When four screaming police cars lead you straight to the house of one of your best friends, and a half-dozen cops with pistols and scoped rifles jump out to surround his place and keep everybody else away, you might wonder what kind of trouble your buddy has got himself into.
When you find out the police are there because someone reported him loading a shotgun and waving it around (and maybe even taking a shot or two), you’d be forgiven for fearing the worst.
Fortunately, as the RCMP do not hesitate to say, the report they got calling them to my friend’s home in Sheshatshiu that night was “unfounded, unsubstantiated, unjustified and unwarranted.” Considering the allegations and the man they were levied against, the police could have added: unkind, unlikely, completely unexpected and somewhat unbalanced.
Unfortunately, however, the report was made and my friend and his two infant children were put into danger at the unwitting hands of the police for no good reason.
Of course, the police couldn’t know that beforehand — before they actually spoke with their suspect and saw the real situation. They couldn’t know that the man who’d raised the alarm seemed to be seeing guns everywhere — not just in my friend’s hands (who was in actual fact just playing his guitar out by the back door), but also inside an NTV video camera. The informant insisted that the camera be opened up so he could look inside and be sure he wasn’t going to be shot with a bullet when the record button was pressed.
The police couldn’t know that — not over the phone to a dispatcher in St. John’s. They couldn’t smell the alcohol in the air or see the wild look on a frightened, less-than-rational face.
So, not knowing that my friend was unarmed and was only spending a quiet evening with his little son and daughter, the RCMP expected the worst and responded with considerable firepower. And one can’t really blame them if some officers arrived in a heightened state of nervousness.
By then, the whole community (via word of mouth and Facebook) was awash in rumours that shots had been fired and that my friend may even have killed someone and been shot in return. (He’s still getting calls from acquaintances inquiring about his death.)
The tension must have relaxed when an officer knocked on a window of the house and my friend — who just then had been admiring the police car lights on the Top Road and was wondering why they were there — proved himself to be peaceful and co-operative and no danger to anyone.
Officers carried the children from the house and installed the family (with blankets to keep the little ones warm) in an RCMP cruiser while they searched the house, the fenced-in yard and two sheds. They found no weapons at all, and they soon left — as happy as anyone, no doubt, that it had been a false alarm.
However, while the RCMP are not investigating my friend, they are looking into the circumstances surrounding the report itself — and why it was made. Anyone reporting false accusations to the police can be charged with public mischief, if there’s some proof of malicious intent. Whether that existed in this case is definitely unclear, but that’s first for the police to decide and ultimately for a judge if it goes that far.
It's certainly not for a writer who might be too closely involved with one of the subjects of the story to decide the whole truth of the matter. It may only be for that writer to recount his experience at the scene and to thank the police for not inadvertently harming his friend or his friend’s children.
The RCMP’s restraint and professionalism in a tense and possibly volatile situation prevented a bizarre misunderstanding from becoming a terrible tragedy.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.