I am a British citizen, recently moved to Texas and this is what happened to me on Sunday, 1st September 2013, starting at 1140 am. It's what I have sent to the police as an official complaint . . . before getting my hands on the Boston T Party book.
Baytown, South Street: a narrow residential street off Garth. In my rear view mirror, a large police vehicle reverses out of a driveway, and travels in what appears to be some kind of urgency the same direction as me, towards Garth. It might be an emergency so I get out of his way so he can turn onto the main road and go about his business. I pull into the empty parking lot of a bank [closed on Sunday]. I wind my window down. Despite the absence of flashing lights and/or sirens, it is even possible the officer might think he has some reason to speak to me.
The police vehicle follows me into the parking lot and I smile at the driver, and bid him: “good morning.”
The policeman, let's call him Officer Meathead (dunno why :o) describes me as being 6’-1” tall and weighing 200 pounds. I am actually a 67-year-old retired pen-pusher, 5’-10” in height and 165 pounds weight, so mistaken identity might explain what happened next.
I am saying I am due an apology. I was charged with making a right turn without indication (ironically, to get out of the large police vehicle’s way) but I am held for five hours and made to pay $740. This, I state in the strongest possible terms, cannot be justified as good policing. This action against me, a law-abiding citizen going about his lawful business, was both gratuitous and vexatious, neither of which luxuries should be made available to a police officer going about his duties.
Officer Meathead gets out of his vehicle, does not bid me a good morning but instead takes a handgun from his holster, points it at me and tells me to get my hands up. I get my hands up. He walks towards me, gun trained at my head and tells me to open the door. Terrified he will shoot me if one of my hands disappears from view, I tell him the door is locked and I can’t open it with my hands above my head. He wants me to open the door. By this time he’s standing next to the door. I ask him whether I’m supposed to switch off the ignition. He says he doesn’t care either way. I turn the ignition off and open the door.
He wants to see my driving licence. I point to my wallet in the door pocket. He picks up the wallet, opens it to show the driving licence and asks me where my licence is. I tell him he’s looking at it: the pink thing in front of him that says DRIVING LICENCE. He removes the licence from the wallet but he does not ask to see any insurance documentation. This is most certainly not normal but I dare not say a word out of place, as Officer Meathead is (to be polite) . . . scary.
He tells me to get out of the car and, so I don’t waste too much of his time, Officer Meathead assists me, turning me quickly around, slamming me against the car door – with an open window so that my chest hits the steel edge of the door frame, instantly smashing my reading glasses.
As my hands are pulled behind my back, I protest that he has just smashed my glasses. He is not in the slightest bit interested. He must think I am someone else. There will be an explanation . . .
I'm British. I have never seen an actual handgun before and I have certainly never had one pointed at me. I have never been in trouble with the police, having committed no offence more serious than four speeding violations in fifty years of motoring. I have never experienced the likes of this treatment before in my life and, I suspect, will never experience it again.
It was my belief that I could only be held, lawfully, in handcuffs until the officer had identified me and given me a summons to appear in court. It does not take ninety minutes to write a ticket for failing to indicate a turn. I have been studying my Texas Driver’s Handbook, July 2012 edition, but I never read that failure to signal is A CRIME. In Britain, it is a sign of laziness and lack of consideration, when other road users may be inconvenienced. In quiet residential South Street on a Sunday morning, there was my car and that of Officer Meathead. Only. Clearly I must have seriously inconvenienced Officer Meathead.
Two police cars show up, VERY quickly, plus another vehicle marked K-9 (although I never see dogs).
For turning right without a signal? This does not make sense (to me).
I do see a sergeant. My handcuffs are eased before I am put in the back seat of the police vehicle, and I am surprised to discover there isn’t actually enough room for an adult to put his feet on the floor. The door is left open and I sit facing two officers, neither of them Meathead, who chat to each other in the shade as folks do on a Sunday morning. After what feels like ten or fifteen minutes (my watch is now behind my back), I ask the officers if I have committed a crime or something. The response is no, not stated as a probability or a possibility. No. I ask if I have in any way been disrespectful and again the answer is no. I ask why I am being held in handcuffs since I obviously do not represent a threat. I am told: “the officer could not have known that.” I ask if I might put my legs somehow inside the vehicle because the sun is starting to burn my knees. No problem.
What happens next is nothing – to me. I watch the three officers check the contents of my car. I have not been shown a warrant to search my car and I have not been asked permission. They look in the back seat, they look in the boot/trunk, they show interest at what's in my camera; interest and and amusement as they leaf through the contents of my wife’s Hello Kitty notebook. They look under at least one Hello Kitty car mat. I cannot be SURE they look in the glove box. A search is a search. It doesn’t have to be a thorough search.
Officer Meathead now painstakingly goes about his business. It appears, from the back seat of his vehicle, to be an exhaustive search into all manner of things on his various computers. There is so much to do, so many buttons to press. It all takes time. I am asked to confirm that my birthday is indeed Sept x, since only in America does the month precede the day in presentation of a date. I do so confirm – our only verbal exchange in maybe an hour (and I am still in handcuffs). The sergeant seems to lose interest in the situation (or absence thereof) and drives away, as does one of the other vehicles.
