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

10:21 AM PDT on July 7, 2008

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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 Andreaarriving 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 goingon. The cyclist indicated everything was ok, and by the time I arrivedPaul was asking the police why they had stopped the cyclist. OfficerCorona told Paul with hostility that it was none of his business. Paulexplained is his calm, unwavering style that we were here to observe,and that the situation seemed strange considering we had just seen thiscyclist riding safely and legally without incident.

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

The officers both changed their demeanor under the scrutiny of thecamera. Still, when I told Corona that this was a retaliatory arrestfor 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 Paulreiterated that he did not consent to a search. Eventually Coronaopened up the bag anyway, finding . . . a whole lot of nothing.

Eventually a supervising officer, Sergeant Harrington arrived on thescene. He questioned his officers about the stop, then Paul, andfinally myself and Andrea. I suggested that this was unwarranted andthat we had a right to observe the stop, and Harrington insisted thatwe did not have a right to observe police action. The law says I’mright, 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. Paularrives and brings his bike to the counter with a headlight blazing andasks for the "correctable" ticket to be corrected. Donatoni says theydon't do that. We ask who does. He doesn't know.

We ask to filecomplaints. We argue about the rights of a "detainee" to observers. Weargue about the circumstances of the incident that evening. We pointout that his instructions to ask for a Supervisor are rejected by hisown Officers.

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

We ask again to file acomplaint and we're told to sit down and wait. The clock ticks. OfficerRussell #1 and Officer Russell #2 sit at the front counter working oncomputers. From the clicking sounds, I can only imagine how cool theirMySpace pages must be!

It's now way late. We talk about thefrequency of the incidents in which cyclists encounter the Police andend up in an adversarial relationship simply for thinking that thestreets are ours to ride as equals and that the Police are there tosupport our rights and our safety. 

Photo: Alex Thompson/Flickr

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