Gardena PD Ticket, Harass United Riders of South Los Angeles for Taking Lane while the Case of the Hit-and-Run Victim They Were Honoring Remains Unsolved

The United Riders of South Los Angeles had just left the memorial site for Benjamin Torres, killed last October in Gardena in a hit-and-run, when they were pulled over by the Gardena Police Department.

They had stopped at the site to replace Torres’ original ghost bike, which had recently been removed by the city. They wanted the site to be ready to host this month’s memorial ride.

After securing the bike, they had headed toward city hall to inquire about its confiscation and about the possibility of working with the city so that the memorial could be allowed to stand. That’s when a female officer passed them, swung around and got behind them, and then finally pulled them over, claiming they were impeding traffic.

Actually, according to John Jones III, president of the East Side Riders, she didn’t tell them why she had pulled them over at first.

They asked, but were told to sit down and turn around.

The more they asked the more frustrated she got, putting her hand on her service weapon, blaming what she perceived as their noncompliance for delaying the process, and, finally, calling for back-up.

When the other officers arrived, they frisked the cyclists — including the petite Rese Chaidez, Torres’ step-daughter —  and ran their IDs.

Jones began protesting the fact that the female officer was running her hands up between the legs of the male cyclists, but thought better of it. He was used to this kind of thing and knew calling it out would only escalate the tension, he said.

Instead, he and the others continued to ask why they were being stopped.

The officers finally settled on the idea that the group must have been impeding traffic. They told the cyclists they needed to stay off the sidewalk and ride three feet from the curb. They were not interested in hearing  about concerns that staying so close to curbs and cars would put the cyclists in danger of being sideswiped by cars or in the door zone of the parked cars they were passing.

Incidentally, Jones and Javier Partida, head of Los Ryderz, had completed a road safety certification course no more than 10 days ago. So, aside from their years of experience on bikes and of very competently and responsibly marshaling the weekly rides that their clubs take, they actually now had newly-minted certificates that verified they knew the rules of the road.

None of it mattered to the Gardena PD, who were busy handing out tickets to the group.

Jones demanded to know why the ticket was being written by one of the officers that had been called in as back-up and therefore had not witnessed him impeding traffic. When she couldn’t give him an answer, he asked that she note on the ticket that she had not been present for the incident, but she mumbled that she was just writing up the ticket for the other officer and that they would sign it.

That officer, however, appeared to be doing what she could to conceal her identity. Repeated requests for her badge number and business card were rebuffed multiple times.

She wasn’t thrilled that they were asking and voiced that she felt it meant that the cyclists were going to complain.

“No,” says Jones. “We were not going to complain. We were going to tell the truth.”

Tickets in hand — except for Chaidez, who oddly wasn’t ticketed — they headed for city hall. Now they had two issues to talk about.

The main concern, Jones said, was still the ghost bike.

Why would the city take something like that away without notifying the family? Their contact information had been plastered all over the site.

The Chief of Police said that they got a lot of complaints from residents and so he had made the decision to remove it. They normally don’t let memorials stay up that long as it is, he said, and this one had been there for many months.

When the group told him they had just put the ghost bike back at the site, the Chief agreed to work with them to try to find a happy medium, suggesting they go the route of getting a permit for a memorial or plaque of some sort.

Satisfied that they could work with the Chief, they headed for home.

At that point, says Jones, they know the ghost bike was still there. Within three hours, however, it was gone again.

That was the last straw for the group, said Jones. They had felt the Chief was willing to work with them and they could respect someone trying to help them by bringing them into the process. But for the bike to have been removed so quickly made them feel like they were being had. And they had had enough.

So, they put the video out and they want your help spreading it far and wide. All of the riders here have worked tirelessly on behalf of the community. Even the youth have been active in making a positive contribution to South L.A. and in doing what they can to become better citizens and people. Ironically, Fernando Mejia (the short youth in the white t-shirt) told me just last week that he wanted to be a cop.

“You’d be great!” I’d said at the time, thinking of all the articles I’d written on profiling of youth and how slow that culture was to change within law enforcement. “We really need cops around here that treat the people right.’

  • 2UrbanGirls

    How are you impeding the bike lane when Metro has a campaign on their buses stating “every lane is a bike lane”? Officer Torres stalks Western 24/7 and is quick to bust a u-turn. Let’s not forget Gardena’s mayor, Paul Tanaka, does have that neo-nazi tattoo. Gardena PD regularly stops blacks, while on bikes, on Western regularly.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this video really makes my blood boil. Kudos to Gardena PD for providing an example of racial profiling, bicyclist subjugation, ableist assumptions, and windshield perspective all in one!

    As part of the bike safety program I organize east of San Francisco I have the opportunity to work with local police departments and brief them on the practical application of California bike law, and have found that the same misconceptions and biases we hear so often from ordinary citizens often also extend to those responsible for applying and enforcing the law, unfortunately. The PDs with intelligent leadership at least recognize this and are interested in working with us to provide more nuanced training, since they get that having their officers write inappropriate or inaccurate tickets which will eventually just be thrown out in court is a waste of everyone’s time.

