In the Doghouse

Woman fined a fin for cussing cop on pup patrol.

Rob Ullman

100 Years Ago

He was just doing his job. Officer Garvey, of the Alexandria police department, was playing dogcatcher on North Alfred Street, when a mutt he had nabbed, wanting no part of the animal wagon into which it was being shown, got all gnarly. A boy who was helping the officer then “dashed it to the pavement,” reported the Alexandria Gazette. Enter Harriet Q. Pettit, who arrived just in time to see the altercation and happened to be armed with a lexicon of four-letter words that she unleashed upon the duo.

Garvey testified in police court that he had been “engaged in capturing stray dogs.” As Mrs. Pettit appeared and let loose the invective, Garvey explained to her what could happen if she continued to interfere with his work. Nevertheless, get all up in his business she did, using language “of the vilest nature,” the officer said. He had no alternative but to “take the woman in charge.”

Garvey “did not place her in the wagon with the dogs, as might have been inferred.” She rode shotgun to the police station. The officer insisted that he had followed procedure. Pettit took the stand and turned on the waterworks. Sobbing nonstop, she said that Garvey had cursed her and ripped her clothes, using undue force. She denied using unladylike lingo and said she had wanted to pay the license fee and adopt the dog.

When court reconvened the next morning, there came a string of people who backed up Garvey’s accusation that Pettit’s diatribe had been “unfit for ears polite.” One of these witnesses, a Mr. Jackson, agreed, but when asked what Pettit had said, being of mouth polite he “positively refused to repeat it in the court.” Despite threats of jail, Jackson was “inexorable” and was taken into custody for “contumaciousness.” That’s contempt of court.

Many witnesses echoed Garvey’s version of the incident, and one said Pettit had been “armed with a broom.” Not above grandstanding, and clearly needing to do so, Pettit’s lawyer “exhibited a shirtwaist, tattered as much as a Confederate battle flag,” which was supposedly the blouse she had been wearing at the time of the incident, “the rents in which, it was alleged, were made by Officer Garvey.” Several people identified the waist, but one witness said Pettit had been wearing a blouse of a different color and “not the one exhibited.” Oh!

After an hour’s worth of fine rehashing of the particulars of the case, Justice Caton delivered his summation, stating that nine witnesses had testified that Pettit had indeed used “unconventional language” toward Garvey while he was on duty and that she had been harboring an unlicensed dog. He fined her five dollars. Her lawyer said Mrs. Pettit would be appealing.  

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