Police receive a phone call from a desperate daughter, who says her father is threatening to take his own life. Officers arrive and find the man sitting in his garage with the car running. They risk their own lives to break in and rescue the man. While the man is recovering in the hospital, he starts to mutter “she deserved it”. An alert Detective Bryson is there to hear it and begins to investigate – he quickly finds that the victim is also a suspect.
Guest detective: Retired Corporal Bryson
Ret. Corporal Bryson served 21 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and retired in 2022 with the rank of Corporal. Bryson’s career was split evenly between patrol and the drug squad. In addition, he spent three years working on a Major Crime team as a detachment commander. As part of the RCMP, Bryson worked in communities as small as 1,400 people and as large as 90,000 people.Read Transcript
Yeardley: Hey, Small Town Fam. It’s Yeardley. How are you guys? I hope you’re all well. I want to let you know that today’s case deals with suicide. It’s not where the story ends, but it is how it begins. And then, as police encounter the man trying to kill himself, they learn there may be a murder that needs investigating too. It’s a messy, dangerous situation, but some cases come together fairly quickly. And so, halfway through this episode, you might be thinking, well, that’s all wrapped up then. But if you’ve been listening to our podcast for a while, you’ll know as much as we’re into the investigations our guests bring us, we’re equally into getting to know the detectives who graciously come onto the podcast and share their lives with us.
So, do stick around for that conversation, because if you’re like me, I think you’ll feel like you’re at a dinner party where everyone at the table has agreed to dispense with meaningless small talk in favor of the most meaningful conversation I think we can have, which is, who are you? How do you do what you do? And why? Here is Aftermath.
Hi, there. I’m Yeardley.
Dan: I’m Dan.
Dave: I’m Dave.
Paul: And I’m Paul.
Yeardley: And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dan: Dave and I are identical twins.
Dave: And retired detectives from Small Town, USA.
Paul: And I’m a veteran cold case investigator who helped catch the Golden State Killer using a revolutionary DNA tool.
Dan: Between the three of us, we’ve investigated thousands of crimes, from petty theft to sexual assault, child abuse to murder.
Dave: Each case we cover is told by the detective who investigated it, offering a rare personal account of how they solved the crime.
Paul: Names, places, and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of victims and their families.
Dan: And although we’re aware that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we ask you to please join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved-
Dave: -out of respect for what they’ve been through.
[unison]: Thank you.
Yeardley: Today on Small Town Dicks, fan favorites, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan: Good morning, everyone.
Yeardley: Good morning. It’s morning where we are. We have Detective Dave.
Dave: Hi, there.
Yeardley: Hi there. And we have the one and only Paul Holes.
Paul: Hey, hey.
Yeardley: [laughs] We got a hey, hey and Small Town Fam, we are so pleased to welcome a new guest to the podcast, Corporal Bryson.
Bryson: Thanks for having me, everyone.
Yeardley: We’re so happy that you’re here. I’m going toss it over to Dave to do the first order of business.
Dave: Bryson, we’ve had lots of guests on this show and one of the ways we set the scene is to kind of explain your background, how you got into law enforcement, your special assignments while you were in law enforcement, and get a little bit of info about your jurisdiction.
Bryson: Right on. We’ll go into a little history. I’m up in Canada and when I was younger, my dad was also in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And when you’re in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it’s a federal job, which means you can be transferred anywhere in Canada, big cities, small towns. So, I had a very interesting upbringing with my dad being the police chief for more than half of my life. And with that, as a kid, the nicknames of bacon bit or [Yeardley laughs] the different ways you get teased as a kid especially in a small town, when your dad’s the police chief, he drops me off to school in a police car. And naturally, there’s going to be ribbing over the years. And as a normal kid, you have some insecurities. I remember my whole life not wanting to be a cop.
And then the whole reason was, I remember telling my dad and I look back now and I kind of feel bad, and I said to him I want people to like me. I think that’s quite normal for a young guy. When I was 19, still having that same attitude, just didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I started volunteering as a fireman, started volunteering in Search and Rescue, volunteered as a ski patrol. And it didn’t take me long to realize that at every call I was at doing stuff that I loved, not getting paid. Every single one of the calls I was at, the cops were there too. I started to realize that variety is what I chased and luckily had a role model at 23. And when I was 19 and he was 23, he was in the RCMP.
