Monday, December 17, 2007

Officer Scrooge

Awhile back I drove into the parking lot of a Sprout's grocery store for my usual restroom break and snack purchase. As I walked up to the front doors I saw a small SUV parked in the handicap space.

I looked for a disabled parking placard on the dashboard and on the rear view mirror but did not see one. The vehicle was running and I could see an adult sitting in the rear seat. I opened the rear door to ask the woman if she had a disabled parking placard. The woman stared at me blankly and did not answer due to her inability to comprehend or speak English. A 6 year old girl was in a car seat next to the woman so I asked her if she understand me. The girl did not answer and looked away.

I wrote a citation for parking in the handicap parking space and was about to place it on the driver's door when a woman walked out of the store carrying a few bags of groceries.
"What are you doing?", she asked me.
"Writing a citation for parking in a disabled parking space without a permit."
"But my daughter is autistic."
"Do you have a disabled parking permit?"
"No, but I only went in for a few minutes to get some thing for my daughter."
"I'm sorry, but you need to have a permit to park in this space. Here's your citation."

Fast forward a few months to a downtown courtroom where the driver has requested a trial to challenge the citation.

We are sworn in and I sit at the plaintiff table while the woman and another woman she has brought as a witness sit at the defense table. The judge asks to present my case first:

"Your honor, on the date and location listed in the complaint I saw a Honda CRV parked in a clearly marked disabled parking space without the required disability permit placard. I contacted an adult passenger in the car and asked her about the permit but she did not speak English. A child seated in the backseat also did not respond to my question. As I completed the citation, the vehicle owner came out of the store and told me her daughter was autistic. The child remained in the car the entire time the driver was shopping. I issued her a parking violation citation."

The judge then turned to the woman and asked, "Do you have any questions for the officer?" She nodded and began her brutal cross-examination:

"Officer, did you see the 'I love an autistic child bumper' sticker on my car?"
-"No."
"Was my child screaming or acting erratic in any way?"
-"No."
"Did you see an open handicap parking spot next to where I parked?"
-"Not that I remember."
"If I brought my daughter into the store, wouldn't you agree it would be difficult and strenuous?"
-"I'm not familiar with your daughter's behavior and could not predict how she would have acted."
"No more questions."

She then told her side of the story:
"My daughter is autistic and needs a special diet of goat's milk, goat yogurt, and goat cheese. She's a flight risk so I always need to have a adult with her. I parked in the handicap space because if she got out of control I need to be able to see her from inside the store. There weren't any other close places to park and I was only shopping for few minutes."
She showed the judge a temporary disable parking permit she obtained after being cited. She then told the judge through an outburst of tears she didn't apply for the permit earlier because she hoped the girl would get better on her own.

Her witness was the child's behavior specialist and testified the girl was difficult to handle so her mother needed to park close to the door in order to get her into and out of the car safely.

The judge was moved by the emotional plea but knew he had no choice but to find her responsible. Trying to make me the bad guy he stated, "Well, you did commit the violation and I'm required to impose a minimum fine of $250. I have to find you responsible, UNLESS, the officer wishes not to proceed."

And there it was. He called me out. The judge, defendant, and courtroom filled with citizens and officers all looking at me with anticipation of my response.

A woman crying about her poor sick daughter being victimized by the mean old police officer. I don't think she is a bad person and I feel for her situation but I didn't agree with the way she handled this. She never took responsibility or apologized for her action. She used her daughter as an excuse and pleaded for sympathy and pity. I thought of the people with actual physical disabilities that need to park in the designated spaces and how many times they've thanked me when they saw me issuing these tickets.

"Officer, do you wish to proceed with this matter?", the judge asked in a way that suggested I drop the case.

"Your honor, the defendant intentionally parked in a disabled parking space without a permit. I feel for her situation but her daughter never left the car while it was parked there. The defendant's own witness testified the reason for parking close is to control the girl while getting in or out of the car. Since the child remained in the car, there was no reason to park in that space. I don't believe the defendant has a reasonable excuse to park there and believe the citation is justified."

