It's 7 a.m., and Prince George's County Sheriff's Deputies John Carr and Daniel Bahena are already hard at work.
A half-hour earlier on this summer's day, they had rolled into the brownstone sheriff's department headquarters building on McCormick Drive in Largo for the daily briefing. The unit supervisor, Sgt. Keith Bageant, had outlined the statistics from the night before, as well as cases that would have priority that morning.
Bageant had alerted them that they would have to arrest a Riverdale man who had violated an order to keep away from his girlfriend. They would have to escort a man out of his home in Oxon Hill and serve a Greenbelt woman with papers for allegedly assaulting her husband during an argument.
Earlier, the members of the unit had already caught up on events in each other's lives -- on Carr's home improvement project, Bageant's house-buying effort and the latest miracle performed by Deputy Marvin Robinson's very bright daughter.
Now it was time to prioritize their cases and route their workloads. To cut down on travel time, the deputies organize their tasks using a map. Carr, 26, and Bahena, 39, who are not regular partners, would work together on this day because their respective partners were in routine training.
"We sit down and look at what we have and put it in order," Carr said. "If it's a [temporary] order, we try to hit those first because we know they'll be going to court soon. If it's a warrant, we do some investigative work to try to find out where the person might be so we can go and get them. We make some calls to find out where people are going to be, then we get on out there."
As members of the sheriff's Domestic Violence Unit, Carr, Bahena and 18 other deputies work 12-hour shifts to serve peace and protective orders in the state's busiest jurisdiction for domestic violence complaints.
The unit, which began in 1993, went into 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation last year as part of a program by county law enforcement officials to make changes in domestic violence responses after the March 2003 slaying of Oxon Hill resident Ernestine Dyson. Dyson, 32, was killed by her husband, Tyrone, less than 24 hours after he had been ordered in court to stay away from her. Tyrone Dyson committed suicide after killing his wife.
Sheriff Michael Jackson has increased the number of sworn deputies in the Domestic Violence Unit to 20 and has them work around the clock to keep up with the huge volume of local domestic violence orders. The unit is supervised by Lt. Col. Raymond Robey, the assistant sheriff who commands the field operations bureau.
Each month, the Prince George's County sheriff's department serves more than 1,200 orders from the court -- more than other any other jurisdiction in the state, according to statistics from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. In 2003, the unit served 7,137 orders, compared with 5,883 in Baltimore City, 5,683 in Baltimore County, 3,436 in Anne Arundel County and 2,443 in Montgomery County. The office served fewer than 250 orders per month when it started 11 years ago, officials said.
Besides the high number of spousal abuse complaints, the county is also experiencing an increase in cases of domestic assault among dating teenagers, and of parents and grandparents being battered or verbally abused by their grown children or grandchildren, Jackson said. Complaints by men alleging that they have been assaulted by their wives or girlfriends are also on the rise, Jackson said.
"In any high-density population you have these kinds of problems," Jackson said. "Prince George's is not a cheap place to live . . . and economy plays a role. We are right next to the nation's capital, which is also very densely populated. There are many external things that pull every day at Prince Georgians."
Besides serving orders and making arrests, Jackson said, his office and other county agencies try to reach out to community members. Sheriff's officials help advise victims on programs to assist them in leaving potentially dangerous situations and steps they can take to make moving out easier. Sheriff's deputies attend community meetings to provide information about domestic violence and have also visited schools to speak about the problem of domestic violence among teenagers, Jackson said.
"I think the way to solve this is to get to the kids," Jackson said. "Imagine a young man who is 12 has a girlfriend and he has learned this behavior from seeing someone else do it. Guess what he is going to do? We have to reach him early to make him understand that this is wrong, or we'll have to deal with him and the consequences of his behavior for 30 or 40 years."
Bageant said working with domestic violence cases can be very difficult. Abusers often blame their victims for their behavior, so they don't welcome intervention from the courts or from deputies serving orders on behalf of the legal system.
