Robert Eastman has been going to the same bridge in Hubbard, OH dressed as Santa Claus to wave at people driving for four years. He says it’s apart of his Christmas tradition and he just wants to spread the Christmas cheer. This year, things were not so cheerful. Instead of waving at cars and going home, Robert was approached by Officer Mahoric who told him he needed to leave because he was disrupting traffic and distracting drivers.
Mahoric uses the Minority Report argument that Robert may cause an accident on the freeway and by making him leave the pubic overpass, he might prevent an accident. Robert calls him out on it and the frustration is visible on Mahoric’s face.
The officer then demanded Robert’s driver’s license and Robert refused. You are not required to ID yourself unless you are driving or the police have reasonable suspicion that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. In this case there was no crime, only a man in a Santa suit waving to people.
There are three categories for police encounters:
- Consensual contact
Although it appears that Robert is having a consensual conversation with Officer Mahoric, he never asks “Am I being detained, or am I free to go”. This question is important to ask when dealing with the police to ascertain the nature of the police interaction. If you are free to go, it’s usually in your best interest to leave instead of continuing to interact with law enforcement.
The cop suggests other areas for Robert to play Santa, like a school or mall. Robert isn’t a fan of schools as wearing the suit indoors can be hot and uncomfortable. He also tries to stay out of malls to keep from messing kids up with the idea that there might be two Santas.
Officer Mahoric admits that there are too many laws and life would be easier without them but regardless of who wrote them, it’s his job to enforce them.
Although the police contact was based around keeping the drivers on the freeway safe from distraction, Mahoric admits that it is the responsibility of the driver to maintain control of their vehicle, whether Santa Claus is waving at them or not.
No one can prove if a waving Santa Claus is a large enough distraction to cause a major wreck and officer Mahoric admits it’s a cover your ass situation and rather than get called out to an accident that may never happen. Still he would rather waste time attempting to remove the man in the Santa suit from a public space.
Just as the officer is about to leave, he offers up a great bit of information.
“FYI I didn’t ask for their IDs because… I can ask for their IDs but I’ll just tell you, you don’t have to give them to me.
Officer Mahoric probably thinks he is a good cop but would good cops invest 20 minutes into removing peaceful people from public spaces?
Overpasses have been a point of contention between activists and law enforcement all over the nation. In 2013 I was arrested during a protest on an overpass in Fresno, CA. During the time of the protests that happened every week I was the only person arrested, but the police harassed us at almost every demonstration. Multiple others have been arrested in different states for protesting on overpasses.