Open Letter to Paradise Valley Police Chief John Bennett

Police Chief John Bennett -- jbennett@paradisevalleyaz.gov
6433 East Lincoln Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253 

Cc:
     Police Commander Alan Latsch -- alaitsch@paradisevalleyaz.gov
     Mayor Scott LeMarr -- slemarr@paradisevalleyaz.gov
     Vice Mayor Mary Hamway -- mhamway@paradisevalleyaz.gov
     Town Manager James C. Bacon Jr. -- jbacon@paradisevalleyaz.gov
     Town Attorney Andrew M. Miller -- amiller@paradisevalleyaz.gov
     Paradise Valley Town Council Members
          Lisa Trueblood -- ltrueblood@paradisevalleyaz.gov
          Michael Collins -- mcollins@paradisevalleyaz.gov
          Pam Kirby -- pkirby@paradisevalleyaz.gov
          Paul E. Dembow -- pdembow@paradisevalleyaz.gov
          Vernon B. Parker -- vparker@paradisevalleyaz.gov
     Arizona Road Cyclist News Website www.azroadcyclist.com
     Wheezers & Geezers Blog
geezerride.blogspot.com

 

Subject: Police harassment of cyclists in Paradise Valley.
Ref: Officer #157 and traffic complaint #37502, DR# 2012-3791 

Dear Chief Bennett,

Please excuse the long missive, but I cannot find a way to make it shorter.

I am writing about a longstanding complaint that Paradise Valley police officers harass bicyclists who are riding in full compliance with the law. I have had several experiences in the past of riding in groups who were harassed by Paradise Valley police officers. My latest experience involves one of your officers who, in my opinion, misused his authority as a police officer by writing a bogus traffic ticket to get revenge on me when I accused him of endangering my life and violating ARS 28-735 in his unmarked police car. I request in the interest of justice that the officer be issued a traffic citation for his infraction. The evidence to support the citation should be found in the video recorded by the camera mounted in the windshield of his patrol car.

I cannot make out the officer’s name on the citation, but his ID# is listed as 157, and I have since learned that that ID# belongs to Corporal Nigel Williams. 

On Saturday, March 10 at approximately 11:45 a.m., I was cycling eastbound on McDonald Drive, which is a narrow street with a median. I was wearing a mirror on my glasses, and I was therefore very aware of traffic approaching from behind. Although under ARS 28-735 the street is too narrow for a motor vehicle to legally overtake a bicycle in the sections where there is a median, each time a car approached from behind, I pulled over onto the concrete shoulder to allow it to pass.

As the officer approached me from behind in his unmarked patrol car, I would have pulled onto the narrow concrete shoulder to allow him to pass also, but the shoulder and part of the traffic lane were occupied by pedestrians, forcing me to remain in the traffic lane, as was my legal right. If I remember correctly, I put out my left hand to signal to the driver not to pass until it was safe to do so.

According to ARS 28-815, I had a right to move away from the right side of the lane according to two sub-paragraphs: “If reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including…pedestrians…” and “If the lane in which the person is operating the bicycle is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” I was cycling in full compliance with that law. The officer would have only had to wait a few seconds for me to be able to pull off the street and allow him to pass, but he chose not to wait.

ARS 28-735 reads in part “When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet….”

The officer attempted to overtake me, even though there was obviously no room for him to do so. At the last moment and touched his brakes when his bumper was much closer to my bike than the legally required three feet. He came very close to striking the rear of my bicycle.

After I passed the pedestrians and moved out of street and onto the narrow shoulder, I yelled at the driver of the car (I did not yet realize that the scofflaw driver was a police officer) “That was really stupid!” At that point, the officer sounded his klaxon, and I pulled off the road to the right onto Cameldale Way and stopped. As the uniformed officer got out of his car, he asked me what I had said, and I repeated “That was really stupid!”

Admittedly, pointing out to a uniformed police officer that he’s done something stupid is not wise, especially when it is true, but it is not against the law, and I was understandable angry at the officer’s disregard for the law and for my safety.

