“Are you ready to give your statement?”
“Wait one minute, stenographer, are you on the line and are you ready to transcribe?”
“I am, thank you.”
“Okay, go ahead, officer.”
“Thank you.” She took a deep breath, “I realize that this is my fifth impact statement that I am giving to oppose the release of Edward Charles. I get so caught up in how difficult it becomes for me every 18 months to prepare myself to face the possibility of his release, that I have a hard time seeing others and what they do. So, before I start, I do want to say thank you to the parole board for taking the time to listen to the victims, to hear them – to hear me.
“I – I…. normal…” Her voice cracked as she struggled to get the words out.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but take a few minutes to compose yourself, I know this is hard. We will wait.”
“Th-Thank you commissioner, that’s very kind of you.” Deep breath, keep it together, she thought as she blew her nose, one more, focus, deep breath. Okay.
“I normally prefer to give my statement in person, but alas with the new pandemic restrictions, I felt it was important to do the telephone call, because I don’t want my voice to be silenced as it nearly was on that day by Edward Charles when he tried to murder me.
“I want to go back to that day because I don’t want the brutality to be lost in case notes and history. I was a uniformed police officer dispatched to a man beating a woman, when I approached the scene, it was quiet. I saw two women sitting in a car and a man walking up towards me. I told him to wait, I would be with him in a minute, I wanted to talk with the women. He pretended not to hear me to close the space between us, cupping his hand to his ear he asked me to repeat what I said. He was able to close the distance between us, punching me in the face and leg swept me, causing me to fall and started savagely beating me, smashing my head into the asphalt. I had the thought, “turn your head, your skull is going to fracture”. I was afraid to lose consciousness. He kicked by body, and reached for my gun, which was holstered on my gun belt. I reached for his crotch and twisted, to no effect- I was fighting for my life. The gun belt shifted, and the gun was released. He stood over me and said, “I’m going to fucking kill you” and he pulled the trigger, I was the flash of the muzzle and saw a hole in my shirt right over my heart. Had I not worn my bullet proof vest, I would be dead. Even though the bullet lodged in the vest, the impact penetrated my chest leaving a gaping wound and a broken rib.
“At this point, my back up was on scene and Mr. Charles shot at my back up officers, striking a police car, giving me a chance to stand up, I thought I ran into a nearby building, but I actually walked backwards towards it facing him, I was shot again in the right arm. I saw a woman in the building, and I told her to get behind the counter and I would lay on top of her to protect her. She was on the phone with 911 and I took the phone from her. I said, “It’s a 10-19 (our code for police assist), he’s got my gun”. Edward Charles was facing me, my gun in his hands pointed at my stomach. I had my hand on my mace, but thought, “Don’t take mace to a gun fight.” I showed him my hands and had some memory black out, I was told he was shooting at me as I went behind the counter, I remember hearing a barrage of gunfire as I laid on top on the woman protecting her. I had tunnel vision and auditory exclusion as my body went into survival mode. I could only see in black and white and no longer could hear the world around me; I remember thinking kill me first, I don’t want to live if someone dies from my gun and, what a shame, my parents are going to have to bury another child…
“The gunfire stopped, 53 rounds were fired that day. I remember the brightness of the sun as I left the gas station, my eyes adjusting to the light and as I looked at my patrol car that was now a crime scene. I was transported to the hospital in the back seat of a patrol car. I had two bullet holes, a fractured rib, battle signs behind my ears, indicative of a skull fracture. I also learned what it was like to truly have PTSD, not the type when you take your dog on a plane to get out of paying the fee, the type of trauma that wakes you in a cold sweat after you nod off to sleep, the type of trauma that makes you feel everyone is out to kill you, that a knock on the door isn’t the Amazon Prime guy dropping a package, but someone who is a threat to your life- a constant feeling of being unsafe. It’s the feeling that when Charles is released, my life stops. I will never forgive him because I will no longer be able to continue with my gym workouts since I do not want the patrons to be in danger. I will not be able to return to my old job, that I am on leave for as I deal with calming a PTSD flare up. As I am writing out this impact statement, I think of earlier this morning when I was out walking in my neighborhood, a beautiful summer day, listening to music, people working on their homes, the unexpected sound of two quick shots from a pneumatic nail gun and my heart jumps a beat, I feel a burning sensation in my chest where my scar is, where the bullet penetrated. I realize it is a psychological reaction to an unexpected sound, but it is always with me. He is always with me.
“I have read and re-read every Parole Board interview done with Edward Charles. There are a couple of things that terrify me. First, the fact that Charles claims he doesn’t remember anything about that day. His actions were cold and calculated, not the actions of someone who was out of control. He told me that day he hated women and that I had to die as he was viciously beating me. But when asked if he remembers anything about that day, he first says in his interview before the board, he remembers nothing. But, when asked again, he starts to recall bits and pieces of what happened. In my opinion, he does know, he is choosing to feign his memory blackout.
“Secondly, Edward Charles has never taken responsibility for what he has done, because he hasn’t been truthful in admitting what he knows. He would rather blame past incidents for his actions than take personal responsibility. I think more time in custody may help Mr. Charles by giving him the time to do the work he needs to do to become more insightful into his mental health, past substance abuse and anger management issues that need more of his attention. Without personal insight into his triggers, his response saying, “I have a great family and they will keep my safe if I start to decompensate”, is too much of a burden to put on one family and really, if the past is any type of indicator, simply will not work.”
“Is there anything else you wanted to add?”
“No, other than thank you for this opportunity to be heard.”
Six weeks passed, parole was granted, Edward Charles came back home.
Seven weeks passed, and there was no one standing outside the officer’s house, no one hiding in the bushes or climbing through her open windows, no one following her or trying to kill her. He was out on parole, and she had banished herself into her own prison cell.
Another month passed, when she reread the parole hearing notes, this time, for the first time, she saw his half-hearted apologies and his requests for forgiveness sprinkled throughout the papers. She was blinded by fear and unable to forgive, but who suffered more? Did she believe he was sincere? Did it matter? So much energy wasted on keeping him behind bars, she had stopped seeing her own life and what she could do with that. A precious gift, given back to her on that fateful day, was being wasted because she was afraid.
On the first cold day of October, she took the folder that had grown in size over the past twenty and a half years that was filled with all the statements and appearances that Edward Charles had made, she grabbed the red felt tipped pen and wrote on the folder, “I forgive you”. She crumpled up all the worn pages and lit the warmest fire she had ever felt. The pages burning into ashes, making their way up the chimney to freedom. She breathed deeply and knew that she too could join the ashes and rise up to take back her place in the world.