He guided me along and showed me the process, taught me how to work out, get fit, get bigger, ready for that job, and happily got accepted in the RCMP when I was 22. In the RCMP, you have to do six months of training in Regina, Saskatchewan, which is in the winter, very cold, in the summer, exceptionally hot. And you just go for six months, you’re away from your family. I had twins on the way back home. The mother of my kids started to have medical issues and so she was in my hometown with those medical issues. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t be out of the hospital because of the babies. And so, the RCMP made a rare decision to actually post me back to my hometown. This is a town of 5000 people and I grew up there.
But remember, until I was 19, I didn’t want to be a cop. So, I did all the things that kids do, smoke pot, got in trouble, did all the stupid stuff. Roll into my hometown now 23 and get guys that used to smoke pot with broke into the elementary school with and did stupid stuff with. And now you’re the cop and they’re the coke dealer, they still trusted me and I was able to hold that moral ground where everyone knew I was a police officer now, so I had my line and I had to maintain that professionalism. But they also knew they could trust me and it allowed me to open a lot of doors for myself. At my nine-year mark, I got transferred to a town of 1400 people and I was the police chief there, believe it or not.
And from there I transferred to Victoria, BC. Policing population there was 80,000. So now, I went from these very small towns to not a big city, but certainly a population where you’re getting into the city problems. I spent 10 years there and so awesome career and a lot of opportunity to follow that passion I have to be around people.
Yeardley: Thank you for that. I love that answer. So, Bryson, please tell us how this case came to you.
Bryson: So, this took place in Victoria. So, the town that I was responsible for, our area is about 80,000 people. But then Southern Vancouver Island, which is Victoria Proper, it’s more like 300,000 or 400,000 people. So, you got the city of Victoria very close by 10-minute, 15-minute drive depending on traffic. At the time, my role was as the watch commander or the shift commander. So, underneath me at the time would have been about seven or eight constables working. I was based out of the office and would go out to calls that were more serious or that just required a little bit of supervision. But for the most part, I was based in the office. This day there was a call from a daughter. Her name was Teresa. She was about 30. She was very worried about her dad. His name is Richard.
I guess there had been some troubles in the family and tough times. And dad is a bit of an alcoholic. When she went over to his house to check on him, there was a note on the garage. And that note was essentially a suicide note. And the daughter found that and shocked and tragic, worried about her dad. And so, Teresa walked around the house and she could hear a truck on in the garage, but she didn’t know what to do. So, she called 911. I was at the office. I heard the call and based on the description, which was suicide note, truck in a garage, for sure, we thought we were dealing with a suicidal male. And that obviously there can be a lot of danger to that. You approach that situation when someone’s trying to hurt themselves and can get very dangerous very quickly. That person probably doesn’t have a regard for life.
I start heading there, but two of my partners get there first. And the two partners were Mark and Mitch. Mitch was my best friend at the police department, unbelievably close. We would go camping together with our families, our boys hung out together. Mitch was my best friend in the police world for sure. So, Amy and I hear over the radio from Mark and Mitch. They announced they’ve arrived on scene. And Amy and I were in our separate police cars. In the RCMP, for the most part we drive alone in our cars. We don’t have backup with us, but we were both about two minutes away going Code 3, trying to get there as fast as we could.
Mark announces that there’s a truck running, that the doors are all locked to enter the garage and that they are going to breach the man door to enter the garage. So, Mitch and Mark are there. They’ve announced this and that’s the last thing we hear. They’re going to breach the door. And now we’re two minutes away driving as fast as we can and we just hear nothing, just radio silence.
Dave: When you’re on your way to this scene for supervisors, two minutes of dead air is an eternity. Especially, when you’re running to a call Code 3 and it’s a suicidal subject. I’m sure at some point you’re recognizing that there is no radio traffic. I can say from my perspective as a patrol officer and Dan probably as well, I’ve been to plenty of those types of calls, not specific to this, but suicidal subject calls. And when you show up, you call out that you are at the location, you’re giving updates because you want people on the way and your supervisor to know how this investigation is progressing. So, they let everyone know we’re going to breach. And then you get radio silence, that is a pucker factor moment for everybody who hears that silence.
