Watch Out—You Could be Next!: NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #475

Most people’s interaction with a police officer is usually during a traffic stop. The anxiety and fear that most of us feel when stopped by a police officer makes it worse when we believe we have done nothing wrong or thought we were doing the right thing. Placed in jeopardy of receiving a ticket or even being arrested during a traffic stop, a law-abiding citizen can be shaken to the core. Here are three situations that motorists have recently found themselves at odds with a police officer.

Indiana resident DelRea Good was arrested for refusing to pull over on a dark street after a police officer flashed his lights. Good claimed that she did not feel safe pulling over on the deserted road and instead slowed down, turned on her hazard lights and waved her arm out the window letting the officer know she was not resisting arrest. Less than a mile later, she pulled into a well-lit parking lot. The officer arrested her and charged her with a felony for resisting arrest. (See #3 in the NMA’s The Yin and Yang of Surviving a Traffic Stop.)

In Ohio, Lamar Wright pulled over to make a phone call and was soon pulled out of his car, pepper sprayed and tasered by two plain clothes police officers who approached his car on foot. Wright had pulled into a driveway and apparently had not used his turn signal. Wright was recovering from digestive tract surgery and was using a colostomy bag. The situation escalated when Wright reached for the bag to protect it from jostling. He was arrested, taken to jail, subjected to a full body x-ray, and detained for five hours. No contraband was found and the charges were dropped. Wright is suing the Euclid Police Department for malicious arrest.

In a lawsuit filed against the Bakersfield, Ca Police Department, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that Robert Mitchell was unlawfully jailed after a traffic stop because the vehicle had an air freshener dangling from its rear view mirror. The suit filed in January alleges that “officers actually stopped the car with the intention of detaining the car’s occupants, all of whom were black, to investigate them without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Mitchell was arrested and jailed for 12 hours after he asserted his right as a passenger in the vehicle to not give his name. Lawfully the driver of a car must provide a driver’s license (ID) and in some states, proof of registration and insurance, when asked by police to do so during a traffic stop. Passengers don’t have the same obligation. The department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office were both already under a civil rights investigation by the California attorney general.

Even if you have never experienced a traffic stop arrest, your tax dollars support police services and can be used to contribute to settlements with victims of wrongful arrests. Technically lawsuits filed by victims are paid for by those doing the filing or on contingency with their lawyers. It is settlements where cities/counties/states have to pony up. In other words, we all have a vested interest in police actions.

Asbury Park Press located in New Jersey released a two-year investigation in January on how much New Jersey pays in secret settlements to victims or their families each year.  They concluded that more than 200 citizens had been victimized by police officers costing the state $42 million dollars in the past decade to cover-up deaths, physical abuse, sexual misconduct and wrongful arrests.

That’s just one state. Many times, this all starts with a traffic stop.

Now, some states are looking to expand the roadside authority of police.

A Virginia House of Delegates bill would allow police officers to strip search drivers at traffic stops. The reason—sheriffs have expressed concerns that those arrested might smuggle drugs into jails. Sheriffs did not ask for the strip search bill but sponsor Delegate Patrick Hope said:

“The existing statute allows for strip searches for weapons at traffic stops and going into jail, and that there’s a reason—because you don’t want to put someone in your squad car who might have a weapon. And so the question is whether opioids today are lethal enough where you need that same protection at a traffic stop where you are going to put somebody in your car.”

There is no question that police have a difficult job to do but their authority to abuse the dignity of motorists needs to be limited, not expanded.

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