Cyclist Questions Police Conduct – For a Traffic Violation

El Jimmy

Here’s a contribution from eco-villager “El Jimmy” Lizama – one of the founders of the Bike Kitchen, proprietor of the Bike Morgue, messenger, wrenchista, poet, and generally considered to be the sexiest man in the two-block eco-village neighborhood.

(I’ve linkified it a little bit… but all the words are Jimmy’s)

For a Traffic Violation?
by Jimmy Lizama

I am livid, but I could conceivably be much more upset and in a heap of more trouble, but that’s exactly what the problem is.  Let me explain:  Every morning I get up early and ride Jeanmichel, my partner’s 8-year old boy, to school on our tandem.  Today was like any other day; I dropped him off, put his helmet in the pannier and rode to Cafe Tropical.  I took Santa Monica Blvd. to Sunset, there by Sanborn, with that funny little light.  The cops say I took that red light — I don’t really remember doing that.  Their word against mine.

They pull me over at Maltman, in front of Madame Matisse, a french restaurant with the best pancakes anywhere.  The first officer, I’ll venture to say the dominant of the two, gets out and asks, “Hey, did you know you took a red light back there?”

I think for bit, wondering if I actually took a red light and think no, I don’t think I did.  The cop tells me where and I respond with, “No, I don’t think I did officer.”

The dominant officer, a man of about 6 feet in high, somewhere between Latino and Armenian looking, thin with a quiet sternness to him then commands me to put my hands behind head, cross my fingers, face the wall and spread my legs.  I cross my fingers like I’m making a wish and ask, “For a traffic violation?”

He repeats his commands.  Frustrated I have no option but to comply.

They do not ask me if I can be searched, but the smaller and nicer cop does so anyway, without my permission.  But it’s like this, with LAPD I’ve learned that if you give them a hand they’ll take the whole arm.  I tried my best to be quiet, but I had to ask them about their protocol and if this was it.  Is it customary or even legal procedure for officers to search your person, ask you to face a wall, fingers Criss-Crossed (not crosssed), legs spread for  a traffic violation?  Really?

As the domineering officer writes up the ticket, I continue to face the wall assuming the stance they’ve commanded me to take and I continue to ask them about their procedures.  They come back with, “Did you hear about the transient that got pulled over and stabbed a cop recently?  You know you could be a threat to us.  We don’t know you?  Do you know us?  Your attitude and body language says that you can be a threat to us.  We have to protect ourselves …” and so on.

They run my name and my name is similar to someone else’s name, who happens to have a warrant, so the cops put me in hand cuffs.  Luckily there were no customers dining as, they might not have been able to hold it down, from laughter?  From anger?  Both?

I inform them that that person is not me and that the cuffs are not necessary.  My name is cleared in 5 minutes.  They continue to fill out the ticket.  “Um, can you take off the hand cuffs now?”, I ask, annoyed at Officer Domineering’s all-too-relaxed attitude.  “Sure”, he returns, and slowly removes the cuffs, but not really to be careful, you know?  More like, when little Jeanmichel has to get the last word in when he’s being scolded.  Like a little brat.

So, my name is cleared, yay!  But wait:  face the wall, keep your legs spread and your hands behind your back, fingers crossed (criss-crossed!!!).  “For a traffic violation?  You just cleared my name.”  He repeats instructions on how to assume the stance …

He asks me if I want a supervising officer.  I say yes.

When the sergeant arrives, I’m still in the position and no one has told me that I cannot leave that position, so I’m not about to test what their comfort levels are, dig?  I speak to the wall as I speak to the sergeant who pretty much repeats their logic, i.e., I could be a threat, my body language says this or that (I suppose hands behind your back, legs spread, fingers criss-crossed does connote something threatening, but to whom?)  So I ask the sergeant, “So, you and I, we’ve had a pretty civil conversation right?”

“Yes”, he agrees.

“And if I don’t seem like a threat to you or your officers, why am I still having this conversation like this [facing the wall, fingers criss-crossed …].”

“For our safety,”  he replies bluntly.

In the end, I’m given the ticket and I lecture them.  I tell them three that the conversation needs to stop because I simply do not agree with their tactics, their methodology nor their way of treating Me.  There’s a difference in how they treat say a motorist, especially one on his way to work in an office in downtown wearing a suit and tie and how they treat Me a person who just dropped off his kid at school on a tandem bicycle in corduroys and a black T-shirt.  The sergeant thinks that’s bullshit, per his own words, because this is not about race.  I never said it was about racial profiling.

And I don’t think it’s racial profiling … I don’t think … as Officer Domineering asked me if I was Italian or Hispanic.  I spilled the beans and told him I’m Latino.  I just don’t understand how me saying, without an attitude, just matter of fact, “I don’t think I took that red light officer” translates into taking tactical maneuvers against potential bodily harm on them.  Had I said, “Yes sir, one more please …” perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten a ticket at all.

