Culver City Crash: Sgt Nielsen – it was the cyclists’ fault.
If you want to know what rank and file Culver City police officers think of cyclists, you don’t have to go far to get their opinion. Bikerowave board member Thomas Anthony was pulled over by Culver City Police Department officer Sergeant Nielsen, who offered his opinion that Midnight Ridazz are a “bunch of idiots” and that the victims of the recent crash at Jefferson and Hetzler were at fault, because they were (in his opinion), blocking the road:
He asked if we ever rode with the Midnight Ridazz, I replied that I had, but big group rides weren’t really my thing. He said, “They’re a bunch of idiots.” My friend asked if he had heard about the group of cyclists that were hit by a girl who was drunk and texting, late the night before. He responded in the affirmative and said they were blocking the road. I was baffled but wanted to confirm what had just heard. I asked if he thought “it was the cyclists fault for getting hit by a drunk driver”? Sergeant Nielsen replied, “Yes.”
Find the full story from Anthony below.
Anthony’s tale is a classic case of “biased cop has never heard of CVC 21202″, spiced up by his opinion of the downed cyclists in Culver City. It shows that the burden to prove they are unbiased in their investigation is on Culver City PD – something they have yet to prove to me. Together with information that Culver City traffic engineers knew that Hetzler and Jefferson was a dangerous intersection, the city is starting to look pretty vulnerable.
My encounter with the Culver City Police Department began at about 2pm Thursday, 16 June 2011. I was riding my bicycle eastbound in about the 10300 block of Washington Blvd. A white Honda Civic pulled up beside us, slowed to our speed, and a police officer behind the wheel yelled for me to “get in single file” and “ride in the extreme right hand side of the lane.” Being respectful of the law but not fond of being yelled at by anyone, I responded that according to CVC 21202, I have full right to the lane, as I saw it was of substandard width. The officer repeated loudly that he wanted us to ride single file on the right side of the lane. I waved and dropped back behind my friend, seeing that I would make no progress trying to convince him of the rights afforded me by California state law.
We continued east on Washington Blvd, after the confrontation the Civic had sped ahead, letting traffic continue, and took up position in the right lane in front of us. We caught up to him at the next stop light, when the light changed we continued on, the officer apparently sat and waited for us to proceed. We turned left from Washington Blvd to ride on Venice Blvd instead. The officer again sped past us, pulled over, and got out of his vehicle. As we approached, he had me stop and told me he was going to give me a ticket; he said “I gave you a chance and you blew it. I told you to ride single file in the right side of the lane.” I told him that was exactly what I did. He told me he would give me a ticket for impeding the flow of traffic. I told him the lane was of substandard width, explained that there was not enough room for a car to pass me while staying in the lane. For my safety, I chose to take the lane. He repeated that he had told me to ride single file. I replied that nowhere in the California Vehicle Code does it state that bicycles must ride single file. CVC prohibits municipalities from placing such restrictions on cyclists. He said we would “let the judge decide.”
At this point we were joined by another Culver City Police officer, yet another rolled by as the second officer approached. The officer who pulled me over, Sergeant Nielsen, produced his CVC pocket synopsis and read me a passage that stated a vehicle must maintain the speed of traffic making exceptions for safe operation and that the statute only applied to vehicles that must be registered. In my flustered state, I did not write down what code violation he was threatening to give me a ticket under.
I continued stating that under CVC 21202 cyclists are allowed to take full use of the right lane under several conditions, the reason I had was the lane was not wide enough to permit a vehicle to pass safely, this was my assessment, my choice. Sergeant Nielsen replied that he “didn’t know that one,” referring to CVC 21202. Since it was not included in his synopsis he had the other officer look it up. He repeated numerous times that he would “let the judge decide.”
We continued our debate while the other officer searched, Sergeant Nielsen repeated that since I was moving slower than the speed of traffic, I had to move to the right. I repeated that for my safety I took the lane, such as the law allows. My friend then told the officer how minutes before he started yelling at us we were honked at and I was swerved into by a motorist in a large Mercedes sedan. Sergeant Nielsen shrugged. He asked if we ever rode with the Midnight Ridazz, I replied that I had, but big group rides weren’t really my thing. He said, “They’re a bunch of idiots.” My friend asked if he had heard about the group of cyclists that were hit by a girl who was drunk and texting, late the night before. He responded in the affirmative and said they were blocking the road. I was baffled but wanted to confirm what had just heard. I asked if he thought “it was the cyclists fault for getting hit by a drunk driver”? Sergeant Nielsen replied, “Yes.”
The other officer produced a book that contained CVC 21202, it stated that bicycles moving slower than the speed must stay as far to the right as “possible”, except when passing another vehicle or preparing for a left turn. I told him CVC 21202 was much longer than this printed version, I suspected it was an old printing. Sergeant Nielsen replied that he could have the other officer look it up (on the internet, in the squad car). The officer went to the car, Sergeant Nielsen told me that if I was wrong he was going to write me a ticket. The officer came back and told us that it said we had to ride as far to the right as “practical.” I asked about all the exceptions, such as substandard width lanes. He said no.
Sergeant Nielsen then told us that he “rode bikes, too.” He portrayed himself as a cyclist, and compared my action of riding my bicycle in the way of cars to someone who spits chewing tobacco juice on the sidewalk; “there’s a right way to do things.”
He continued that he could let us go, but that I was trying to be “macho,” “alpha dog.” I replied that I was doing nothing of the sort; I was merely standing up for myself, my personal safety, and the safety of those I ride with. I could tell there was no way out but to give in. I told him I understood what he was saying and that it was possible for a car to pass me safely within the lane and I could have been riding farther to the right. That was it. Sergeant Nielsen decided he had won, shook my hand and sent us on our way.
I felt totally defeated that I had given in. I had let the bad guy win. I knew I was right. Sergeant Nielsen had begun the day thinking he knew the law, that bikes should get out of the way of cars. I wondered if, like me, he would go home, look up CVC 21202 and discover he was totally wrong. Everything he had told us was wrong. His opinion that the lane was wide enough to permit passing is a valid one. I happen to disagree, I ride my bicycle all over Los Angeles every day; I know when to take the lane, I know when I don’t need to. Now I know I need to carry CVC 21202 everywhere I go.