Interesting thing happened to me in Erwin, TN, today.
I was walking back from the Food Lion with my resupply when, out of nowhere, sheriff Kent Harris whips his cruiser in front of me and comes to a quick stop. He looks like he means business.
Naturally, I am confused. Did a fight just break out behind me, in the parking lot of the gas station turned used car lot? I look around and see nothing unusual. I figured he must want to talk to me so I take a few steps closer.
Sitting in his car with the window down he says "I just got a call from a lady who says she saw someone, matching your description, put something in his pocket at the Food Lion." Maybe not ver batim, but close.
I was shocked. What are the chances that someone would call the police for something that never happened? Was there an unseen wallet display at the checkout and someone got confused as I put my wallet back in my pocket after paying? Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.
I tell him there must be some mistake and offer to show him my reciepts from Food Lion and the dollar store. He demands to see my I.D. and I tell him I think its in my backpack at Miss Janet's. He asks what I would be doing without my papers on me. I say "I didn't think I would need a driver's license license to walk to the store."
He asks for my name and birthday. As I respond I notice a balding, whit-haired, fat man of about 65 years waddling towards the sheriff and me (not 'the sheriff and I'). The sheriff seems to know him, and he joins in the interrogation.
Is this the "lady" who was my accuser? He was certainly too old and out-of-shaped to be a police officer. I wondered who he was as I explained to them both that I was a hiker staying at Miss Janet's. Despite my having receipts they both seem hostile.
When am I leaving town? Tomorrow. The sheriff wants to see what I have in my pockets. He searches through my wallet, glancing at the business cards and making sure there is nothing hidden in it.
"I thought you said you didn't have your I.D. on you." the sheriff says.
"Oh, It's in there? I usually keep it in my pack."
"I find it mighty suspicious that you said you didn't have I.D., but here I find are two pieces of I.D." He refers to my invalid driver's license and my old Mercedes security badge.
"That's not I.D. It's just an old security badge from Mercedes, where I worked as a contractor for a few months last year."
A few more questions. Sheriff mentions there's backup on the way. The old, dim-witted guy asks for my social security number.
My mind asks "Who the hell are you?", but, in the interest of cooperation, I say, "I don't remember."
"You don't know your number?" Sheriff demands.
"No! Hell, I don't remember the last time I needed it."
The deputy's car pulls up. Words. Sheriff says my record is clean. Words. He practically insists I let his deputy drive me the last two blocks to Miss Janet's, yet the offer did not seem to arise by way of apology or kindness.
"I don't think Miss Janet would appreciate hikers getting dropped off at her house by the cops. It's only two blocks or so and I'd rather walk."
And so I walked. . .
Later, I asked around town and was told that my description of the old man matched the mayor, Bushy Lewis. Being Saturday, the mayor's office was closed; but I was told he has a second office at the sheriff's department, where he can often be found.
So I walk to the sheriff's department. I stand in the courtyard and collect my thoughts for a minute. Should I go to there sheriff first to find out if there really had been a phone call about a crime that never happened? Would it be recorded in a dispatch log? How could I politely ask the mayor if he is concerned about Erwin's developing a reputation as a city where one has no protection agains unreasonable search?
As I stand there this deputy-looking guy in a Kent Harris Track Team T-shirt walks up and asks me what I'm doing. I reply,"I've got some free time and I wanted to take a look at your beautifull city."
Deputy: "You have to leave the area. We've had problems with people getting drugs to the prisoners."
Me: "There's a jail here?"
He points to the second floor. I want to ask why they don't just put bars over the windows, so someone couldn't stand where I was and throw drugs up to the second floor prisoners. Instead, I walk away. . .
only to return in a little while with a formulated plan: go talk to the mayor in a friendly manner and see if he's the same guy from earlier. A different guy intercepts me at the front door, says the mayor's not in, and tells me I can come back Monday.
So, the big question is: Would a cop fabricate a crime in order to justify his unwarranted search and interogation?
Something stinks in Erwin, and it ain't just the hikers.