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Domestic disputes hit home for police

Eddie Marayne was dogged by worries as he drove to his girlfriend's house one night last spring. His mother was living alone and unprotected, his brother and sister were using drugs and, worst of all, he suspected his girlfriend was cheating on him.

According to police reports, Marayne, 42, confronted his girlfriend as she came back to her Riverview home about 9:30 p.m May 15. They argued. He pulled out a gun and then choked her, the reports state.

"I should break your neck! I'll break your legs! I'll shoot your a--," Marayne shouted at her, the girlfriend told investigators.

No one was hurt in the incident, which would have been just another domestic dispute if it weren't for one thing:

Marayne is a Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy. He is one of several law enforcement officers in recent months who have found themselves on the wrong end of a domestic call.

Although there is no indication that law enforcement officials have more domestic trouble than anyone else, experts agree that when things go wrong at an officer's home, they can go very wrong.

Alcohol, guns, an authoritarian attitude and above-normal stress, they say, make for a volatile and often violent mixture.

"These people are controlling. They're authoritarian. They work in a paramilitary setting," said Dr. Vincent Skotko, a consulting psychologist for the Tampa Police Department. "They give orders and they expect those orders to be followed. (But) it doesn't work well bringing that style home."

Other factors common to police life also contribute to domestic problems. They include rotating shifts that can turn a family's schedule on its head and some officers' reluctance to tell their spouses the details of an often dangerous and disturbing job.

Aside from the pre-employment screenings he does for law enforcement agencies, Skotko said, the main reason he sees police officers is marriage-related difficulties.

When a husband stops talking to his wife or when she begins to resent the demands his job makes on their home life, fighting can start. It may not end with only a slap.

When former Hillsborough County Jail deputy Gordon Jones tried to strangle his wife in early June, seven other deputies were called to his home, police records show. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer held them at bay with a large kitchen knife and hit one deputy in the mouth, chipping his tooth, according to arrest records.

No gun was involved, probably because jail deputies don't carry guns.

Such was not the case when former Tampa police officer Edward Atiles, consumed by jealousy, attacked his live-in girlfriend, also a police officer, and put his police-issue handgun to her head last August, according to police.

"That's it, b----! You are going to die!" he shouted at her, according to an arrest report. The woman was able to disarm him and kick the gun under the bed, according to the report. As he ripped phones out of the wall, she ran from the house in her underwear. She called the sheriff's office from a neighbor's home, records show.

These incidents ended the careers of Jones and Atiles, who both resigned shortly after their arrests. Marayne, the Hillsborough deputy who threatened his girlfriend, was suspended for 10 days following a recent internal affairs investigation.

Perhaps the most horrifying domestic dispute involving a police officer was the recent alleged rape this month of a Tampa police officer by her husband, who is not an officer, in their Plant City home.

After attacking her and tying her up, the husband fired a shot at her with a 9mm handgun, according to an arrest report. The bullet missed her head by 10 inches. She later got control of the gun and shot her husband in the chest, wounding him seriously, police said.

The husband has been charged with aggravated battery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and sexual battery.

Experts and officers say it was different in the old days. Domestic problems still occurred, they say, but a conspiracy of silence kept them from the police blotter.

"In the 1920s, a (beaten) wife took her licks and maybe complained to her sister," Skotko said. "But she didn't file a formal complaint. And cops took care of their own."

Tampa police Capt. Silas Brock has been given the uncomfortable job of coming between an officer and his wife a few times in his 30 years with the department.

"We've had more of late than we've had in years," he said. "I'm not saying it didn't occur. If it did, it stayed private."

People didn't want the embarrassment of police coming to their home, Brock said. And a wife knew the threat of calling her husband's captain was an effective deterrent.

"Misconduct wasn't very well tolerated in those days," he said.

Police officials now are inclined more to help their officers rather than just punish them. Experts agree officers endure an enormous amount of daily stress. Only air-traffic controllers have a higher stress level, said Rudolf Aussner, resident psychologist with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

Both the sheriff's office and the Tampa police offer counseling for their employees. Skotko and Aussner said there is no shortage of people to counsel.

Aussner also gives on-the-job stress-reduction seminars. He preaches a litany of "communication, communication, communication."

But domestic violence is not a disease that can be eradicated with a vaccine. Counseling helps, but there is a sad irony for officers.

No matter how many domestic disputes an officer breaks up in other people's homes, he never will be prepared for what happens when he is involved in a dispute at his own address.

For example, Officer Atiles' supervisors praised him in his one-year evaluation for good judgment during stressful situations, such as resisting arrest and domestic violence.

"Their (officers) job is to make the disturbance go away," Skotko said. "But they're not learning how to deal with their own lives. They have an easy out (on the job). They can arrest someone. They can't arrest their wives."