    Going one step further, the best thing we can do to encourage more sensitivity and understanding of the challenges bicyclists face among law enforcement officers is to get more of them on bikes, and for transportation not just exercise. This can be done either through increased bike patrols or through bike commuter incentive programs and facilities within the PD. No matter how they try, a police officer who drives to work and then drives around all day in a squad car is at a psychological disadvantage when it comes to identifying with any person on a bicycle, and to understanding the application and nuances of traffic law as it applies to bicycling.

  • Anonymous

    Did they consent to being searched? Or was the searched forced upon them? They were not driving cars, which is licensed by the State. They were using bicycles.

  • sahra

    When people are stopped like this — particularly people of color — they don’t have much choice with regard to searches. Refusing to be searched may result in your being cuffed and thrown in the back of squad car. Even if not, protesting can quickly escalate tensions and make a stop much more confrontational. They did the right thing by remaining respectful and asking for badge numbers. Cops tell me (and I have seen happen) that when they pull over people like students from USC, the kids are immediately on the phone with their family’s lawyer, threatening to sue, etc. People in lower-income communities have no leverage and observers/authorities are much less likely to believe their stories of harassment at the hands of officers, so protesting your rights becomes an exercise in futility. For more info on how that works, see an article I did on that dynamic here:

  • bikinginla

    Gardena has had at least three bicycling fatalities since 2010, including two in just the last nine months. Not good for a town of under 60,000 people.

    And all three of those were hit-and-runs.

    Clearly, they have much bigger problems than whether bikes are taking up a traffic lane.

  • Erik Griswold

    Gardena Municipal Code
    is out of compliance with the the California Vehicular Code. Some examples:

    “10.48.100 Riding on sidewalks and roadways.

    No person shall ride, park, or leave a bicycle upon any sidewalk at any time in a business district. No person shall ride a bicycle on a sidewalk outside a business district except when, because of the very nature of the conditions on the roadway, it would be hazardous to ride in the roadway, at which time it would be permissible for a bicycle to be ridden on the sidewalk providing such would not endanger or hinder the movement of pedestrians thereon. The rider of a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as nearly as practicable within five feet of the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except when passing a standing vehicle or making a left-hand turn at an intersection. (Prior code § 3-1.10)”

    “10.08.090 Obedience by persons riding bicycles or animals required.

    Every person riding a bicycle or riding or driving an animal upon a highway shall be granted all the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. (Prior code § 3-5.304)”

    “10.28.070 Parallel parking.

    No person shall park any vehicle upon any roadway other than parallel with the roadway edge or curb, headed in the direction of traffic flow, and with the vehicle’s right-side wheels within eighteen inches of the right-hand roadway edge of curb, except as follows:

    C. Motorcycles and bicycles shall be parked with at least one wheel touching the curb. (Prior code § 3-5.1005)”

    Sounds like a class action lawsuit would bring them into compliance?

    Also, the next Gardena City Council meeting is at 7:30pm on Tuesday July 23rd at 1700 W. 162nd Street:

  • John Lloyd

    Props to these bicyclists for documenting this and maintaining their dignity despite the unfair treatment they received. Gardena PD should be ashamed of itself. Particularly galling was the condescending lecture about the dangers of bicycling, despite the fact that the riders knew more about the law than the officers.

  • A.J. Bartholomew

    Maybe if the Police did their jobs, it wouldn’t be so unsafe to ride bikes. The fact Old people who can’t see,drunk drivers and people who just don;t care shouldn’t be DRIVING in the first place! DO YOUR JOBS COPS and REMOVE THESE DANGEROUS DRIVERS!!!!!!!

  • tedroy

    It’s becoming very clear that cops are out of control. They shoot unarmed people, they break into peoples homes and beat folks up. Give anyone a position of “authority” and a gun and they feel they have the right to abuse us.
    F the police!

  • Andrea Maier

    How cold bicyclists be such a threat? This is seriously disturbing.

  • brendo

    In a police state, EVERYONE conducting perfectly normal activities is a threat.

  • Oscar

    So silly…they ABSOLUTELY ARE much safer as a large group taking the lane. Cops enforcing such laws should HAVE TO ride a bike to work even once a year IMO. And the fact that the white girl did NOT get a ticket…the cops seemed cool actually, but could that be a form of subconscious racism?

  • Once a year? I say force them to take an L.A.B. or C.S. class and then make them ride to work every day for a year.

  • Anh

    It’s not impeding. The impeding law is CVC 21656 and it does not apply if motorists can move over to pass, as they can on a multi-lane road like this.

    CVC 22400 is a minimum speed law. It does not require any traffic to travel at a speed which is greater than they can reasonably and safely maintain.

