A recent story about the death of a homeless man in Champaign, Illinois brought back memories for me. The man had died, the report said, “after being subdued by police.”
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Mr. Turner’s cause of death was an irregular heartbeat due to an enlarged heart and an enlarged left ventricle from high blood pressure. Northrup said other “significant conditions contributing to death but not related to the cause” were cocaine abuse, obesity, schizophrenia and “physical and mental stress during restraint by law enforcement.” An autopsy showed no signs of trauma, and Northrup listed the manner of death as accidental.
I had run across Richard Turner (above left) myself, in an earlier chapter of my life. Back then, as a would-be home invader, he made quite an impression on me. The experience rattled me to my core, and at the same time reaffirmed my determination to carry a firearm with me every day. And night.
Roughly twelve-plus years ago, our paths crossed while I spent the night at my girlfriend’s house. While I didn’t know the guy, at a glance I could see that he was big, imposing and no doubt quite strong. Furthermore, I recognized pretty quickly that he wasn’t operating with a full Happy Meal upstairs. In the end, a few days later, the police hauled the would-be home intruder off to jail when he returned once more.
Here’s what happened….
Miss Tia would eventually my wife, but at the time I had just started dating her. Friends called her “Tia the Magnificent” for her poise, beauty, physical strength…and fortitude for putting up with me. For better or worse, she lived in one of those fringe neighborhoods near the local ghetto.
The neighborhood’s claim to fame? It stood as the first African-American neighborhood Champaign, Illinois. My then-girlfriend was an African-American…and still is, for that matter. Her dad was career Air Force and her mom worked for the local library system.
Tia owned Lily, a kind of black lab with lot of pit bull thrown into the mix. The dog loved me as much as she loved Tia.
Anyway, we had retired to bed on a cooler summer night. With the air conditioner off and windows open to facilitate a nice breeze, we slept soundly. Suddenly, the dog’s “stranger bark” jarred us from a deep sleep. We heard nothing at first, but the dog had left her spot at the foot of the bed and now snarled in the living room. Clearly, something had alarmed the dog.
At first, I thought there might be an intruder. I grabbed my Kel-Tec P-11 from my fanny pack and loaded it. Forgoing clothes, I grabbed my flashlight. Then I cautiously started down the dark hallway towards the living room.
The doorbell startled me. “What the hell is this?” I thought to myself. The digital clock read 11:40, but it felt like about 3:00am, we were sleeping so soundly. I looked out from the bay window towards where Lily snarled and barked viciously. Sure enough, a guy I didn’t know stood outside the front door.
“What do you want?” I said in a command voice before moving to change my position in the room.
“Is Tia home?” the guy asked.
“Who are you?” I yelled back at him, hoping he could hear me over the dog. Anyone who really knew Tia would have called before dropping by at this relatively unChristian hour.
“It’s her Uncle Rick,” he said. Or something like that. I couldn’t quite hear him over Lily’s incessant snarling and barking.
Tia and I had been dating for a couple of months at the time. I’d met most of her family and I hadn’t met an Uncle Rick.
I glanced over and saw my lovely girlfriend holding a S&W Model 19 and a flashlight, peering around the corner. She held the light in a pretty good Harries-type grip while pointing the revolver at low ready towards the floor. Even though she too had skipped the clothes, given the circumstances, I paid a lot more attention to the revolver she held in her hands.
To this day, I remember the sense of relief and confidence I felt seeing her with that gun. The sight of her standing there with that gun and the knowledge, skills and attitude needed to use it calmed me. I knew I had backup if this went south. That bit of knowledge felt priceless at the time.
“Sir, you need to go,” I shouted over the snarling dog. “I’ve never heard of you and she’s not available.”
The guy took a couple of steps over to the open bay window right in front of me, reaching out and touching the screen. The dog saw him come toward the window and she about lost it. I tried to pull her back, afraid she would jump through the screen, grab the guy by the throat and chew him up.
The man, though, acted as if he didn’t even hear the dog. I had to shout at the top of my lungs over Lily’s snarling and barking. “GET BACK!” I screamed at him.
He ignored me and the dog. He calmly and deliberately ran his fingertips around about a third of the perimeter of the screen. The man’s face looked mere inches away from the screen. As I watched, I knew he was contemplating how much (or little) trouble it would be to come on through and let himself inside.
