I Was Arrested for a Law that Doesn’t Exist

By Kris Bailey

Here is the story about my arrest August 26th, and the reasons for it.  I met Chris Nielsen, owner of Electric Cab of Austin, during my recent campaign for Austin City Council.

Chris has been waging a three-year-long battle with the City of Austin over his idea for a green energy business giving pedestrians rides in low-speed electric vehicles–all on a “tips only” basis.  He does not charge for these services, as the mobile marketing company generates its revenue from advertising on the sides of the vehicles.

There is no law actually prohibiting him from operating this business, it is true, but, the enforcement side of the city–the police–have determined that the lack of a law regulating a business constitutes operating in violation of a law.  Nielsen’s drivers have received around 200 tickets and arrests now, over a law that does not exist.

The Austin City Council has had this issue in front of them multiple times, Chris said, yet never seems to vote on it, always deciding instead to continue to “study” it, thus delaying it a few more months.Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent “studying” his very small business.  The Urban Transportation Commission has recommended multiple times that the city issue him a permit to operate.  Yet, our Austin City Council refuses to act, and ignores the business repeatedly and pretends that nothing is wrong.

I have been told by multiple City Council members that nothing is “preventing” this business from operating. I met with multiple council members and made several phone calls, wrote e-mails, etc…. and came to realize that Chris Nielsen was right: He is being ignored, and the City of Austin does not wish this business to exist. Why?  The taxi lobby is concerned about competition, and donated $36,700  between all of the sitting members of the city council and the Mayor. I’m not making any direct accusations against anyone here, but I will say it gives the impression that we have private businesses buying harassment of their competition.

So, I drove a cart for him.  I gave two rides on Friday night.  The first was to a couple of women who, when dropped off, handed me a few dollars and thanked me.  I did not charge them–they voluntarily handed me the money.  At this point, three APD officers stopped me and wrote me a ticket for “Operating without a permit” and “No chauffeur’s license.”  I tried to explain that the permit and license did not exist, but they didn’t care.  I asked, multiple times, if they had read the ordinances I was accused of violating, and the officers refused to cite the law I was allegedly breaking.  They told me if they saw me operating again, they would arrest me.  (Read here to see that to be a chauffeured vehicle, requiring permit, as defined by Austin City code, there must be a passenger that is being charged a fee).

I decided that the Austin Police Department does not have the right or the authority to shut down a business on a whim.  I picked up another person, and gave him a ride.  I dropped him off where he asked to go.  The police officers saw him hand me $4 (again, I did not charge him) and immediately came to me and put me in handcuffs.  I was arrested without discussion or hesitation, and taken directly to jail.  It was quite the experience.  I got to spend the night with a lot of the late Friday evening drunks, one of them throwing up all over the floor right next to me.  I stayed in jail until I was released the next morning.

Every single officer I interacted with in jail–granted, they work for a different department: county officers have no problem trashing the city police–made comments about what a waste of time my arrest was.  I could hear them talking about it the entire night, and none of them supported my charges nor the fact that I was there.  The officer taking my mugshot and fingerprints showed my file to everyone else working in the jail, commenting about how incredibly stupid my arrest was, and making multiple remarks about the priorities of our police chief.

My arrest was for a law that did not exist, I have done nothing wrong, and our City Council refuses to even discuss that there could be a problem. In the meantime, a small business is being quietly bankrupted by the city with impound fees and arrests of its employees.  Another driver, a 19-year-old girl, was arrested just last week for the same non-existent charge that I was.

I am appealing to anyone who cares about green energy, anyone who cares about small businesses, anyone who cares about police accountability, anyone who cares about wasted resources, anyone who thinks incidents like these should not happen: Please, please, write to the Austin City Council members and tell them what an injustice they are committing.  It does not matter where you live, the issue of governments shutting down businesses concerns everyone across this country.  Please show your support for us.  We are helping keep drunk drivers off the streets, don’t charge for our services, and desperately desire to contribute to this community that we love so much.

You can contact the Mayor and the City Council here.


  • http://www.instituteforliberty.org Andrew Langer

    I only have one critical comment about this piece: government (and, by extension, their enforcement arm [the Police]) does not have “rights”. Individuals have rights. Government has powers – powers that we have carefully and narrowly and limitedly ceded to it by diminishing some measure of our rights.

    It’s an issue of perspective – and something that all of us (and I include you in this too, Kris) of like-minds, horrified at the abuses of power by government agencies and entities run amok, need to be hammering on.

    I find this situation in Austin galling, and I’d love to chat with you and Chris Nielson more about it. I’m back to working on my book, “The War on Small Business” – this falls squarely into my chapter on the petty tyrannies of local government.

  • Guy Fawkes

    There is nothing better than video to expose corruption. Ask the drivers to take video of their interactions with police. If it is legal video all the city council meetings that have this subject as part of their agenda. Post everything on youtube. Post links to the video here , reddit, and anyplace else on the net that gets a wide readership. Shine the light on the cockroaches.

  • Guy Fawkes

    OOps doh!! you are taking video, my bad, srrry!!

  • SeasonedPhotog

    File suit. What does writing the city do for your pending 200 tickets and arrests? If there is no law, it was a false arrest, plain and simple. Get a lawyer or contact the ACLU. Granted its the tax payers that lose, however, the politicians will not have a job if they allow idiotic stuff like this to happen on their watch.

