Upon their release back into society, some ex-cons find retaining their freedom is largely a matter of marshaling inner resolve and reforming. Others less enamored with notions of conformity emerge from incarceration with their sociopathology intact, but no less committed to the prospect of retaining their liberty. That their natures and goals might be antagonistic to one another is moot: They are what they are. They will do what they have to do.
Case in point, Donald Graham. On paper Graham hardly rendered the most intimidating of sketches: 44 hard-earned years behind him, not much promise ahead of him, and at 5 feet 8 inches and 165 pounds, no heavyweight contender.
But some things can't be broken down by words or numbers, and Graham's formidable toughness was one of them. Seemingly as insensate to his own pain as that he inflicted on others, Graham also possessed a reputation as a man who backed his words. And no promise meant more to him than the one he'd made his wife that he'd never go back to prison. He'd do what he had to do.
So when a Clackamas County deputy sheriff attempted to stop the Grahams' car on the afternoon of Dec. 15, 2005, it came as no surprise to Mrs. Graham that her husband immediately jumped out of the vehicle and fled on foot, leaving her to face the authorities for a vehicular hit and run.
Sgt. Pete Tutmark of the Clackamas County (Ore.) Sheriff's Office was on his way to work when he copied radio traffic advising of Graham's flight and that a containment had been effected in a rural area near Sunnyside Road. Responding to the command post, Tutmark began assisting in a search with his K-9, a Belgian Malinois named "Rex."
Rex picked up a scent and started tracking. But as the minutes ticked by and the weather worsened, the scent quickly dissipated and the mission evolved from a tracking search to an area search. When two hours had passed and the only thing the searchers had to show for it was chattering teeth, the decision was made to break down the containment.
Returning to the station to warm up, Tutmark learned that detectives' conversations with Graham's wife and daughter had proved profitable.
Tutmark now knew that somewhere in the darkness was an ex-con who had only months before been released from prison. The conviction that had put him there in the first place stemmed from Graham's violent assault of two coastal officers two decades before. One of the Oregon officers had been kicked in the head so viciously that he'd nearly died, and to this day suffered recurrent headaches from the attack.
Shortly after 8:30 p.m., a call came into the station from an elderly woman. The informant told dispatch that she lived near the area that had been searched earlier and that a man in his 40s wearing a dark jacket had just knocked on her door. The stranger had mentioned something about "cops looking for somebody" and that she should call the police station. The man had then slipped off into the darkness.
Donald Graham had reemerged on the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office radar.[PAGEBREAK]
As the call coincided with shift change, Tutmark joined Sgt. Paul Steigleder, Dep. Tom Schaffer, and Dep. Doug Burgess in responding to the informant's location.
Burgess advised that while he was game to assist with the search, he was coming down with a pretty bad case of the flu. Tutmark told him to stay inside the patrol car, figuring the ready availability of a manned patrol unit would give them more tactical latitude should Graham resume his flight.
With Burgess and the rest of their cars parked about half a mile from the informant's residence, the officers trekked uphill to where her property abutted the area previously searched. They worked their way up the long driveway and reached the top when Rex alerted to a human scent just as Sgt. Steigleder saw a man out in the field.
By this time the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees, and with 20 to 30 mph winds buffeting them, neither man nor dog really wanted to be out there.
Neither did Graham, and when they called to him he suddenly bolted for a fence at the property line. Announcing that he was going to release the dog, Tutmark then made good on his word.
Rex rapidly closed the distance, engaging Graham with the kind of solid, full-mouth leg bite that'd brought bigger men to their knees.
On this, Graham proved no different, and seeing that the man was down, Tutmark caught up with the dog and seized its collar. He ordered Rex to release his bite as Steigleder and Schaffer moved in to cuff the man.
But here Graham deviated from the script. He did not cry tears of relief at his emancipation from the canine's jaws as many a man had before him. Rather, he suddenly sprang upright, throwing both Steigleder and Schaffer off him.
Steigleder stepped back and deployed his TASER. But the weapon proved ineffective. A split-second later Steigleder's knee failed him, too, and he went down.
Graham wanted to get away from Rex. He initiated a series of violent kicks and punches to the tenacious dog. In doing so, Graham was exhibiting a power Tutmark normally associated with people who were either psychologically compromised or under the influence of powerful drugs.
Rex-85 pounds of canine fury-let go momentarily then re-engaged, clamping down hard on Graham's leg.
Unless he'd actually known that Rex had tethered himself to Graham, Tutmark wouldn't have guessed it. The ex-con dragged the dog with him at will as he lunged for Dep. Schaffer.
What Graham wanted was the rifle in Schaffer's hands, and Schaffer was relieved to retain control of it after a tug of war with the suspect. But having extricated himself from Graham's grasp, Schaffer now found himself in no man's land: Committed to maintaining control of the rifle, yet impotent to put it or anything else into tactical play.
