By Hayley Hudson
One law enforcer in Minnesota says his sister is an outstanding corrections officer — and his hero — for surviving a clash with an aggressive inmate bent on causing her harm.
“I work to keep the streets safe as a Road Deputy and arrest the bad guys, and she books them in and babysits them for me,” Itasca County Sheriff’s Officer Troy Ugrich told PoliceOne. “But she does far more than babysit in that jail.”
One morning in August 2009, Darlene Troumbly was serving breakfast to inmates when she got word from a colleague that a man who was booked a few weeks prior had thrown a towel over the camera in his cell.
Plenty of inmates had done the same thing in the past, so the 48-year-old CO didn’t think much of the news. Although he had a history of drug use and mental illness, the prisoner hadn’t been particularly erratic lately, so she casually asked another officer to “pop her on across” to the cell — where he lay in wait.
“From the moment I opened that door, I knew right then. The look in his eyes was like no other. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve seen people angry. This was just… I want to use the word ‘psycho,’” Troumbly said.
He Wanted to Kill Her
He lunged at her, and she quickly put to work the two tools she had. First, she delivered strong verbal commands to back off, but the prisoner — at more than six feet tall and broad across the back — didn’t listen.
Her next option was to draw her TASER, and as she did so, she remembered her training. Since bringing it to their jail, deputies had used it — successfully — four times.
“Everybody drops, but he kept coming forward,” Troumbly said. “All I could do was scream.”
Officer Amy Slettom — Troumbly’s partner of three years — heard her from downstairs and rounded up help. A group of deputies ran to the location of the struggle, and Slettom immediately jumped on the prisoner.
“I thought he was going to really harm me. He had me in that closet and he threw me against the shelf quite a few times. Tried to get me down on the ground,” Troumbly said.
Another officer fired a TASER as a deputy grabbed the prisoner by the ear, applying firm pressure. When he finally fell, Troumbly remembers him muttering about “God’s children” and people coming “to take him away.”
Despite the nonsensical nature of his words, one statement didn’t seem that way. At one point, as he held the officer tightly by her shirt collar, he told her something no one should ever have to hear.
“He mouthed to me that he was going to kill me,” Troumbly said.
Red Lights and Sirens
At the end of those few short minutes, she didn’t know — and couldn’t feel — the extent of her wounds, but her colleagues convinced her to go to the hospital. She begrudgingly accepted on the caveat she drive herself, and on the way there, she called her brother, who was on duty at the time.
“I went red lights and sirens all the way to the hospital,” Ugrich said.
Not yet knowing any details of the attack, he headed for the emergency room, where investigators, the sheriff, and chief deputies surrounded his sister’s bed.
“She was sitting up, but she looked like a ghost. As soon as I walked into the room, she instantly broke down and started crying. Prior to that, she never cried,” Ugrich said.
As her brother hugged her, the dull ache in her legs — a quiet reminder of how hard she braced herself against her attacker — began to subside. With him there in her arms, she tried to picture the scene had their roles been reversed.
“He’s by himself on the road, so it’s going to take somebody longer to get to him. He could have his partner miles away. Thank God I had people right there,” Troumbly said.
Her only other injuries were neck and shoulder bruising.
The siblings frequently talk about the skirmish and how Troumbly’s inclination to defend — herself or others — had been around from the start. Growing up, she looked out for her brother, who is the youngest of five.
“I was always like his protector when he was little. If my other brothers wanted to beat on him, I would hide him,” Troumbly said.
Ugrich wants his sister to fight the urge to second-guess herself. Not only did she act admirably, he said, but her win in itself is more important than how she did it.
“I’ve been hit over the head with a beer bottle, knocked out … you just fight, fight, fight until you win, and that’s what she did. And no matter how it’s done — it can be the dirtiest win ever — she chose to use her verbal to win over this 6’6” guy. Because that’s all she had,” Ugrich said.
A former waitress used to chatting, Troumbly agrees communication helps her on the job, but when things turned ugly that day, determination was paramount. She said she focused intently on one thought: This isn’t going to happen to me.
Whatever happens next, both officers are better prepared. Investigators on Troumbly’s case accurately predicted that her awareness would change, and her brother’s has, too.
“Her training and my training and us talking about the situation makes us both stronger,” Ugrich said.
He reminds his sibling she’s a warrior as often as he can.
“No doubt she’s my hero,” Ugrich said. “She’s my big sister.”