Monday, August 4, 2008

Good Cop, Bad Cop and the Kangaroo Court

I was part of a multi-author booksigning at Borders Books in Matteson over the weekend, and despite a paucity of crowd, had a good time with fellow authors Michael Black, Luisa Beuhler, Sherry Scarpaci, Helen Osterman and two guys I didn’t know, and, um, still don’t know.

One of the reasons I don’t know them is because I never, ever sit at my table during a signing. I’m moving through the store, shoving my books into people’s hands and sharing hygiene. So I’m not sure what was going on back at the author tables since I wasn’t there.

I stayed two hours after the other authors left, until I sold all of my books! Woo-hoo!

I do want to say something about Michael Black. He’s an author, a good author - and a cop, a good cop. Read his stuff, you won’t regret it.

But I want to tell you about another cop who isn’t good. He’s definitely bad. Is he on the take? Heck if I know. Does he do drugs in his free time? No clue.

I can tell you what he does, though. He lies under oath.

This is a bit of a long story, and I’ll try to keep it brief. And it pains me, because I’ve always had the greatest respect for cops and other public servants who put their lives on the line to keep everyone safe. But there are exceptions.

Soon after my first daughter got her driver’s license, she was coming home down a rural highway where no speed limit was posted. In Illinois, this means you can go fifty-five. But the cornfields are endangered and two new subdivisions had recently broken ground. There was no increase in traffic, construction or new neighbors, but it was obvious that in the near future we’d have a bit more urban growth to deal with.

For now, though, think cornfields.

So my daughter turns onto this road from another highway. Usually, when as soon as you turn onto a street, there is a sign with the posted speed limit. If she had turned east rather than west, she would have immediately seen a sign posted for forty-five miles an hour. But going west, there was nothing.

She goes about half a mile past another road that ends at this road … again, there is no sign near this intersection, and then she drives by the entrance to one of the new subdivisions. She sees the police car there and notices that it immediately begins to pull out into the road.

Then she goes nears a bridge and there’s a sign that says, “reduced speed ahead.” On the other side of the bridge you can just make out a speed limit sign with a posted limit of thirty five miles an hour.

Suddenly, blue and red police lights go on behind her.

Her heart thumping, she turns at a road right after the bridge, but still before the new speed limit sign. The squad car pulls up behind her.

I wasn’t there, so this is all heresay, but apparently the officer was brusque and soon my daughter was in tears. I heard it all later as she and a friend that was in the car all relayed it to me through sobbing, hiccupping and frustrated tears.

Fine, you don’t have to be nice, and maybe scaring a new driver early on will help keep them in line forever.

But he gave her a ticket for going forty-five in a thirty-five.

I had been driving that very same road twice a day for over fifteen years, and I couldn’t remember it being thirty five where she was pulled over. So I went out the next day, and confirmed what I had thought. So I’m thinking to myself, “self, it was a mistake. Just call the station, explain, and maybe get the ticket rescinded.”

So I tried. I called the police station, and was rudely … this time it wasn’t heresay … told that it would have to be resolved in court.


I took all kinds of pictures, from the intersection showing no limit, from the cop’s vantage point showing she was nowhere near the reduced speed sign yet, and from several other points. I blew them up to eight by ten and waited for the day in court.

Here’s where it gets good. A week later, three brand new signs mysteriously went up … with a spanking new thirty five mile per hour limit. I took pictures of these, too. All were time-stamped.

Court was held in a bar. Yep, you heard me … a bar. They had cleared the bar, put in chairs and a ‘Judge’ sat at a table near the wall, a cashier to his left with a huge metal cash box.

As people lined up for their bit of justice, I noticed that everyone was judged guilty, and then they had to pay, with cash … no checks, no credit cards … and the money went into the cash box. The Judge was loud, impressed with himself, and even took some mean-spirited pokes at a Spanish defendant for his poor English.

Just before my daughter went up, the prosecutor called my daughter and we had a moment to talk with him and explain our position. Ah, a friend. Someone who would learn the truth and dismiss this and let us go on our way. Little did I realize what they really intended.

The cop was there, scowling. Not happy to be here. He spoke first. He said that my daughter went by him and was doing forty-five miles per hour as she passed the thirty-five mile per hour sign. I respectfully said that it wasn’t possible, and showed him pictures showing there were no signs.

He said that the signs must have been knocked down, and that she passed the one by the bridge. I showed him the picture of that intersection and proved that he was wrong again. He just grunted.

I ignored him and showed the pictures to the prosecutor, pictures that absolutely proved our case. He looked at them carefully, and said, “okay, we’ll go to trial.”

I was shocked. Fine, we’ll just prove it to the judge.

A few minutes later, we were in front of the judge, and we got another surprise. The Judge said that I would not be able to help my sixteen year old daughter take on an experienced, bar-passing professional in this matter.

But she’s sharp. Nervous. Scared. But she’s smart. Maybe she can pull it off.

The cop was the first to testify. And here’s where it gets surreal. He totally changed his story so that it would fit the evidence we had shown him. I just about burst trying to keep from shouting, “liar”! But I kept control, thinking that the evidence was still clear and unmitigated.

But I wasn’t ready for their next trick.

The prosecutor pulls out a big, blue notebook, and he said, “Here’s the ordinance showing that the speed limit on the entire stretch of road is thirty five miles per hour.”

I couldn’t control myself, “There’s no sign! How’s anybody supposed to know that?!”

The Judge smirked … really … and said, “If it’s in the ordinance.”

He banged his gavel and said, “Guilty. One hundred dollar fine.”

Then he leaned his ruddy, sweaty face toward my daughter and said, “And I hope you learned a lesson here, young lady.”

The kangaroos behind him were laughing and applauding.

We were directed to move down the conveyor line to the cashier, and left the lying cop and sarcastic judge behind us. I admit we angrily threw the money at the cashier, and we departed the den of county income. For that’s all it was.

I need my daughter to meet more good cops, because this was a heavy lesson for a sixteen year old to learn - that not all people in positions of authority deserve their position or the respect that the position would normally earn.

Anyway, ‘nuff said. There are some great cops out there, and I know quite a few of them. Michael Black’s a good one, and I’m proud to know him.


The Adventures of Guy … written by a guy (probably)

The Next Adventures of Guy … more wackiness

Fang Face (Young adult / humor vampire coming Aug. 09)

The Heat of the Moment

Missing (anthology coming Oct. 08)


Gayle Carline said...

Please tell me the country road in the heart of Illinois cornfields wasn't near Decatur... I left that town 30 years ago because I got tired of having my dates check my teeth to see how old I was. I had hoped the town had changed for the better...

Norm Cowie said...

Heh... funny. I moved from Michigan and lived for a bit in Decatur ... and Galesburg, where I met my wife ... but now I'm up in the collar counties outside of Chicago.

Supposedly a bit more sophisticated.