Bryson: Absolutely. It’s the worst. I knew something was going on. Mark and Mitch were experienced officers. I think at that time, Mitch is about 27 years of service. And most of that being a dog man. So, the amount of calls that Mitch had been to and high stress calls, that guy knew what to do. And him and I had worked together for five years at that point. I knew if he was okay, he would let me know. And the fact that there was radio silence, yeah, it scared the shit out of me. You’re approaching not only just worrying about those two guys in the garage, what’s going on with them? I know they breached. I know they went into a volatile situation.
But I’m now rolling up with a female officer that has very little experience. She’s new out of training, so I’m having to guide that situation too and think about the tactical considerations. Where do we park? Does this guy have a firearm? Has he shot my partners? Has he got a knife? Are we going to walk into this garage and get stabbed? A million things run through your head during that two minutes. We race there, we get on scene, we see there are two police cars out front. Mitch has his big police dog truck. Mark has his marked police car and that’s it. Mark’s lights were on, but they’re nowhere to be seen. Amy and myself arrived basically at the same time. We still don’t know the situation. We know that they’ve arrived to deal with a suicidal male.
We don’t know if our partners have already been shot or if they’re in a fight inside, because we have no radio comms, so we’re obviously on high alert and we can’t just run up to the house. We have to be tactical. We have to think about those things. Have they already been ambushed? It seems crazy to think like that, but you’re dealing with a human that doesn’t want to live anymore and you’re trying to stop them. So this is a very dangerous situation. And Amy and I ended up working our way around the back as fast as we could at the back of the house. And we could then see that the man door was breached. And coming from the man door was just black smoke. And you could hear this loud truck.
And just inside the smoke, we could see Mark crawling out on his all fours, coughing and hacking. And he works his way out and we can’t see anything else. Mark can’t talk. He’s so deeply caught, he’s just trying to survive at that moment, he can’t even stand up.
Yeardley: So the form of suicide was going to be carbon monoxide poisoning from this truck. Is that so?
Bryson: Exactly. And when you see this truck in this garage, it was just the smallest garage I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even a one car garage. So, this truck barely fit in to where the only thing could open was the driver door. So, you’d back that truck in and the right side, you could barely walk past. You certainly couldn’t open the door all the way. Driver door now was on the opposite side of the man door. So, it’s a very dangerous, difficult place for what Mitch and Mark had to do to get to them. As Mark works his way out, we get a little closer, and the smoke with the door open, allows a little bit of fresh air where we can see, well, now I see Mitch. He’s lying on the ground beside another male that I’ve never seen.
It turns out this is Richard. Richard was the gentleman who was trying to kill himself. Mitch is still conscious, but he’s not capable of doing anything at this point. You can tell he’s just on that last bit of energy before the oxygen is gone and the CO2 poisoning kicks in full. Like, I don’t know enough about the medical side of that, but obviously, in the training that you have, you know the danger of it. So, I grabbed Richard and Amy grabbed Mitch and we just dragged them out of that man door, out into the fresh air, pulled them away from the door, got them out on the lawn. Both were unconscious and scary. Here is my best friend. He can’t talk. His eyes are closed.
I know for about two minutes he was in this absolutely black smoke room with just a junky old truck that would piss you off when you watched it take away from the red light with all the black smoke come out of it in this tiny little garage. And it obviously had been running for some time, so you can just picture the stench and the thickness of that smoke that was coming out of the house. And so, it was very scary. I don’t know what’s happening. All I know is he’s in medical distress. We had already called the ambulance and the fire department on our way because, of course, we’re dealing with a situation that we need those people nearby. So very happily, they arrived.
I honestly don’t know how long, but it really did feel like almost immediately after we got Mitch out and onto the grass, into the fresh air. But Mitch was not recovering. He was out. There was no responsiveness to him whatsoever. He was breathing, but he was gone. Richard was in the same state. Mark was conscious. He just kept hacking and hacking and hacking. Mark was in a good enough spot where he told the fire department to not worry about him, just go take care of Mitch, go take care of Mitch, make sure he’s okay first.
Dan: Does Mark have recollection of what happened after they breached the door?
Bryson: Yes, they got into a fight with Richard when they went in. As I described the garage being so tiny. Mark’s a pretty big guy. Mitch isn’t, Mitch’s average size man. Mark was quite a big, stocky guy. And they went in. Richard was in the truck, in the driver’s seat with the block on the gas pedal. Sometimes when you go to a suicide, when they use a vehicle for carbon monoxide, they’ll take the tailpipe and connect a hose to it, put it into the window. In this case, that wasn’t there. The windows of his truck were down. And Richard, I think, just took advantage of the small, tiny little garage space and this old truck that was just spewing it. And so, Mitch and Mark went in. They kind of had to squeeze over to the driver’s side. Richard was somehow still awake when Mark and Mitch breached the garage. And, yeah, there was resistance.
