More than two weeks later, they’re still fuming.
Can’t say I blame them.
Dora McCain lives in a quiet neighborhood on the southwest edge of Akron, hard by the Towpath Trail. She has lived there for 45 years.
She volunteers as a guardian ad litem, working with abused and neglected children.
Two of her cousins are in the CIA. Two of her grandchildren are in the Army. Her dad was a cop.
Bert Harper lives two doors down, his residence for 58 years. He is an 85-year-old veteran of the Marine Corps who fought in the Korean War.
Harper thought he was back in a war zone one weekday morning when men in black vests and SWAT-type gear were beating on his doors so hard that he feared the doors would break.
They were beating on his doors after they had beaten on McCain’s doors.
Both homeowners say they were frightened, intimidated and, eventually, extremely angry.
As they sat side-by-side on McCain’s sofa on Wednesday, they presented virtually the same story.
The situation came about because McCain’s 45-year-old son has a problem with alcohol.
Mind you, his mother doesn’t. Nor does Harper. We’re not sure about the rest of the neighborhood, but as far as we know nobody else has gotten multiple DUIs and failed to show up in court on the latest one, as was the case with McCain’s son, Randy Johnson.
Johnson is rarely in the neighborhood. He gets his mail at his mother’s house because he spends most of his life on the road, working as a carpenter all over the country for a company that builds commercial structures.
But the Ohio State Highway Patrol didn’t know any of that. The patrol had an address on a piece of paper, and that was good enough for them.
The banging began shortly after 10 a.m.
“I was trying to figure out what it was, and then they came around to the side door and they’re pound, pound, pounding,” McCain says. “It scared me really bad, because it sounded like they were trying to open the door.
“I thought maybe someone got killed in a car wreck or something. But I hadn’t had a visual of what was going on yet. So I went over and opened those blinds [on the door] and it was like, Dang! It was scary. I have a concealed weapon permit. I know guns. But I’ve never seen assault guns like that.”
She says the man was rude and arrogant.
“I said, ‘Who are you and what are you doing.’ He said, ‘I’m a trooper.’
“I said, ‘You mean state trooper?’ He didn’t answer.”
She says he was acting as if he were going to push in the door.
“I said, ‘Can you tell me why you’re here?’ He said, ‘Do you know Randy Johnson?’?”
Turns out Johnson’s most recent DUI stop was made by — you guessed it — the Highway Patrol.
After they left McCain’s house, they walked around the neighborhood, banging on other doors. Finally, they got back into the SUV and drove off.
Says McCain: “I sat here for three hours to get my composure. I thought to myself, ‘Is this a sign of the times? Is this martial law?’ It’s like, ‘Did this just happen in my neighborhood?’”
After she regained her composure, she called the Akron Police Department, still uncertain what agency the “troopers” were working for. She says the officer she talked to (she can’t remember his name) told her, “We are having a lot of trouble with them going around for low-level crimes and intimidating people,” and urged her to call OSHP headquarters in Columbus to complain.
Akron Police Chief James Nice says he personally hasn’t heard other accusations along these lines, but he also says he wouldn’t necessarily be aware of them.
McCain took the APD’s advice and called Columbus, reaching a sergeant connected to something called the Special Response Team. McCain says the officer told her his men simply wouldn’t act that way.
She says she told him she wanted to file a report and he told her she couldn’t.
McCain’s neighbor was equally shocked.
“I’ve always had the greatest admiration for the State Highway Patrol,” says Harper, who fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a 17-day nightmare in freezing weather that was one of the most crucial campaigns of the war.
“They’re a very professional operation. In fact, when I got out of the Marine Corps, I actually went down and took some tests because I was thinking about joining them.”
He decided not to, he says, because he was going to college at the time and dating the woman who would become his wife, and the patrol wanted him to go to Cincinnati, which he didn’t want to do.
“But I’ve always had a lot of respect for them,” he adds.
He has a lot less respect now.
“The first thing that came to my mind was stormtroopers,” Harper says.
“If they needed to do this, the appropriate way to do it would be to send a regular Highway Patrol car with uniformed officers so you knew who they are.
“The police today have a problem with the public’s perception of them, and this is certainly not a way to improve that.”
When asked why the patrol didn’t just send a marked car with uniformed officers, patrol spokesman Lt. Rob Sellers replied, “All of our warrants are served by our Special Response Team. That way we can keep marked units and marked troopers out on the road, contributing to our roadway safety mission.”
Sellers says he reviewed the case and found nothing out of the ordinary.
So they normally pound so hard that people like Harper are afraid their doors are going to shatter?
“Those were his words, ‘pounding on the door.’ But we don’t beat on doors unmercifully,” Sellers says. “That’s not the way we operate.”
In fact, he says, the officers “have the lawful right to go into the residence and search the residence, but we didn’t even do that.”
Sellers also says the troopers were not driving a black SUV but a silver Tahoe, the same color as the agency’s squad cars.
But McCain, Harper and another neighbor, Katie Reischman, swear the SUV was black, and also unmarked.
Reischman, a flight attendant, was walking her dogs during the raid. When she encountered the troopers, she says, two of the men were on foot with a third driving slowly nearby.
The men approached her, showed her a photo of the wanted man and asked whether she had seen him. She hadn’t.
“They didn’t identify themselves,” she adds.
When I told the patrol’s Sellers that I thought this was way over the top for a DUI warrant, he replied, “They [SRT officers] serve all our warrants, even if it’s a seatbelt warrant. ... It doesn’t make sense to send marked units and take them away from the road to serve warrants.”
Seems to me it makes far less sense to terrify people who for all their lives have been squarely behind law enforcement but today are wondering, as McCain is, whether we are segueing into “martial law.”
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.