A cop tells of the personal cost of witnessing violence.
On Monday, Philadelphia police Officer Ryan Saunders gave a Philadelphia judge a gripping account of his efforts three years ago to save stabbing victim Karimah Ballard.
“It was something out of a horror movie,” Saunders, 27, told Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart. “There was blood everywhere. I can still hear the victim’s screams.”
On Tuesday, Saunders returned to the witness stand -- this time to tell Minehart why he was able to testify.
“I was placed in counseling,” Saunders said. “The vision of that crime scene and the victim’s last breath. She was killed in such a horrific way. Her last breath in the back seat of a police car. She died in my arms. The odor … I couldn’t get it off me for two weeks. I had to be taken off the streets.”
Cops, the theory goes, get used to the brutality that human beings perpetrate on one another. Even Minehart, 64, a former prosecutor, juvenile probation officer and judge since 2003, said he could not remember seeing such a victim-impact statement from a police officer.
Saunders testified Monday as a prosecution witness in the nonjury murder trial of Solomon Carter.
Carter, 31, a North Philadelphia man with a history of mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse, was charged with stabbing and killing Ballard, 32, the mother of two young boys and his ex-girlfriend, after erupting in rage when she ordered him to leave her apartment in the 1600 block of North 16th Street.
On Tuesday, Minehart found Carter guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to the mandatory life prison term with no chance of parole.
Saunders, then a Temple police officer, described how he and his sergeant arrived outside the ground-floor apartment and were met outside by Ballard’s friend Gabrielle Kirven, 30, her three young children and Ballard’s hysterical two young boys.
“He’s stabbing her, he’s stabbing her,” Saunders testified Kirven told him.
Saunders said he looked through a window and saw Carter, with Ballard in a chokehold. Carter also spotted him, Saunders said, and dragged Ballard into a bathroom and closed the door. Then there was screaming and Carter yelling that they were both going to die.
When they broke through the door, Saunders told the judge, his partner collared Carter while he tried to help Ballard, who was on the floor bleeding from a knife wound to the throat that severed her carotid artery.
“She was in pretty bad shape,” Saunders said. “I tried to carry her down the hallway but there was so much blood she was slipping in my hands. I kept doing chest compressions and talking to her, ‘Stay with me, stay with me.’”
Police got Ballard, still tended by Saunders, into the rear of a police car and set off for the emergency room at Temple University Hospital.
“I remember her staring at me, very light breathing,” Saunders told the judge. “We got to Broad and Allegheny and there was her last breath. And that was it, she was gone right there.”
At Temple, Saunders said, the emergency room staff briefly revived Ballard and he remembered a nurse telling him, “You saved her.”
“I thought I did,” Saunders quietly added.
It was only later, Saunders told Minehart, that he realized “she died in my arms.”
Saunders said his clothes were so blood-soaked that emergency personnel thought he had been shot and cut them off. He said he wound up wearing hospital scrubs for his interview later that morning with homicide detectives.
Saunders was one of several witnesses who made victim-impact statements before the judge sentenced Carter. Kirven and Ballard’s sister, mother and brother told of the impact of her loss. They testified about Ballard’s sons, 12 and 9 at the time, and Kirven’s sons, then 6 and 2, who continue living in fear, sleeping with lights on and using the bathroom only with the door open and an adult outside.
Even Saunders seemed surprised by the crime’s impact on him. In seven years in law enforcement – 5-1/2 years on the Temple University force, the last 1-1/2 with the Philadelphia police – Saunders said “I had seen a lot of bad things.”
But Saunders said what happened after 3 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2008 “was something I had never seen or experienced in my life.”