Unreasonably Detained For Turning Off Car Light

I got home from work, obviously exhausted, at 02:30. I was gathering my things and about to go inside when a wild police cruiser appeared! I was out of the car, reaching in to find the switch to turn the dome light off.

Suddenly, Officer Fich, of the Gladstone PD, turned on his spotlight, blinding my corneas! This put me at a distinct disadvantage should a horde of hungry zombies have wandered around the corner, as I would be effectively blind due to the inability to adjust back to the darkness.

I immediately reacted by ceasing my turning off of the dome light and reached for my flashlight to shine on him. I very quickly realized that he’d probably arrest me for assaulting an officer if I hit him with an LED light beam, so I decided against continuing my knee-jerk light-retaliation. Instead I stood straight and blocked the spotlight with my arm.

He exited his vehicle and turned on his flashlight–yes, you read that correctly. He had his headlights and spotlight shined on me already, but he needed his flashlight as well! He must have night-blindness, or something–and aimed it at me.

I asked, “Can I help you, sir?”

He replied vaguely and gestured to the car, “What’s going on?”

At this point I lowered my guard: I had had an uneasy feeling that he was checking out a zombie, unseen by me, behind me; his gesture put my fears to rest.

[Okay, that’s enough playful banter.  The above was what I wrote as soon as I came inside after the incident.  I’m using it as an introduction to demonstrate my state of mind after the incident.  I was playing it off like it was no big deal, but then I went to work the next day.  Twice, random police cruisers zipped around other cars to tailgate me aggressively.  They never pulled me over, but they were very intimidating.  After kicking the incident around in my head for a few days, I’ve realized how serious it is that these kinds of things, which seem small when there’s no injury, happen, and get brushed off like they’re completely normal.  Unjust laws and unlawful behavior only continue if nobody stops them, and if nobody stops them then eventually nobody will CARE to stop them.  So, I’ll continue on with a bit more seriousness.

This was not a traffic stop.  He pulled up after I was already parked and out of the car.  When he got out of the car I asked, “Can I help you, sir?” He said, “What’s going on?” I said, “I don’t know what you mean?” He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Honestly, I don’t have to answer that, sir.” He said, “The reason I’m asking is because it looks like you’re breaking into this car.” I asked, “With the hood hot, the door open, no broken glass, and my turning off the dome light?”

He thought about that for a moment, quickly looked at the windows with his flashlight, which were intact, but then ignored logic and pressed on.

“Is this your car?” he asked. “I don’t have to answer that, but yes,” I responded, thinking that this one answer would end the contact. “Okay.  Can I see some ID?” I said, “No sir, I don’t have to give you that.” “What’s your name?” “I don’t have to answer that, sir.” He became frustrated.  “Okay, what’s your first name?” he tried to compromise. I decided to compromise and told him my first name is Trent.  He hesitated, so I asked if I was being detained. He said, “No.” I said, “Okay, so I’m free to go?” He said, “Not yet.” So I asked if he had his dash-cam and lapel-mic rolling. He said no, but that another officer was on his way who could be a, “witness.”

As I was pulling out my phone, I asked why I’m not free to go.  He answered with, “Because it’s the middle of the night…” which is where the video picks up.

I asked what crime he reasonably suspected me of committing, and informed him that he needed to be capable of specifically articulating his reasonable suspicion that I was breaking a law, just in case he didn’t know. He refused to answer, so I told him that if he couldn’t do that, the situation would turn into an unreasonable detainment. He refused to answer.

I effectively existed in a glaringly incoherent and, unfortunately, ever-growing status of Police Limbo, where I’m neither detained, nor free. Just to reiterate, this status is unconstitutional and illegal.

He asked again if it was my car.  I said that I’d already told him it was.  He began running the plates, so I told him the name on the registration. The second officer, Hutchinson, arrived.  I locked my car and shut the door.  Fich asked if I had any weapons, to which I told him I didn’t have to answer.  He told me to put my phone down so he could frisk me.  I told him he didn’t have any authority to perform a Terry Frisk.  I asked if I was being detained or if I was free to go.  He said that I’m not free to go, I’m being, “legally stopped.”  I informed him that if I wasn’t free to go then I was being detained.  I asked him why I was being detained.  He walked toward me and I asked him again why I was being detained.  He gave the reason of, “suspicious activity.”  I asked what the code for that was.  He ignored me and grabbed my wrist and forced it behind my back before performing a frisk.

