Dear Editor:Of course some of the text came from here, and some of it came from the dry description I wrote in order to document the incident as fully as possible, but most of it is new text.
I'm writing in order to warn my fellow citizens of Crete that apparently we no longer have freedom of movement.
Background: my most severe legal conviction is a speeding ticket from 1996. I drive an unmodified white SUV in good repair with full insurance and current registration. I drive the speed limit and come to a full stop for stop signs. I'm a mild 43-year old man, a little overweight, a lot nearsighted, kind of fuzzy; I wear thick glasses and I'm about as threatening as a box of Q-tips.
On Saturday, July 17, around 11 PM, I--after an evening of reading at home--decided I wanted a late-night snack, so I went to the McDonald's on Steger Road for some chicken McNuggets. It's not a healthy snack, but I'd hadn't eaten lunch and dinner had been light, and as an inveterate night owl I expected to be awake for several more hours anyway.
After leaving the drive-through, I drove south on Eagle's Nest Drive towards Richton Road and saw lightning far to the south. I was delighted; I enjoy watching storms from a distance, and I very rarely get to watch heat lightning on a summer night, so instead of turning on Richton as I normally would I (after stopping for the stop sign) went straight. There had been a car behind me for much of the trip from McDonald's to that point.
I crossed the road and drove to the end, putting my vehicle in park and turning the headlights off but leaving the engine and parking lights on. The car that had been behind me followed me, pulled up behind me partly blocking the road; and when the spotlight went on I realized it was a police car.
The officer--I'll call him "A"--greeted me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was there to watch the thunderstorm. He asked for my driver's license, which I handed to him. He returned to his car; and while he was gone two other police cars pulled up behind me, all forward lights on, blocking the road behind me. Realizing this was probably going to take a while, I shut off my parking lights and my engine.
When he returned, another officer, "B", came up alongside the passenger side of my vehicle without announcing his presence, looking inside with a flashlight. He then took up station by the passenger door of my vehicle. I felt threatened by his sudden and unannounced presence there.
"A" then told me that by coming to the end of this street, parking, and shutting off my headlights, I was behaving in a suspicious fashion, because of the proximity of a closed business, and that such an investigation was routine. I wished to know what reason he had other than my location for suspecting I was about to commit a crime; he repeated his prior statement about me being "a suspicious vehicle near a closed business" and reiterated that such an investigation was routine. "A" then added something like, "When someone reports a suspicious vehicle all blacked out parked somewhere 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."
(Please note that "A" had followed me from McDonald's to this point and had seen me stop.)
I asked why it took three police officers to "investigate" me. "A" got testy, and explained that he worked for three different departments and had been shot at from "suspicious vehicles"; multiple backup was something which was always done when investigating a suspicious vehicle and those other cars had been on the way, he told me, before he stopped me. (He had not stopped me; he followed me.) But the only reason he could give me for my being a "suspicious vehicle" was that I had driven to the end of a public side street "near a closed business". I hadn't set so much as a foot on any private property, much less that belonging to the "closed business", since leaving McDonald's.
"B" had remained by my passenger door. Being surrounded by police for no good reason I could discern, I expressed my concern that my Constitutional rights were possibly being violated. This obviously made "B" angry, because he spoke up then: he asked in an angry and intimidating tone, "Have we pulled you out of your car?" I had to say "no". "Have we beaten you?" The answer was also "no". I was now upset enough that I could not articulate my explanation for why I felt the way I did, but I could not understand how my driving to the end of a public dead-end street to watch a thunderstorm resulted in my being intimidated and treated like a criminal.
Finally I collected myself enough to ask what law I had broken to deserve all this attention. "B" stated belligerently that I was illegally parked.
"Is this a 'no parking' zone?" I asked.
"You're parked more than one foot from the curb," "B" told me, still angry.
"A" told me that he was going to issue a parking ticket to justify the time it was taking them to deal with me. He returned to his car to get his ticket book. I heard some discussion, indistinct, between "A" and "B"; then "A" returned to my window with his ticket book and "B" returned to the passenger side.
"A" informed me that he would give me one more chance to "avoid a $200 ticket" by leaving the area "as requested". He asked me if I was going to leave "as requested", or was he going to write me a ticket for illegal parking?
I told him, "None of you has asked me to leave." In fact, this moment was the first time anyone told me I could not stay there, and I am at a loss to understand what basis these officers had for making me leave, as it is a public street and there is no signage designating the street as off-limits to anyone who wishes to use it. The west side of that section of Eagle's Nest Drive is not zoned as a "no parking" zone; at least, there is no signage declaring such. I can only conclude that because I had dared to question them, they were making me move to prove they were in charge, asserting their authority.
"A" asked me to leave the area, and I said I would; I started my vehicle, and prepared to leave. "B" remained in position until I had turned around even though "A" had returned to his cruiser. I drove home without further incident.
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 "B" 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. I was breaking no laws in any fashion which would lead any court to regard these events as "reasonable and proper" and I have no record of prior convictions for anything more serious than a traffic ticket. 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?)
Not to mention, I might add, the expense of having three police cruisers tied up for half an hour in order to threaten a law-abiding citizen with a parking ticket. On a Saturday night. For parking more than a foot from the curb at the end of a dead-end side street. This is why Crete has some of the highest property taxes in the area? For THIS? This had nothing to do crime prevention; it was all about police officers asserting their authority because I'd had the temerity to ask "why?" The intimidation tactics--particularly those used by "B"--were completely misplaced and, in my opinion, unprofessional. Certainly I think Crete could do a better job of selecting officers.
So be warned, citizens of Crete: be careful where you go after dark--particularly if you're going to do something as heinous as enjoying a natural spectacle--because the Crete Police are watching you.
Prediction: assuming it gets printed, there might be a rebuttal written by the Chief of Police defending his officers. That'll be interesting to see, assuming it happens, because it probably won't. I doubt that anyone in charge will even notice this. But without names and badge numbers, there isn't much I can do.
Lesson learned: always always always get freakin' names and badge numbers. *sigh*