House Arrest Wasn't for Her, So Police Chief's Wife Erica Bouza Tried Political Protest—and Jail

UPDATED 03/05/1984 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/05/1984 at 01:00 AM EST

When antinuke crusader Erica Bouza, 52, told her husband, Anthony, that she planned to get arrested at a protest rally and might land in jail, he swallowed hard, says Erica, but then said simply, "Do what you have to." Some might say that's carrying the supportive husband routine too far, especially since Tony, 55, happens to be the Minneapolis chief of police. But Bouza, a quick-witted, outspoken liberal cop who was something of a media darling in New York in the mid-1970s, shrugged off suggestions that he "do something" about his independent-minded wife. "How could I be embarrassed by an act of conscience?" says Tony, who earns $54,000 a year running the city's 780-member force. "For God's sake, she's not a child molester."

True. But for Erica, who was arrested for trespassing twice last year after demonstrations at the corporate headquarters of Honeywell, Inc., the nation's 16th largest defense contractor, the decision both times was not easy. "I didn't want to make life difficult for Tony," she says. "I don't like breaking the law. But this is something I feel very, very strongly about. You have to be your own person no matter whom you're married to."

Last Nov. 10, following her second conviction, Erica packed a flannel nightie, the complete works of Jane Austen in paperback and some herbal tea bags, and began her 10-day sentence at the Hennepin County workhouse. Somewhat naively, neither Tony nor Erica expected her jailing to be a big deal, but the media pounced on her ever-accessible husband, a man who dresses in Brooks Brothers, quotes Greek classics and is the Henny Youngman of police chiefs. Consider this exchange with reporters shortly after Erica's arrest:

Q. Are you going to visit her?

A. I intend to, but at my age, conjugal visits aren't necessary.

Q. With good behavior, will she be released early?

A. If she behaves the way she does at home, she has no chance.

Q. What were your parting words?

A. I told her rehabilitation was possible. I said she should rethink her misdeeds and life of crime and find a different path in life.

The one-liners came to an abrupt halt when Erica was transferred to a 6-by-10-foot solitary confinement cell on her second day in jail because of two anonymous telephone threats against her life. "There were times I thought I would go crazy," she says of her three-day stay in solitary. "I wouldn't do that to an animal."

Once Erica was out of solitary, she says, "jail was fine." Her chores included emptying slop pails and cleaning toilets and garbage cans. At first she was extremely nervous about her confinement ("Maybe I had seen too many James Cagney movies") and fearful that people might "take a special dislike to the police chief's wife." Instead, the matrons were "very fair," she says, and the inmates "no different from myself except that they didn't have the good fortune to come from the middle class and be educated." Her term was reduced to seven days for good behavior. "Before I went in, I said I would miss my husband very much, but I was wrong," says Erica, who lost four pounds in jail. "I was too busy thinking about my own survival."

Erica is uncomfortable in the public eye ("I'm not a spokesperson for the peace movement"), but because of her husband she is no stranger to the spotlight. As a demanding and opinionated administrator who welcomes publicity, Bouza has always been controversial. (One topic he steers clear of, however, is the nuclear issue. "I don't speak to foreign policy," he says.) Since becoming chief in Minneapolis four years ago, he has ushered through such changes as one-man police patrols and a requirement, bitterly opposed by the police union, that all officers wear name tags. He has also insisted on the hiring of more women and blacks. "I'm a reformer, not a caretaker," he says. His high visibility and aggressive policies have, at times, polarized the city. "You either love him or you hate him," says local guest newspaper columnist Jeanette May.