Yeardley: How could Richard still be awake after breathing in all that carbon monoxide longer than Mitch and Mark?
Bryson: We don’t know how he was possibly awake. Maybe he wrote that note and had second thoughts and went out and took a breath to keep himself oxygenated. And then we don’t know. We don’t know how Richard actually was awake when they got there. They had a struggle with him. And then during that struggle, of course, instantly your heart rate goes up, instantly your breathing rate goes up. And when you’re in that environment with no oxygen, that very quickly puts you in a dangerous situation. Had Mark and Mitch walked in and Richard had been passed out, they probably could have held their breath, gone in, pulled him out. It would have been fine. But that struggle and the forced breathing that they experienced put them in a dangerous spot right away.
Dave: Well, you’re in the middle of a fight. The last thing you’re thinking about is, I need to get closer to the floor where there’s fresh oxygen. You’re in the middle of it and I’ll deal with the oxygen issue later.
Bryson: Yeah. And I think with CO2, I don’t think you even know it. Obviously, the smoke’s there, but it just hits you.
Dan: Was Teresa still present when Mitch and Mark arrived on scene?
Bryson: She wasn’t. So, Teresa had gone to the house and read the note and then left to call us. I don’t think she knew what to do. But I think in the heat of a moment with those high emotions, humans do weird things. We’re just animals and our brains guide us when we get into that fight or flight mode. And obviously, for her, it was probably a flight. She had a very panic situation and Teresa’s reaction was flight then can’t judge her for it.
Bryson: So, everyone gets piled up in the ambulances and Mark goes to and he’s still sick. He’s conscious, but he’s still sick. They all go in their ambulance. Amy goes with Richard. He had been detained at that point under the mental health act. So, in Canada, you don’t arrest somebody when they’re trying to harm themselves. They’re detained under the mental health act and our responsibility as the police is to take them to a medical professional to deal with that issue. We would take someone under the mental health act probably every day. That’s how common it would be. So, Amy’s dealing with that side of the investigation, which is pretty straightforward. Obviously, I was worried about Mark and Mitch and I’m in charge of this shift and I got a guy down and another guy that’s quite sick.
So, I go and visit Mitch and Mark and Mark’s awake and he’s starting to feel better, and we talk and he’s been told he does have carbon monoxide poisoning, but he’s going to be fine. He doesn’t have to have any treatment other than just give him some time. Mitch is still unconscious and we’re worried, him being good family friend. I actually texted his wife a photo of him and said I need you to get down to the hospital right away, because Mitch is unconscious. And so, Mitch was unconscious for some time. Had to go into the, it’s called a hyperbaric chamber, I think, where they bring them back from the CO2 poisoning, as did Richard.
So, I’m dealing with so much emotion. My partner’s down, my best friend’s down, and I’m also worried about Richard. Is he going to live? Is he going to die? It’s important. I don’t know how long he was in there for, but I know Richard was in the garage longer than Mitch. And so, the weird thing was, somehow Richard wakes up before Mitch. As Richard started to wake up, he was in a bit of a fogged state, and I was there. I went into the ER, where he was into the room and basically watched as the doctors and nurses talked to him and tended to him. And he started mumbling these weird things.
Yeardley: How long had Richard been unconscious?
Bryson: Probably two or three hours after the incident, when we’re starting to get consciousness from Richard. And as Richard was coming to and starting to get a little bit more aware of where he was, he started saying weird stuff. At first, it didn’t really make sense. It was just garbled. Before Richard tried to commit suicide, I’m going to guess he was probably taking some alcohol or drugs, which is fairly common. So, I didn’t know if that was contributing to his lack of clarity as he spoke or if it was the carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s all new to me. I didn’t know. But all of a sudden, he starts saying some weird things. And one of the weird things he said was, she deserved it. And I instantly made a note, he’s not making any sense, but this one sentence made sense.
