With a rainbow-colored Mohawk and numerous tattoos and body piercings, including on his tongue, just about everyone at the Mercyhurst Police Academy in Erie, PA figured Mark Rayman, fresh out of high school, would wash out quickly.
Though the unruly teenager learned to adapt –“Mark had to tone down his style and opinions enough to fit into police work,” says his wife, Melinda – the tobacco-chewing cop is still regarded as something of a rebel among his fellow officers at the Little Elm Police Department after three and a half years on the job.
“I don’t think he likes to ‘go along to get along’ if you know what I mean,” says Mark’s field training officer, Sgt. Drew Mitchell. “The good side of this is that he relates so very well to many walks of life that others can’t. There are segments of our society that Mark can communicate with that I could never.”
One night, for example, the two officers stopped a group of mischievous teenagers whom they thought “were up to no good.” But instead of hauling the juveniles down to the Little Elm police station for questioning, Patrol officer Rayman, who stands 6 foot four and weighs 210 pounds, jumped on one of their skateboards and performed a few tricks, dazzling the teenagers.
His methods of handling troubled teenagers, says Sgt. Mitchell, have earned Officer Rayman a reputation as “being honest, fair and someone they can trust.” It’s also earned him the respect of his fellow officers. His ability to relate to teenage crowd“ is very valuable in our business and can help us get information in critical times,” says Sgt. Mitchell.
Not that the patrol officer is a pussycat around teenagers. On a recent patrol in Little Elm, Officer Rayman spots a young female driver at a gas station, hip hop blasting from her car speakers. The driver and her passengers aren’t wearing seat belts and toddlers in the back seat aren’t strapped into their car seats. Officer Rayman wants to know why. But the young lady, exuding a haughty air, acts as if she can’t hear Officer Rayman. That triggers a stern lecture from the policeman.
“Why do I have to hear your music?” he growls. “You can’t hear what I am listening to from my car, do you?”
Officer Rayman calls her mother on the phone, and waits for her arrival. As soon as she arrives at the gas station, the mother realizes her daughter is out of line and may be on the brink of getting a citation and fine. She admonishes her daughter and assures Officer Rayman she’ll be wearing her seatbelt and her passengers will be wearing their seatbelts from now on.
Officer Rayman, persuaded the mother will keep her pledge, lets the daughter and her passengers drive home without a citation and fine. Making sure teenagers wear seat belts has become one of his missions, he says, ever since he witnessed a terrible accident that killed a North Texas teenager, an event that has haunted him ever since.
“I-Don’t Wear A Seatbelt” Policy
The only person excluded from the officer’s “must-wear-a seatbelt” policy is Officer Rayman himself. “I don’t wear a seatbelt,” he tells a passenger while cruising on a dark and narrow road leading toward Little Elm one evening. “But I promise that we won’t be crashing tonight.”
His wife, Melinda, would say her husband’s “I-don’t-wear-a-seatbelt” declaration is a vestige of his rebellious youth. Though he’s now 41 and wears a well-ironed uniform and shiny shoes, “inside he is still the same old punk rock loving, fiercely independent, Pittsburgh boy,” she says.
Indeed, from the day he was born, Mark seemed to defy all manner of convention and conformity. He was born in a hospital hallway in Pittsburgh, not the maternity ward, because the staff didn’t believe Mark’s mother when she howled that her baby was coming out in the elevator. It wasn’t the first incidence of bad timing involving Mark’s birth. Mark’s mother vowed not to have any more children after her daughter was born with spina bifida. But she got pregnant just before Mark’s father had a vasectomy.
In school, Mark struggled, badly. Some of his teachers and many of his classmates thought he was either lazy or stupid. He frustrated his teachers with his poor reading skills and misspellings of even simple words. He’d reverse letters such as “d” for “b’, reverse the spelling of words such as “tip” for “pit” and invert letters such as “m” for “w” and “u’ for “n.” No one knew for sure what exactly was wrong with Mark, but everyone, including Mark, knew something was wrong with him. It wasn’t until years later that he would learn, from his future fiancé, that he suffered from a common learning disorder called dyslexia.
But outside the classroom, in the water, Mark was special. He could swim like a dolphin. At age five, he caught the attention of a coach who watched Mark propel himself across the pool like he was powered by a mercury engine. Before long, Mark was winning medals at the local, state and national levels. He was recruited by the swimming coach to attend Pine Crest Academy outside of Fort Lauderdale, FL, a prestigious high school well-known for developing Olympic caliber swimmers. His first year at Pine Crest, Mark set a record in the 100-meter backstroke.
But Mark left Florida and moved to North Huntington, PA after his father contracted stage 4 lung cancer. His father, a heavy smoker, died in December of 1997. At Norwin High School in North Huntingdon, Mark once again left his swimming coaches slack-jawed by his speed. During a state swim meet, Mark injured his right knee, strapped on a brace and still won first place. And he still holds the record in 100-meter backstroke at Norwin after 20 years.
Besides swimming, Mark loved music. Ever the maverick, Mark was attracted to the hard-edged, anti-establishment lyrics and the “I-don’t-care” attitude of punk rock. Mark taught himself to play drums and joined several punk bands, including Aus Rotten, that has since become an internationally famous punk rock band.
