Lexington police officer loves driving the paddy wagon

VETERAN OFFICER HAS A KNACK FOR DEFUSING VOLATILE SITUATIONS

jkegley@herald-leader.comSeptember 9, 2012 

  • Called to duty

    There were four calls for the Lexington Division of Police's east sector paddy wagon on Aug. 24, second shift:

    4:30 p.m.: The paddy wagon was called to the parking lot of Golden Corral restaurant on Richmond Road to pick up a man and a woman accused of stealing more than $500 in shoes from a nearby store. The man, an employee of GB Shoes, allegedly sold the merchandise to the woman for $200 and pocketed the money.

    6:30 p.m.: The paddy wagon was called to take a bleeding man who was drunk to jail. The man, whose blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit, had fallen off his bike at Nicholasville Road and Hiltonia Park. He had a gash on his forehead and cuts on his leg, but he refused to go to the hospital after being checked out by an ambulance. He was charged with alcohol intoxication.

    9:30 p.m.: Patrol officers arrested a man who reportedly had been yelling curse words and threats on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The man, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.20, was arguing with the arresting officer because he claimed the officer did not believe that the man was bipolar, schizophrenic and had been diagnosed with HIV. The paddy wagon was called to take the man to jail. He was charged with alcohol intoxication and disorderly conduct. When the man got to jail, he hurled racial slurs at corrections officers and threatened to sexually assault them. When he was placed in a cell, he beat on the door, shouted that the corrections officers were "sissies" and tried to flood the toilet by stuffing it with toilet paper.

    11 p.m.: A patrol officer arrested two people during a traffic stop on Winchester Road at the New Circle Road interchange. The patrol officer requested the wagon to take one of the people to jail. The patrol officer followed in his patrol car, with the second person in the back.

Lexington police officer Barry Maggard makes a living chauffeuring drunks and drug users, brawlers, spitters, biters and verbal abusers.

Hospitality often goes unnoticed in his line of work, but that doesn't stop him from being courteous.

Maggard helps people get in and out of the vehicle, he listens to their complaints, and he prides himself on making sure they get to their destination safely.

"Watch your head," he told a self-described schizophrenic man with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 as the man climbed into the back of the "prisoner transport" vehicle — more commonly known as a paddy wagon.

The man had been arrested for alcohol intoxication and disorderly conduct after an officer saw him standing on Martin Luther King Boulevard shouting curse words and threats.

It's the type of behavior that Maggard, a veteran officer of 22 years, has gotten used to. It's also something he has learned to handle.

Maggard spends most of his work week behind the wheel of the wagon, which serves an important support role to the police department's patrol section

Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said the wagons are out on a rotating basis. There are usually two riding through town on each of the three shifts.

The wagons are used to haul suspects from the scene to jail or to take large pieces of evidence to police headquarters on Main Street. Officers often call for a wagon when they have made more than one arrest because "it's safer" to transport them that way, Roberts said.

A Herald-Leader reporter recently rode with Maggard, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Like many aspects of police work, driving the paddy wagon isn't always action-packed.

"There's nights where it's fairly quiet and some nights where it's just call to call to call to call," he said.

On this particular night, Maggard chauffeured five suspects to the jail. Four were cordial and compliant, which is good by those standards. However, he said, that is not always the case.

Maggard has been spit at, cussed out and hit. On busy nights, he has transported more than a dozen prisoners at once. And, in addition to the verbal or physical abuse, he has had the pleasure of using a hose to rid his truck of all types of bodily fluids.

Still, it's a job he wouldn't trade.

"You get to see a lot of interesting things as a police officer, especially driving the wagon, which is why I like to do it," he said.

Maggard doesn't technically make arrests; he is called in after another officer has handcuffed a suspect and filled out the paperwork. Maggard then takes the suspect to jail, making every effort to prevent the suspect from injuring himself, bystanders or officers in the process.

Maggard is uniquely qualified for that role, said his supervisor, Lt. Scott Blakely. Even before Maggard was trained as a crisis intervention specialist, he was gifted at defusing potentially hostile situations and dealing with everything from scared or angry people to the mentally ill or drug addicts.

"He's been employed for a long time, so he's experienced a lot of things and he's seen a lot of things," Blakely said. "Quite frankly, he's talked to a lot of people."

The paddy wagon is built to house unruly suspects. The prisoner compartments are covered with polished steel. A foam-covered lap bar may be raised and lowered on hydraulics, restraining prisoners in an upright seated position.

But for Maggard, a relentlessly amiable man with an almost constant smile under his mustache, forcibly securing someone is a last resort. He usually can defuse tense situations before they turn violent, sometimes just by listening and trying to understand the suspect's point of view.

"I commiserate with them," he said. "I tell them, 'Look, I'm not the guy who got you in trouble. I'm just the guy that's transporting you.'"

Take, for example, the drunken man. As Maggard arrived, the man was talking with the officer who had charged him, growing more agitated with each order the officer gave him.

The inebriated man began shouting at the arresting officer, telling him he did not like the way he was talking to him and pondering aloud whether he should even be a cop.

After a brief conversation with Maggard, the drunk man's tone changed. As he stepped into the paddy wagon, his arms cuffed behind his back, he thanked Maggard for treating him "like a human being."

"I think he's able to use his attitude and his demeanor to his advantage," Blakely said of Maggard. "... He doesn't get riled up about too many things."

Maggard plays it by ear; different situations require different tactics, he said. Sometimes he needs to be understanding; other times he needs to be stern, like a mother chastising an unruly child.

The wagon, which can hold a dozen or more suspects at a time, was intended to be used for mass arrests, such as the riotous celebrations on State Street in April leading up to and after the University of Kentucky men's basketball team's national championship victory.

Still, such situations rarely happen in Lexington, Maggard said.

People who are bleeding or who have urinated or vomited on themselves are always taken to jail in the paddy wagon because the stainless steel compartments are easier to clean and disinfect than the cloth interior of a cruiser. The wagon has two separate holding cells, which come in handy when an officer needs to keep prisoners separated.

When a suspect acts out, sometimes a ride in the isolated, windowless compartment of the paddy wagon is enough to calm him or her down. Suspects often become combative when they think they have an audience, Maggard said. Occasionally, bystanders cheer them on to fight with officers.

"There's no one for them to fight back there," he said. "It's safer for them and it's safer for us."

Once he gets suspects to jail, Maggard waits at the counter while they're booked. He watches closely as corrections officers pat down suspects and search their belongings. If drugs or weapons are found, Maggard can file additional charges.

Although Maggard seems to have an affinity for it, driving the paddy wagon has been an unpopular job.

"It used to be a job that we gave to guys as a punishment in the past. But Barry loves to do it," Blakely said.

Maggard's dedication makes all the difference.

"It allows me not to worry about that one aspect of the day, because I know that it's going to be handled," Blakely said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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