At that point, I let go of the dog. She snarled at him as if possessed by Satan himself. Taking about two or three steps back, I raised my Kel Tec and readied the flashlight. In my mind, I decided that if he started coming through that screen, I’d light him up with the bright LED flashlight and give him one last verbal warning. If he did anything other than to stop or retreat, I would have to shoot. I had ten rounds of standard pressure 9mm Federal 115gr JHPs in my pistol.
I repeated told him to go away. Turning to Tia, I told her to call 9-1-1. She disappeared back into the bedroom toward the phone.
And a few moments later, “Uncle Rick” simply shuffled off into the darkness.
Four days later, before sunset, he returned. Tia, home alone, was relaxing while reading a book. She heard someone shuffling up to the door and the dog heard it, too. Lily resumed her snarling bark and Tia later told me she instantly suspected that the same guy had returned. She described the “freeze” she felt at that moment.
Sure enough, Uncle Rick was back. This time he skipped the doorbell.
He opened her screen door and tried to open the door. Thankfully, Tia had it locked as she usually did. She usually locked the screen door too, but not this time. She yelled out a challenge, asking who was there. “It’s your Uncle Rick. Let me in, sweetie!”
She heard the door creak and groan as the would-be intruder put his shoulder into it.
As she told me later, she screamed and ran for her gun. She got the revolver and the phone and retreated to the bathroom, calling 9-1-1. After giving her particulars to the dispatcher, she issued the commands we had taught her in the NRA Personal Protection in the Home course. “Intruder. You’re in my home. I’ve called the police. I am armed. If you come in here, I’ll shoot. LEAVE NOW!”
She heard some sirens in the distance, but nothing close by. To her terror, she heard Uncle Rick trying to force the front door again. This time he didn’t ask quite so nicely.
“Open the door, bitch!”
The dispatcher told her that police had arrived and not to come out with her gun no matter what. Yes, the cops had arrived less than a minute later. Probably a benefit of living near the ‘hood.
The first two officers made contact with Uncle Rick and the fight was on. She could hear the struggle and in the middle of it one of the cops said, “We need help.” “Uncle Rick” proved to be much more than a handful.
Tia said she heard one helluva commotion outside from the open bathroom window. Right away, she heard more sirens racing towards her place and even some squealing tires. Before it was over, it took at least five or six cops to dogpile Uncle Rick into submission.
She called me at that point and I hauled ass to her place.
A little over ten minutes later, I pulled up and noticed a squad car rocking violently. Turns out Uncle Rick wasn’t happy about sitting in the back of a squad car all cuffed up. Easily a half-dozen cops milled around, and still more were inside talking with Tia and getting her information.
In the end, the cops shared the guy’s name, Richard Turner. Doing my own research, I found out he had been on probation from an earlier case. So I called a contact in the probation department and brought them up to speed. My contact told me the judge wouldn’t “violate” him just for this incident, but in the end, he didn’t make bail for a while. Sadly, because he didn’t actually enter Tia’s home, the cops could only level minor charges against him.
As they drove him away, Tia told me she recognized him as a homeless guy who had come around the previous week or so. The first time, he asked her for a smoke and she gave him one. He came back a couple more times and not wanting to upset the big guy, she gave him a smoke each time. She said he made her feel uncomfortable with the way he looked at her.
You give a mouse a cookie and pretty soon he wants a tall glass of milk. There were plenty of lessons learned in this experience for both of us. Imagine what would have happened if this guy had made it past the front door. Neither she nor I could have handled him without a (serious) firearm or two. Additionally, Tia learned how helping the homeless, while well-intentioned, can lead to bad things. I moved up to a GLOCK 19 and brought a shotgun with me when I spent the night.
Uncle Rick stood about 6’4″ and weighed close to three bills. He looked like an NFL linebacker. For me, that little Kel-tec didn’t inspire a lot of confidence that it could put a big guy like that down. Especially a mentally deranged monster who really didn’t want to go down.
In the end, I was reasonably assured that no matter how agitated Uncle Rick became, a load of buckshot to the chest would reduce his ability to hurt my girlfriend or me.