Another Community Endorses Cyclists Rights. LAPD Still Confused About Them.

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Officer Searches Cyclist’s Bag Without Probable Cause or Consent

Last week, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council became the second Neighborhood Council to endorse the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, written by the Bike Writer’s Collective.  For the second time, cyclists on their way home from a Bill of Rights presentation were detained by police for no apparent reason proving the need for such a document.  Ironically, clause three of the Bill or Rights states:

 right #3, “Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement”

This time, the infraction that led to the confrontation was a cyclist asking the police why another cyclist was being detained.  This led to an illegal search and a half hour hand-cuffing while the police tried to figure out what else they could pin on the questioner.  Eventually he "got off" for not having a front light on his bike, even though he approached the police on foot not on his bicycle.

Alex Thompson was on the scene.  He reports:

So we flipped a U-turn and returned to the scene, Paul and Andrea
arriving before me as I got hung up across the street at a red light.
Paul rolled up onto the sidewalk, dismounted, and asked what was going
on. The cyclist indicated everything was ok, and by the time I arrived
Paul was asking the police why they had stopped the cyclist. Officer
Corona told Paul with hostility that it was none of his business. Paul
explained is his calm, unwavering style that we were here to observe,
and that the situation seemed strange considering we had just seen this
cyclist riding safely and legally without incident.

Corona blew a fuse and he told Paul not to move, and said we would
be going to jail for interfering. He gave Paul no prior instruction to
step back. It was only when Corona began searching Paul that I realized
this was really happening. So I pulled out my Nikon and held down the
shutter as I dialed Enci Box when he didn’t pick up. Around the same
time Officer Stine and Corona instructed me to back up or I would also
be jailed. Stephen Box got on the phone with the Watch Commander and
urged him to send a supervisor to the scene, as I also requested one
from Officer Stine.

The officers both changed their demeanor under the scrutiny of the
camera. Still, when I told Corona that this was a retaliatory arrest
for our observing them he confirmed it – in fact he seemed proud of it.
Corona berated Paul, asking him repeatedly “can I look in you bag?
What’s in the bag? I’m going to look in your bag” and so on, while Paul
reiterated that he did not consent to a search. Eventually Corona
opened up the bag anyway, finding . . . a whole lot of nothing.

Eventually a supervising officer, Sergeant Harrington arrived on the
scene. He questioned his officers about the stop, then Paul, and
finally myself and Andrea. I suggested that this was unwarranted and
that we had a right to observe the stop, and Harrington insisted that
we did not have a right to observe police action. The law says I’m
right, but Harrington insisted repeatedly that I was not.

The incident doesn’t end there as the eventually released cyclists head over to the police station to ask about their illegal treatment and are basically ignored.  Stephen Box was there for that part of the discussion and picks up the story.

I head over to the Station and get Lt. Donatoni to the front desk. Paul
arrives and brings his bike to the counter with a headlight blazing and
asks for the "correctable" ticket to be corrected. Donatoni says they
don’t do that. We ask who does. He doesn’t know.

We ask to file
complaints. We argue about the rights of a "detainee" to observers. We
argue about the circumstances of the incident that evening. We point
out that his instructions to ask for a Supervisor are rejected by his
own Officers.

We ask if they also handcuff, detain, search and
go through the personal property of other stopped for infractions such
as talking on a cell phone or driving a car with expired tags or a
burned out tail light. Crickets chirp.

We ask again to file a
complaint and we’re told to sit down and wait. The clock ticks. Officer
Russell #1 and Officer Russell #2 sit at the front counter working on
computers. From the clicking sounds, I can only imagine how cool their
MySpace pages must be!

It’s now way late. We talk about the
frequency of the incidents in which cyclists encounter the Police and
end up in an adversarial relationship simply for thinking that the
streets are ours to ride as equals and that the Police are there to
support our rights and our safety. 

Photo: Alex Thompson/Flickr

  • brian g

    dude, this sucks. I also got arrested for asking a cop why he was arresting another cyclist. Good luck with this, I hope it turns out better!

  • Damien, thanks for the write up. This story has legs, I tell ya. I wrote that up early this morning, and I left out the interesting detail that I was threatened with arrest. It wasn’t off hand either. I swear, the camera and the cell phone made all the difference at that point. Really ridiculous.

  • Peter

    Actually, Harrington is right. You do not have the right to question officers about the stop. You do have the right to observe the stop, as long as you do not interfere with the officers. Take pictures, take video, audio recordings–all good. Talking to the officers–not good.

    If you want to know why the person was stopped, you can inquire at the police station. But not at the time of the arrest.

    Oh, and as an aside, if the officer noticed that you were riding your bicycle without a light, it doesn’t matter that you walked up to him. If I drive my car without headlights, I can get a ticket. If the cops see me drive down the street without headlights on and I pull into a parking lot and stop, they can still give me the ticket.

    “Educated” Law Enforcement also means that they should know when bicyclists are in the wrong.

  • Peter, you’re absolutely wrong about asking officers questions. It does not constitute interference and is legal. This is the interference code:

    Reference: 148. (a) (1) Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

    Talking to an officer does not fufill any of the above conditions, and is protected by the 1st amendment. Police are capable of ignoring vocal observers, as Harrington demonstrated by ignoring completely me after we disagreed about the right to observe. In that sense, he demonstrated a proficiency that his subordinates lacked.

  • nobody

    Amazing. Those in charge of enforcing the law seem to those most likely not to know the law. It’s the same in Portland, NYC, San Fran, etc..

  • Jeez, stop some poor dude on a bike and have 30 years of collective college coursework thrown in your face! Poor cop! The guy is probably never going to pull over another cyclist again.

    You guys are all high and mighty trying to fight for cyclists rights – but you should be wary of f**king with the LAPD. This is the department, after all, that is still modeled after the United States Marine Corps. They once ran one of the most racist big city police departments in the country for decades.

    I wonder what would have happened if y’all were a bunch of black guys on bikes, or if you kept asking questions in Spanish instead of English. Maybe a nightstick to the head, a dime bag shoved in your pocket, and a drug war sentence to tide you over for a few months in the pinta.

  • “30 years of collective college course work” = I loled!

    Paul threw algorithms at them while I insisted they calculate the algorithmic complexity. Stephen came up with clever names for their mistakes, and Enci helped them improve their stage presence.

    Believe me, I’m very aware of how we would be treated differently if had different ethnic backgrounds.

  • Andrea hasn’t been to college yet . . . so we wouldn’t let her do anything, but she probably could have settled the whole thing through careful mediation.

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