Saturday, July 12, 2014


Because we come unannounced, private investigators sometimes catch people at an awkward moment. Oddly enough, I don't think I have ever interviewed someone who came to the door wearing curlers in their hair, except as some kind of fashion statement in the 'hood. I did have a witness come to the door wearing a full face of nozema, which did startle me at first glance. Oddly enough, she didn't take the mask off the entire interview either. In fact, I don't even know if she realized she had a mask on.

The topper has to be a certain 82 year old juror, hereinafter referred to as juror #5. I interviewed juror #5 one sweltering hot day in the valley. As I strode up to his front door, my eyes were greeted by juror #5's rear end, which was held high up in the air as he leaned over to turn off his sprinklers. Juror #5 was wearing nothing but very small, very tight speedos. I thought for sure he would put on more clothes once we went inside his house. But he had no air conditioning and it must have been 110 degrees that day. When his wife walked into the room, I thought she'd insist he cover up. But no such luck. I got to see every wrinkle on juror #5's body the entire interview. As it turned out, Juror #5 couldn't remember much about the trial I came to interview him about, likely due to juror #5 having sat on nearly 20 juries since retirement. I sure hope he wore actual clothing all those days he spent sitting in the jury box.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Curbside Mentor

Originally uploaded by John Gevers
For the most part, I don't know if I would recognize the vast majority of my former witnesses if I passed them on the street tomorrow. And vice versa, I'm sure. After so many years of doing the work, most of my witnesses' faces and stories escape me.

Sometimes, however, I make a strong connection with someone in the course of their time as my witness. These are the folks who pop into my head from time to time as I'm driving in my car or trying to go to sleep. The ones whose story got under my skin.

There's one young man in particular, we'll call him Solomon. I met him in the course of a murder investigation. I remember being immediately struck by his well rounded personality, sense of humor and just the presence of this young man. Raised only by his grandmother, on one of South Central's most notorious blocks, Solomon had formerly been involved with gangs, which is what brought me to his door step as a witness.

Solomon was one of the lucky ones. He's smart, and he's still alive. And, he has a mentor. His mentor is an African American man who runs the business where Solomon works. His boss is determined to save Solomon from the neighborhood and death that surrounds them. Last I spoke to Solomon, he was going to a junior college with some money he had won from a wrongful arrest lawsuit. I still periodically check to see if he is in custody. Happily, he appears to remain arrest free. There's someone listed on the internet by Solomon's name who is a computer programmer now. I'm going to assume that's my Solomon, and that he has been successful in escaping gangs, death and unemployment.

The bad thing about being an investigator, is that you are at the end of the line of the criminal justice system. By the time I meet a defendant or a witness, they are already involved in some serious stuff. If I was a teacher instead I'd be meeting the young Solomons of the world in a capacity where I might be able to help change the course of their life before they get involved in all that. However, I have to think it is never too late in someone's life to offer them a helping hand or a kind word. I'm glad I expressed to Solomon what a great kid he was.

Recently, another criminal defense investigator I know was considering whether it was time to mentor another investigator. That got me thinking about whether I should do the same. I meet people from time to time who I think would make great criminal defense investigators. I count my friend Solomon among them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Good Investigator Never Gets Wet

Today it is actually raining here in Southern California. This is about the third day of actual rain this whole year. Really.

An old boss of mine used to always say, "A good investigator never gets wet." I was never completely sure what he meant by that. Is it because a good investigator is always on top of their cases, so they can stay inside drinking hot chocolate on rainy days? Or is it because a good investigator always gets invited into their witness' homes, as opposed to being left standing on the porch in the rain?

I've always found rainy days to be excellent days to cold call a witness. I've also found them to provide an excellent enviornment for staying inside my window-filled office typing reports.

Gosh darn it, I wish we had more of them here in sunny California. It would at least help me get my work done.

Thanks to the "The Bald..." on Flckr for the photo.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fighting for the Condemned

Sometimes the skills we have honed as criminal defense investigators can serve us well in the everyday world.  I recently found out that the beautiful tree pictured above was slated to be removed from in front of an unoccupied house in our historic neighborhood.  What was odd is that the tree did not look unhealthy.  So, I researched further to find out what the owners and the City were saying was wrong with the tree.  After that, I made a few calls to California tree experts who were only too happy to share with me their knowledge and told me what should be done before sending this architectural gem to the gas chamber.

Well last night, I showed up for the public hearing about removing the tree.  I ended up being the only person, besides the owner, to speak on the matter.  Silly me not to realize it was already a done deal before the meeting.  When all was said in done, the result was still the same: the tree will be removed. When it happens, I believe it will be a grave injustice.  But what's new.  

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Moment Before the Moment

People have this misconception that the life of a criminal defense investigator is exciting and glamorous. That's because they don't realize that the work often involves approaching people about very sensitive and uncomfortable subjects. For me, the most stressful part of a sensitive interview is not the moment that I approach the person, but it's the moment before the moment. If you are an investigator, you know what I mean.

Once I have parked in front of the witness' home and gotten out of the car, I can busy my mind with looking at their ramshackle house and lopsided window screens. After I have knocked or rang their bell, there's no escaping that moment of waiting there on the doorstep, not knowing whether to dread or be satisfied with what is about to transpire. Who will answer the door? How will they react to me? Will I be able to explain the importance and necessity of my visit? Will they give me a chance? Will they have been waiting for my visit all along, and be relieved to be able to tell someone that they don't think your client did it? I really dislike that moment.

If the witness is not home, I go through that moment for a longer time and walk back to my car, realizing I will have to come back to their house and endure that moment all over again at a later date. If the witness is home, I click into auto pilot once they answer the door: "My name is Anita Witness. I'm a private investigator, a criminal defense investigator [yes, I do say both] and I work for the attorney of the man charged with blah blah blah. Whether the witness proceeds to willingly talk with me, or give me grief and make me earn my way inside, at least the moment before the moment is over. For now. Until the next interview attempt that is.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Court

Some things that made me smile on my trip to court yesterday:

1. A large banner advertising "Jail Weddings" in the window of the bailbonds shop.

2. A very pregnant public defender.

3. A broken parking meter, which enabled me to give my quarters to a street person.

4. A record clerk who made 34 copies for me on the spot, even though the limit is 25.

5. A security guard who searched my purse and told me the strangest thing she ever found in the purse of someone entering the courthouse was a dead rat.
*Thanks to sbucha004 of Creative Commons for today's photo.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Interview Savings Time

Spring is here and once again time is on my side as an investigator. The spring forward part of daylight savings time is when an investigator can really get some work done. I now not only have the weekends for finding 9 to 5 witnesses at home, but also week nights as well. Only in the most desperate of time deadlines have I ever knocked on a witness' home address after dark. I geuss this works both ways: lots of places I go as an investigator, I wouldn't want to be caught dead in after dark, much less after about 3 p.m. in the afternoon.
So, to my fellow investigators out there, join me in taking advantage of the extra light we have to shed on our cases.