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Times Elliot Stabler Went Over The Line In Law & Order: SVU

In the criminal justice system, NYPD Special Victims Unit (SVU) Detective 1st Grade Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) stands for truth. Unfortunately, Detective Stabler also struggles with anger management, and often uses violence as a means to an end. At times, he faces suspensions or Internal Affairs investigations, but his actions never result in severe consequences.

"Law & Order: SVU" fans have spent years rooting for Stabler, cheering him on even when his actions proved questionable. He stands up for victims and has a long-running, tantalizing "will they or won't they?" relationship with his partner, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). Benson often keeps Stabler in check, but when the detective sees red, there's no holding him back. Even a decade-long absence from the SVU has done little to curb his violent tendencies. In the real world, Stabler would've lost his badge years ago, but on television, the tension between his temperament and his duty to uphold the law makes his storylines tantalizing. With all that in mind, here's a look at some of the many times Elliot Stabler went over the line on "Law & Order: SVU."

Stabler opens Pandora's Box

In Season 4, Episode 15, "Pandora," Elliot Stabler's violence boils over after cyber vigilante and FBI informant Meredith McGrath is found raped, tortured, and murdered. As Stabler digs into the case alongside homicide detective Sam Bishop (William McNamara), he uncovers McGrath's extensive evidence regarding a child pornography ring. The more he discovers about the sex ring, the angrier he becomes. In an image on McGrath's hard drive, the NYPD identifies missing 14-year-old Mia Wagner (Alexis Dziena) and traces it back to a man named Erich Tassic (Lothaire Bluteau), who lives in Prague. A fuming Stabler follows the investigation to Prague.

While questioning a captured Tassic, Stabler smacks him in the face, karate chops his throat, and throws him against a table. Although laws in the Czech Republic vary from those in the United States, Stabler commits enough felony offenses here to destroy his career — the code of conduct doesn't differ based on the suspect. "Pandora" comes to a head when the Czech investigation leads to Nick Taylor (Stephen Gevedon), who has sexually exploited his own daughter. Stabler contemplates killing Taylor in his sleep — and although the audience can understand the urge, murder still isn't justified.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Considers murdering a serial killer

The specter of serial killer Gordon Rickett (Matthew Modine) haunts Elliot Stabler. Rickett kills kids and eludes justice for a decade, but in Season 6, Episode 17 ("Rage"), Stabler and Benson finally have Rickett in their crosshairs — and Stabler is determined to put him away for life.

Rickett is Stabler's arch-nemesis, so when the killer claims they're alike, the detective is rattled; he reflects on the violence and abuse of his own childhood, and wonders if Rickett is right. SVU Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) worries Stabler's hatred for Rickett will erupt and ruin the case. When Benson and Stabler finally bring Rickett in on a 24-hour hold, Stabler must fight his violent temper when Rickett threatens Stabler's kids and mocks the detective. Stabler struggles to maintain composure, at one point spitting on Rickett's forehead.

After they're forced to release him, Benson and Stabler track Rickett to a home where he's about to kill another young female victim. Rickett taunts Stabler and urges the detective to kill him. For a moment, Stabler plans on taking the challenge, but Benson pleads with him not to take Rickett's life, and he relents. At the end of "Rage," Stabler punches his SVU locker until his hands are pulp.

Unrelenting grief

In the Season 4 finale ("Grief"), a woman named Vanessa Bevins dies by suicide after suffering violent sexual assault at the hands of her employer. When Detective Stabler finds Bevins' Hudson University ID, he thinks of his daughter Maureen (Erin Broderick), who also attends Hudson.

Stabler breaks the news to Vanessa's father Ray (Joe Morton), who crumples in grief and yearns to exact vigilante justice. Stabler understands, so when Bevins calls SVU headquarters relentlessly, hoping for a break in the case, Stabler lets his empathy overtake his wisdom. He discloses details of Vanessa's case to Ray — including naming Perry Williams (Paul Leyden) as a suspect. As Perry is not in police custody, Stabler's disclosure falls under the umbrella of "things a real law enforcement official should never do."

Blinded by his heartache, Ray hunts down and kills Williams; heavy with guilt, Stabler finds Ray a defense attorney. At his trial, Ray testifies that Stabler told him Williams raped Vanessa. Ray goes to prison ... and Stabler doesn't face consequences.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Messing up our heads

In the Season 5 finale, "Head," a man is caught filming with a hidden camera in a woman's restroom. On his video, he accidentally catches a grown woman molesting a preteen boy. The SVU detectives launch an investigation and discover the victim is 12-year-old Shane Madden (Jake Weary). Shane's soccer coach tells the detectives that the boy's mom is an abrasive alcoholic, but Stabler and Benson rule her out, although Shane won't tell them the identity of his attacker.