I don’t know about y’alls, but me, I really have a hard time kissing anyone’s ass outright.  I don’t need to perpetuate unhealthy givens by consenting to bad behavior.  I don’t think I took the red light, but if I did and they caught me, well yeah, sure, gotta pay the ticket.  But who’s gonna give them a ticket for uncivilized exchange?  Who’s gonna hold them accountable for egregious handling of their citizenry as civil servants who’s job I pay for through taxes?

So yes, I am livid, but what if I would have been pulled over when Jeanmichel was with me?  I think that’s a whole different ball game.  Can you imagine me in hand cuffs, Jeanmichel in the back of the police car all for a traffic violation?  Can you imagine a lawyer being pulled out of his BMW and his kid placed in the squad car, because he ran a red light?  No, you really can’t.  Neither can I and neither do I want to even think about that happening to my family.  So, I’m really pissed about what could have happened.  I don’t need to ride my kid to school with the fear that over-domineering cops will detain me and parade me around as if they just caught some thief in the act.

If anyone out there wants to come forward, bicycle or motorist or other human powered and just tell about your experiences with Rampart PD, specifically to being pulled over for a traffic violation and inform on how you were treated, that might be helpful.  What time was it?  What were you wearing?  What were you pulled over for?  Were you asked to step out of your car?  Were you asked to assume the stance?  Did you feel that their actions/orders were justified?  Anything like that.  Instances where you were pulled over on Sunset by all the shops and things went smoothly are very helpful as they illustrate the stark difference.

And lastly, just so that things are consistent and clear, the other cop is asian, about 5’7″, shaved head, looks somewhere between Filipino and Thai, in his early 30’s, 160 lbs or so.  The meaner cop has wavy dark brown hair, clean cut, light eyes and is in his late 30’s.

I will add that this is not about super bad cops.  They didn’t beat me or call me names or anything like that.  They did however abuse their position of power and while they may have acted within some obscure scope allowed, it was applied incorrectly.  If the PD want to really improve their relationship with the communities they serve, it’s obvious that they need to do a much better job of identifying blatant criminals from stepdad’s biking their kids to school and act accordingly.

Thanks for reading.

12 thoughts on “Cyclist Questions Police Conduct – For a Traffic Violation

  1. Here’s what I’m saying though. As a female cyclist, any cop can just pull me over and feel me up, oh wait, I mean, search me?! Just so they can hand me a traffic violation? A person in a car could just as easily have a gun, and you don’t automatically ask them to get out and search them. That was an illegal search, you should sue. Or at least file a complaint. They had no grounds whatsoever to pat you down. That philosophy suggests that every single person on the sidewalk is a threat to them and they can pat down and abuse whomever they like.

    This is exactly what I brought up to Assistant Chief Paysinger on Wednesday’s meeting.

  2. Jimmy, this is disturbing. I bike that stretch nearly every single day.

    It doesn’t even make sense that they would have seen you run the light at SM&Sunset only to catch up with you five blocks down at Millie’s on Maltman. I’d say you have a pretty good case against them.

    But the fact that this was insanely inappropriate is even more to the point. You have the Officer’s name and badge number by now hopefully. File a complaint at the LAPD’s website. Shoot me and email and we can talk about other steps we can take (get my email from Joe).

    What the procedure is for ticketing bicyclists–and what the law says police can and can’t do–has yet to come up in our conversations with the LAPD, but you can believe it will now. Your article explains it exactly–no driver is ever pulled out of their car and cuffed spread eagle for running a red light, and I’ve never heard of pedestrians being treated like that either. Call it what you want, but a number of factors were added up to result in the infringement upon your rights.

    There’s a lot of momentum in your favor right now, and I think you can add to it by taking stand on this. Let me know.

    -ramon martinez

  3. I would be taking this a little further than your blog. Just today, the LA Times ran an article that the Chief of LAPD vowed to better protect cyclists and train officers on cyclists rights. (Article: http://bit.ly/cc7CKJ).

    Bring it to the LA Times attention. Bring it to the chief’s attention. Perhaps a lawsuit isn’t the correct method as most of what happened is likely your word against theirs. But if you have the offending officer’s information from the ticket, I would request a copy of the surveillance camera footage for your case.

  4. I have never been treated well by a person in uniform.

    At various points I’ve thought the experience was so horrible for me because I’m not fond of “authority,” but as I get older, I am able to take more distance and realize… no, people in the PD, whether at the station or on the street, believe they are somehow morally or legally superior to everyone else and it comes through in EVERY aspect of their being- their tone, their language, their body language- all of it. It’s NOT me. It’s them. And it’s a problem.

    I’m sorry this happened to you and I hope a positive resolution comes out of it.

    I still haven’t been paid back the $243.80 I had to pay a few months ago when LAPD made a mistake and towed my legally parked and registered car. After being treated like a criminal and having to spend half a day to get anyone who would listen to me and release my car, they said they’d have a check sent to me for their mistake (I still had to pay the money that day, if I wanted my car back,) but I haven’t received any checks….

    My next step is to contact our councilperson’s office. Maybe we can do that together.

  5. Ugh! This irks me to no end. People need to be briefed on their rights every time they renew their drivers license or ID.
    I was just listening to a Bobby Seals speech on KPFK only minutes before I read this. So I’m worked up anyways.

