Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Four: Three Strikes)

Non-Fiction | published in Real Change on May. 30th, 2012

After a night of violence, a trial looms.


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The caller

“911. What are you reporting?”

“I need to talk to a police officer. I got really beat up.”

“OK. Where are you?”

Brandy Sweeney sat in the lobby of Hope Place, a shelter for women and families at 3802 S. Othello St. in south Seattle. It was April 29, 2010, 11:31 p.m. She’d been physically assaulted by her boyfriend, Richard James Duncan, in an apartment three blocks away.

Immediately after the assault, Richard grabbed his jacket and ran. After waiting 90 minutes, Brandy bundled up Ian, their infant son, and raced to Hope Place. The security guard there lent her his cell phone.

“How bad are you injured?” the operator asked.

“I don’t know,” Brandy said.

“I can send someone to look at you. What did he do to you to assault you?”

“He hit me in the face.”

Brandy’s left check was swollen, and a purple hematoma formed under her left eye. A cut lined her lower lip, a red mark visible on her throat. Brandy tried to explain her injuries, but her sore, bloody lip made it difficult to talk.

“We’re going to have police and medics come out and take a look at you, so we can document this.”

“OK,” Brandy said.

The operator gathered Brandy’s personal information. “Was there anyone else in the apartment with you when he assaulted you?”

Brandy told him her son, Ian, was there.

“Now did Richard, uh, assault your son at all?”

“No,” Brandy said. “He just hurt me.”

The operator took down Richard’s description, Brandy having said he’d left on foot.

“And how long ago was that?” the operator asked.

“Like probably an hour and a half or so,” Brandy said. “I don’t know. The cops are here right now.”

“I’m going to go ahead and release you from the line so you can go talk to them. OK?”

“OK, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the operator said. “Bye bye.”

“OK,” Brandy said. “Bye bye.”

The security guard at Hope Place had given Brandy an ice pack, which she held to her face. The police asked her, if she could, to recount the assault: She had been hit so many times, she’d lost count. She thought, maybe, Richard had knocked her unconscious. Brandy remembered being knocked to the floor, strangled, kicked. He’d taken the rent money, broken her cell phone. A phone jack in the apartment only provided Internet.

Police photographed her injuries. Medics arrived, and they thought Brandy’s right cheek might be broken. But before an ambulance sped her to a hospital, Brandy gave police Richard’s description. When responding to a call of domestic violence assault, Seattle police officers must arrest the alleged perpetrator. Now they knew what Richard looked like.

All they had to do was find their suspect.

The suspect

An area check began for a suspect with the following description: white male, bald, goatee, tattoos, around 5 foot 6 inches, 180 pounds, black shirt, black pants, black jacket.

Searching for Richard, three officers responded to 4222 S. Othello St., a squat, gray apartment building across the street from a construction site.

He wasn’t in Apartment 21, but Brandy and Richard’s roommate, Francisco Mitchell, was. Richard and Francisco worked general labor at the construction site. After work that evening, Francisco had gone out for a beer, came home, heard screaming from the hallway and opened the door. That’s when he walked in on “them fighting,” he said. Richard ran to Francisco, saying Brandy had stabbed him, but Francisco took Richard’s keys and kicked him out.

Police performed a sweep of the building’s perimeter. Nothing. On foot, officers backtracked in the direction of Hope Place, moving toward the intersection of South Othello Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. On the northeast corner was a restaurant-bar. They searched inside for Richard. Nothing. They entered the Safeway near Hope Place. Nothing.

With their leads running out, the officers started to return to their squad cars, but one of the officers heard a noise in the bushes west of the building. “It sounded bigger than our usual Rainier Valley cat,” one officer remembered. The officers, now four in number, decided to investigate.

They made their way through a small, open field near a taco truck. As soon as the officers approached the bushes, they could tell someone was there, lying on the ground. One officer swung out to the left. They drew their guns. None of them could really see the person on the ground, so they shined their flashlights. White male, bald, with a goatee, tattoos, black pants. “He fit the description to a T,” one officer said later.

The officers identified themselves. Come out, one said, and lie down on the ground with your hands on your head.

Richard lay still.

Two officers went crawling in after him and pulled Richard out. He resisted. One officer stretched out over Richard’s legs, while two others took hold of his arms. They pulled Richard’s arms behind his back. One officer snapped on the cuffs.

It took two officers to hoist him from the ground. After reading Richard his Miranda rights, they escorted him to the squad car, and an officer drove him to the south precinct for booking.

Suspect apprehended.


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