July 2nd, 2008 – Above, Paul B is about to be released from handcuffs by LAPD Officer Corona. After spending over a half an hour in cuffs, and having his belongings thoroughly searched, Paul was let off with a “no front light”, $10 fix-it ticket.
Or so it would seem. In fact the ticket and near arrest were retaliation for Paul stopping to observe the police detain another cyclist. Once we stopped to observe the arrest of cyclist who we did not know, Officer Corona nearly instantly informed Paul that he was taking Paul to jail for interference. It was only after Stephen Box got on the phone with the watch commander, I took 400 photos (Flickr set), and a supervisor arrived on the scene that they decided to “let Paul off” with a ticket.
Here’s what happened (you can read Stephen Box’s account here): after visiting the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council to support their endorsement of the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights (right #3, “Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement”), I headed over to Ridge Way for Den Dinner. When the night wore down Paul, myself, and Andrea decided to ride back to the Westside together.
When we made the turn from Sunset Blvd to Santa Monica we passed a cyclist, perhaps 6’2″, dark skinned, riding a dark mountain bike steadily West. He held his line and he seemed to be riding just fine – a harmless commuter. Shortly afterward we passed blogger Will Campbell heading East and so we stopped to chat. While stopped the same anonymous cyclist passed us back, and again was most notable for his lack of notability. After a short chat with Will we started West again.
It came as a surprise when, as we approached the location where Santa Monica Blvd crosses the 101 Fwy, the anonymous cyclist was handcuffed, two LAPD officers standing next to him. How does a cyclist, who just 5 minutes again was harmless and nearly invisible, get thrown in handcuffs so quickly? It didn’t add up, and as we continued riding West we discussed whether we should return to observe. Ultimately, we did return, because we each thought we’d be upset if we were in his situation and three cyclists rolled by without stopping.
(Paul and the anonymous cyclist are both in cuffs as Corona searches Paul’s bag after Paul denied consent to a search)
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.
(Sgt Harrington (left) ruminates as Officer Stine lethargically uncuffs the anonymous cyclist)
It was during this argument that Stine and Corona apparently decided to ticket Paul, not arrest him. And yet, as they released the anonymous cyclist, whose information we were never able to get, they left Paul standing on the sidewalk still in cuffs. That’s right – they left him there standing in cuffs in order to write him a ticket for not having a front light. But I’m glad they gave Paul a ticket, because it would be just too obvious if they put him in cuffs, searched him illegally, and didn’t cite him. Clearly that is police abuse, where here we have the more ambiguous “I gave you a ticket to cover for the fact that I should have never cuffed you in the first place” situation.
After the police left Paul with his ticket, Stephen convinced us to meet him and Enci at the Hollywood station to talk with the the watch commander, Lieutenant Donatoni, about the incident. We rode to the station, and as we rode up to it, a police car nearly leveled us as it pulled out of the station. Inside the station we found Lt Donatoni, and the supervisor, Sgt Harrington. Harrington and Donatoni had essentially nothing to offer, except a flawed understanding of the law in Harrington’s case, who believes that cyclists must have a rear light. Nope, you only need a reflector.
1) Make sure you have a front light, or you could end up in jail.
2) Never scrutinize the police when they seem like they’re up to something – you might be right!
3) Always carry a camera
4) Get on the phones right away, and ask for a supervisor
5) Always carry a Stephen & Enci Box