In due course I watch Officer Meathead print off a long piece of paper (two copies thereof), slowly fold both of them extremely neatly and set them aside. Without another word, the vehicle is set in motion and I note the other police car must be remaining so as to keep an eye on my car . . . (or not). I have not been told I am under arrest; I have not been informed that I am being (or have been) charged with an offence – just hauled off to a police station in the back of a police vehicle with no explanation at all.
For some reason known only to Officer Meathead, I have been and am being made to feel frightened, hurt, worried, annoyed and I have actually been threatened at gunpoint. Whatever is going on, I am conscious that I must display patience. I am shown to a black line, behind which I must stand – and remove my shoes and socks. An officer points at the floor next to me and says: “shoes”. I confirm he is indeed correct. “Give them to me.” I do as I am told. There is some unspoken need to put me in my place.
I am asked various questions regarding my identity and health . . . and shown the holding cell into which I am to go. And wait for one and a half hours. Without charge. I believe there is something called the Sixth Amendment, that requires defendants to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation. What constitutes a reasonable timescale seems to be left to the whim of officers involved. As a British citizen, who has absolutely no idea of what is happening, I am not informed of anything at all for four hours (all perfectly legally, I am sure) and I am not asked whether I require the British Consulate to be informed.
After ninety minutes’ detention in the cell, I am told to go round to a room where my cellmate is being photographed and fingerprinted. I am next. Now seriously confused, alarmed and trembling, I ask the officer if I’m going to be charged with something. He looks at a piece of paper and says, conversationally: “making a right turn without a signal . . . and driving without insurance.”
All the documentation, regarding the brand new car’s registration and insurance, is in the glovebox. I was asked for my driving licence – but not a word was said about insurance. The car is registered in my (American) wife’s name. The car with the Hello Kitty mats. And the oh-so-amusing Hello Kitty notebook. My wife’s name (Mrs Cannon Fodder) is similar to mine, as his her address. When my “evidence of financial responsibility” is in the car’s glovebox, being guarded by a friendly policeman (or being towed away and held to ransom) and I am in a police station, this brand-new subject cannot be discussed to any useful purpose.
I believe the expression is: I have been shafted. Even in effing Baytown, this cannot possibly be authorized regular police procedure: to treat an elderly law-abiding citizen, identified as a foreign national, in a manner specifically intended to cause as much fear and confusion as possible and with such blatant disrespect, cannot be how effing Baytown wants its effing police officers to maintain law and order.
When all official procedures are complete, I am told I can call my wife (whose car is either behind a bank in effing Baytown or being towed away) to let her know that I am being held in jail. She has been told the charges and that she has to find $540 bail . . . cash, to purchase a money order. On a Sunday afternoon, and her car is somewhere in effing Baytown. Or her husband will remain in jail. Instead of responding with: “prove it”, I Do the Right Thing and plead no contest to the turning right, because I don’t know whether there is evidence to prove it or not but, regrettably, I cannot oblige on the other charge as I have indeed met all insurance documentation requirements. I cannot present them in the police station because they are in the car. I did not present them to Officer Meathead because I was not asked . . . nor able, once I had been hauled away. I am informed my No Contest plea is to be treated as my admission of guilt.
Eventually, my shoes and other belongings are returned in two plastic bags. These include half a pair of expensive reading glasses and a long piece of paper. When my wife opens one bag she finds a summons and reads it out to me. I cannot read it myself because Officer Meathead smashed my reading glasses.
When I enquire about the car keys, I discover the car has been towed away from the scene and cannot be returned unless I come up with another $200 cash. If I do not come up with the cash today, no problem – but it will be more than $200 tomorrow, Labor Day. For turning right without indicating – can someone possibly justify this as being reasonable policework?
[Chronology ends 4:00 pm.]
I have formally complained that Officer Meathead did knowingly mistreat me, in a manner wholly inappropriate to the relatively trivial offence. (Ironically, I would not have made the turn if he had not been behind me.) I am formally complaining that Officer Meathead searched my vehicle (and personal contents therein) without my permission, without a warrant and I assert that no grounds that could constitute “probable cause” ever existed.
I am making a formal complaint that Officer Meathead knowingly and wilfully withheld from me the fact that I would, at a time that suited the effing Baytown effing Police Department, be charged with an offence that would, under normal circumstances warrant a ‘ticket’ and that, via-a-vis the driving without insurance, Officer Meathead vexatiously chose not to inform me of this completely spurious so-called offence, nor question me on the matter and, instead of charging me, chose to delay my discovery of the insurance charge so as to cause me the maximum possible inconvenience, distress and – by having the car towed away – maximum financial loss.
Until recently I had believed that, were someone to hold me at gunpoint and take from me $740, it would be a crime and I would expect the police to be of assistance to me.
The Prosecutor dismissed the case and (ah sweet victory) I am to get nearly half my own money back. America: the Land of the Free [conditions apply :o)
Want DP delivered to your inbox daily? Subscribe here: