Local News

April 27, 2014

‘Every night is something different’

Police officer enjoys working the streets

Editor’s note: Staff writer Misty Watson was able to ride along with Dalton Police Officer Grant Mantooth during his shift last Wednesday. This is her report.

A man once tried to insist that a woman was giving his cat drugs.

Grant Mantooth, an officer with the Dalton Police Department, responded to the call.

“The guy insisted his cat was on dope because it was licking itself,” Mantooth said. “He said, ‘I know that cat, and that cat is on dope.’”

No two nights are ever alike for Mantooth. But that’s part of the appeal of being on patrol for the Dalton Police Department.

“Every night is something different,” said the Dalton native who has worked as an officer off and on since 1993. “It’s why I enjoy it so much. I’m not going to an office.”

He has also worked for the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, the Varnell and Cohutta police departments, and Julian Peeples Funeral Home.

Last Wednesday night was pretty typical for Mantooth. There was a mix of calls ranging from an injured dog to an unruly 7-year-old, a welfare check on an elderly woman, a fender bender and a physical domestic disturbance, and several other calls in between.

Mantooth is currently assigned to second shift: 3:15 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. Officers rotate among first, second and third shift every six months.

The shift begins with roll call. All the officers on shift — no fewer than six — meet with their shift supervisor around a large triangle table. Wednesday night’s supervisor was Sgt. Steve Zahn.

The men discussed baseball before the meeting began. They teased each other, a friendly banter.

Then everyone got quiet as Zahn took his seat to fill the men in on a man who had been causing trouble in a neighborhood. Zahn warned them to leave their cameras and microphones rolling because the man is known for lying.

They discussed other situations and talked about how well the previous night’s four-hour standoff at a carpet mill downtown had gone. A man said to be armed and intoxicated had barricaded himself in his office, but officers eventually coaxed him out and he was taken to the hospital for evaluation. No one was injured.

“You did a good job,” one cop said. “Your arms are probably sore from holding those rifles.”

Zahn warned the men that with the weather improving and warming up, more people will start going outside and the number of calls will pick up. Then he sent them off to start patrol.

3:40 p.m. Mantooth is in his patrol car. He’s assigned to the south side of town. It’s a large area that includes Walnut Avenue, Abutment Road, the south part of Hamilton Street and Tibbs Road. The city is divided into south, east and west. Dividing lines are the railroad tracks and Walnut Avenue.

Officers talk about problem areas, put together reports and come up with action plans, police spokesman Bruce Frazier said.

“If you see a big concentration of crashes at an intersection, you’ll see more officers patrolling that area,” he said.

If there is an area with several break-ins, officers will watch that area more frequently.

Mantooth heads toward Walnut Square Mall. There have been times when cars parked there have been broken into, though it hasn’t been a problem lately, he said as he circled through the parking lot.

“We patrol to make our presence known,” Mantooth said.

4 p.m. Mantooth likes to work traffic, and third shift is his favorite. He likes making sure the streets are safe from speeders, reckless drivers and those driving under the influence of alcohol.

“I like to DUI hunt,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of innocent people hurt by DUI. I want to get them off the road.”

Mantooth knows that a lot of people don’t like seeing cops watching for speeders, especially along Walnut Avenue, but it’s one of the most dangerous streets in the area.

“There were 17 crashes in Dalton in the last two weeks,” he said while watching traffic on the corner of Lester and Walnut avenues. “Ten of them were on Walnut Avenue. That’s 59 percent. That’s why we watch Walnut Avenue so much.”

Mantooth watches for people not wearing their seat belts. Some people nod or wave at him as they drive by.

Sometimes just being on the road slows people down, even if officers aren’t running radar, he said.

4:06 p.m. Dispatch calls Mantooth to respond to an unruly 7-year-old.

A woman is sitting on her porch explaining she needs someone to talk to the child. The family is going through a tough time with a sickness, and she needs someone else to help explain why the child should behave.

Mantooth sits down inside the house to talk to the child about what is going on and why. He listens to the child and talks about appropriate behavior. He gives the child a high-five and a sticker. And he tells the woman, as a parent of an 8-year-old, he understands.

“Kids love those stickers,” Mantooth says back in the car. “I always keep them with me. It is the fastest way to get them to quit crying.”