A Terry Frisk requires reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person stopped may be both armed and dangerous, because being armed is not illegal.  It must be specific and cannot simply be based on a hunch.  There’s absolutely no way he could have believed me to be dangerous.  I’d given more than enough information for his investigation to be complete and I was very calm.  In no way was I acting suspicious, because the only thing he saw before he got out of his car was me turning off my dome light. Let’s take a look at the prerequisites for detainment and compare them to this police contact:  Articulable and reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is in commission of, or is about to commit, a crime.  This means that the officer has to know what crime he suspects you of, and the evidence has to be such that a reasonable person would suspect you of intending to commit that crime. Since the only thing he saw me do prior to detaining me was turn off my dome light, and then assert my right not to answer his questions, we have to assume that, if his suspicions were reasonable, every person who turns off a dome light in the middle of the night is committing a crime.  The Supreme Court has ruled that refusal to answer questions cannot qualify as part of the suspicion leading to detainment because it is a fundamental right, and protected by the constitution specifically, so it cannot be taken into account when articulating reasonable suspicion in this instance, either. Is every person turning off a dome light in the middle of the night to be suspected of committing a crime?  Of course not.  And that is the reason Officer Fich’s behavior is unlawful.

I again asked what code I was breaking.  Again, he ignored me.  He found my lawful knife (length compliant with law; not concealed) and disarmed me.  He asked if I had any other weapons, to which I responded truthfully. He saw my work shirt and, while peering into my car, a pizza box that I brought home.  He asked if I worked at the Pizza Hut in Gladstone, to which I said I didn’t have to answer.  As I mentioned earlier, because of this, multiple times since then, police cruisers have aggressively picked me out of traffic and intimidated me by tailgating for a few miles before finally driving away.  It would be harassment if they actually pulled me over, but they never do.  I follow the driving regulations very strictly.  It’s just stressful.

He reverted back to topic and restated that he needed to know who I am.  I said that he did not.  Oregon has no, “Stop and Identify,” statutes, so the only time an officer has the authority to force you to identify yourself is while operating a motor vehicle or if you’re under arrest.  Even detainment is not enough for forcible identification. I told him, “You have to be able to articulate exactly which crime you believe, reasonably, that I am suspected of committing.” He said, “‘Kay, I saw you going through this car, the light flickering on and off.” I replied, “You saw me putting my hand over my dome light.” He again asked if it was my car.  I again told him the name on the registration.  He asked who that person is.  I told him I didn’t have to answer, but I was in control of the car under legal authority (which just means that she’s allowing me to drive it). For reader reference, the car is registered to my daughter’s mother, and we live together.  Our records are up to date with the DMV.  This happened in my parking space at our home.

He again insisted that he needed to see my ID.  I again told him he didn’t.  He again reiterated and stated that he needed to know who I am.  I again told him he didn’t, and that he needs to be able to articulate why I’m being detained, with a reasonable suspicion–he cut me off, ordering me to put my hands behind my back.

He grabbed my wrists and began putting handcuffs on.  I asked, “so now I’m being arrested?”

He said, “Nope, you’re being detained.” I replied, “Okay, for what?”

He refused to answer, so I stated that I was now being arrested, which, if lawful, is the only way to forcibly obtain a person’s identity if they aren’t driving. He said, “Now you’re being stupid.”

I asked, “How am I being stupid?  Because I know the law?  Because I know that you took an oath to uphold the constitution, which you are currently in violation of?  Is that how I’m being stupid?” He refused to answer.

With the handcuffs secure, Fich began searching for my wallet (I would have locked it in the car, but he told me to keep my hands out of my pockets while I was locking my door, unfortunately).

I told him, “I do not consent to searches.  I do not consent to seizures.” He grunted, “Mmhmm,” in apathetic acknowledgment and dismissal of my rights.

I continued, “You are violating the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees me my right to be secure in my person, papers, property and effects.  You have not articulated reasonable…suspicion of why I am being detained.”

He grabbed my wallet out of my pocket, opened it, and began rummaging through it.  “You have no authority to go through my stuff,” I told him.

