Saturday, January 07, 2006

Scenes from a Perp Walk

Time was every story I put on the air featured somebody in handcuffs. Curbside cuff-n-stuffs, driveway drag-alongs, crowded courthouse camera clots: I've shot every kind of bracelet parade there is. Some I even remember...

"Love to take these boys to the double-wide, watch 'em bleed." One big, mullet-headed felon to his beefy inbred friend, as they glared at me and my lenslinging buddies. When two deputies hustled the handcuffed pair past us in the all too narrow hallway, the oversized thugs filled our lenses with hillbilly menace. All was professional until a dreaded expletive and some creative shouldering caused an off-camera colleague to pipe up with three words that still crack me up: "Enjoy your jumpsuit..."

When fire fighters found a murdered woman inside a burning apartment building, police issued an All Points Bulletin for the victim's ex boyfriend - a U.S. Marine known for his temper. An hour or so later military police captured him at a Marine Air Station an hour away. When word of the arrest broke, camera crews raced to the local detective building, where MP's were supposedly rushing the accused Marine. Six. Hours. Passed. It was just shy of midnight when the unmarked van finally pulled up. Two oak trees in jungle cammies jumped out and slid back the side door. Inside a man hung his head, bruised, wild-eyed and dressed in the flimsiest of hospital gowns. Seven seconds later, the heavy steel doors of the Police building slammed shut and the camera crews stopped recording, but the footage has never stopped playing inside my head.

"I love ya'll." The last thing televangelist Jim Whittington told us media jackals, as two baliffs stuffed him into the back seat of an idling prison van. Minutes earlier, he and four other people had been convicted of stealing $848,532 from wheelchair-bound admirer Valeria Lust. As the van rumbled out of sight down a New Bern street, I realized Whittington would miss all that attention as much as, if not more, than his personal freedom and extravagant lifestyle. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

Of course no mention of Walkdowns without mentioning the King of the Back Pedal, my buddy Vernon. Low of gravity, barrell chested and insistent, Vernon would get in the face and under the skin of anyone with a police escort. But he wouldn't just hover over their shoulder as officers rolled their fingertips in ink, he'd quiz them on the reasons for their whereabouts. In much the same way the late Chris Farely interviewed Paul McCartney on SNL, Vern would fairly antagonize them with innocuous questions..."Why are the cops saying YOU killed her?" I heard him offer more than once. The questions often illicited the juicy soundbites Vern loved, but at least twice they landed him colorful, profane on-camera confessions that his station played until the videotape melted or was subpeonaed. Years back, Vern left the news biz for the private sector where, as far as I know, he makes for one hell of a telemarketer.

I've even been spat at. One backwoods thug had enough of his D.N.A. strand intact to dig deep and come up with the biggest, nastiest redneck loogie ever captured on videotape. He let it fly as he passed our position - the lethal concoction of snot, Mountain Dew and tobacco juice warbling in slow-motion right for me. Luckily, the inbred saliva projectile fell just short of full contact splashdown and only a little spittle struck the center of my lens. Instinctively, I racked focus to highlight the hillbilly spit running down my camera's eye. It made for great tease video and my esteemed colleagues played it back in the edit suite about a million times before eventually losing interest. But not before a half dozen photogs offered their finest analysis of the snot-rocket's aural qualities, phlegm-consistency and intended flight path.

And think , All this AND benefits!


Rad said...

When the SCOTUS ruled New York "perp" walks against the law, Perp walks ended for while. But they seem to be coming back now as PD's seem to want more coverage.

bobbysitter said...

Many cops will tell you they hate to be on the news. However secretly they love it. What better way to show an arrest than a perp walk.

Bluedog Photog said...

Ahhh, the perp walks. What memories you elicit from my flashback-filled mind.

Like the time I was on a drug round-up (we all love those) and one girl walked past my lens and smiled with both middle fingers in my mug and said, "Hi, mother-****ers."

And the time Bob Buckley said to the campside killer, "didn't think they'd get ya, did ya?" As about 15 cameras swirled around the scene in rural Montgomery County? I believe.