Charlie didn’t expect to see me waiting for him in his probation officer’s empty conference room. He was expecting to take a court-ordered piss test, not answer an allegation of sexual battery. No one likes to piss in front of another man, but I imagine given the choice, the urinalysis is the lesser of two evils. Suspects are never happy to see me.
“Hey, Charlie. My name is Detective Voyles, and this is my partner, Detective Harms,” I say, motioning to Dave seated at the big conference table. Dave smiles in that way that tells Charlie he feels sorry to meet him. Unfortunately, we rarely make a good first impression. Fear has a way of squashing our best intentions.
Charlie steps in the door of the room, but instead of moving towards the table, he half steps inside with his back up against the wall.
“These detectives need to talk to you, Charlie,” his probation officer says, standing behind him. “As soon as they are done, we’ll get what we get and you can take off.”
Charlie nods at this and keeps looking back and forth between Dave and me.
“I’m not here to get you in trouble, Charlie,” I say, “but your name came up in my investigation, and this was the quickest way to talk to you so we could rule you out as a suspect.”
It is best to start off by trying to put the suspect’s mind at ease. Being arrested isn’t something new to him, so it is important to remind him that he is free to leave; that something besides jail will happen after our conversation, and I want him to know he can be ruled out. At this moment, not all is lost.
“I’m clean,” Charlie says. “You’ll see that from the piss test.”
“We’re not here about that, Charlie,” I say, sitting down at the conference table. “Frankly, I couldn’t care less about that. Your business is your business.” I motion my hand to try to get him to sit at the table with me, but he sits in one of the chairs near the door. “We’re here about Kelsey.”
“Who?” Charlie says, but the name has registered.
“Kelsey, Kelsey Chavez. You know her, right?” So far, so good. Before he got in the room, I set the tape recorder on the bookshelf near where Charlie took his seat. He’s been through the system. Talking to the police about a girl is never good.
“Um, yeah, like from middle school. A long time ago.”
“But you’ve seen her since. You’ve hung out. At Jared’s house, right?”
“I guess.” Charlie is the last person I have talked to about this case. Kelsey doesn’t know what happened other than she got drunk and woke up in the backseat of her car with her underwear on sideways, and she only figured that out when she made the guy driving her home stop so she could pee in the bushes behind a closed convenience store. She could have had consensual sex or she could have been raped; she was just too drunk to remember which.
And being drunk doesn’t automatically make it non-consensual. Many a stubborn drunk girl has exposed her breasts for cheap beads in the humidity of a New Orleans night, much to her mother’s chagrin when the photo shows up on Facebook. And even more have fought for the keys to his car, because no one is going to tell him he is too drunk to drive home. Just because a person is too drunk to remember, doesn’t mean they weren’t intent on doing it. Or should we let all the drunk drivers go home with a stern warning?
“Do you remember that night, Charlie? Because she called in to us saying she got raped.”
“She got what?” Charlie’s face changes; micro tremors of a scared smile.
“Raped?” he asks, just to be sure, gripping the arms of his seat for stability.
“And people at the party are saying you guys were making out and stuff.”
“Uh, huh.” The air is being sucked out of the room. Charlie looks at Dave who is still wearing that same sorry smile. He turns back to me.
“So, I figured I’d talk to you and clear this whole thing up. Since you were making out, and everything.”
“No. We never made out.” This is the first mistake Charlie makes in the conversation. Everything up to this point has been perfect. He is supposed to be nervous to see us. He is supposed to be foggy on the girl. They were all smoking weed and drinking jungle juice out of red Solo cups that night. But he’s been through the system and somebody, some other cop before me, ruined his relationships with law enforcement. Oh, I’m sorry, are those cuffs too tight? Maybe you should have thought twice before shoplifting that pack of gum. Respect is a two-way street. No matter what crime the guy committed, two things can be gained with respect. One, he won’t remember me two years down the road when he sees me at the movies with my family. Or two, he will remember me as the nice cop who let him smoke a cigarette, at which point he won’t key my car in the parking lot, which is really the lesser of evils that he could take out on me. But in this moment with Charlie, my motivation is different. I’m not worried about my safety, and I drive an unmarked police car. Not that it matters, because I don’t even live in the jurisdiction where I have lawful arrest powers. The thing is, I truly want to help people. Everyone. Even this alleged rapist. But to do that, I need him to be honest, because a lie will be the end of him.
