atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#2171: Police harassment

I just got back from going out for some chicken McNuggets. I left around 11 PM and got back at 11:45. Why?

After leaving McDonald's I saw some lightning off to the south and decided I'd go to the end of the dead end road by the industrial park, and watch the storm. I headed to the end of the dead end road and stopped the Jeep, shutting off the headlights but leaving the parking lights on and the engine running. I didn't have anything to drink with me, so I didn't intend to stay long; five minutes or so.

There was a car behind me all the way from McDonald's, and to my disgust he followed me. I then realized it was a cop car.

I had expected him to take a look and drive away, but no, he--a white twenty-something male--got out and asked why I was there and demanded my license. I told him, handed him my license; then shut the engine and the lights off.

While he was running it two other cop cars pulled up. When the first cop came back, one remained in his car and the other went to the passenger side of the Jeep, thus surrounding me. It made me nervous becuase the guy had not announced his presence but walked up, looked in the back of the truck with his flashlight, and then took up station by my passenger door.

The first cop lectured me for a few moments about how he was checking out "a suspicious vehicle" and how my being on an unlit road by a closed business was suspicious behavior. If I wanted to watch a thunderstorm, he suggested I do it from a well-lit area. (Sure, because it's so easy to watch a thunderstorm at night when you're under a streetlamp, right?)

Then I asked why it took three cops to deal with this situation; the first cop explained again--testily this time--that I was a "suspicious vehicle near a closed business" and added that he's been shot at from other "suspicious vehicles" which is why he had backup. And he explained repeatedly that a "suspicious vehicle near a closed business" was reason enough for him to do all this, though those weren't his exact words. "We have the right to investigate, and I can guarantee if there was a suspicious vehicle parked on your street all blacked out, you'd want me to investigate." ("Blacked out"? I had been sitting there with my parking lights on and my windows aren't tinted. He followed me all the way from frickin' McDonald's, for Christ's sake, and watched me park there!) "I can see you're okay and I wouldn't want you to end up being on report if someone were to break in here tonight."

After some back-and-forth and long-winded, repetetive explanations of why they were there, I mentioned that I felt intimidated by being surrounded by police for no reason, and mused aloud about constitutional rights; I felt like mine were being trampled. That pissed off the guy by the passenger door. "Have we pulled you out of the car?" He demanded in an intimidating tone. "Have we beaten you?" The first cop told me he was being respectul and polite--which he was--but I was too slow-witted to articulate my belief that "probable cause" can only justify so much police attention before it looks more like harassement than cops "just doing their jobs". (Certainly I don't understand how going to the end of a side street to watch a thunderstorm is "probable cause".) Finally I asked again what law I had broken which deserved this attention. The guy still standing by the right side of the car told me angrily that I was illegally parked.

"Is this a 'no parking' zone?" I asked.

"You're parked more than one foot from the curb." Uh--I hadn't been parked when this bullshit started; I had been standing with my parking lights and engine on, at the end of a dead-end road.

...and so the first cop told me he was going to write me that parking ticket to justify the three cops being out there, and went back to his car for his ticket book. I heard some discussion among the police and when the guy came back he said, "I'm going to give you one more chance to avoid this $200 parking ticket by leaving this area. Now, are you going to do that or am I writing you a ticket?"

I said, "None of you has asked me to move."

At no point had these assholes told me I was in the area illegally, nor had they asked me to leave. I was not told that I had broken any law before the parking bullshit. The road is not marked "no trespassing" and it's a public road, and there's no way I was breaking any law by being there.

In fact, as a law-abiding citizen of the United States standing (not parked) on a public dead end side street who had provided ID when asked, there appeared to be no legal reason for them to make me move. I had not set foot on any private property. He had run my license and seen there were no outstanding warrants; furthermore his partner (still standing at the passenger door) had looked through the windows and should have been able to see that there was no contraband nor any illegal weapons or suspicious gear in the back of my truck. I was not blocking traffic nor was I doing wheelstands or drag racing or even playing loud music. (My stereo was off the entire time I was in the truck.)

But then the cop told me I would get a parking ticket unless I moved, so I moved. What else could I do?

Woulda-shoulda-coulda:

#1 Got their badge numbers.
#2 Asked them who their supervisors were.
#3 Asked, "If I park less than a foot from the curb, that'll be okay, right?"
#4 Made him write me the parking ticket.

That last--the cop only gave me that "last chance" because if he'd actually written me a parking ticket for parking a foot away from the curb at the end of a public dead-end street, when there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any criminal activity, I could have used that as ammunition for a complaint that I was harassed by the police tonight. (I can imagine his boss asking, "You tied up three patrol cars for a parking ticket?" God damn it, my brain is too slow.)