4:26 p.m. Mantooth patrols an apartment complex where he responds to several calls a week. He waves to children playing outside on a playground.

4:38 p.m. Mantooth patrols the parking lot at Kroger on Walnut Avenue. It’s a crowded area with a lot of traffic in and out.

4:54 p.m. Dispatch calls Mantooth to a welfare check on an elderly lady. It was a misunderstanding on a phone prompt, for which she apologizes. She thanks Mantooth for checking on her and said she’s glad to see them patrolling her neighborhood. She said she loves the police.

5:17 p.m. Mantooth watches the intersection of Walnut and Thornton avenues. It’s crowded as people try to get home from work. Mantooth is watching for people not wearing seat belts and any other traffic violations. He’s also watching closely for people turning right on red off South Dixie Highway onto Walnut Avenue. Even though it’s clearly posted not to turn right on red, people often do, he said.

“There are a lot of accidents at this intersection,” Mantooth said. “People are going 40 to 50 mph on Walnut through a green light and someone turns right on red and gets rear-ended.”

5:21 p.m. Someone turns right onto Walnut Avenue on red. Mantooth pulls behind him, turns on his lights and pulls into the turning lane at Glenwood Avenue behind the driver. Mantooth lets the driver off with a warning. The driver responds with a handshake and a “thank you.”

“My goal is to have them all say ‘thank you,’ even if I give them a ticket,” Mantooth said. “It’s all in how you talk to them.”

5:29 p.m. Mantooth goes back to Walnut and Lester avenues to watch traffic. Rush hour traffic is starting to die down, but not even 10 minutes later, he sees someone not wearing a seat belt and pulls them over.

The man doesn’t have a reason for not wearing his seat belt. Mantooth explains the law to him and gives him a warning.

In his computer, Mantooth can see when drivers have been issued warnings by the city, and he takes that into account when deciding between a warning and a ticket. He says that’s not the only factor, but if someone has been warned for speeding three times, then they’re more likely to get a ticket than someone who has never received one before.

5:48 p.m. Dispatch says there’s a wreck at Thornton and Walnut avenues. There are no injuries but one of the drivers is becoming irate.

“Guess I left that intersection too soon,” Mantooth says.

A driver rear-ended another when he reached down for his water. Officer Jacob Allen cited one of the drivers for following too closely. It was a minor fender bender, and the two drivers had originally planned to just exchange information and not involve the law. But when the younger driver became irate, the other man decided it was best to bring the police in.

6:14 p.m. Dispatch says there’s an animal who has been hit by a car and is still alive. Mantooth says people often call for help because they don’t know what else to do in this situation. Local veterinarians’ offices are already closed for the day. And since it’s against the law to discharge a firearm within the city limits, owners can’t quickly end the animal’s suffering. So they call the cops for help.

Mantooth and Officer David Saylors try to help the woman find a vet’s office that is still open. They’ve found one in Chattanooga, but she has no means of transportation. The dog is bleeding from its head and in pain. She asks the officers to take the dog and kill it for her because it’s the most humane thing to do at this point.

It’s not a part of the job officers like, Frazier said. Sometimes it has to be done though.

7 p.m. Dinner time. Mantooth and Saylors decide to meet at Buckin’ Burrito downtown. They have 30 minutes to eat before going back on shift, and only two officers are allowed to check out for dinner at a time.

7:08 p.m. Before Saylors arrives for dinner, dispatch calls Mantooth to respond to a suspicious vehicle in a remote neighborhood along the edge of the city limits. Mantooth speaks with the residents and agrees to increase patrols in the area. He makes as many notes about the driver and vehicle as are available to him and says he’ll notify other officers to monitor the vehicle if they see it.

7:30 p.m. Mantooth patrols the neighborhood to see that the vehicle is gone from the area. Officers drive around with their windows at least cracked, if not all the way down, year round. They do it so they can listen for distress as well as watch for it.

7:50 p.m. Dinner time (again). The officers want to sit facing the door.

“If someone comes in with a gun shooting, I want first shot,” Mantooth says.

Even when he eats out with his family, he always sits facing the door so he can monitor people coming in and out of the restaurant. Protection and safety are always at the forefront of his thoughts.

Mantooth and Saylors talk about calls, bonfire get-togethers and family. Mantooth shows a text he received from his daughter from his son’s baseball game. Being an officer means missing some games and other activities. That’s another reason third shift is Mantooth’s favorite. He can work while his family sleeps, sleep while his family is at school and then be home with them in the evening.

