No James in this house. No way. James moved a “looong” time ago.
The half-dressed, bleary-eyed man peering through a crack in the door tells Spokane Patrolwoman Barbara Byington she’s at the wrong house this early winter morning.
Byington doesn’t budge. Looking offended by her skepticism, the man invites her in to see for herself.
Seconds later, Byington shines her flashlight on a thin man hiding in a bedroom closet. It’s James.
She calmly hands him court documents ordering him to stay at least two blocks away from his mother-inlaw, who has asked the court for protection.
Once outside the East Cataldo house, Byington, who wears a ponytail and a ball cap, grins and clenches her fist. “Yes!”
Byington, 29, prides herself on outwitting people who go to great lengths to avoid her.
Her full-time job is tracking down people whose friends, relatives or acquaintances get temporary protection orders against them. Days after the violence, Byington delivers the paperwork and reminds accused abusers to attend their upcoming court hearings. She delivers nearly all protection orders for the Spokane Police Department.
Sometimes, she returns to the police station with most of the orders she set out to deliver. Perhaps no one was home; perhaps the closets were full of people.
Today she’s lucky.
At her next stop, on East 14th, a middle-aged woman wearing house slippers invites Byington inside to talk to her daughter.
Byington finds her lying in a darkened bedroom. She rolls over, sees the blue uniform and objects: “That’s been canceled.”
Byington lays the papers on the bed. “You’ve been served.”
At each stop, Byington gets a different response, a different story.
“Who is it? Who is it for real?” a woman shouts through a door on East Eighth.
At a downtown apartment, a woman calls to her young daughter, “Matthew’s serving papers on us again! Isn’t that a joke?”
A bare-chested man at Casa-del-Sol Apartments on West Second glares, then smiles. “It’s no bother. Just don’t put handcuffs on me.”
Byington spends a little more time at an apartment complex on North Mayfair, where a barefoot woman accepts the order against her, then explains she’s the one who’s actually being abused, not her husband.
“He’s playing a lot of games with me and stuff. I haven’t been bothering him at all,” said the woman as her two children watched television in a back room.
Her husband claims she has stalked him, trailing him in her car, threatening his roommate and assaulting him in a parking lot.
Byington doesn’t decide who’s wrong. She just relays the papers.
“I’ve had girlfriend against girlfriend, parents against children and man against woman,” she says once back in her unmarked car. “But usually it’s a woman filing against a man.”
Byington tries to avoid serving people at work, but today she catches up with a body shop employee at an East Francis store.
Two other workers watch and whisper as Byington gives the man the protection order.
The man’s girlfriend claims he threw a pizza on her son, who was sleeping on a couch, then pushed her and threatened to kill her and himself.
The worker towers over her, but Byington isn’t worried. The most violent people are quiet and meek when she serves them at work.
Since March, when she started delivering protection orders full time, Byington’s gun has stayed on her hip. She never has had to use her pepper spray or baton either.
The best weapon for this job, she says, is courtesy.
“As long as I talk softly and with respect, they tend to listen.”
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