In fact, any of the above would have gotten me that parking ticket, I expect, and believe me, I can guaran-goddamned-tee I wouldn't have ended up paying it, because there's no way in freaking hell I did anything wrong tonight. Certainly I did not deserve this kind of treatment. I got no explanation for what made my vehicle "suspicious" other than that it was standing at the end of a dark dead-end road which happens to have access to a business on one side. None of them said the business in question has been robbed or even vandalized.

Of course, all this happened because I didn't just sit there and take this police state bullshit. I had the unmitigated gall to ask questions and get nervous when I was surrounded by police for the "crime" of wanting to watch a thunderstorm from a dark vantage point. When I questioned the validity of treating me like a criminal when I hadn't even set foot on any private property, that's when things turned nasty: I wasn't respecting his authoritah!

I don't mind cooperating with the police and I don't mind giving my license to a cop when he asks for it. I don't even mind having two other police cars show up. All right? I get that "probable cause" extends to him running my driver's license to see if I have priors or warrants; I can even see it extending to his buddy looking through the windows of my truck. Okay: someone wanting to watch a thunderstorm is unusual, and I don't blame the guy for checking it out.

But that was where this encounter should have ended: once he saw that there were no outstanding warrants for my arrest, once he'd run my license, that should have been the end of it. It should have ended with, "All right, sir, have a good evening." Not with the command that I either move or get a farcical parking ticket, because I was breaking no laws in any fashion which would lead any court to regard tonight's events as "reasonable and proper". After he ran my license and it came back clean he had nothing whatsoever to support "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause". ("Parked more than one foot from the curb"? At the dead end of a public side street? Really?)

If I had a record or an outstanding warrant, if I were out of jail on probation, then I could see all this crap. Okay, someone who's got a warrant or a record might actually be thinking of doing some crime, because leopards do not so easily change their spots. But I'm a 43-year-old man whose most severe legal violation is a speeding ticket from 1995, and how fucking likely is it that 15 years after that I'm suddenly going to move to burglary? He was just punishing me because I had voiced my displeasure--politely--at the elevation of innocent activity to the criminal. It's a load of horseshit.

Bottom line: slow night in a small town and these assholes have to make themselves feel important somehow. That's the problem: these police officers were deliberately acting to intimidate me because I did something unusual, that people don't normally do--and then objected to being treated like a criminal.

My freedoms were trampled on tonight, and I don't like it.

ADDENDUM, 2:30 AM

You know, it just occurred to me: can I report any car parked on my street as "a suspicious vehicle"? Because if I apply the standard that cop applied to me, any vehicle parked on my street can be considered "suspicious". I mean, if it's after 11 PM, and the vehicle's lights aren't on, that's "suspicious" and warrants police investigation. I know it because that's what the police officer told me was his justification for investigating me and calling two other cars for backup.

He said that my vehicle was "suspicious" because it was near a closed business on an unlit street after 11 PM. Should I be reporting other vehicles which are parked on unlit streets after 11 PM near businesses? What about homes? Surely he would consider a home to be as likely a target for burglarly as a business, right? So those need to be reported too, right?

I can think of several places in town where there are few streetlights and businesses which are closed after 11 PM. Should I report cars parked near them as "suspicious vehicles"?

The more I think about it, the more I think I should set down some notes and then call on the police station Monday morning.

I need to know:

1) What streets are off-limits at what times? I'd like to avoid this sort of thing in the future, particularly as the forbidden streets are not marked. I thought I--as a law-abiding citizen--had freedom of movement, but I guess that's not so. Please tell me what I need to know so I can avoid breaking the law.
2) When I should call the police to report a "suspicious vehicle" on my street? Because there have been plenty of times when cars have parked on my street "all blacked out" with people inside. Were my life and property in danger then? Where were the police while all this was going on?
3) Is it standard procedure for Crete police to act to intimidate someone who is not committing a crime, who is cooperating with their investigation, but asking pointed questions? Three police cars spread across the road behind me, all forward lights on, two officers flanking my vehicle, the intimidating tone of the guy on the right side of the car, the threat of a citation if I didn't cease my perfectly legal activity--I'd like to know how much latitude they have for dealing with someone who's not breaking any laws.
4) I'd like to know the details of parking regulations in Crete. Clearly Crete's parking ordinance is unusual in its scope and application, and I think I'd better ask for a clarification.

That last: the cop by the passenger door said, when I asked what law I was breaking that warranted all the police attention, that I was illegally parked because I was more than a foot from the curb. That was his justification for the entire situation including ordering me to leave. The first cop was going to write me a parking ticket unless I left the area.

I think that's the way to go: go in with notes and say, "I need someone to explain these things to me because of an incident on Saturday night." Don't frame it as a complaint (at least not at first, though that's exactly what it is) but ask for someone in charge to take the time to explain to poor stupid me what crimes I committed and how nice the cops were for not arresting me for them.
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