  • john mcgrath

    there are soo many laws for everything already,and to be arrested for one that doesnt even exist is just ridiculas…and when you do get arrested for a law that does exist but you where not aware of it,the police always like to say that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” so i say that their ignorance for the law gives them no excuse to arrest anyone and they should be exposed and fired !

  • Jim

    IF you’re the Austin City Council, why would you ever approve this? Look at the ticket revenue and the taxi lobby grease. If they approve this, what do they get? It’s all about the revenue, baby.

  • http://www.electriccabofaustin.com Kris Bailey

    I would like to clarify something, it is not just the fact that we don’t charge a fee that keeps us from being classified under the law. The city has advised that there is no regulation at all for low speed electric vehicles. If it were just the “fee” it would be a way of skirting the law. The fact is, there are NO laws governing low speed electric vehicles in general. The city has informed us that regardless of if we charge a fee or not, they need to create ordinances and code that would regulate the business because none currently apply to our market.

  • Jon

    On the citation, there must be written the statute/ordinance that was violated, by its code designation. Simply writing “Operating without a permit” and “No chauffeur’s license”, absent the code alleged to be violated, is not a proper charge, and is grounds for dismissal.

  • Ian

    When you guys win your lawsuit against the Austin PD, you can revitalize your business. Keep filming, and make these pigs know they do NOT own the streets.

  • http://www.i45parkway.com Gonzalo Camacho

    I had a senior member of the Houston police misinform his own staff about city ordinances. So some police officer have no clue about the law. The sand and scary part is that they act on laws/ordinances they have no clue about.

  • malcolm kyle

    “Although It is not really our wish, we feel forced to assert our authority through even more intimidation. For the sake of ‘Government Security’, a terrorist is now anyone with a question.” – The United States Corporate Government

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  • Lady M

    File a law suit. If you ran for city council, you must surely know how to use their own system against them. The ACLU Might take it for free. However, maybe someone (Alex Jones, maybe, as he lives in Austin) will help you find a pro-bono attorney to sue for false arrest, false imprisonment, and violation of civil rights (?)

    lol, police state much?

  • Lady M

    @SeasonedPhotog: I totally agree with you that the taxpayer should not have to pay for the idiot cops. First, I think we should change this. So, the cop has to pay out of his own pocket. Secondly, however, they have “principle of the matter” lawsuits that can ask for $1000.00 plus attorney’s fees, and/or “actual cost” providing that work lost, travel time, etc… exceeds $1000.00. There or also “comply” lawsuits plus attorney’s fees. These are lawsuits that make “some one/some thing (such as a corporation) comply with what’s on the law books or to satisfy a contract. Just as an example, when the law says you have to clear the snow from sidewalks, one “could” take a neighbor, like a gas station to court for repeated violations, and only ask for actual monetary losses, but still make judgement that the neighbor must comply with the law.

  • Fat Ray

    Wonder if requesting a “verified complaint” will help or get any results. Any violation that imposes a fine (tax) is subject to submission of said verified complaint. I am sure no-one is willing to process 200+ of them and all in all will not turn any code, violation or supporting documentation for said infractions. This type of request(s) have been used on traffic violations and have resulted in tickets being dropped.

    Best wishes.
    Fat Ray

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  • Frank Robinson

    This is a universal corrupt system that we were born into and the only way to stop them is to stop giving them money. We all need money to survive, but if we start changing our spending habits and improve our lives spiritually instead of financially, we can leave this low density level of life behind us. The corrupt will stay in the 3rd density and the love and light beings will move up.

  • http://selfsip.org Kitty Antonik Wakfer

    In addition to taking videos of the incidents, I urge those included here (or supportive of their actions) to crop out and publish photos of the cops involved and include their names so that others in the Austin area (and beyond) who do not approve of their actions can reduce or even eliminate voluntary association if those government enforcers will not be persuaded by reasoned logic to desist.

    Without the enforcers to write the tickets and do the arresting (initiating physical force), no level of government can begin or continue to wield power over those people who live within its self-declared jurisdiction. No members of the Austin city council (or any politicians at state and federal levels) are going to get out into the streets and enforce regulations/directives/laws/mandates/etc. They don’t get their hands dirty, they use their key – the enforcers.

    So for those current or would-be enforcers who will not be persuaded by reasoned logic to refrain from being so – or at least cease writing tickets and arresting for non-existent laws and for initiating physical harm at any time – I urge that voluntary association with them be reduced, ceased or not begun. No sales, no service, no camaraderie – no anything! This has been referred to as shunning and ostracism through the ages and is also called negative Social Preferencing (in contrast with the positive version towards those who do produce value).

    There are far more non-enforcers than there are enforcers in any society. It is within the power of the non-enforcers to persuade by logic or disassociation a (?very?) large number of enforcers from continuing in those roles.

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  • steve

    Are anyone’s questions being answered here?

    What is the outcome of the tickets? what happens when they’re arrested? Are charges dropped or never filed?

    Would really like some follow-up to this story.

  • Rolando Tillit

    An illegal arrest is equivalent to an assault, and grounds for a lawsuit. This has been established by the supreme court

  • http://bendwavy.org/ Anton Sherwood

    Contact the Institute for Justice?