I got this story from Boing Boing, but I was surprised to see Xeni report it straight, without the least hint of commentary. Seems a fellow overheard the soundtrack of a woman screaming and pleading for help, so he grabbed an antique sword and rushed to the rescue. Alas, what he was hearing was the soundtrack from a porn DVD, and now he faces three criminal charges and the chance at close to three years in jail:
Man mistakes porn DVD as woman’s cries for help
He faces charges after entering apartment with sword in tow
Oconomowoc – Instincts took over, James Van Iveren says, when he rushed out his door to the sound of a woman being raped in an apartment above.
“It was a woman screaming,” he recalled Tuesday. “She was screaming for help.”
Sword in hand, he bounded up the stairs, kicked in the door and confronted a man who turned out to be alone – watching a pornographic movie.
“Now I feel stupid,” Van Iveren said.
Worse yet, police seized his sword – a family heirloom – carted him to jail and referred the case to a prosecutor who charged Van Iveren with three criminal counts.
“This really is nothing,” Van Iveren insisted, “nothing but a mistake.”
Van Iveren’s “mistake” unfolded on the morning of Feb. 12 when Van Iveren, 39, of Oconomowoc, was listening to music in the apartment he shares with his mother behind Red & Bunny’s Diner on S. Main St.
Suddenly, according to Van Iveren, the distinct cries of a woman pleading for help could be heard coming from the apartment above him. He tried putting them out of his mind at first, but when they persisted, Van Iveren decided something had to be done.
“I don’t have a telephone,” he said. “I couldn’t call the police.”
The cries seemed to be coming from the apartment of a tenant he barely knew, but that, Van Iveren said, didn’t matter.
“It had nothing to do with him,” he said. “I didn’t even know if he was there. It was the woman. I thought there was a woman.”
The woman, according to a criminal complaint, was on a DVD being watched by the neighbor, who later played part of the movie back for police to point out what he figured Van Iveren heard downstairs.
To Van Iveren, the neighbor’s film sounded like a rape in progress.
“So I grabbed the cavalry sword and ran upstairs,” he said. “I intended to hold it behind my back and knock.
“But I froze and instead, what happened happened.”
According to the criminal complaint, the neighbor told police that Van Iveren pounded on the door and kicked it open without warning, damaging the frame and lock in the process.
“Where is she?” Van Iveren demanded, thrusting the 39-inch sword at the neighbor, according to the complaint. “Where is she?”
The neighbor told police that Van Iveren became increasingly aggressive as he repeated the question, insisting that he’d heard a woman being raped. With the sword pointed at him, the neighbor led Van Iveren throughout the apartment, opening closet doors to prove he was alone, according to the complaint.
Van Iveren said it wasn’t nearly that dramatic.
“I walked in the front room and looked around,” he said. “When I saw there was no woman, I left.
“I went downstairs and when I looked out the window, I saw the police had come, so I went out to tell them what happened.”
Van Iveren insisted that he never threatened the neighbor with the sword.
“I had the sword extended,” he said. “But that was all.”
The neighbor wasn’t home when a reporter visited the building Tuesday, and he could not be reached by telephone.
For his effort, Van Iveren was charged with criminal trespass while using a dangerous weapon, criminal damage to property while using a dangerous weapon and disorderly conduct while using a dangerous weapon, all criminal misdemeanors that carry a maximum total penalty of 33 months in jail.
“All of them are going to be dismissed,” he predicted. “They have to.
“This was all just a big mistake.”
I find this a troubling story. On the one hand, I’m all for the rights of people to the peaceable enjoyment of pornography in the security of their own homes. But on the other hand, I’ve seen some porn DVDs that had pretty disturbing soundtracks. I can imagine this being an easy mistake to make.
That said, the sword and the forcible entry seem a bit over dramatic. There’s a certain lack of judgment on display. But what do we want people to do when they hear a rape in progress? I’m just old fashioned enough to think that, had events been what Van Iveren thought they were, he would or ought to have earned himself a good citizen’s medal and the thanks of a grateful populace.
Fortunately, I think the prediction of dismissal is likely to come true. There’s something called “the defense of necessity” which exists for any crime, and in most jurisdictions all you have to do is convince a jury that a reasonable person would have believed the otherwise criminal acts were necessary to save a life or avert a serious injury. Given that hurdle — and Van Iveren’s arguably heroic motive — I think the prosecutor would be insane to push this to trial.