8:37 p.m. Dispatch calls Mantooth to respond to a drunk man walking under the Walnut Avenue bridge on Hamilton Street who is having chest pains. Emergency management technicians often request police presence for their safety on such calls, Frazier said.

The man was taken away in an ambulance to be evaluated.

8:46 p.m. Mantooth takes a moment to pull into the parking lot at the nearby Office Depot to file his report on the injured dog via his computer. Zahn asks officers to file reports periodically throughout the night instead of waiting until the end of the shift.

8:50 p.m. Mantooth sets out on patrol again. Things seem to be getting quiet for the evening.

“Some nights are busier,” he said. “Some nights are more interesting.”

Mantooth points to a small apartment building and says a woman lives there, and he’s called to respond to a situation there at least once a week. He knows her, and several others associated with her, by name because of dealing with them so often. She’s a known drug user.

Mantooth circles the mall. People are getting off work and walking through mostly deserted parking lots.

He said one woman who worked at a bank used to call officers each time she left for the night. She would wait until the officer pulled into the parking lot to get in her car. Helping people feel safe is part of the job.

Mantooth circles through a neighborhood with dead-end streets. He says people often dump things there, smoke pot or park to make out — or more. He found a couple one afternoon with a towel hanging in one window, but visible from the other windows. They were undressed from the waist up. He told them to find a hotel room.

Mantooth circles through the now mostly empty Kroger parking lot on West Walnut Avenue again. He slows down as he sees two younger guys standing outside a car where a girl is sitting inside.

9:40 p.m. Dispatch says two people, a man and a woman, are physically fighting in the street. The caller advised they were “beating the crap out of each other.” It’s potentially a physical domestic dispute, which are known to escalate quickly.

Mantooth runs code — sirens and blue lights flashing — across Walnut Avenue to Abutment Road. He reaches speeds of 80 mph. The streets are mostly deserted, but he stops at intersections making sure people see and hear him.

“I’d rather get somewhere five seconds later as to accidentally get into a wreck with an innocent family who may have the radio up and not hear my sirens,” he explains later in the evening. “In my younger days I might not have done that. But it’s just not worth it.”

Mantooth isn’t far behind two other officers as he arrives on scene no more than two minutes after the initial call. Behind him, a Whitfield County Sheriff’s deputy pulls in. He says he heard the call and thought he could lend assistance, but he didn’t stay on scene long.

A man and a woman have been separated by the officers. They sit on the curb several feet apart, two officers talking to each person.

Mantooth, Allen, Ben Ridley and Ryan Shope are the officers on the scene. Each takes turns shining their flashlight on the people’s legs and hands. They are looking for signs of a struggle as they talk about what happened. No one has any indication of a physical struggle. Both admit to a small struggle as the man tried to take the woman’s cellphone away. He might have pulled her hair accidentally in the process, he says.

“It’s best to tell us the truth,” Mantooth says to the man. “Now is the time to tell us what happened.”

Allen searches the man, who throws a container of deodorant out of his pocket. Allen tells the man he needs to put some of the deodorant on. Officers had already taken a box cutter away from the man.

Since it’s hard to tell who started the fight and what exactly happened, and since there are no physical signs of abuse, the officers decide to separate the couple for the night instead of arresting them.

Allen goes to make sure the man leaves the home for the night. Shope and Ridley stay with the woman. They are both referred to Magistrate Court if they want to pursue a restraining order.

It’s a situation that third shift will likely be notified of during their roll call, Mantooth says.

10:30 p.m. Third shift is officially on patrol as well. They will take over handling most of the calls. Second shift will continue to provide backup and respond as needed, but their role shifts to patrol and finishing up any reports.

10:45 p.m. Mantooth is called to respond to an apartment building — the one where the known drug user he knows by name lives — because someone complained she was “cooking dope.”

A man opens the door at the apartment and says an expletive and that he was scared by Mantooth’s knock. A woman comes out and talks to Mantooth about everyone inside her apartment and says they were sleeping.

There are no smells of drugs being manufactured coming from her apartment, Mantooth says after he gets back in his car. There was nothing to warrant an arrest.

11 p.m. Mantooth continues with his patrol until he’s off shift for the night.

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