And we started listening more. He said a couple more things along those lines. Something about, “She shouldn’t have done that.” It didn’t take long when my Spidey senses were going full bore. And I walked out of the room and I instantly called the gentleman in charge of the major crime unit. His name is Bob. And I notified Bob that Richard just tried to commit suicide. And he said things like, “She deserved it. She shouldn’t have done that.” And I said, “I need someone to go find Richard’s wife or his girlfriend.” And so, Bob did all the digging. He went into the computer, started looking to the history of Richard to see what Richard’s past was, who his associates were, all the things that we have access to with the police.
And Bob was able to determine that Richard had a past. He was a seasoned criminal. And Richard had a wife or an ex-wife or a separated wife named Holly. And Holly lived in Victoria proper in the city, about 20, 25 minutes away from where we were. And they went to Victoria proper to have Richard’s wife Holly’s house checked. And when they walked in, there she was, deceased.
Bryson: Holly had been stabbed multiple times. It was clearly an intentional murder. It wasn’t a fight that went sideways. There was no question the intention was to kill Holly. Bob called me on my cell when I was in the hospital and he let me know what they had found. And I walked in and I arrested Richard for murder.
Yeardley: At this point, is Mitch still unconscious?
Bryson: Yes. So all this is happening and by the time Mitch woke up from his medical distress that he had experienced, I was there happily with him when he woke up. And it was a unique and cool experience as a cop to be able to have your partner wake up from something like that. And basically, the first thing I get to tell him is, “Mitch, you saved Richard’s life and Richard is now in jail for killing his wife.” And just to see the shock on Mitch’s face, because that’s not what we expected. We just thought there was a guy having a hard time. And Mitch went to sleep and when he woke up, murder had been solved.
Paul: Just going to ask how Mitch is doing after, I mean, that’s a pretty serious prolonged exposure to the carbon monoxide. I imagine it probably took him some time to fully recover.
Bryson: Yeah. Apparently, your body flushes itself pretty clean of it and you’re not long after, you’re fine, so no effects. He’s actually still one of my best friends. He’s retired. We’re both retired and hang out all the time, so it’s good.
Yeardley: Did Richard have anything else to say after you charged him with murder?
Bryson: He didn’t talk to us after that because he was a seasoned criminal. Richard knew the rules about talking to police. He knew you don’t say nothing.
Yeardley: Was there a motive?
Bryson: Yes. So, it turned out that Holly had been having an affair for a number of years during their marriage. And when they were separated, Richard found out about this and obviously became enraged and just couldn’t handle it and went and ended her life.
Dan: So, Bryson, after the arrest of Richard, what happens next? Do you go to trial? Where does this case go?
Bryson: There was no trial. It ended up as a guilty plea. There was just too much evidence between suicide note, his admissions, the daughter talking about issues with the family and then, of course, it being his ex-wife. And Richard spent the last five years of his life in jail. And then he died in jail. He died, actually, of natural causes.
Yeardley: Oh, wow. So, Bryson, I’m sure you were wondering when you first had a conversation with Dan and Dave to see which case you should talk about today. They told you to bring us a case that’s especially memorable or meaningful to you. So, can you talk a little bit about why this case sticks with you?
Bryson: It’s tough and even just talking about, it’s emotional, it impacts you. And when you reflect on that that’s the most emotional time, was that two minutes? There was radio silence. And then having that amplified when you see your partners unconscious or one of them completely unconscious, it’s pretty helpless feeling at that moment.
Dave: You’re among friends here with the rest of us. We share in the experiences and wanting to turn certain parts of our full careers off. So, we get it.
Bryson: Yep. And what I found in my career so often is, it’s luck. And luck comes from persistence and luck comes from being in the right place at the right time and having that instinct of where to be. Not that it was anything crazy to be near this guy, but the fact that we were able to save Richard’s life, much to his chagrin, bring him to the hospital. And we were there when he was waking in a time where he probably wouldn’t have otherwise said a thing. I didn’t have to ask questions because if you ask questions, that would not have been a lawful admission. I didn’t have to say anything. I just was at the right place, the right time, and he mumbled something that allowed us to go and instantly have the evidence to arrest him and put him in jail.
Dave: I appreciate you being humble, Bryson, but there are a lot of cops that I worked with over the years, especially some veteran cops that have lost the spark a bit that would have walked into Richard’s hospital room and would have gone on their phone, would have been BSing with one of the nurses that was standing in the corner and not paying attention to what Richard was doing and saying. So, well done.
Bryson: Fair enough. Thanks.
