header image

Richard Pennington (리처드 패닝턴)

header image

Innocent, and emphatically so

thumb

A couple of miles south of the Colorado River in Austin, Texas—at 700 East Live Oak Street, to be precise—is Stacy Pool. I have fond memories of this spring-fed neighborhood pool which is open year-round and charges no admission. Between October 1990 and my departure from the USA in November 2007, I jumped into the soothing waters of Stacy Pool more than 3,000 times; twice or even thrice on a hot summer day was not unheard of.

I loved the place and had good relations with my fellow swimmers and the lifeguards. As for the former, I sometimes invited strolling ice cream salesmen to come in, and I would announce loudly, “Free ice cream for kids 10 and under!” As for the latter, I organized a Stacy Pool lifeguard appreciation party (pizza and soft drinks) in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. This event came to an end only because city bureaucrats decided it was somehow illegal. The point is, I had many friends there. I was fairly well known.

But listen to what happened one afternoon in 2002 or so. While the date is uncertain, the facts are not. I had finished my swim and was sitting on a concrete ledge near the north end of the pool, drying off. From the gate at the south end came two policemen. I paid scant attention until I realized they were walking straight toward me. Very curious. I was indeed the reason for their visit. These two gentlemen, who I will call Officers Smith and Jones, said they needed to discuss something with me. “What?” I asked incredulously. They suggested it would be best to talk outside the confines of the pool. I put on my socks, laced up my Converse All-Stars, hung a wet towel around my neck and went on out with them.

We had barely walked through the gate when I asked, or should I say ordered them to explain what this was about. They informed me that a crime had recently been committed nearby, and I was a suspect or at least a person of interest. Again, I demanded of Smith and Jones, “Crime? What crime?” Aggravated sexual assault, they said. I exploded. “Man, you cannot be serious! This is an outrage. I have never, never done anything of the sort. On what basis are you even talking to me?”

One of them pulled out a photocopy of a drawing of the suspect. He said it bore a degree of resemblance to me and that somebody at Stacy Pool—a lifeguard? one of my fellow swimmers?—had informed them that I was a regular, and was willing to say I might be the guy they sought. This only infuriated me more. Smith or Jones asked, “Don’t you think that looks like you?” I replied, “Not really. And even if it did, the point would be moot since I am not a damn criminal! Aggravated sexual assault? Me? Never! Impossible!” I was speaking rather loudly at this point, and the two cops must have known I was not their man.

Nonetheless, they wanted to see my identification. Fine, I said. I indicated that it was in my car, parked on a side street. Fuming, I started to walk in that direction. Smith and Jones very nicely said that they would take me there. Perhaps, or evidently, they thought I might make a run for it. They opened the back door of their police car and asked me to get in. I did and soon realized that with the door locked, I had been detained. I was not in handcuffs or behind bars, but I had been detained.

We went to my car. I pulled out my driver’s license and showed it to them. They called headquarters and performed a background check. I already knew they would find nothing. Rather sheepishly, one of them handed it back to me. I had barely stopped talking all this time, and I had plenty to say. I suppose I gave Smith and Jones a lecture of sorts: “Officers, I am aware of the nature of your job. You have to sift through a lot of good guys to find a single bad guy. That’s what’s going on here. You have inconvenienced me, and what’s more offended me and insulted me by the mere suggestion that I am capable of aggravated sexual assault!  This would not and could not happen. I have never in my life raised a hand against a female, much less committed aggravated sexual assault. What kind of weapon did I allegedly use—a gun? a knife? a baseball bat? Whoever did this crime, I hope you catch him and throw the proverbial book at him, but it ain’t me! You see what I’m saying?”

They were practically apologizing at this point, fully aware that—regardless of the questionable drawing—I was not the person they wanted. My every word, my tone of voice and my demeanor spoke of innocence. Still, they wanted to take a photo as a way to sort of clear my name. I really did not see the logic and almost immediately regretted allowing them to do it. This means that somewhere in the archives of the Austin Police Department is a photo of me scowling at Officers Smith and Jones.

It seemed they were more eager for this encounter to end than I was. They began to mosey toward their police car, saying something like “goodbye and sorry to bother you.” But my soliloquy was not quite finished. I had every right to speak my mind and would do no less. I repeated my points in a wholehearted and forceful manner: “I have never done such a thing in my life! I could never do it! Never!” Smith and Jones had begun to drive away, but I—still wet from my swim at Stacy Pool—remained in the street, expostulating loudly: “Never, under any circumstance! Never! NEVER!”