    CVC 21200(a) exempts bicyclists from requirements which cannot be reasonably applied to bicycles due to their nature. You can’t require bicyclists to ride faster than they can reasonably and safely go.

    The right lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to travel safely side by side within the lane. That means that under CVC 21202(a)(3), bicyclists are not required to ride far right within the lane and so they can use the entire lane.

  • That comment was copy/pasted from my comment on Vimeo.

  • CiclismoNYC

    Seriously, that’s what out tax dollars are being spent on. Plus, the cops are impeding traffic themselves with their cruises…C’mon. On top of that, racial profiling…unbelievable…

  • SJF

    I absolutely can’t believe that attitudes like this exist. The explaination by the officer of why cycling is toatally dangerous – well sort out the issues causing the danger, don’t harrass the victims!
    I’m in the UK and can tell you that this reflects very badly on USA who already have a very bad press over here with regard to civil liberties.
    Land of the free? I don’t think so.

  • I like where he tells them it’s safer on the sidewalk but that’s illegal too. The only solution, in their minds, is not to ride a bike. Buy a car (from the lot right there!) or be dependent on others every time you go anywhere.

  • Good grief

    Impeding traffic is just a lame excuse the police used to restrict the cyclists’ right to protest. The federal government is providing significant financial support to local police departments. This, along with the federal government spying on its own citizens without restriction, and the restriction of civil rights under the Patriot Act, is resulting in the militarization of the U.S. police force and the erosion of civil liberties.

  • Danny

    Just a few weeks ago Gardena PD shot and killed a cyclist trying to recover his stolen bike.

  • sahra

    thanks for that — we’ll keep an eye on that story as it unfolds

  • Nathanael

    Actually, get a grand jury empanelled and *indict* the police.

  • Nathanael

    The advice which Ben Masel used to give was to say “I do not consent to this search”, but not to physically prevent it in any way.

  • Nathanael

    By the way, having a *large group* like this harassed by cops all at once creates a different dynamic than cops harassing one individual. In short, there are multiple witnesses and that makes a big difference.

  • Arran

    Right in front of a car dealership, In a town that clearly doesn’t respect bikers. Sad stuff, I hate when cops ignore the actual law, in order to reinforce the status quo.

  • KillMoto

    Each of us need to write our mayors, suggesting that policing is cheaper and more effective if cop cars were replaced with cop bicycles.

    Get more cops out of cars, and everybody wins!

  • KillMoto

    Or, charge them $10 a day for parking at the station. Maybe they’ll ride everyday, just to save money.

  • KillMoto

    “The Chief of Police said that they got a lot of complaints from residents and so he had made the decision to remove it. They normally don’t let memorials stay up that long as it is, he said, and this one had been there for many months.”

    I bet if asked “may I see these written complaints?” he would produce exactly zero. I an imagine the conversation… “Well, these aren’t written complaints. We get a lot of calls”

    OK then, police phone lines are typically recorded. Let me hear the calls.

    Yeah, right.

  • sahra

    Interestingly, the ghost bike was not in front of a residential area… It is down the street from a fire station and a few businesses. A business owner there that the cyclists spoke with said he had no problem with the bike and hadn’t complain. So, you’re right… the claims are likely an excuse.

  • Nate

    I was talking with a police officer at a community fair this weekend in South LA, and inquired about how exactly the officers enforce gang injunctions in local parks.

    Me: “So do you know the gang members from your patrols, and recognize them by face?

    Police Officer: “No. But you can tell whether they are gangsters just by looking at them.”

    She said this with a straight face. And then went on to lament the fact that the community didn’t get involved in the official park activities that the Sheriff’s Department runs. I think cops have a very tough job, and the good ones are invaluable, but this garbage and the pullover/frisks in the video- it’s racism and amateurism. Disgraceful.

  • Daniel Saulmon

    I went to gardena pd to complain, after deading this story. I recorded my interaction with them.
    They seem to think this is a joke.

  • I sent an email to the mayor and city council with a link to this article and the video of the incident. I also described in detail the problems with the officer’s distortion of the law and their delusions about safety and gave them contacts for better authorities on those subjects than me.

    One email will be ignored. Dozens will not. Please do as I did.

  • Urban_Agent

    I’m equally baffled the Gardena PD is enforcing what typically Pubilic Works or Code Enforcement normally do. Removing perceived “blight?” So if residents report a dumped sofa in the City of Gardena, officers will come out and remove that too? This whole thing is whack.

  • Anyone who lives in or near Gardena and wants to do something about this should attend their next city council meeting and make your voice heard:

    Next meeting is Tuesday, July 23 at 7:30pm.

  • And then they came for me

    These cyclists have my highest admiration for keeping their cool. I don’t know if I could have. This is outrageous racial profiling at its worst. I hope Gardena apologizes and changes its training and who they hire.

  • David Huntsman

    Police officers on bicycles may just be the way to change the culture.


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