"It's like, 'Look what she has done to me now' -- they don't take responsibility for the fact that they are being served because they have hit somebody," Bageant said. "There is a lot of anger and resentment on the part of abusers when we show up, because they refuse to accept the responsibility for what they've done."
Victims, who are often financially dependent and typically emotionally confused, often don't want authorities to act against their abusers, authorities said.
"We'll have an order from a woman against her husband for abuse and we'll get there and they'll say, 'Can you come back in 15 minutes?' because they want to have one last honeymoon before the abuser has to leave the house," said Deputy Marvin Robinson. "You'll look down at the copy of the complaint and see that she is alleging that he pushed her down the stairs or hit her and threatened to kill her. But when we get there, everybody is all in love. The women sometimes get mad at us for taking [the men] to jail, even though they've filed the complaints."
How They Got Here
Arresting men and women on domestic violence charges has made Carr, who was born and raised in Southeast Washington, wary of relationships. He attended Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian School and Bishop McNamara High School, where he lettered in track and football. He graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice. He is considering going to law school.
Carr, who lives in Charles County and is single, has an uncle who retired from the Prince George's County sheriff's department. He recently purchased his first home and is in the middle of projects to fix it up.
"I don't have many hobbies," he said. "I pretty much work and I run. I do enjoy that. We work hard, though. We don't have a lot of time for a lot of hobbies."
Bahena, 39, is originally from Mexico. He said he came to the United States in 1983 at age 17 to improve his career opportunities.
"I jumped the river and came over," said Bahena, who now lives in Charles County. "In Mexico, my future was going to be limited. There, you didn't have much of a chance to get an education, and I wanted an education."
Bahena went to Chicago, where he earned his GED and completed two years of college. He worked for nine years at an industrial diamond company, processing diamonds into powder used for polishing equipment. He was married and had two sons.
In 1996, he moved to Puerto Rico with his then-wife, who was homesick. He had been working as a police officer in Puerto Rico for three years when he attended a program conducted there by the Prince George's police department to recruit Spanish-speaking officers. In 2001, he moved to the county and began working as a police officer, but switched to the sheriff's department in 2003.
Playing Multiple Roles
Carr rang the bell in front of the high-rise brick apartment building and stood back. It was 8 a.m., and he and Bahena were at the Southview Apartments in Oxon Hill to serve a man with an order to leave his home. His wife accused him of slapping and choking her in the complaint she had filed against him eight hours earlier, at the court commissioner's office inside the county police substation at the Eastover Shopping Center on Indian Head Highway.
A groggy voice came over the loudspeaker.
"Prince George's County sheriff," Carr said. "Please open the door."
The buzzer sounded and the deputies headed into the building. The tenant, whom deputies had spoken with earlier, was expecting their visit. A roach crawled up the wall as they waited for the elevator. A man wiping sleep from his eyes met them at the door of a third-floor apartment.
As often occurs, the man had filed his own order against his wife. He wanted the deputies to serve her. He was not understanding that he was the subject of interest.
"This is her order taken out on you," Carr told the man.
Why hadn't she been served, the man wanted to know. He said he had been told at the court commissioner's office that whoever got to their apartment first would be allowed to stay. He had been arrested after the couple allegedly fought in their car the previous night in Charles County.
"I just got home after 6 a.m.," the man said. "I came home because they told me that whoever was here would get to stay. I came here. She went somewhere else, so I should be allowed to stay. This is my house."
Actually, Bahena said, the first one served with the stay-away order would have to go. Although both had filed complaints, the order that she filed against him was being taken care of first, the deputies explained.
"So, technically, by law, we need you to leave," Carr said.
But everything in the house was his, the man said. He had married her only four months before. She had been through a bad divorce and he had tried to help her. He was helping her take care of her granddaughter, he said.
The apartment floor was littered with children's items and toys.
"I'm just going to say this again. Everything you see in here, with the exception of her clothes, I paid for," the man said, a bewildered look on his face. "This is all mine."
Bahena took his turn. "You will get to explain that in court. You need to take a few things, like your toothbrush, because you won't be allowed to come back until after you go to court."