Yeardley: Bryson, you said that if you had asked– Richard in hospital while he was mumbling, if you’d asked him any questions during that time, that information would not have been admissible in court. Why is that?
Bryson: I think it’s probably similar in most federally and in most states in the United States. But the law in Canada is that a police officer can’t elicit information from an accused. So, the minute I know that somebody’s a suspect, even so, the minute he mumbled that, first thing in my brain went, “Okay, that’s odd.” So, if I was to stand up in court and they said, “Hey, when Richard said that first statement under his breath, did you instantly suspect that he had hurt somebody?” And my answer would have to be yes, to be honest, if I’m up on the court, I have to say it. So, the minute my answer is yes, I can no longer ask that person questions without giving them first their charter rights.
Yeardley: The Miranda, basically, in our country.
Bryson: Yeah. And so had I said that to him, number one, I don’t know that he would have understood because he was still in that incoherent state and asking somebody any questions when they’re intoxicated, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or head injury or in this case, poison, is not admissible. So, even if I had gone through his charter rights, it wouldn’t have been able to be admissible based on his state. But a spontaneous utterance, it’s called a spontaneous utterance is completely admissible. And so, by me just sitting back and waiting and just letting that person say what they were going to say, I could take notes. At the time, I gathered enough that it gave us the next steps to go through the investigation.
Dave: I want to highlight that this is Bryson being able to read the room because he’s good with people and he understands. Let me just walk in and be an ear witness to what this guy is talking about when he first reboots his computer and is able to speak, there’s no course for it. But that’s advanced officer shit. When you see it, you know what it is. If you’ve never seen it before, you don’t know what it is. That is absolutely the right move, is walk in and hear what this guy says when he first comes to. It’s perfect. What was the debrief like? How did this call change anything tactics wise? Because there’s always takeaways, good and bad.
Bryson: In hindsight, the one thing that should have been done, especially with Mitch driving the dog truck. So, the dog truck has a huge grille on the front for ramming vehicles, and it’s a big, full size suburban. In hindsight, they both agreed and we all agreed, didn’t even think of it. They should have just rammed the truck right in through the actual garage door to allow the oxygen to come out or just leave him and allow him to come out himself instead of trying to go and save somebody that made a decision themselves.
Yeardley: As a layperson, obviously, that seems harsh, so just talk about that a little bit more.
Bryson: Well, you put the officer safety first, particularly if it’s someone that’s suicidal or trying to hurt themselves, you don’t enter that situation. That’s what you’re taught. But then human instinct kicks in and sometimes you just jump to save someone’s life because I think it’s instinctual in a lot of us. I think you just ignore the threat or the danger. I think there’re probably a lot of officers over the years that have been killed because of that exact instinct, forgetting about the danger in order to save a life.
Dave: It’s all risk management, and it’s all, why we got into the job, is to save people and be the first responder. So, it’s hard to sit back and just be like, well, I’m just going to watch this happen. Well, no, that’s not what we do.
Bryson: I think all of us can look back at our careers, and I know myself, I can think of a lot of situations I put myself in where it probably went against training, but it was instinct. You read the room, you read the situation, and you take risks based on your experience in order to try and settle a situation or save somebody, or even at times save evidence you make a stupid decision for your own safety, trying to make sure evidence doesn’t get away. It’s crazy what you do in that heat of the moment.
Dan: I think it’s the filter that my FTO and I often talk about it on this podcast. My FTO just pounded into my brain. The way you make decisions in this job is time, place, and circumstance. That’s the filter. I want you to push everything through and make educated decisions based on those three factors, time, place, and circumstance. I think it totally relates to this situation. If you go to that situation and you’re going to create more victims, then you stay back.
Dan: If it’s not safe to go in there, I brought it up before, don’t run to your death. And Bryson talked about tactical considerations when he arrived on scene with Amy that you don’t know what you’re getting into. So, if you just charge right into the man door and suspect is waiting on the other side, in this case, it’s Richard, then you’re creating more problems than you’re mixing. The decision that Mitch and Mark made of going inside. Any police officer can relate to that. Any firefighter can relate to that. And you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s a tough place to be in for the police.
Bryson: Yeah, it sure is.
Dave: How long have you been retired?
Bryson: Two and a half years now.
