Autumn (Gill) Chouinard, ’11 | Deputy First Class, Orange County Sheriff’s Office
By Angie Lewis, ’03
It was 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, just 10 days before Christmas, when Deputy First Class Autumn (Gill) Chouinard, ’11, pulled out of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office police substation on Lake Underhill Road in Orlando, with me riding shotgun. It was my first squad car ride-along, and it began just as I’d hoped — speeding through traffic, lights on and sirens blaring (aka “running code”), to get to our first call.
We were responding to a transient fight in a camp behind a local Winn-Dixie. However, when we arrived, the man who was injured had already left the scene, and, after speaking to a woman who explained the events that led up to the altercation, there was nothing Autumn or the other deputies could do, so everyone went on their way.
It wasn’t quite the outcome I’d expected after our rush to the scene (nobody was arrested?!), but, as the night went on, I would discover anticlimactic endings are pretty typical.
From the transient fight location, we made our way over behind a CVS, where Autumn called a young woman to start a report on her stolen iPad. Once she got all of the information, two other deputies met us at the alleged thief’s home, but no one answered the door. So, the case was put on hold until she could make contact.
We responded to a few more calls — a panhandler at a local Publix, a claim of parental sexual assault at an area middle school, and shoplifters at a nearby Walmart — before we found ourselves back on University Boulevard near campus. As we were chatting more about her job, a young man in a Mazda sedan ran a stop sign right in front of us, so Autumn “lit him up” and pulled him over.
Since the man admitted to his mistake, had all of his appropriate documents and didn’t have any outstanding issues on record, Autumn let him go with a warning, reminding him how many people ride bicycles down the sidewalk on that street, and told him to be more careful.
By then, it was about 8:30 p.m., so we took a break and met a couple of Autumn’s fellow deputies for dinner at a local Panera. We got to hear about some of their cases that evening, as well as stories from previous cases, and I learned how often the police have to “Baker Act” the people they’re responding to help. (The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination by law enforcement, or other authorities, of possible mental illness.)
The other deputies told us about a call they’d had earlier in the evening, during which a young woman refused to put her clothes on after neighbors reported her for public nudity. She even kicked one of the deputies, which prompted them to have her taken in for a mental health evaluation.
We barely finished our meals before a call came through about an 8-month-old boy who nearly lost a finger pulling a game console off an entertainment center. After running code to the house, we found firefighters already on the scene, wrapping the baby’s hand as he sobbed in pain on his crying mother’s lap. Then, paramedics showed up and put him inside the ambulance, where his distraught mom accompanied him for the ride to Arnold Palmer Hospital. Since the incident appeared to be an accident, and everything was under control, we left the scene.
We didn’t even make it out of the neighborhood when a possible burglary call yet again sent us running code through Orange County’s moonlit streets. A mother at home with her kids reported hearing noises that sounded like someone was in their house. When we arrived, Autumn joined several other deputies as they searched the area around the house, which turned out to be fully secured.
Taking advantage of a quiet period, Autumn started tackling the mountain of reports she would have to complete by her shift’s end at 2:30 a.m. So, we pulled into the median on University Boulevard, where she said she can keep a better eye out in case anyone should approach the car.
As she typed up the repetitious lists of stolen items from the Walmart shoplifters’ call earlier that night, I jokingly said, “So, this must be your favorite part of the job?” Her answer, of course, was a sarcastic “Oh, yeah.”
After what seemed like an eternity, watching her type up reports on her laptop, we received a call to respond to a house where a 26-year-old woman was arguing with her elderly parents. When we got there, we learned the parents were angry that the daughter kept turning down the air conditioning. Yep, the police were called to settle an argument about an electric bill.
After the daughter took her kids and left the house for the night, we were pulling away when Autumn got a call to respond to an attempted home invasion and car theft. So, once again, it was lights and sirens all the way! Before pulling up to the location, Autumn turned off her lights to avoid possibly scaring the suspect away, and told me to stay in the car. She was the first deputy on the scene, and quickly jumped out of the patrol car, flashlight in hand, and began searching the area. Within seconds, another deputy joined in the search. After a few minutes, they knocked on the door of the house from which the call came.
It wasn’t long before Autumn came back to the car and told me I could get out. By that time, several other deputies had arrived, and a police helicopter was circling the sky above.
As I observed the situation, it was obvious that the “victim” who called 911 was inebriated. She first claimed a black man had kicked in her door, grabbed her car keys out of her hand, and tried to steal the Mustang that was in the driveway. She said her boyfriend was able to stop him (the boyfriend said that didn’t happen), and explained how she got into a physical altercation with the man, showing some scrapes on her arm.
Paramedics arrived shortly after and tended to the woman’s arm with some peroxide and Band-Aids (you would’ve thought they were cutting off her arm with her over-reactive screaming!). In the meantime, a K9 unit had arrived on scene to help look for the suspect.
However, as the deputies continued to try to get more details about what happened, the woman’s story kept changing — from a black man to a Hispanic man, from the man kicking in the door after she got home to her hearing someone at the door and going to check it out with her car keys in her hand. The whole thing was fishy, and the deputies knew it. So, after a little more questioning by deputies, the woman ended up finding her car keys in her purse. She’d made up the whole scenario and, apparently, gotten into a fight with herself.
So, all of those resources — the deputies on scene, the county’s helicopter in the air, the arrival of the K9 unit and the paramedics showing up to treat some scrapes — were wasted on a drunk woman who’d imagined the whole thing. I asked one of the other deputies if they could arrest her for making the false claim, which cost the county several thousand dollars — but, he told me it really wouldn’t do much good, because they’d never recoup the money anyway.
As Autumn’s shift neared its end, we made a quick stop at the Knights Library on University Boulevard. It was about 1 a.m. on the last day of finals before winter break, so we thought things might be getting a little rowdy. After we pulled up and got out of the car, we walked toward the entrance of the bar, where Autumn spotted one of the bouncers she knows. The two chatted for a few minutes, as he told her there hadn’t had any major issues that evening, then was excited to show her a news clip of one of the bar’s former bouncers who’s now a police deputy in Brevard County. Apparently, his recent chase and arrest had made headlines.
Since all else was calm, we headed back to the substation, where she had to finish the rest of her paperwork — a stark contrast to the way her shift began!
Did you know that anyone (as long as you pass the background check) can request to go on a ride-along? Contact your local sheriff’s office or police department for more information.
I went through:
Orange County Sheriff’s Office
Sector II Substation – East Orange County
11000 Lake Underhill Road
Orlando, FL 32825