Yvette Roullier sounds like the Parisian stage name of a Folies Bergère stripper. But as Chuck Berry sang to us, ya never can tell. Who would think a woman with the dulcet name of Mata Hari or the prim name of Edith Cavell would get firing squads?
Yvette Roullier (rule-yea) has the soft sound of a flute solo. However, a local woman who carries that name is a 6-foot ex-cop and maybe a poster model for a female Marine.
First day on the job, 1989. The 27-year-old former Marine (what'd I tell ya?) is a Chula Vista Police Department rookie. She walks into her first roll call and commandeers a comfortable chair. Sure enough, along comes a burly cop who says, "That's my chair."
Great opportunity to show deference by jumping up with an apology.
But not for Yvette. "I don't see your name on it," she says with jut-jaw defiance and without moving.
"Were you crazy?" she is asked 27 years later in her City Heights home. Now a retired Chula Vista sergeant, she's lost none of her moxie. Well, maybe a bit. It's hard to keep that edge into middle age.
Of the chair incident: "I didn't care about the chair, but as a woman, I didn't want to give in and show weakness. They probably already thought I was weak. I think I gained a little respect."
The thing is, she wasn't a hard-shell feminist. She just wanted to be one of the guys.
She bonded with her first patrol training officer, who let her drive and do most of the work. At one point he asked for her nationality. She told him - French and Indian, the Flathead tribe.
He told her he was also Indian - Flipaho tribe. For two weeks, she wondered where the Flipaho tribe was located. She finally asked another cop, who set her straight: "He's not Indian, he's Filipino."
She answered a call with Sgt. Bob Conrad at a house where a man had collapsed and appeared (correctly) to be dead. Medics had not arrived, so she started pounding on the dead man's chest. That left Conrad to wipe the spittle from the man's lips and do mouth-to-mouth. (This was before the mouth insert came along.)
The man's wife then told them her husband had hepatitis C.
Later, Conrad reminded Yvette that the protocol is for the sergeant to do the chest and the rookie to do mouth-to-mouth. She replied, "Well, sarge, I figured you're older, so you've got less time to live anyway."
What did he say to that?
"Oh, he just laughed and walked away."
Another time, she arrested Major League Baseball player Kevin Mitchell on a rape charge. Just before handcuffing him, she asked for his autograph. (Mitchell's girlfriend later dropped her complaint).
"I still have the autograph," she says with a laugh.
Until she took her pension in December, Yvette went through the chairs of patrol, family protection (sex crimes, family violence, child abuse), white-collar crimes and sergeant in charge of homicide.
She wasn't exactly an adrenaline junkie, but if excitement started to pass her by, she'd run to catch up.
She hated family-fight calls because they threw her into the middle of angry emotions. Inevitably after tempers cooled, both combatants wanted her to stop meddling in their business and go away.
Often the difficulty was figuring out who the abuser was, so she looked for evidence of violence. If both parties had marks on them, she would arrest both and let the district attorney sort it out. It was not uncommon for the woman to be the aggressor.
The cultural polyglot of Chula Vista can complicate domestic-abuse calls.
"I dealt with Middle Eastern families in those situations. Their culture doesn't always see domestic violence as we see it. Some men feel they have the right to beat their wives. They see that as their culture.
"When I'd go on a call, I didn't want to stand around and argue about culture. I got into a confrontation with a male Middle Eastern man based on that. He told me he had every right to hit his wife.
"I said, ‘You don't in this country.' We ended up arresting him. I'm not going to stand there and argue with him very long."
Not every citizen she encountered was a Rhodes scholar, and the idiots she ran afoul of would often give her stories for the next day's roll call.
"During a domestic-disturbance call, I was backed up against a wall by the male half, with his face inches from mine, while he shouted at me to get out of his house. I pushed him back and told him to shut the ---- up and sit down.
"He went absolutely crazy. He ran to the phone and called 911 to report my foul language. He also had a large knife in a sheath on his belt. Another officer showed up and reached toward the knife to secure it. The suspect pulled away and reached for the knife, too. The officer pulled out his gun and pointed it at the suspect's head. I reached in and ripped the knife from his belt.
