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A Very Real Nightmare.

I worked the night shift the entire time I was on the Sheriff's Department. When I started we worked 11 hour shifts. The day shift was from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. then the first part of the night shift would come on at 7:00 p.m and work until 6:00 a.m. and then the rest of us on the night shift would start at 9:00 p.m. and work until 8:00 a.m.

After about two years on the Department, we got a raise in our budget and were able to hire a few more officers. Then we went to three, 8 hour shifts. Days (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Evening (4 p.m. to midnight) and Graveyard (midnight to 8 a.m.). I worked both the evening and graveyard shifts but never the day shift.

During my seven years on the department I did not sleep very well. There was a lot of stress on the job and it often made sleeping difficult, and when compounded with trying to sleep during the day it was even worse.

The only time I shared the bed with my wife was on my days off, or for a few hours each night when I was on the 4 to midnight shift. I had a Bearcat police scanner by my bed, so that when I was awake I could hear what was happening on the street. I also had a .357 magnum revolver sitting on top of the scanner within easy reach at all times.

We were issued our own patrol cars and we took meticulous care of them. My patrol car was always cleaner than my personal car. Those cars where our life line and we knew it.

One night I was dreaming and in my dream a man ran a stop sign and hit my patrol car. Neither of us was hurt, but my car was totaled. I got out of my patrol car and walked over to the other driver who was getting out of his car. I checked to see that he was okay and then asked him what his problem was, why did he blow through the stop sign. He started mouthing off to me and then he said something that really made me mad. He said something to the effect that it was just a county car why was I so upset.

I grabbed him by the throat and started choking him. I was choking him as hard as I could, I was furious. I woke up to the sound of my wife screaming in terror. I woke up and realized that I was on top of her and had my hands on her throat choking her. I quickly let go and apologized to her. She was not hurt, just a little shaken up. She said she understood when I explained what had happened. She even laughed about it and went back to sleep.

I had a much more difficult time going back to sleep. In my dream I had decided to choke the man, but not before contemplating shooting him with my service revolver. Now in real life I would not have choked him (I don't think) and I know I would not have contemplated shooting him, but this was not real life. I lay there a while thinking about how I would have explained killing my wife in my sleep. I was in a cold sweat and shaking. That was too close, I could have grabbed the gun off the night stand and shot her. I got up and moved my weapon across the room, so that it was not too easy to get to.

Now not only did I not sleep good during the day when I was alone, but I did not sleep well at night when my wife was in the bed with me. It is somewhat easy to look back at this now and laugh about it, but it still gives me nightmares that I could have killed her in my sleep. I don't know if this is part of the reason, but I still to this day do not sleep well.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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