Shockingly, the guilty party turns out to be Meredith Rice (Stacy Edwards), Shane's school principal — who is also pregnant with Shane's child. When she runs away with Shane, Stabler and Benson track her down. Stabler confronts the principal, and she tries to sexually assault him. He forcefully pushes her away, causing her to fall and suffer a seizure. Later, we discover brain cancer caused a personality change in Rice, leading to her sexual abuse of Shane — but with or without the tumor, Stabler went over the line when he pushed her. He's interrogated by Internal Affairs, but the investigation doesn't go anywhere, and Stabler keeps his badge.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Beats teenage murder suspect

In Season 8, Episode 14, "Dependent," Stabler doesn't just cross the line — he pole jumps over it. A mob lawyer is viciously assaulted and his wife is brutally murdered, and the list of potential suspects looms large before the SVU investigation leads to a teenage boy.

The Truexes disapproved of Bedford, the boyfriend of their 16-year-old daughter Charlotte (Emily VanCamp). Stabler questions Charlotte's boyfriend, 19-year-old Ryan Bedford (Justin Klosky), and his story doesn't add up. The detective suspects Bedford attacked Charlotte's parents, but Charlotte had nothing to do with her boyfriend's violent acts. When Benson and Stabler realize this, they confront Bedford, who sprints to escape. 

Stabler catches up to him and beats on Bedford, who collapses to the ground. A bystander snaps video of the apprehension and Stabler's violence is on full display. The boy dies, and all fingers point to Stabler. Bedford's parents file an excessive force lawsuit. Medical Examiner Dr. Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie) initially attributes the teenager's death to blunt force trauma. Will this be the nail to finally shut the coffin on Stabler's career? No. But he realizes how close he came, and this sobering truth reaffirms how much he loves his family and his job. He doesn't want to lose either. Will he learn to rein in his behavior?

Pete Breslin

Elliot Stabler is loyal to those he loves — but when a loved one betrays him, his violent temper explodes. In "Ripped" (Season 7, Episode 4), Stabler reunites with his former partner Pete Breslin (Noah Emmerich), a single dad raising his star athlete son, Luke (Paul Wesley) — who stands accused of assaulting a female classmate. After taking the case, Stabler realizes his connection with Luke, but remains on the investigation.

When Captain Craven discovers Stabler wants to go easy on Luke, he suspends him. Stabler continues to communicate with Breslin, and Luke says that while pushing him to become a standout athlete, his dad physically and verbally abused him. When Stabler visits the Breslin home to confront his old friend, he finds him beating Luke. Breslin then turns the violence on his old partner. At first, Stabler only defends himself against Breslin's attack, but the fight sparks memories of his own abusive cop father, and Stabler wails on Breslin until his friend falls to the ground.

The detective acknowledges his anger with Breslin, and opens up to Dr. Rebecca Hendrix (Mary Stuart Masterson) to help process his volatile behavior. But soon as Stabler recognized his connection to Luke Breslin, he should have taken himself off of the case — and he should never have allowed his confrontation with Pete to turn physical.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

There will be blood

Stabler stands, shaking with fury and covered in blood. Did he kill someone? No, but he came close. He's in the apartment of a pedophile who runs a child pornography site. The events that transpired before this scene have sent the detective to a dark headspace.

"Confession" (Season 10, Episode 2) begins with a distraught teenager named Eric Byers (Marshall Allman) who comes to SVU with a confession — he has sexual desire for his five-year-old stepbrother. Byers claims he hasn't acted on his impulses, but he doesn't know how to control them. When Eric goes missing, the SVU investigation leads to his stepfather, Jake Berlin (Tom Noonan).

Stabler discovers Berlin has a disgusting website that showcases a photo of his daughter, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Stabler, and his rage consumes him as wails on Berlin. It's an understandable reaction, but one that violates Stabler's responsibility as a detective. The SVU team rushes into Berlin's apartment — it looks like a murder scene. Stabler sits at Berlin's computer, attempting to delete the photo of Lizzie. He takes another jump over the legal line. Captain Florek has no choice but to send Stabler home on unpaid leave, but ultimately, all is forgiven. He keeps his job.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

All in the family

Elliot Stabler always strives to protect his family. At times, this deep loyalty and sense of duty runs counter-intuitive to his job. In "Swing," (Season 10, Episode 3), Stabler's teenage daughter Kathleen (Allison Silko) displays signs of bipolar disorder when she has a manic episode and breaks into the home of a random family, deciding it's the perfect time to take a shower. The family discovers their trespasser, and they immediately call 911. Benson gets wind of the case, and lets Stabler know of his daughter's arrest. She pleads with her partner to stay off of the case, but he ignores her, even interviewing Kathleen's victims. In the course of the investigation, Stabler also roughs up an undercover officer.