The same was once true in New York, where Bouza, who had risen through the ranks from patrolman, publicly advocated the decriminalization of marijuana and the hiring of gays. As an assistant chief in that city's police department in the mid-1970s, he was the ranking officer in the high-crime South Bronx. Respected by local leaders, he eased tensions by helping to organize community programs, including swimming classes for underprivileged youngsters. He retired from the force in 1976 and took a job as deputy chief of New York's Transit Authority police. While his sharp wit, brash style and intellectual chatter infuriated some cops and public officials, he had long since earned the affection of New York's press corps. It was Erica who stepped in before he went too far. "He was taking himself much too seriously," she recalls. Early in 1977, after dinner with writer Kurt Vonnegut at Elaine's, Erica broke down and sobbed, "You are horrible, I can't stand you." Says Tony: "She said that we were losing our bearings and that I was getting inflated and pompous and all those good things. Did I ever need that."

Erica's odyssey from dutiful suburban matron to jailbird was a more private pilgrimage. The London-born daughter of furniture manufacturer, Erica Blume was raised with a nanny (her mother died of multiple sclerosis when Erica was 13) and taught, she says, "always to do the proper thing." She attended finishing school in Switzerland, and for most of her married life devoted herself to raising the couple's two sons (Anthony, now 23, and Dominick, 20) in the prosperous New York suburb of Scarsdale. Her political passivity in those days still troubles her. "I did nothing about civil rights," she says. "All I did was sit quietly." It wasn't until she got to Minneapolis that she became concerned enough about the nuclear arms race to join a local organization, Women Against Military Madness. She marches monthly through the downtown mall carrying "No More Nukes" placards. Hardly a flaming radical otherwise, Erica has her own silversmith's shop, Erica's, where she sells her handwrought designs—everything from $5 earrings to elaborate $3,000 gold-and-silver bracelets. Tony encourages his wife's outside interests. "How many men," he asks, "would like to say they are only a husband and a father? There has to be more to life. Why not the same for women?"

Bouza was born in El Ferrol, Spain and came to New York as a child with his family in 1937. He joined the New York City police force in 1953 and met Erica at a party three years later when she was a junior assistant buyer at Macy's. She was instantly attracted to him and quickly decided "That's the man I'm going to marry." Recalls Tony: "I was not particularly successful with women, but at this party there were three possibilities for girls to take home. Erica was the least promising for immediate return, but I also knew she was a woman I would want to see more than once." Three months later, after two martinis, Erica proposed. He accepted, but later got cold feet and broke off the engagement. He reconsidered a month later, and they were married in May 1957.

There was an immediate clash of style. He was the hot-blooded macho type, she a refined British lady. When it came to fighting, he steamed for three days; when it came to housework, she did it all. But compromise was forced upon him. During her brief illness early in their marriage, he took over the housekeeping. To this day he does the nightly dishes, as well as bathroom and kitchen clean-up chores. Each of the Bouzas has also become more involved in the other's activities. Tony used to spend almost every night at a public function or giving a speech; now he limits his nights out to three per week, and she often goes with him. He also joins Erica at the crafts fairs where she sells her jewelry. "We've both changed a lot," she says. "I became less selfish and self-centered, and he became more open to my not just being a wife and mother."

They remain unpretentious people, driving a 1976 Datsun (as chief, Tony also has use of a 1978 Plymouth) and living in a modest six-room Dutch Colonial home, which they redecorated together. Tony is appreciative of Erica's lack of materialism. "She never asked me to get ahead, never told me to make more money, never pressured me," he says. "She was satisfied with what I did and who I was."

For now, it seems, he will have to be satisfied with who she is: an instant celebrity. She has received more than 350 letters from around the country (all of which she answers) and is in sudden demand as a speaker. The couple is considering offers to make a TV movie of their life. Erica plans to continue her antinuclear crusade, but has no intention of going to jail again. "I made my point," she says.

Tony, meanwhile, has two more years on his contract, then may consider teaching, writing (he is the author of two books on police work and two unpublished novels) and perhaps retiring to the Bouzas' property on Cape Cod. Erica insists she would die of boredom in retirement and suspects Tony would too. "Like other top cops, he wants to move on to one more town," she says. "I know I will follow him." After all, there are some things even a chief's wife cannot protest.

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