    Personally I have always had pretty good look with calling them on their shit. When you elude to the fact that you know something about the law and could potentially make there live miserable with extra paperwork, bully cops tend to roll off the heat a little. Say it with confidence but respect, it totally throws them off.
    “Absolutely not, and do not touch me” could have actually gotten you out of a ticket. They don’t wlike to loose in court, and if they were so sure you took the light, they wouldn’t have asked you for the answer.

    Let us know if it ever goes to court, I’d love to rally down for that one.

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  7. Just last night about 8 p.m, I pedaled up on Sunset and stopped at that light at the junction behind two other cyclists both stopped as well until one rolled the red, in full view of a westbound patrol car whose occupants did nothing. But after the green came and I passed them they were eyeballing me hard like “give us an excuse.”

    So I think it’s cumulative and residual, with officers operating on an eenie-meenie-miney-mo basis. And unfortunately my hero JL was tagged “it” that morning. That’s a damn shame and its patently ridiculous that they had to operate like he was some sort of Public Enemy No. 1.

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  9. Actually, I think you should report this incident to Police Chief Beck and Asst. Chief Paysinger. There was a lot of talk from them both at last Wednesday’s Transportation Meeting about making the LAPD more bicycle-friendly. I believe it was Paysinger who said citing specific incidents (it could have been Rosendahl) was the way to enact change. This seems to be a prime example for re-education. I’m sure you can get Paysinger’s contact information from Aurisha at the LACBC, as I think business cards were exchanged. Sorry you had to go through this.

  10. That’s noting short of humiliating.

    Please raise this issue not only with Asst. Chief Paysinger, but also Commander Doan and Sgt. Kumar, who are all working on cycling/enforcement issues. This is not only a cycling issue, but a huge and badly timed LAPD PR fail, which LAPD (and likely many other law enforcement offices throughout the country/world) has been doing for many years/decades now. Under the auspices of “it’s for our protection” they seem to have unfettered rights to act as rudely they please citing “well, it’s just procedure.” Perhaps they’re trained just too well–or not enough.

    While I have received what I would call fair engagement by many LAPD officers, there have been many instances of what I would classify as unjustified uses of authority just as you recount for us here. It’s a shame, and does nothing to help improving their image.

    Thanks, Sr. Lizama, for putting this out there. I hope somehow it can be used to affect a change.

  11. I have a friend that works for the government, specifically NASA. He tells me every time a cop pulls him over he flashes his government id before he shows his license and cops responses are always “Oh, your one of the good guys. Ok, you can go.” It just goes to show you that if your a cop or work for the government in anyway, you get to fly, if not you get harassed. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gotten illegally searched. I’ve even said no to a search before but then they get even more pissed and to them that’s resisting so they call more back up. Now I just tell them, do what you gotta do so I can go about my business.

    I understand for some people that its hard to say no to the cop when it comes to searches and what not because they have a gun. To me its not really the badge, its the gun with the trigger happy officer behind it that thinks he’s playing cops and robbers like he did when he was a child with his cousins, friends, and siblings. I’ve read too many police corruption and brutality stories in Los Angeles alone to know that I’m a target to the police no matter if I’m a peaceful citizen or not. Even recently I read an article in the news that stated Inglewood might be the new Rampart Division for cops killing victims with no weapons whatsoever and using taser guns on peoples genitals for kicks and giggles. I’ve had police bend the truth and make up stories just so they can give me a traffic violation. It’s really nothing new whether your in a car or a bicycle. I’ve had them pull me out of the car and the bicycle just to be slammed against the wall and searched for a so-called traffic violation or a routine stop, which is another excuse they use to pull victims over.

    Even this whole Arizona immigration thing has me laughing because it’s not like racial profiling is something new. It’s always gone down unoffically, just ask the blacks, latinos, and some of the bald-headed Asians or other people that look like minorities. News flash my family has lived in this country for well over a 100 years jackass.

    When it comes down to it, I’d rather trust a crack head on skid row before I ever trust a power tripping, egotistical, trigger happy cop with a gun, state or federal. The concept of community policing within the LAPD is somewhere into the next universe for all I know. They should know that the way they’re conducting their business now creates a whole lot of enemies and non-supporters. Instead of gaining trust in the community they completely lose all of it, along with government/judicial respect. I try not to dislike all cops because I believe we are all different but the more I get older I notice that most of them are all the same when they wear that badge, gun, and black get-up.

    By the way, for the love of the donut king, do the cops really need to lecture us every time they pull someone over, because we really don’t care. If we have the right to remain silent, so should the cops. Just give me the traffic ticket, get on your lovely way and I’ll do the same. I’m a grown man, I don’t want or need to hear the same government inspired lectures on the law that I already heard from the last cop that routinely pulled me over. I respect the cops that just pull you over, give you the ticket without saying as much as wheres your license and registration so I can then fight it in court 2 months later.

    This quote puts everything I have to say into two sentences that I found of copblock.org.

    Always remember that the police — and not conventional criminals — are the main threat to the safety of the average peaceful person. The police are there “to serve and protect” themselves and their employers — the judicial system.

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