The man finished dressing and headed out on foot. His car had been impounded when he was arrested earlier, so he had no transportation.
"I hope he doesn't come back, because if he does, he would violate the order and we'd have to take him to jail," Bahena said. "Sometimes people leave, but if they think no one is there, they'll try to sneak back in. They don't understand that the order means they have to stay away from the home until they go back to court, if anyone else is home or not."
The next stop was the court commissioner's office, which is sandwiched between small stores and businesses at Eastover Shopping Center. A court commissioner waits for people to come for assistance. Carr and Bahena were checking on the warrant for the Oxon Hill man's wife when they discovered that a mistake in the paperwork had invalidated his petition. They also discovered that the woman had filed a second complaint in connection with the same incident at the courthouse in Upper Marlboro.
"A lot of times they will shop around," Carr said. "If they don't get the vacate order in one place, they will go to another place and try to get more sympathy from another judge or commissioner."
By 9:30 a.m., they were back in their white unmarked cruiser on their way to Greenbelt to serve a vacate order on a woman accused of grabbing her husband around the collar, stopping him from breathing. But when deputies arrived at the apartment, two Greenbelt police squad cars were already there.
"I want him arrested, because I have a paper that says he can't come back here, and he came here," the woman told the officers. "I want him arrested."
Carr rolled his eyes slightly as he checked the papers the woman handed him. Sure enough, she had received a vacate order against him as well as a warrant accusing him of second-degree battery. The deputies walked toward a bedroom, where the two Greenbelt police officers were talking to the man.
A few minutes later, the man tried desperately to explain to the deputies that he had done nothing. "I would never hurt her," he said, looking near tears. "I take care of our daughter. I pick her up from school, feed her, give her a bath, so she can sleep because she has a night job . . . I would never do anything to her."
Carr chatted with the man as Bahena drove them toward the Hyattsville jail, where the man would have to stay until he appeared before a judge for violating the vacate order and to answer to the battery charge.
"Why did you go over there?" Carr asked.
The man shook his head. A tattoo on his arm read "Ghetto Prisoner."
"I don't know, man," he said. "I thought I had done what I needed to do."
His wife, he said, had called him early that morning and asked him to come over with copies of the papers he had filed against her. "She said she wanted to see them before the police got there," the man said. "She set me up."
Carr shook his head.
"Sometimes, you just need to give it some space," Carr told him. "When you get this taken care of, maybe you should go on back to the District and stay there and let her stay here. Sometimes it's better to just move on like that."
At the jail, the man was searched, fingerprinted and photographed. His possessions, including a wallet with $15, a watch, a belt and a set of keys were placed in a large Manila envelope. Some white powder in a plastic bag turned out to be a sexual stimulant, not drugs, the deputies said.
Carr and Bahena headed to their next case, an emergency psychiatric placement at Prince George's Hospital Center. When deputies arrived, the woman, who had allegedly threatened her father with a long knife while holding her 7-month-old son in her lap, was swearing at and threatening hospital staffers. A second psychiatric case later in the day would bring them back to help guard a woman who claimed that people were trying to kill her.
"We stay busy," Bageant said, crediting his unit for its "unparalleled work ethic."
"They get out there and perform, day after day after day, hour after hour," he said.
Bahena said he leaves his work at the office. Recently remarried, he said the work has not soured him on relationships.
"We see everything," Bahena said. "I guess it just doesn't surprise me. I don't let it affect me."
The deputies said the job requires them to be part police officer, part parent and part social worker. Everyone wants to tell their side of the story, so within limits, they listen, even as they nudge the person to do what they need them to do.
"You let them talk, and you keep gently reminding them that they have to go and that they won't be allowed back for however many days, and they want to make sure to have enough clothes, socks, underwear and their everyday items," Carr said. "Sometimes they just need someone to hear them."
But, unlike Bahena, Carr said the work has shattered some of his illusions about relationships.
"I'm single, and I'll probably never get married after doing this job," he said. "I can't believe how people who are supposed to love each other sometimes act toward each other."