Suspension comes too late, or too early, depending on your perspective.
DAYTONA BEACH – It has been nearly 25 years, but I remember my first domestic violence call as a rookie police officer. It was typical of hundreds of calls I’d eventually make: He said, she said. She said he hit me; he said he didn’t.
Actually, this call wasn’t even that severe. The wife said her husband of three weeks pushed her into a wall while they were arguing. No, there were no witnesses, no visible injuries, no medical attention required.
In many police calls, what the officer does is based on his or her instincts, on the available evidence. Not in this particular city, and not in the case of domestic violence. In the olden days, sure, it was largely left up to the reporting officers to decide what to – should you warn the husband but let him stay in the home? Take him to a friend’s house to cool down? Write him a ticket?
No. Based on previous cases and subsequent lawsuits, where the officers were convinced that the danger had passed and left the couple at home together but violence continued after the cops left, the city took the decision out of the officers’ hands. When there is a complaint domestic violence, somebody goes to jail. No questions asked, no evidence or witnesses needed. She says he did it, or he says she did it -- and yes, I did take some women to jail – and you make an arrest.
Who do you believe?
In the case of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch, she – girlfriend Patricia Driscoll – says that he, Busch, did it last year in the drivers’ motorhome lot at Dover International Speedway. She asked for a protective order against Busch, and last week a family court commissioner granted it, after a lengthy, rather lurid hearing.
And late today, NASCAR suspended Busch “indefinitely.”
Busch’s team, Stewart-Haas Racing, said this: “We understand NASCAR’s position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision.” While Busch has indicated he will appeal, this team statement suggests that it is Busch’s decision, not the team’s.
Busch races a Chevrolet. This is what Chevrolet said: “Chevrolet has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely.”
Busch is, to put it mildly, screwed.
Guilty by association?
NASCAR’s decision raises some questions.
--The protective order was issued on Monday, indicating the family court commissioner found for Driscoll, against Busch. But NASCAR didn’t issue its suspension until Friday, when the commissioner released his report. I’m not sure why that should make a difference in the timing of the suspension.
--The suspension was based on the finding of a commissioner, not a judge. In Delaware, there are 17 attorney commissioners who deal with, the court says, “a broad range of cases.” But the commissioners’ rulings are subject to review by Delaware Family Court judges, of which there are also 17. This was a hearing, not a trial; before a commissioner, not a judge. Does it still satisfy the “innocent until proven guilty” concern?
--Other professional sports – you know which ones – have been so slow on the draw to address recent domestic violence issues that even those sports that haven’t had anything to apologize for are ultra-sensitive to any allegation that they are doing less than they should. Critics who insisted that NASCAR should suspend Busch upon reports of the domestic violence allegation alone are unnecessarily shrill and reactive.
Less than sympathetic
Let’s face it: Few NASCAR drivers – OK, no NASCAR driver – is less of a sympathetic figure than Kurt Busch, and one interview I had with him was so unpleasant that I will never do another.
But anyone who has viewed Driscoll’s desperate little “Pocket Commando” presentation tape she was using to try and land a reality TV series, in which she casts herself as a hard-drinking, fast-shooting, trash-talking quasi-military figure clad in low-cut shirts – well, she isn’t a very sympathetic victim.
Bottom line: Kurt Busch’s NASCAR career may not be over, but it is genuinely damaged, and the damage could get worse, even if actual charges are never brought against him. Similarly, Busch fans will say that Driscoll’s multiple media appearances prove she is looking for publicity; her fans will insist that she is responsibly speaking out as a victim of domestic violence.
I’m conflicted about NASCAR’s move, but I have to think that this was not a quick reaction to events, but part of a carefully conceived plan as to how the sanctioning body would react to developments in the case.
I do know this: There were times when I made a domestic violence arrest that I was not convinced it was warranted, but I took someone to jail anyway. As a police officer in a city that gave me no choice, it was, frankly, a relief not to have to make that choice.
I don’t know if Kurt Busch is guilty of domestic abuse or not, and neither do you. A family court commissioner in Delaware thinks he knows – or, based on his findings, he’s apparently 50.1 percent sure he knows – and that’s enough to get Busch suspended.
Should it be? I’m glad that isn’t my call.