"Here's the kicker: The guy filed a complaint that was followed by a $1 million lawsuit against me for foul language. Dismissed, of course."
She has other stories guaranteed to elicit guffaws at cop gatherings, especially those with sufficient lubrication.
MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) would fire off a chastening email were I to say drunken driving is funny. However, the antics of people who get behind wheels they shouldn't are infectious of both head shakes and laughs.
"One time, I pull over a guy. It's pouring down rain, and he's got his window rolled down. His head's practically sticking out the window. It's obvious he's probably drunk, so I pull him over, and sure enough he's slurring. I ask for his driver's license and registration. He reaches in the glove box, kind of fiddles a little bit, grabs a piece of paper, looks at it, hands it to me and I look at it. I say, ‘So this is your registration?' He says yes. I say, ‘Well, are you Mr. SDG&E or do you want me to pay this bill?'"
Yvette is a lesbian. However, at first she let other cops believe she was married. For maybe four years, she tried to keep her sexuality under wraps. But as it gradually became apparent, she realized that no one seemed to much care.
One veteran officer named Tommy wasn't exactly Dick Tracy on the matter.
"Years after I joined, we were at a police association conference. We were all three in the elevator with my girlfriend, and it just dawned on him at that point that I was gay. He's like, ‘When did this happen?' I'm like, ‘It didn't just happen, Tommy. It's been this way for years.' He's, ‘No, it hasn't! You were married!' I'm like, ‘No, I wasn't. I lied.' Honestly, we argued for 20 minutes. Then I saw him just before my retirement party, and he goes, ‘I still can't believe you're gay.' I'm like, ‘I am, Tommy. I promise.'"
Are you married now?
"No. I have a girlfriend. We've been together seven years. I did ask her to marry me at my retirement party. She said yes, so we'll see if that happens. She owns a ‘mostly gay' bar in North Park."
Why do so many cops get divorced?
"I think it's because of the demands of the job, and marriage isn't easy to begin with. Then you have the stress you deal with every day. People would be surprised what we have to look at, and the people that we have to deal with.
"One of things that I wanted to do when I started was to become a really neat, friendly cop. Then once you start the job, you realize it's hard to maintain that. You got the victims that are lying to you, the witnesses that have lied to you, and you certainly expect that the suspects are going to lie to you.
"Then you come home at the end of the day, and maybe your spouse is in a poor mood and is making demands about dinner or sex or whatever. Maybe just ignoring you altogether. You want to talk about your day and - nothing.
"Then drinking. It's easy to turn to alcohol in this profession. Why? The stress is a big part of it. From what I've heard, cops, doctors and dentists have the worst stress."
Stress is always waiting around the corner. Once, she was alerted to an armed bank robbery near where she was patrolling. Pursuit of the suspect started in a foot chase and ended in self-doubt.
The robber turned on her with gun in hand. She pulled her own and aimed. He turned away and resumed running. She drew a bead on his back. However, she lowered her weapon and resumed the chase.
The suspect tried to escape by climbing a tree, which might not have been the best plan. He was captured without the gun, which was recovered after he had ditched it along the way.
Should Yvette have taken the shot? She would have been justified. He was armed and already shown to be dangerous to the public.
Even years later, the matter gives her pause. "Did his turning and running make me question myself? Yeah, it did, absolutely. Did I do the right thing? Should I have pulled the trigger? Had he turned and shot at me, would I have had time to get my shot off? If I had it to do over again, would I change it? I don't know."
The dog that couldn't shoot straight: Another time, Yvette was investigating a shooting in which the gunman threw his weapon out a car window into heavy brush. She called in a K-9 unit to search for it.
As the dog sniffed through the undergrowth, Yvette and her team relaxed - until, that is, they were shocked by a gunshot.
The shooter was the dog, which had found the gun and pawed at it, hitting the trigger. The handler was almost shot in the foot, and was the only one not laughing.
You can't pin an attempted murder rap on a dog because it won't confess, and it's difficult to prove a motive.
Yvette can enjoy her retirement knowing she has the goodwill of the cops she worked with, the gratitude of citizens she helped and the muttering enmity of some unsavory folks she once met that you won't have to meet because they're currently unavailable.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]