“They all said they saw you, Charlie. Why would they lie?”
All the synapsis are starting to fire with Charlie. Fight or flight. Two detectives are talking about rape and his name is in the same conversation. What is going through his head? Stupid party. Stupid, drunk girl. Stupid middle school friends with trigger-like fingers all pointing at him. He is standing in the batter’s box with two strikes against him.
“Everybody that was there, Charlie. You know. James, Jared, some guy named Soho, and that other guy, the one from Carolina. What’s his name again?” I’m letting him know that he is the last to know.
“Right. Bhodi. Everyone’s saying you guys were hot and heavy on the couch,” I say, leaning back in my chair. “So you do remember that night, then?”
“Yeah, but we was all just playing video games, and Kelsey kinda passed out and we took her back to a room to sleep it off.”
“Okay. So tell me how it all went down?”
“Jared carried her into the room. It was his place. And I held the door for him and then after that, I passed out in the bathroom.” This was all stuff I already knew. James told me this. And two days after I spoke to Jared, he met me on a ten-minute break from his construction job to suck on a Q-tip for DNA testing. As for Soho, he never left the living room. Too involved in the first-person shooter on the big screen to follow the drunk-girl parade. The part about passing out in the bathroom is new, but it was down the hall and near the bedroom where Kelsey lay sleeping it off. All sorts of things could have happened in the few hours spanning between dropping her in bed and dropping her in the back seat of her car for the drive home.
“Listen, Charlie. I’m trying to be as straight forward as I can with you.”
“I don’t think Kelsey was raped, okay?”
“See and you know that because you didn’t rape her.”
“But the problem we have is that when a girl says she is raped, we do all kinds of tests.”
Sometimes these conversations turn into lessons on crime scene techniques and the anatomy of an interview. Gone are the days of bright lights and heavy phone books. Too many television shows have already spilled the beans on what we do, or at least some glamorized version of it. Now the only way to compete is to make it sound like he knows exactly what is going on. If he thinks he is free to go, then I don’t need to read him Miranda. Half-truths also work wonders. Saying a girl was drunk and probably just wanting to hook up infers that it’s okay. It doesn’t negate the fact that she doesn’t agree with that and will sit in court crying to six strangers to protect her honor. So, being honest, or half-way at least, has given me the best results. Inference is an interviewer’s best tool to keep a suspect in the conversation. I want the truth, no matter how bad it may sound. And to get it, I have to tangle him up. It’s all about the word play.
“Do you understand what we’re up against here, Charlie?” We, not you.
“What do you mean?”
“I came to talk to you because you are what we refer to as a witness slash suspect. You get that right?”
“Because I got a history?”
This is where the other bad cops before me are screwing things up. Charlie’s got a history of breaking into houses. Unoccupied ones. Who knows what he was told by the cops or his lawyer, for that matter, the last time that ended him up on probation.
“No. Unless you have a history for raping girls. Which you don’t, right?”
“I don’t need to rape nobody.”
“Exactly.” And Charlie isn’t lying. He’s got game. He’s in shape. Not too many tattoos. His fade is tight. He takes care of himself. On any other day he could probably give lessons in charm. But not today. Not with me. Because Charlie is still suspicious the way a player always is. Trust doesn’t come easy. I can’t really blame him. For the first five years on the road, I was that deputy who would never see him again. I didn’t make big arrests. Nothing that sent anyone to prison for decades. If I arrested someone for possession of his buddy’s marijuana, he spent the night in jail. Time served, and a hard lesson about carrying for a friend. Charlie never interacted with a major case detective; how is he supposed to know that we may have a heavy conscience about whom we put in jail? I’ve got too many interviews like this one under my belt. I know things he doesn’t. I’ve got to get him to trust me even if what he’s got to say won’t make him look good.
“Here’s what we have, Charlie.” I say, laying all my cards on the table. “You can continue to tell me that you had nothing to do with Kelsey or you can tell me you had consensual sex with her. Either way, I leave here with information I want.”
Charlie doesn’t respond. He is a student in a lecture of interview techniques.
“If you say you had sex with her. Sex, not rape. Then it’s your word against hers, and since you were both drunk. It is what it is.” This is true, but still bad for him. She says she passed out. If she sticks to this, he could get hurt in court. Contrarily, if he does admit consensual sex, that gives him reasonable doubt. “But if you deny it. Flat out no way. You didn’t have sex with her. Then I leave here with a rock solid denial.”
“I didn’t rape her.”
“I’m not done, Charlie,” I say, looking over at Dave. He continues his silence, unnerving Charlie in his corner by the bookcase. “Because if I leave here with that flat out denial and the DNA comes back to you-”
“Well, then not only will you be a liar, Charlie, you’ll be a rapist, too. Understand?”
“I’m no rapist.”
“I never said you were, but I need you to understand that if you deny the sex, because I got a feeling about you Charlie. I don’t know you from Adam’s house cat, but you seem like a straight-up guy. You probably have some moves, and you don’t need to force anyone to do anything.”
“I’ve got a girl, you know? She’s pregnant.”
“See? Congratulations, Charlie. I’m not here to ruin that for you. It’s like I said before, your business is your business.” And here is his reason for lying to me. He wants to preserve the thing he’s got now over some thing he got on the side a month ago. “I know this sounds bad, and not something you ever thought you would have to talk about, especially to the cops, but we have this allegation and you are the last one on the list.”
“It doesn’t mean I did it. Someone else you talked to could have lied.”
“Jared gave me his DNA and the other guys all point to you.”
“No. I can’t get ahold of him. Do you think he did this?” I know what Charlie will say to this. A guilty man doesn’t usually put the blame on a friend if he knows he had nothing to do with it. Innocent ones throw the blame everywhere because anything is possible, right?
“No, but he can back me up. Until I passed out in the bathroom, he was there the whole time.”
“In the room with you and Kelsey, you mean? Because she does remember two guys being in the room, and that makes sense.” It’s one of the only things she says she remembers; two faces in the dark, one telling the other he had sex with her. She says she was in and out of it. Another reason it sounds like drunken sex and not rape. People don’t go in and out of being passed out cold. They simply wake up the next day to lights too bright, the thick tongue of cotton-mouth, and a dull thudding behind their eyes. Brittney Spears even sang a song about it; Blur. It’s my Sex Crimes anthem.
“No. At the party. He can tell you what he saw. How I was passed out in the bathroom.”
“I want to believe you, Charlie, but everything points to you.”
He sits silent in his chair shaking his head. This is the worst place to be, having to answer for stupid decisions. Almost every interview ends up here. Sure, some guys just come in and blurt it all out. Some times the guilt prevails. But in the cases of scandal and scorn, no one wants to talk. I will use this interview later to train new detectives. I will sit in Charlie’s seat, shaking my head. Eventually, if the detective leads me there, I’ll blame everything on Kelsey, because in my mind, she needs to shoulder some of the responsibility. But it’s going to take some more work with Charlie in the here and now.
“And these tests. The DNA,” I say.
Charlie looks up and interrupts me. “But when you get raped, doesn’t, like, the vaginal tissue get ripped?” And yet another defense against rape. Everything he says screams consensual. I didn’t rape her. I’ve got a girlfriend. She won’t have tearing because she was okay with it going down. He doesn’t realize all the admissions he’s making without coming out and telling me.
“Charlie, you all were three sheets to the wind. When you get a girl all liquored up, chances are, she will be good to go down there,” I say, shooting down his defense. “So, no. That isn’t always the case.” I don’t mention that the first responding officer was an idiot who was pissed that he even had to deal with the rape allegation. I don’t tell Charlie how no rape kit was ever done, or how the deputy thought that since Kelsey had already showered before she called the police that there was nothing left to find. Road deputies don’t think about the 120 hours of semen swimming around inside a girl after a one-night stand. But, at least he collected the underwear she was wearing. With a flat-out denial, stained panties are the smoking guns of sex crimes, with motel bed sheets making a close second.
His head falls again and he puts his face in his hands.
“And if her underwear comes back with your semen, and all I have from you is a lie.” I pause for effect. “Well, then you’re a monster, Charlie, and our next conversation’s going to go a little different.”
He looks up. “I didn’t rape Kelsey.”
“But you did have sex with her, didn’t you, Charlie?”
“Consensual sex? Your penis didn’t go in anything of hers?”
I really am trying to help him, not that anyone is going to feel that way on the opposite side of this particular conversation. I hang my head and rub the wrinkles above my eyes. I know that nothing I say will convince him to tell me the truth. And six or eight months from now, things are going to be different. It’s like trying to tell a drunk that they’ve got a problem. It’s going to take hitting rock bottom to bear that out.
“You’re making a mistake here, Charlie.” I say, sliding my seat closer to him. “If you guys had sex, you need to tell me before the lie turns you into a monster. You know, the guy in the windowless van without remorse. The guy who takes advantage of girls and doesn’t care who he hurts. Don’t be that guy, Charlie.”
“Do I need a lawyer, or something?”
Too hard. I pushed him too hard. I slide my seat back again and breath out a noticeable sigh. “No Charlie, you don’t. You have a right to one, sure, but you’re not under arrest. We’re just having a conversation. One where you are free to get up and walk away from any time you want.”
“I just don’t feel like I should have to defend myself against this girl.”
I nod my head slightly at this, breathing in through my nose and pressing my lips together before exhaling. “It does suck, but it is what it is.”
“So I can go then?”
“Yep.” I hate this feeling. So close. The way a rodeo cowboy must feel after getting bucked off at 7.9 seconds. I can tell he had sex with her. I don’t have the proof just yet, but I will, eventually. Someone put her panties on sideways, and everyone else was in the living room. This is going to end badly for him. Not today, but soon. Charlie gets up to leave and I ask him one more question.
“Hey Charlie, I know your DNA is already in the system over that burglary thing you had a couple of years ago, but I gotta ask, you know, for quicker results. Would you mind giving me another sample here, today, to rule you out?”
“Nah. I don’t mean to be a jerk or nothing, but I’d rather not.”
“Cool. No. That’s cool.” I look over at Dave and ask, “You got anything?”
“Nope,” he smiles and stands up, tucking in the chair. “We didn’t threaten you or promise you anything today, did we Charlie?
“Great. We’ll see you soon, then.” Dave says.
Charlie stands at the doorway looking at Dave and says nothing. Then he looks back at me. “So, we’re good?”
“Absolutely, Charlie,” I say, adding, “Good luck with the piss test.”
“Right,” he says, bowing his head a little as he backs out of the room.
“I hope we never have to talk again.” I smile at him as he leaves.
“Me, either,” he says, and he disappears around a corner.
As Dave walks towards the door, I reach over and grab the tape recorder from the bookcase.
“You almost had him there,” Dave says, but I hold up a hand and show him that the recorder is still running.
“This was Detective Voyles speaking to Charlie Carpenter regarding the alleged rape of Kelsey Chavez. Assisting me was Detective Dave Harms. This interview was surreptitiously recorded in the conference room of the County Probation Office and was concluded at approximately 1327 hours.” I press the stop button and move towards the door. “You were saying?” I say, smiling.
“You almost had him,” Dave says again.
“I know, right?” I say, shaking my head. “He so had sex with her.”
“Yeah he did,” Dave says following me out of the room. “It’s too bad. He seemed like a decent guy.”
“Too bad he’s going to look like a rapist in a few months,” I say smiling. “He better pray those panties come back clean.”
Monster Mistake was originally published in J Journal magazine in 2012 before I retired from Sex Crimes. See the link on the right side of my home page to get a subscription.
Six months after this conversation, “Charlie’s” DNA was identified on the panties. He was living at home with his mother and girlfriend, doing his part to help raise his newborn daughter, when I had to arrest him. During our subsequent interview, he cried, saying he’d been too scared to tell the truth when I first met him. He was ashamed for having had what he considered consensual sex with “Kelsey,” just two drunk people hooking up in the dark at a party, but the damage had been done. To avoid a longer sentence, Charlie ended up pleading guilty to sexual battery of an incapacitated person and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. He was released early with good behavior after serving 3 years and 8 months.