In 1993, Mark enrolled at Gannon University in Erie, PA. At Gannon, he joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, spending most of his time partying, playing pranks, drinking and running afoul of school administrators for everything from fighting to smashing a pumpkin.
Then Melinda moved into an apartment next door to Mark’s fraternity house. She was 24, a pretty brunette that attracted Mark’s attention and held it – even after he learned she was engaged. They became fast friends. But as Melinda recalls, “it wasn’t long until I had dumped my fiancé and Mark (dumped his) and I started hanging out as more than friends.”
Melinda thought Mark was bright, and was puzzled why he seemed to struggle academically. At the time, she was studying to become a school psychologist and convinced Mark to let her administer some special tests. She discovered that Mark suffered from dyslexia.
Melinda says the dyslexia findings “seemed to reinvigorate his spirit for school and learning.” After struggling with the English language for years, Mark decided to learn a foreign language and began studying Spanish.
Five years after they began dating, Melinda and Mark married in 2000. Today, they have three children. Mark’s eldest son, Connor, 14, bears a striking resemblance to his dad, and even walks and talks like him. Mark’s second son, Seth, 9, inherited his father’s unruly personality. Melinda often needles Mark, “See, I told you I would have my revenge when you had a son just like you.” Their three-year-old daughter, Aliya, resembles Melinda.
Melinda believes she knows Mark better than he knows himself. She says Mark tries to portray himself “as an unemotional, detached military type of guy, but underneath is a man with a very big heart.”
Showing Mercy to a Thief
Officer Rayman’s “big heart” was exposed in a recent encounter with a resident of Little Elm whom he suspected of selling stolen hockey and gym equipment. Officer Rayman drove to the thief’s house to confront him.
“So, this stuff isn’t stolen, right?”
“No way,” replied the thief.
“Well, that is interesting you say that because I think you are lying.”
The thief, rattled by Mark’s accusation, admitted to everything.
But instead of arresting the thief and charging him with selling stolen merchandise, Officer Rayman told him to stop stealing, handed him $20 and encouraged him to straighten out his life. The thief “thanked him profusely,” says Melinda.
Working in Pittsburgh, Officer Rayman also gave a boxer a break once. Melinda says he caught him stealing – a crime that, if found guilty, would have landed him in jail and ended his career. But Officer Rayman gave him a chance to redeem himself, and he did. “He’s now a pretty successful boxer from what Mark says,” according to Melinda. “He told Mark that he changed his life.”
Sgt. Mitchell, Mark’s field-training officer, agrees with Melinda. “Mark is one of the more genuinely caring people on this department. He doesn’t want or need praise but just does what he thinks needs to be done.”
Even though Officer Rayman may not seek praise, he’s earned high honors and distinction in all the police departments he’s been associated with during his 13-year career. Officer Rayman’s first job doing police work was in the McKeesport, PA. Police Department, where he worked for 10 years and was honored as a member of Allegheny County Narcotics Team. He is also a Certified Mountain Bike officer, SWAT certified, and Water Rescue Certified.
Officer Rayman has been with The Little Elm Police Department since July 2009. The department is made up of 36 sworn officers and around 10 civilian officers. The department deals with everything from family violence to sexual assault to drug-related offenses. Officers say they have their hands full dealing with calls from residents for every type of crime. From February 2012 to April 2012 (the latest period for which figures are available), all calls for service rose 17% and total arrests rose 59%.
But traffic citations dropped 39% during the same period, which may explain why Officer Rayman seems to relish nabbing speeders in his town. He pulls over to the side of the road and points to his radar screen, hoping it will light up with drivers ignoring the 45 mph speed limit on the street. “Come on! Do a 55,” he says, the 10-mile-over-the-limit threshold he’s set tonight for pulling over speeders.
Officer Rayman turns his radar on as vehicles draw closer to his patrol car. This ensures that even drivers with radar detectors do not have enough time to slow down before they’re caught on radar speeding. But as time speeds by sitting on the side of the road, the cars don’t. Finally, Officer Rayman spots a car roaring past the 55 mph threshold the officer has established for earning a ticket.
His lights flashing, Officer Rayman pulls over the car. It’s a Dallas Police officer. They exchange pleasantries and wave good bye. The officer says he’s not about to give a ticket to one of his own. A few minutes later, he chases down another speeder. He gets out of his patrol car with a citation in hand. Unfortunately, it’s a fireman and Officer Rayman feels obliged to let him go, too.
Tonight’s speed trap hasn’t caught any drivers, which disappoints Officer Rayman’s ride-along passenger. Overall, it was a rather dull night of patrol work. But there are other ways to see Officer Rayman’s devilish ways on display. The officer’s Facebook profile shows Jesus with a gun in his right hand and a bottle of wine on his left.
Does Officer Rayman’s Facebook page fairly represent a cop who can’t conform to the conservative, buttoned-down persona of a policeman? His wife certainly thinks so. “He is a tiger who loves his stripes and sees no need to change them for anyone,” she says. “He has always been a skateboarding, Vans wearing, ball cap wearing type of guy and that has never changed.”
Special Contributor to The Denton Record-Chronicle (Getschow edited).