“I’m not searching you, I’m just getting your ID,” he responded. “You’re going through my papers and effects!” I retorted. “Okay,” he acknowledged. “It’s clearly in the constitution that you may not do this,” I offered. He ignored me and walked away with my wallet. I asked the second officer what his name and badge number are. “Hutchinson,” he replied.

“Badge number?” I asked.

“You can get it later; you’re fine,” he replied, refusing to identify himself further.

I asked Fich what his name and badge number are, but he was too busy peering into my windows to answer me.  When he returned I asked again.

He said, “My name is Officer Fich; I don’t have a badge number.”  He asked what I said the registered owner’s name is and I told him.  He asked, “Okay, and do you know how I can get ahold of her to confirm that it’s okay for you to have this car?” Are you kidding?  I really tried not to assert the overly-cited Germany reference, but it’s simply too obvious, now.  Unless the vehicle shows signs of forced entry, or it’s reported stolen, you don’t need to know anything about it!

He changed course and asked, “Okay, you do live here, correct?” I was going to say again that I didn’t have to answer, but it occurred to me that he stole my ID and ran my information while we’re on the property that it says I live.  I was going to offer that all my information is up to date, but I changed my mind when he flared up.

“I–did you look at my ID?” I asked.

“I did.”

“Did you–talk to your dispatcher, and get my information?”

“Don’t ask me stupid questions, okay Trent?” he defensively retorted.

“Then don’t ask me stupid questions,” I shot back.

“Okay.  Does she live here?” He asked. “I do not have to answer that,” I answered, my patience waning.  “This is already an unreasonable detention.  I’m going to complain, that’s why I want–” “That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion,” he interrupted. “I’m entitled to the constitution, which is very clear.  So are all the supreme court cases saying that this is unreasonable detention.”

He again changed course and said, “You could have made this a lot simpler by saying, ‘this is my name, I live here, and I have permission to drive this car.’” We all know that none of that is any of his business, so I respond with, “I could have made it simpler–” but was interrupted again. “Instead of acting like some shady dude and being uncooperative.  Okay?  So if you want to make a complaint, make a complaint, okay?  This is a Terry Stop.  I had reasonable suspicion to believe that you may be committing a crime.  Okay?  Do you understand?” he finished.

As I mentioned earlier, he did not have a reasonable suspicion.  He had a hunch, which the supreme court barred from an officer’s ability to conduct a detainment in the same ruling that gave power to Terry Stops.

So, I obviously said, “No, I do not,” because I can’t understand something that isn’t true. He said, “Okay, that’s fine,” but provided no further explanation of his faulty legal knowledge.

Shortly after that, he released me.

Now, my issue with this whole thing, apart from the obvious disregard for law, is that if in the first place he’d been knowledgeable and truthful about my status of detained or free to go and followed the law, this would have been a consensual stop, and I’d have been free to go.  If I was free to go, I would have gathered my stuff, turned off my dome light, locked the doors, and gone into my home.  He then would have had all his answers without ever having to step all over my rights. This blatant disregard for basic human rights is a huge issue even when no injury is inflicted.  Thank God they didn’t beat me to death, like so many are unlucky enough to have to endure.  I believe my recording played a part in the checking of excessive force.

My point is that when people believe this is normal behavior it becomes normal behavior and the spiral of tyranny continues.  Stop it everyday with the little things, like not answering pointless questions when you don’t have to.  It’s the little things that count. My friend wrote a complaint on my behalf to the Chief of Police, Jim Pryde, who obviously sided with Fich and dismissed the complaint.  I’m going to file a formal complaint with the department within the next seven days.

I want to file a lawsuit to ensure that this unconstitutional behavior is thoroughly corrected, but the lawyer I talked to said he wouldn’t pursue it.  I’ve alerted the ACLU, but I’m not sure they’ll get back to me.  If you are, or know of, an attorney who would be willing to file on this, please leave a comment on the YouTube video.

City of Gladstone: 525 Portland Ave. Gladstone, OR 97027

Telephone: 503-656-5225 Email: bannick@ci.gladstone.or.us

City Council Members: http://www.ci.gladstone.or.us/council.html

Police Department:

Police Chief Jim Pryde: Pryde@ci.gladstone.or.us

Officers involved: Officer Fich: Fich@ci.gladstone.or.us Officer Hutchinson: Hutchinson@ci.gladstone.or.us

Video link:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZJKCHT9asE


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