Bryson: I actually retired at 21 years’ service. And one of the reasons why was pretty severe PTSD. I unfortunately had a few negative incidents. I think in retirement you see things from a very different perspective. I think having lived in it, dealt with some damage from it mentally. And now I’m really healing and I’m doing better. And my brain is what I say thawing out. And I’m starting to feel emotion. I’m starting to think about things. Yeah, you just look back on these types of situations and you realize all of the different dynamics of the human brain that are happening for not just you as the officer, but the victim and the accused and the witnesses. It’s just actually being a police officer is the ultimate exposure to human psychology.
And that is what drove me and the passion of my career is observing human beings in all of these different situations and seeing how they react. It almost gives me in retirement as this old guy now that’s taking care of my kids. It gives me forgiveness for myself for some of the mistakes I’ve made. A knee jerk reaction results in some negative consequences for you. And at the time, I think you judge yourself and humans do that.
But when you look back, when you spend 21 years going into people’s homes, seeing the mistakes that good people have made, you start to realize that as much as behavior that we learn from our parents and society and how we treat and respect each other, when you throw a flashbang in a room and that human being now goes from portion of their brain that’s allowing them to function daily to that fight or flight, everybody reacts different. And I think a lot of the filters go away in those moments and it’s interesting to see it.
Dan: Yeah. And I think that’s one of the important things for police officers is, our defensive tactics instructors, they called it stress inoculation, that the more times you experience adrenaline and stress like that in situations, you know how to handle it, and it doesn’t really affect your decision making. Obviously, any major incident that I’ve been in, huge fight, adrenaline laced incidents that I’ve been a part of, it’s afterward where you’re coming down and your hands are shaking a little bit and you realize what just happened, but your body, you react to it.
Bryson: Yeah. When you get out, you realize how hard the job was. I don’t know if you guys experienced that, but when I got in as a young guy, you’re just going forward. All you see is a little bit like [unintelligible 00:34:33]. You’re just enjoying the chase and you’re enjoying different experiences you get. I think your brain goes into a bit of a numb state. I think it has to. And now that I’m out, I remember I’ve said this before to people, and you get it all the time. “Oh, thank you for your service.” People walk up to you and appreciate, thank you for your service. And I remember being young going, “What are you talking about? I got the best job in the world. Why are you thanking me? I’m getting paid pretty decent and I get travel all over Canada. I fly in helicopters, I drive police boats. I got some stories that no one else has. I got to see some crazy things,” but now I get it.
Now every time I see a cop, I appreciate them a lot more than I did when I was in myself. And they have a very difficult job and very damaging job and I didn’t know it. I think that’s part of what allows us to do 25, 30 years. We go numb and we just get through it. And you become very good at it. And like you said, you start reading situations, you react well, but you’re numb. If you really are honest with yourself and you don’t realize how challenging and impactful it is until it’s over.
Dave: You mentioned something about now that you’re retired and your brain is thawing out and I go through a similar process. I don’t know. How long have you been retired?
Bryson: Two and a half years now.
Dave: Okay, so I’m a year and a half and I’m doing the same things where I’m looking back and random memories of calls and cases pop up, throughout the day while I’m dreaming at night. But it gives me hope that I’m moving in the right direction with all this stuff.
Bryson: [00:36:10] Yeah, it’s a pretty nice feeling to be honest at the end. It’s almost like I’m a kid again. That’s what I’m experiencing. I’m realizing for the first time in 25 years, sometimes I’m just present. I realized that as a police officer, I was never actually present, emotionally present. Never, without exception. We’re going way off topic here, but-
Dave: No, no, no. This is helping me, too. [laughs]
Yeardley: This is important.
Bryson: It is important. And each of us have had obviously negative experiences in our career. I’ve lost a partner on duty. And it’s almost Thank God that we go into that numb state through our career, because if we had to actually process each of those things as they’re happening, I think we wouldn’t be able to do our job. And it sucks because you’re literally signing up, accepting maybe all of us when we joined, we didn’t know we were accepting this to the same degree. But you’re literally accepting when you get into policing that you’re going to be damaged. You’re going to hold in a whole bunch of nasty things that you’re going to see and experience and you can’t deal with it until the end. You basically sign a contract that you can’t deal with it till the end of your career actually.