Kathleen's recent change in behavior causes Stabler great worry. In Kathleen, he sees reflections of his estranged mother Bernadette (Ellen Burstyn), who has bipolar disorder. Stabler tells Kathleen he'll fix her legal issues, but his family bias should have kept him far away from the case. "Swing" showcases yet another instance of a legal line crossed by Elliot Stabler.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health or addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Shoots and kills Jenna Fox

Elliot Stabler crosses a hard line in "Smoked" (Season 12, Episode 24), and his actions keep him away from the SVU for a decade. 

The episode centers on the murder of Annette Fox (Alice Barrett), who's struck down while shopping with her teenage daughter Jenna (Hayley McFarland). Previously, Fox was the victim of a sexual attack from celebrity hairstylist Luke Ronson (Andrew Howard), who now volunteers at a shelter run by beloved "Law & Order: SVU" recurring character Sister Peg (Charlayne Woodard).

Ronson denies involvement in Annette's death, but Stabler arrests him and two alleged accomplices, bringing them to SVU headquarters. Meanwhile, Sister Peg shows up at headquarters to deliver a photo to Jenna. When the younger Fox heads in to identify suspects in a lineup, she shockingly whips out a gun. In her grieved frenzy, she kills two of the suspects, along with Sister Peg.

Stabler shoots Jenna, who dies in his arms. He doesn't face punishment, but his actions weigh heavily on him, and he ends up deciding to retire from the NYPD. "Smoked" marks the last time Christopher Meloni would appear on "Law & Order: SVU" until the first episode of Season 22. Behind the scenes, Meloni's departure stemmed from contract negotiations, but the timing worked well for his character.

Responsible for six shootings

When police officers are responsible for the deaths of citizens, Internal Affairs conducts an investigation. If the officer's actions aren't considered justified, they may face arrest, trial, and prison time. But even if law enforcement officers are exonerated from any wrongdoing, public outcry may arise if an officer has shot, killed, or injured multiple suspects through the course of their career.

Before his retirement from the NYPD, Detective Stabler shot six different people — a very troubling number, especially from a hotheaded detective. Stabler's mentor, Captain Cragen, also considered this excessive. Along with Jenna Fox, Stabler shot three unnamed people as well as white supremacist Christopher Rawlings (Keith Siglinger) and corrupt cop Brad Kendall (Matt Mulhern). Other than Cragen, no one calls out Stabler on his heavy trigger finger. In all cases, Stabler is cleared of any wrongdoing and remains on the police force. Since he made his return to the franchise with "Law & Order: Organized Crime," Stabler's body count has only increased.

Investigates the murder of his wife

Stabler returned to grace our screens in the premiere episode of Season 22, and all was right with "Law & Order: SVU" fans. But happiness proved fleeting: In "Return of the Prodigal Son," Stabler returns from Rome, where, for the last decade, he's worked as an overseas liaison for the NYPD. He's set to join the Organized Crime Unit back in the States. The entire Stabler family joins their patriarch in New York City, and he catches up with his former partner, Olivia Benson.

Mere days after his return, his wife, Kathy (Isabel Gillies) is killed by a car bomb. The detective turns his grief inward, and focuses on catching Kathy's killer. As her widower, this isn't appropriate, to say the least. Stabler hasn't even started his new position, but still manages to insert himself into the investigation. He wants to know every detail about the evolution of the case, and enters interrogation rooms, demanding answers.

In Season 22's premiere episode and Episode 13, "Trick-Rolled at the Moulin," Stabler interviews and threatens suspects. He accesses files he has no authority to research. Once again, the detective allows his grief and anger to outweigh his professional obligations.

The Book of Eli

In Part 1 of a crossover with "Organized Crime," teenager Eli Stabler (Nicky Torchia) goes missing. Eli has grown up since he last appeared onscreen, and has gone through more in his first few weeks in New York City than he did during his ten-year absence. His life is in disarray: He's in a country he barely remembers, his mom was murdered, and his dad is working undercover. "The People vs. Richard Wheatley" appears in two parts, airing first in Season 23, Episode 9 of "SVU" and concluding on Season 2, Episode 9 of "Law & Order: Organized Crime."

Eli acts out, as teenagers are wont to do, and he runs away. Elliot Stabler is desperate to find his son and bring him home. He enlists the help of Benson, and together, they search for the boy. Unfortunately for Eli, he parties with an older woman who he later finds murdered, and he briefly goes on the run. His father doesn't use appropriate police channels to search for Eli. He never files a missing persons' report either.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Meloni reflected on his character's "Law & Order: SVU" return, arguing that Stabler has mellowed out in his absence from the world of "Law & Order." That's arguable, but he's still impulsive and willing to cross the line to get what he wants.