Monday, January 12, 2015

Abuse of Power by the Police

CHP Officer R Torres (ID 14455)
Recently, there have been a spate of reported abuse of power incidents by police.  We have the incident in Ferguson MO and the one in New York City, just to mention a few. Police abuse does not have to be racial, and it doesn't have to be physical.  Please read the following incident and decide for yourself if there is a problem of abuse of power by police

On a midweek day in September of this last year, at approximately 11:05 am my wife and I were in our son’s parked vehicle in a construction zone just off an exit of US 101 in Petaluma CA. I was the driver. My wife was in the passenger seat. The car’s engine was not running. My wife and I are respectable looking and were dressed well and we were in a fairly new vehicle. There was nothing suspicious to provoke a police inquiry, except, perhaps, that we were on the side of the road and that motorist assistance would have been a good reason for the police officer to approach the vehicle.

CHP Officer R. Torres (ID 14455) approached the vehicle on a motorcycle from the front of our vehicle on the driver’s side and inquired as to what I was doing.  I indicated that since I was not from the area and unsure of the way to the location we were attempting to go that we had pulled over to the side of the road.  The officer asked for the driver’s licenses for both myself, the driver, and my wife, the passenger, and for the vehicle registration. Upon inspection of their driver’s licenses he noted that both of us were from out of state, and then inquired as to who the owner of the vehicle was since it had CA plates.  I indicated that the vehicle is owned by our son, who we were visiting and who lives in CA, and that we had borrowed the car from him. The last names were both the same.   All documents requested by Officer Torres were provided to him promptly and we were very polite.  Officer Torres indicated that the vehicle should not have been parked in the construction zone.  He also noted that my wife did not have a safety belt fastened and issued her citation for violation of VC 27315 (e) --passenger not wearing a safety belt.

At all times from the time the officer saw and approached the vehicle until the time that the citation was issued, the vehicle was in a stationary position, located off the road, and with the engine not running.

VC 27315, the CA seatbelt safety law, is an important and useful law that was enacted to protect motor vehicle drivers and their passengers. Both my wife and I believe that the law, as enacted, is appropriate and we wear seat belts when traveling in a vehicle on the road.  I still had my safety belt on at the time Officer Torres approached.  My wife uses her safety belt whenever she is either a driver or passenger within a moving motor vehicle on the road.

In this situation, the prerequisite conditions necessary for the issuance of a citation were not present.  The vehicle was not on the road, it was not moving, and the engine was off.  Upon pulling off the road and stopping the vehicle my wife had merely removed her seat belt to have enough flexibility to reach a roadmap which was located in the back seat of the car.  The removal of the safety belt occurred while we were stationary, off the road, and with the engine not running.  If the law were intended for this type of situation then any driver or passenger entering a vehicle and sitting in that vehicle in preparation for driving or to be transported in that vehicle would be in violation of the code until such time as they got their seatbelt fastened before the vehicle was actually started and moving.

Also, on the citation document itself in the box labelled :”Speed Approx.” is the symbol “S”.  If the symbol “S”, as we suspect it is, presumedly meaning “Stationary” or “Stopped” it further confirms the facts.

To add insult to injury, Officer Torres, upon noting that our state of residency was very liberal on gun laws, said that for all he knew we had a trunk load of guns, but that he was not permitted to ask us to open the trunk without further suspicion.

Okay, it wasn't even a parking ticket, but the fine in CA for this offense is about $175. We decided to go to court and protest the ticket. In court my wife stated her case, reciting all the facts above. The judge dismissed the case. But, Officer Torres won in this case. We had set aside an entire day (December 30) that we could have been with our family for this matter. In fact, it only took us about 5 hours to and from the court, not counting the time to prepare what was going to be said. We traveled almost 100 miles round trip, not to mention the stress of a court appearance. How fortunate that we could be with our son at Christmastime so that we did not have to travel more than 500 miles to answer the complaint.

Shame on you Officer Torres. You should be reprimanded by your supervisors for this. You knew that the offense would not hold up. In the best scenario for him we would have not contested the citation and paid the $175. Do the police in CA have a quota?

Anyone else being harassed by the California Highway Patrol in California