But at the end, when you do deal with it, you experience a lot of weird things. Maybe you guys have experienced this, but I’ve probably seen 100 dead bodies in my career, maybe more. I have no idea how many I would have seen. I have not one single image in my brain of one of those dead bodies. I could tell you the story, but if you ask me, “Is there a picture of a dead body in my brain?” Not that I can find. And I don’t think that’s because it’s not there. It’s because I don’t think that my brain’s brought it back up again. And it’s a really interesting thing and I’ve asked a few other officers that have been around for a while that do you see? And a lot of them don’t.
I think about some of the major incidents I was involved in, but the dead body isn’t there. I can look and I can’t see it. It’s really interesting. And I wonder, maybe in 10 years I’ll experience something different.
Dave: I think we purposely try not to access those parts because we know that’s what got us to where we’re at in the run. I look at Dan and Paul and other police officers, law enforcement that have retired, and I’m grateful that they’ve already been through these experiences. And they’d be like, “You’re just in the middle of it right now.”
Paul: Yeah, I’m five and a half years retired. I recognized that there was a loss of quality of life. I’m just now getting to where– I used to read novels, watch tv shows, etc. And I got to where I don’t do that. I don’t do that to this day. And now five and a half years later, I’m starting to get that mental energy back going, okay, I need to engage in life again in some capacity. I’m confident for me and I’m confident for all of you, it’s going to come back.
Yeardley: It’s so well said, Bryson, when you said effectively, you’re signing a contract to put everything on hold until you’re finished with the job to then have to be able to process meeting people on their worst day. That’s your 9 to 5. It’s such an important conversation. I think you never come to the end of that thread.
Bryson: Yeah, it’s true. You could go on forever. I don’t think there’s a way to solve it either. I think it’s just a reality of that job even more so, policing, I think more than any, because I have so much respect for fire and ambulance and all the others. What happens in policing that’s a little bit different is the amount of time that you spend with people. We live with the family for a period of time. We’re in it and often for years, if it’s a big case, you’re with the family. You ride that emotion. You don’t get to just walk away. You keep getting deeper and deeper and deeper into a situation. And so, when you think over 20, 30 years, how many of those deep dives you go down with families, that’s their worst experience ever but you go through it, hundreds of times.
Yeardley: That’s exactly right.
Dan: It definitely has a cumulative effect on you. I remember huge incidents pretty vividly, but there are so many other ones that I don’t really recall that I know, added a little nugget to the scales of trauma. You don’t even recognize those little nuggets. It’s the big ones that you really remember, but all those other ones have an effect too.
Bryson: Have you ever driven by or have you ever seen something and all of a sudden you remember a major incident that you completely forgot and you’re like, “How could I possibly forget that?”
Dan: Yeah. So, Yeardley and I are married now. And when she would come visit me, when we would drive around the town that I worked in [laughs], you drive by an intersection or you drive by a house. “Oh, yeah, I remember that. And you point at the house.”
Yeardley: It was literally every corner, like, “Oh, I arrested a guy there. Oh, I remember that.” I mean, that’s just not a normal tour of a town let me tell you. [laughs]
Yeardley: Paul, is it true for you what Bryson was saying, where he has no pictures of dead bodies in his head? You’ve seen some of the worst of the worst because of the kind of cases that you investigated during your career. Is that the same for you too?
Paul: No, I’m the opposite. I can envision in great detail every single dead body I ever saw, whether it was out at a crime scene or in the morgue or in the photos of the cases that I worked, I’m a very visual learner. And these cases that I worked, these homicides, I have to stare at these photos for weeks at a time and then I go back to them over and over and over again. So, in many ways, it’s almost like a level of memorization of the horror. And so, that’s just something that is always present in my head, and they crop up in my dreams. It’s just always there. That will never go away from me. I know that much.
Yeardley: That’s a high price to pay.
Dave: Shit just pops up.
Paul: Yeah. You never know. I mean, I could go months without anything really bad. Then all of a sudden, something just pops up.
Bryson: Yeah. Yeah, it’s true.
Yeardley: Bryson, thank you so much for bringing that to us today. And also, thank you to all of you for being so generous with your candor about what it’s like to be retired from being in law enforcement. I think we all basically struggle with the same things as human beings. You want to make sure that you made a difference. So, thank you all so much for being here today.
Bryson: You’re welcome.
Dan: I appreciate that, you’re very welcome.
Paul: Thank you.[music]
Yeardley: Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Our production manager is Logan Heftel. Our senior editor is Soren Begin and our editor is Christina Bracamontes. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our social media is run by the one and only Monika Scott. Our music is composed by John Forest, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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