Wednesday, June 12, 2013
When the Cop Pointed the Gun in My Face
A few weekends ago I was driving down a major thoroughfare near the Pomona Fairplex when I noticed a black and white La Verne P.D. patrol car in my rearview mirror speed up and start tailing me. After a moment, the officer turned on his interior window-based lights, but I continued driving cautiously. I’ve had experiences before where police officers flashed their window lights at me just to show that they were keeping an eye on my conduct on the road, and I’ve only ever been pulled over after they turn on their flashing overhead lights.
After a quarter mile of tailing me, the officer turned on his overhead lights signaling me to pull over. I couldn’t do so immediately, as we were in the center lane and there were cars passing us on either side at 50 miles per hour. Still, when he turned his overhead lights on I stuck a thumbs-up out the window to acknowledge him and turned on my right-turn blinker. For our safety, I drove for ten seconds, reducing my speed, and slowly took the first right turn possible. If I had pulled over immediately on that busy thoroughfare, it would have put both of us in danger as cars drive very fast on that road and there’s no road shoulder.
So far his pursuit of me, in which I thought I was cooperating, lasted approximately thirty seconds. I turned off my engine in a parking area near the Fairplex Sheraton Hotel and rolled down my driver-side window. As the officer approached my vehicle, hand on holster, I was fumbling through my jeans pocket for my wallet so I could hand him my driver’s license. “Put your hands on the steering wheel!” he shouted. I put my hand on the wheel like he asked.
“Put your other hand on the steering wheel!”
“There is no other hand,” I replied.
“I SAID PUT YOUR OTHER HAND ON THE STEERING WHEEL!” As he shouted this, only a foot away from my window and standing diagonally behind me, he un-holstered his weapon, chambered a round, and pointed the weapon straight at me.
I shouted back to him, “I have one arm!” as I raised an empty sleeve so he could see it. He proceeded to interrogate me at lightning speed, asking if I had any drugs or weapons on my person, whether I had any warrants out for my arrest, asking if I’d been texting while driving, etc.
He then asked me whether I had a driver’s license, where it was, and which pocket. He told me to slowly reach into my pocket and pull the license out. I did so and handed it to him. He finally re-holstered his weapon, told me to stay put, and took my license to run my history. When he came back he told me why he pulled me over. It turns out one of my rear tires was visibly wobbling and he was concerned it might come off and cause an accident. I let him know it wasn’t loose, it just needed repair and I already had an appointment with a mechanic.
My friends all say he must have felt like “such a dick” when he found out I was missing an arm. I don’t know. All I know is that he proceeded to give me a lecture about pulling over immediately, and then sent me on my way. In hindsight, he must have been a fairly inexperienced officer because—having been raised by veteran cops—a veteran cop would have glared straight into my soul and lectured me about Lord-knows-what instead of un-holstering his weapon.
I won’t lie and say I wasn’t shaken up afterwards. Having a loaded weapon pointed directly at me when I committed no crime was a bit upsetting. When I told my friends about the incident, they all recommended I file a complaint against the officer and get him suspended. There’s one problem, though. The cop technically didn’t do anything illegal.
It certainly wasn’t the best judgment—in my book—for him to pull out his gun on a civilian the way he did so incredibly fast. However, he had a viable argument. Regardless of safety concerns, I did fail to pull over quickly. Furthermore, when he approached my vehicle my hand (hands, as he thought) was out of sight and fumbling for something of which he had no idea. So far the law is on his side, since officers are killed all the time doing routine traffic stops.
However, he did walk a very fine line. Because I’d said that I had no other hand, had he fired the weapon, he would be subject to disciplinary action and possible prosecution, since calling an ambulance to the scene to rescue his wounded suspect would have revealed that such a suspect indeed had no other hand.
The LVPD officer and I both frightened the hell out of each other at some point during our exchange, but neither one of us did anything illegal. This brings us to a problem. Being raised by police, I fully understand how police quickly develop an us-versus-them mentality, as there are criminals out there who hate the police, have gone to prison because they were caught by police, and want to extract some revenge from any police officer whenever they can get away with it. Talk to any experienced police officer and he or she will be able to list off a number of incidents where perpetrators tried to attack them, including at routine traffic stops.
On the flipside, this shows what is, in my opinion, a problem in the law enforcement culture. See a culture in law enforcement that can be traced back to the styles of law enforcement from the 1930s and 1940s where the police could do just about anything to people they deemed suspect of committing some sort of crime. Perhaps that culture itself stems back from the rough-and-tumble tradition of law enforcement in the Wild West, where for cops and criminals it was literally war.
Nonetheless, it’s getting better in some ways. I can cite a plethora of Supreme Court cases where the Court rules in favor of the defendant’s rights in cases where they were arrested by the local or state police. But it gets more tricky when it comes to cases involving federal law enforcement.
The Bush-era PATRIOT Act gave the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security the legal authority to spy on American citizens without a warrant. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law annually by President Obama, does the same. Americans are FINALLY outraged that the National Security Agency has been seizing all kinds of personal records.
Just yesterday the Atlantic Wire reported that book sales of George Orwell’s 1984 skyrocketed over 3,100% in the preceding twenty-four hours. This is in direct response to the blatant violation of the privacy of millions by the NSA (and as far as we know, several other federal agencies as well). Dare I say that Ron Paul was right when he used the metaphor of Orwellian government spying on its citizens?
I’m glad that nothing truly bad happened in my run-in with the LVPD officer. I don’t like it when guns get pointed at my face, whether by some thug or by a police officer. At the end of the day, I at least have the comfort of knowing the local police can’t spy on my without a warrant, nor can they indefinitely detain me. However, thanks to Congress and the Bush and Obama Administrations, federal agencies can, and they’re doing it at this time.
I’m deeply opposed to this, which is why I remain involved in the political process. I call my Congresswoman’s office. I sign petitions that fight to secure my liberty. I spend untold amounts of hours campaigning for candidates who will fight against government violations of the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
I doubt that LVPD officer will be so quick to pull his gun on people in the near future, and again, I’m glad nothing bad happened. However, if he was a federal agent, I’m not so sure the confrontation would have ended so quickly or painlessly.
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Police car image by Scott Davidson, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and used via CC BY 2.0 license. NSA satire image retrieved from the Ron Paul Problems tumblr blog with no copyrights given or implied.