Thursday, April 18, 2002

Zero tolerance

Dog charge sends mom to pokey

        Robin Elliot was late for work. Sitter problems. A school nurse, she was hurrying to Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenhills from her Bridgetown home. She was speeding.

        Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. Flashing light.

        She begged the Hamilton County sheriff's deputy to let her go with a warning. “I'll be more careful,” she promised.

        No dice.

        He took her driver's license and went back to the cruiser. Now she was going to be good and late. Deputy Mike Hulgin came back to the window and told her that there was a problem. Something about a dog. She hasn't had a dog since 1999.

        Breezy, a golden retriever muddled by age and illness, wandered away from home and was picked up by the dog warden. The family pet spent the night in the clink. When Robin bailed the dog out the next morning, “I thought I paid for everything — license, registration.” Apparently she did not. And did not appear in court to answer a charge of failure to apply for registration of a dog.

        Soon after, Breezy died, and the episode was forgotten.

        By Robin. But not by the county. The computer spit out a capias with her name on it when Officer Hulgin fed it her Social Security number. He was obliged to arrest her. “Officers have no discretion,” says sheriff's spokesman Steve Barnett. “They have to bring 'em in.”

        Police used to be allowed to give offenders a new court date. But it became a joke, says Tony Upton of the county clerk's office. “There were 118,000 outstanding warrants and capiases.” And the rule was changed in 1995. Zero tolerance for a capias, which is a judge's order to arrest somebody who didn't show up in court.

Cuffed and weeping

        Zero tolerance. That fabulous policy that brings you schools that expel children for showing up with butter knives. The intellectually barren and over-used excuse to take things out of the hands of reasonable and sensible people.

        People such as Officer Hulgin, who let her drop the car off at home, where her two boys, 8 and 5, saw their mother weeping as she left in the back of a patrol car.

        Then the 37-year-old fugitive was cuffed and driven in a van to the Justice Center downtown. She was searched, fingerprinted and photographed. The intake officer asked if she was suicidal.

        “Sort of,” she replied.

        They were very polite. Very nice. But she was still very incarcerated.

        Sobbing by now, she was in a holding tank with other women. One was sleeping off something bad. Another was accused of bank robbery, another of drug possession. “They were real nice,” Robin says. Meanwhile, Robin's husband, Jim, a machinist in Blue Ash, left work to come to her rescue.

        At 12:29 p.m. that day, Tuesday, April 9, he was allowed to pay a fine of $86 and take his wife home.

        So what's next? Does she plan to make trouble? Is she looking for an attorney?

        No, she says, she plans to laugh. And explain to her children that mommy didn't do anything horrible, but nobody is above the law. Et cetera. She thinks the whole thing was kind of wasteful.

        “But, I'm sure,” she says, “that it's all perfectly legal.”

        Or imperfectly legal.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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