said. Our partner called our commanding officer the following day, and at the beginning of our shift, we were sent to take his wife’s statement.

“What about conflict of interest?” I’d interrupted when I first understood what our assignment was.

“So far, it would only be inferred in this case,” my partner replied. “The bosses say it’s a ‘go’.”

They had decided that our partner’s wife had no culpability, and that the slight delay in giving her statement would not jeopardize the case against the nurse who’d actually pulled the plug.

I didn’t like it. My partner didn’t like it. Our third partner later said that after thinking it through, he didn’t care. All he cared about was that his wife wasn’t involved with the death, and would not be facing criminal charges.

That made sense to me.

Soon, I was forced to face it in a big, public way.

The following day I came to work and saw both of my partners there, dressed for duty. Hmm.

We were told to immediately proceed to the District Attorney’s office.

On the way my partners explained that our lieutenant had called the morning newspaper and told them what our department knew about the plug pulling. Jesus H. Christ, I thought. Once at the assistant D.A.’s office we were escorted to some chairs in front of his desk. The assistant D.A. followed us into the room and pointed to the chairs. We dutifully went to them and sat.

The D.A. went to his side of the desk and immediately flipped over and held up an early edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel, which had the inch high, above the front page fold headline, “Nurse Kills Patient In Hospital.” Or something like that.

Not knowing that we already knew about the headline, he was shocked at our absolute lack of reaction. He’d been had. The Sentinel people had called him, warning him of what they thought was a “scoop,” and brought him a copy of the paper, and here we already knew about it.

“Well, now that I know your boss stabbed me in the back, what do you guys have to say?” he said, the expression on his face drooping section by section, until it looked as though he’d begin to cry.

At first, we all remained silent.

The D.A. then grew angry, his face reddening, and demanded to know why the hell we’d interviewed our own partner’s wife to get information about a homicide.

The husband detective of the nurse in question took the floor.

“First, we’d had no input on how things were to be done. She was not a suspect, and she only knew what others had told her.”

Yes, the nurse told her at the nightclub that he’d “pulled the plug,” but how could she know it was true?

And the news media knowing about the story before the D.A. did? How could we possibly be hooked into our lieutenant’s decision?

The assistant D.A was furious. He shouted that we and the whole damn department were nothing but amateurs, that he was gonna look into charging us with party to the crime of failing to report information about a heinous crime…

The detective husband of the poor nurse who’d been hornswaggled into being involved, interrupted and calmly said, “We were acting on lawful orders.”

The assistant D.A. was defeated. And then he did what too many defeated people do:

He lost his temper.

“I’m going to remember this! You three are on my shit list! Wait’ll you come in here with some off-the-wall case you want us to prosecute! I’m gonna tell you to stick it…”

Then I did what many people who are being wrongfully accused, and thereby threatened to be improperly punished do…

I became angry.

I stood and said I was fed up with the D.A.’s attempt to blame us for everything, apologized to my partners, and told the D.A. that I could no longer accept his abuse. “I am going to leave,” I said. I then left the office.

There may have been a teeny bit more volume in my voice, and some different word usage than I’ve implied, but you get the picture. I returned to my office in the Police Administration Building. My partners remained behind.

A short while later they returned together to our office, laughing uproariously. The D.A. had been stunned by my action and quickly ended the meeting, saying he was going to speak directly to our immediate supervisor and then the chief himself, and on and on. Anyway, it was case closed for us with the District Attorney’s office.

Addendum: It was later learned that the nurse in question had wrongfully “pulled the plug” on a few other comatose patients whose families had declined to have the treatment stopped. The law-defying nurse pulled it himself anyway a short while later, and the patients subsequently died. One doctor admitted “feeling funny” about one of the cases when it happened, but had let it go.

The nurse was charged with lesser homicide crimes, lost his job and nursing license, and spent some time in jail. New supervisory procedures were begun as a result of his crimes.

Even though the killer got his just desserts, I’ve never felt that it was an “All’s well that ends well” deal.

It took my partner’s wife a longer time to get past it than he’d thought it would. I wasn’t surprised.


ROb2This is number 23 in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

Rob is published by Orange Hat Press

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