By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Tamara Hughes is insulted that she should be sitting here in her parents' living room defending herself. She shouldn't have to be second-guessed or mocked. What happened to her was traumatic, almost deadly, but to police it may as well be fiction.M MX"I just want to know from them why. Why are they doing this to me?" Hughes takes a drag from her cigarette, her brown eyes blinking back tears. "Why are they saying this didn't happen to me when I know that it did? Is it because I wasn't marred or stabbed or shot or had blood running off me? Is that what it would take?"
She pauses and leans back into the couch. Around her is the cozy, wood-paneled comfort of her childhood home in Garland. She moved back here because she was afraid to be alone any longer. She says she has gone from being an independent 31-year-old with a career she loved to a quaking child, a little girl seeking protection. While she now feels physically safe, her family home has provided little protection against a daily cavalcade of emotions--fear, self-loathing, distrust.
Today she is angry. She can't understand how it has come to this. Five months ago, she lost the job she loved as a 911 emergency operator for the Garland Police Department. She's lost the friends she made there and a sense of community. She feels betrayed that the very police she'd dispatched to help people night after night for nearly three years shunned her and called her a liar when she most desperately needed protection.
"They always tell you when you work there that they protect their own, you're one of us," Hughes says. "They didn't protect me."
It was in the early morning hours of February 9 that Hughes says her life began to disintegrate. Hughes had placed her own emergency call to Garland police. In a wailing, hysterical voice, she told how a masked man had just forced his way into her home and tried to strangle her.
The night had begun in an ordinary, if melancholy, manner for Hughes. She was alone in her house on Joyce Drive in Garland; she'd just climbed out of the bathtub and was walking to the living room to get her cigarettes. Then she says she heard a knock on the door just after midnight. The knock didn't surprise her. Hughes worked the graveyard shift for 911, and this was her day off. She was used to people coming over to her house late at night.
So she opened the door.
With the benefit of hindsight, Hughes sees now that it was stupid to open the door at such a late hour. Her training as a 911 operator had taught her safety; she'd seen a victim's mistakes played out time after time on the emergency calls she herself had handled. She also possessed common sense. But that night, it all seemed suspended.
"There were a lot of things I did that night that were stupid," she says. "But they were like normal reactions for me to an abnormal situation. That is something that me and my psychologist go over a lot. When you're at your house, you just don't think something like that is going to happen to you. I certainly wasn't expecting it."
When Hughes opened the door, she saw a man standing on her front porch. The light was off, and she wasn't wearing her glasses, but Hughes says she could make out that the man's lips were moving. That's when she made a second colossal mistake.
"I opened my screen door and said, 'what?'"
Hughes says the man immediately forced his way inside the house. He grabbed her shirt, and when she turned to run away, the fabric ripped. She tried to run to the phone but tripped and went sprawling across the floor. She scrambled on her hands and knees to get to the phone.
Suddenly, she saw something that looked like a jump rope coming over her head. Later on, she says, she learned it was an extension cord. Her attacker wrapped the cord around her neck and yanked back. Hughes says she managed to grab the cord with one of her hands, preventing it from tightening around her throat.
Her attacker spoke to her:
"You like fucking cops, but there is no cop here to protect you now, you fucking whore!"
Hughes pauses after she repeats the words. She gulps. She looks down to hide her eyes, which are welling with tears. "When he called me those words, I got really, really mad, because that is exactly what I felt like anyway."
But, she reckons, her anger saved her. She yanked hard at the cord. It must have slipped through her attacker's gloves, because it pulled away easily. Hughes says she then turned toward her attacker and kicked him in the thigh. He turned and ran out her front door.
"Get out of my goddamn house!" Hughes yelled after him. Then she slammed her door. It didn't quite shut. The whole attack took between five and six minutes, she figures.