It started with the rattle of a chainlink fence as I was getting ready to take a shower. My neighbors keep a very nice yard, but I’ve never seen them out doing yardwork in the rain. The sound was followed by the thud of the door downstairs slamming shut. I knew it was the laundry room door; I’d have heard my front door more clearly.
I looked out the kitchen window and saw no one in the yard, so I went to the living room window and looked out. I didn’t see anything or anyone in the yard. I checked the doors of my neighbors in the main house: both were closed. Usually if someone does laundry they leave the door open.
Then I saw my next door neighbor waving at me from his window. He waved and pointed below me. I looked at him and he pointed down again, more emphatically. I made the thumb-and-pinkie sign for telephone and mouthed the word «police».
Somehow crises always come when I’m about to get in the shower. As quickly as I could I threw pants on and a shirt, grabbed the phone and dialed 911. Downstairs I put my boots on as I told the 911 operator that I thought there was an intruder. She asked my address and asked how I knew there was an intruder. I said that I had heard a thump downstairs and realized that I really hadn’t any idea what was going on.
Thinking that if I was going to get hit I’d rather be wearing leather and fancy impact-absorbent polymers, I grabbed my jacket and the cane I used to walk with after my motorcycle accident — the closest thing I have to a weapon in the house. The 911 operator asked, «are you safe where you are?» and I said «I don’t know.»
I went into the yard. The door to the laundry room was closed. I pushed it open to find a dirty, gaunt man holding a small bag and looking like — well, looking very much like he’d just been surprised by a guy with a cane in someone else’s laundry room.
He started telling me about how he was hiding from guys that were chasing him and how he wasn’t trying to steal anything. The 911 operator started to ask me questions about his appearance and what he was wearing. Each time I gave another detail he rolled his eyes and started begging all over. «Don’t put me in jail, I’ll leave. You don’t have to get the cops here» and so on. I told 911 that he was white, about five foot nine, maybe forty-five years old.
«Oh man, I’m 39.»
«Sorry about that,» I said to him. Then to the 911 operator, «he says he’s 39.»
He continued pleading for his freedom. «You don’t have to do this,» and «I’m not stealing anything.»
I had to admit that he looked pretty poorly-prepared to be a burglar. The satchel he was carrying wasn’t big enough to hold very much. «Open the bag,» I instructed, as the satchel was zipped closed. He complied and I didn’t see anything in the bag that could have come from the laundry room. He had a paperback Bible and sundries. Nothing that at a glance looked like it came from me. He continued to try to tell me that he was only trying to hide from the people chasing him.
«I don’t care,» I said. «You’re not supposed to be here.» Not exactly eloquent, but I wasn’t about to start lecturing him about the sanctity of a person’s home. I might believe that he wasn’t trying to steal anything, but what does that matter?
A head stuck up over the neighbor’s fence. A police officer identified himself. I knew I couldn’t go to the front of the house to let the officer in the gate without leaving the intruder behind, so at cane-point, I told him to walk out the front, ahead of me. The officer said, «he’s moving» and I relayed that I had instructed him to walk out the front gate. It wasn’t more than a minute and a half since I’d opened the door to find the intruder. He walked out ahead of me, opened the front gate and walked out to the three police officers that were on the sidewalk.
I told the officers the story, my neighbor came out front with the officer that had been in his back yard.The officers showed me some things from his bag, none of which looked familiar or even valuable. One of the officers asked, «you confronted him with that cane?» I said it was the only thing I had. He suggested I could have used a big kitchen knife but I think I felt more secure with the longer object to brandish. You have to get close to someone to use a knife, and the primary object was to try to keep me safe, not to hurt someone else.
I found it interesting that twice one of the reporting officers suggested that I get a gun. The first time, I brushed it off with a comment about how the court had knocked down San Francisco’s law against firearm ownership. In any case, I didn’t expect to be told by the police that I should buy a firearm and keep it in my home, especially here in San Francisco.
It’s been an hour and a half now since I dialed 911 according to my phone, and it’s taken an hour for me to write this up. I’ve already given the statement to the police and filled out the Citizen’s Arrest form. It’s sort of odd to think that I’ve arrested someone. I felt the need to write this out for two reasons: first to get it out while it’s fresh — even as I type my hands are shaking a bit — and second so that I don’t have to tell the story again and again. It’s here for anyone to see.
Was the guy really just looking for shelter or a hiding spot? Maybe. Maybe, as one of the SFPD suggested, he was on a «hot prowl» which I take it means looking for targets to burglarize later. I wish it didn’t matter, but trespassing is a misdemeanor and the cops said it would be hard to make a burglary charge stick because he wasn’t carrying anything that belonged to anyone here. Before the intruder was put into the police car, he looked at me and said, «I’m sorry.» The guy was as frightened as I was, which doesn’t excuse anything, but I said, «thank you» and turned back to the officer who was asking more questions. It didn’t cross my mind to drop the complaint, but it seemed like the right thing to do to acknowledge the apology.
Looks like I’ve missed the holiday party I was going to go to today. It might not be a bad idea to take that shower now.