Meanwhile, Graham's attentions reverted back to removing a distraction: Rex.
Dropping to the ground, Graham resumed a series of vicious kicks to the dog's head, as Tutmark repeatedly struck at the man with his ASP without effect.[PAGEBREAK]
TASER and ASP
Rex was hanging in there valiantly, but Tutmark knew the dog was close to being out of the fight. Steigleder was already pulling up with severe leg and back pain from prior injuries; Schaffer was encumbered with a rifle that remained effectively up for grabs. Worse, none of them had any idea as to what kinds of weapons Graham might have on him.
The situation was quickly becoming desperate. Tutmark redirected at that point and administered head strikes to the ex-con with his ASP. But these blows, too, were brushed off by Graham as effortlessly as he had the TASER, the dog, and all the blows previously administered upon him.
Instead of showing any signs of wearing down, Graham seemed to be getting stronger, despite the otherwise debilitating cold that stabbed at the limbs of the assembled officers. The man charged at Tutmark, extending both hands outward in a bid to encircle the sergeant's legs and take him down. Tutmark compensated, kicking Graham dead center in the chest and knocking the man down.
A split-second later Graham was back on his feet and facing Tutmark. Rex was still hanging onto his leg, but plainly spent. Tutmark had a terrifying epiphany just then: They were all spent-everyone and everything save for Graham.
Tutmark's spirits were dropping as precipitously as the thermometer. He wasn't one to panic and enjoyed a reputation as the level-headed guy that his deputies wanted with them when the chips were down. But in his heart he knew that he'd given the man his best shot, and at any moment Graham would be in a position to take a firearm away from any one of them. He decided to go for his own first.
Tutmark had long ago made peace with the prospect of having to use deadly force if the circumstances warranted it. The only reason that Graham was in a position to take them on was because the bastard hadn't been put down years before when he should have. If a similar amnesty was made tonight, three more officers' names could end up on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Tutmark wasn't going to make that mistake.
With Schaffer and Steigleder off to his right, Tutmark figured he had as clear a shot as he was going to get given the confines of the environment. He aimed his gun at Graham and squeezed the trigger.
Between the frigid conditions and getting his hand twisted in the dog's collar when he'd taken it off, Tutmark's trigger finger had frozen up. To compensate, he moved his middle finger to get enough strength to activate the trigger of the .40 caliber Glock 22 just as Graham started to spin away from him.[PAGEBREAK]
A single round pierced the night air and Graham dropped where he'd stood. Tutmark's fellow officers secured Graham pending the arrival of paramedics who pronounced the man dead shortly thereafter.
The Grand Jury
Tutmark had never had any prior contact with Graham, but he'd known his kind. Freshly back on the street with his jailhouse muscle and an attitude to match. But each of the officers present that day was unaccustomed to seeing someone seemingly inured to the pain that was no doubt being inflicted upon him, and more than one would later express disbelief at Graham's commitment to engage the officers irrespective of the dog's bite to his leg.
It was that superhuman quality exhibited by Graham that found Tutmark momentarily taken aback by how quickly the fight had gone out of the man. But then Graham's life had gone out of him, too: The Gold Dot ammo had done its job, entering the soft tissue of Graham's back and blowing out his aorta.
When it came to the grand jury, Tutmark was candid: Having given Graham all they could-a K-9, a TASER, ASP strikes to the head-they were collectively spent and out of options.
"There was still the possibility of a weapon take-away. He almost took me down. He held onto my legs. I was lucky that I was able to take a step back and kick him, otherwise he would have gotten me tangled up and he would have been all over me," Tutmark says.
Tutmark said it came down to either letting Graham go and running the risk of one or several cops getting shot, or taking the man out. The grand jury was sympathetic to his contention.
Given the viciousness that Graham had displayed 20 years before and that 20 years later Graham had picked up right where he'd left off, the sympathy was well warranted.
Tutmark gives props to the two men who were with him, particularly Steigleder who, despite being in considerable pain, kept on fighting. Tutmark says that he and the other officers on scene learned a valuable lesson that night.
"When my cover guys were first trying to take him into custody, Graham put his hands underneath himself," he reflects. "The officers were having trouble getting his hands out. I took the dog off either before they got his hands out or he put his hands back underneath himself after I took the dog off.
"In situations where people might be armed, I don't take the dog off until the guy is handcuffed. We simulate that in training, and I've had it in real life. That was a real lesson learned."
One might reasonably wonder to what extent officer safety training programs should incorporate fighting in inclement conditions. True, Graham seemed inured to such factors, but toxicology tests might explain away his seemingly supernatural strength: He'd been under the influence of cannabis and opiates. Officers lacking such numbed advantages may want to compensate by recognizing just what they may be up against ahead of time.
All of the officers returned to work in a relatively short period of time and none have had any long-term physical or emotional complications as a result of the incident. But a second or two's hesitancy on Tutmark's part and the outcome might not have proven so favorable.