I won’t go though the entire discussion that ensued, but suffice it to say that the officer was very angry and self-righteous about being accused of wrongdoing. Out of anger, he adopted the attitude that it had been me and not he who had just committed a traffic infraction, although he was unable to name which infraction I might have committed until he asked me for my driver’s license, and I replied that I was not required to carry a driver’s license while cycling. He alleged that I was breaking the law by cycling without carrying a driver’s license. I pointed out that Arizona Law [ARS 28-3151] requires a person who operates “a motor vehicle” to have a driver’s license and does not apply to self-propelled means of transportation. As he was unable to come up with any specific statute that I had violated (although he continued to insist that a driver's license is required to ride a bicycle) he wrote me a ticket for supposedly violating ARS 28-812, which reads:

A person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title, except special rules in this article and except provisions of this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title that by their nature can have no application.

He claimed that that citation would cover my riding a bicycle without carrying a driver's license.

I think this is plain silly. First, as the statute above states, not all laws apply to both bicycles and motor vehicles. Some laws apply specifically to bicycles, and others apply specifically to motor vehicles. The requirement to have a driver’s license applies specifically to motor vehicles. If bicycle riders were required to have a driver’s license, the police could pull over and ticket every kid cycling to school. Additionally, ARS28-812 states that it applies only to Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. ARS 28-3151 is in Chapter 8.

Second, if I had not been in compliance with ARS 28-812, I must have violated some statute that applies to both bicycles and motor vehicles, and I should have been cited for violating that statute, but I was not and for good reason: There was no such violation. By writing such a generic citation that could cover the violation of any number of statutes in Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, Corporal Williams may believe that he has the flexibility to accuse me of almost anything in the civil traffic hearing, but according to Arizona's Civil Traffic Rules and Procedure, that is not the case. Rule 8 reads: "A complaint is legally sufficient if it contains either a written description or the statutory designation of the alleged violation." There is no written indication of what I am alleged to have done wrong.

My case is not unique. You may be aware that cyclists’ complaints about Paradise Valley Police harassment go back years and predate your position as Chief of Police. Let me be clear: The Paradise Valley Police Department has every right to stop, warn and/or ticket any cyclist who violates a traffic law such as running a stop sign, but it has no right to continue to harass cyclists who are in full compliance with the law, and its officers have no right to endanger cyclists by violating the laws themselves.

I plan to use my traffic ticket as a means of bringing the problem of police harassment of cyclists in Paradise Valley to public attention in the hope of generating pressure for reform. I don’t know if the problem that some of your police officers have with cyclists is caused by a poor attitude or if it due to a lack of training. I suspect it is a combination of both. Only you can change the attitude part by indicating to your officers that scofflaw behavior towards cyclists will not be tolerated. As mentioned above, a good start would be to cite the officer who endangered me for violation of the three-foot law, ARS 28-735.

The second step is to educate your officers as to what is and what is not legal cycling behavior. Many of them do not know that now, especially when ARS 28-815 is concerned. The Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists offers a course in traffic law pertaining to bicycles, a course that is especially designed for law-enforcement officers. It might be a good idea to arrange such a course for your officers with a special emphasis on ARS 28-815.

Returning to this particular officer, I once again beg you to review the video from the camera in the unmarked patrol car that Corporal Nigel Williams was driving that day. If the video substantiates my claim that the officer violated ARS 28-735, I request that he be issued a traffic citation, not for my sake, but to send a message to all cyclists that the Paradise Valley Police Department is finally going to adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it come to officers' misusing their authority to harass law-abiding cyclists.

In summary, although I have related a personal experience, my experience is indicitive of the problems that many cyclists have been having with the Paradise Valley Police Department for years. I do not understand why the Town of Paradise Valley, through its police department, continues to alienate a large segment of the population including people who are in full compliance with the law.

Best regards,
Jack Quinn, editor
Arizona Road Cyclist News
www.azroadcyclist.com 

PS/ This e-mail and any replies from any representative of the Town of Paradise Valley will be published unless otherwise agreed in advance.