The judge found her responsible and ordered her to pay the fine. This was the first time a guilty verdict did not inspire a feeling of elation in me. This close to Christmas, I wondered if I should have just let her off the hook and dropped the case but something inside me wanted her to be accountable.

A word of advice to those of you caught in a minor offense: Take responsibility for your action, show regret, and don't make up excuses. You'll almost always get off with a warning.

27 Comments:

At December 17, 2007 1:14 PM, Blogger Officer Wright said...

That had to be tough, but I think you made the right, although very hard, decision.

 
At December 17, 2007 1:18 PM, Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

I wasn't aware that people with autism "get better on their own." I know that autistic symptoms can be minimized with a particular diet, but I don't think it ever just goes away.

I think that's a bum excuse and I agree that you made the right decision. You hit it on the head when you remembered the people with real physical disabilities. Good job and Merry Christmas!

 
At December 17, 2007 3:07 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

Tough call, but she knew what she was doing. I bet her daughter gets used as an excuse quite often.

 
At December 18, 2007 2:15 PM, Blogger 5150Wife said...

You did the right thing by not allowing her guilt trip to work.

Sounds like YOU were the only one in the courtroom not making decisions based on emotion. Shame on Judge.

 
At December 18, 2007 3:02 PM, Blogger whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Good for you for not caving!

 
At December 19, 2007 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary - You did the the right thing, the mother was manipulating you and moedling that behavior to her daughter too. Toni

 
At December 19, 2007 11:51 AM, Blogger Dave Stempien said...

Officer Gary, you did the right thing. You remained rational in an emotional situation. Kudos.

 
At December 19, 2007 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good job in constantly looking for violators of handicapped spaces. There are so many people not only abusing them without a permit, but unfortunately abusing them with permits. I agree that the woman is using her daughter. If this is a real problem, she should get the permit. Maybe the $250 will make a change. Don't beat yourself up. That is what you are there for.

It has been a long time - LC

 
At December 19, 2007 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should've just got a speeding ticket. Instead of making up an excuse, or getting mad at the trooper doing his job, I sucked it up expecting a ticket...I didn't get it, though, I only got a warning.

I think you did the right thing. It could've been different if she accepted responsibility or admitted she did something wrong, but she didn't.

pete (pete.bensbane.net/blog)

 
At December 20, 2007 12:23 PM, Anonymous Excessive Use said...

My only speeding ticket (after 7 years of driving) was an incredible break from the officer, it was a great overall experience actually. I believe following your rules helped immensely, as well.

Excessive Use
excessiveuse.wordpress.com

 
At December 20, 2007 1:10 PM, Blogger TK's Having a GIRL! said...

I have multiple friends whom have children with varying degrees of autisim. My own son is currently being tested to find out if he has high-functioning autisim/asperger's. None of us would ever DARE use our children to get out of a ticket!!! She should not have parked there if she did not have a permit. Period, end of discussion! And she most certainly should NOT have used her precious daughter in such a horrible manner!!!!!! You completely did the right thing!!!!

 
At December 20, 2007 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your job is to bring violations forward for adjudication.
The state (prosecutor) presents the evidence.
The defendant has the opportunity to refute or deny.
The judge makes their decision based on evidence presented in open court.
You did your job properly, the judge tried to weasle out of his.
The judge can impose (or not) any or all sanctions under the law upon conviction.

 
At December 21, 2007 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things to keep in mind when being pulled over or dealing with an officer in general:

1) The officer did not write the law he is enforcing, the boob you elected did, so yell at him NOT the officer.

2) Officers are people who deal with liars, criminals, and the dregs of society all day long. If you start acting like you are covering things up, you become indistinguishable from the criminals that they deal with.

3) Because of item #2: Being honest, kind, admitting your fault, and simply treating an officer like a person will get you out of more citations than any other behavior. Don't sit there trying to defend your actions or justify your behavior. It isn't the time or place for it unless the Officer asks for it. The time is when you are in front of a judge, if you so require it. And even then there are ways of getting out of things without ever calling the officer into question, which is never a good thing to do in front of a judge either.

 
At December 23, 2007 3:29 PM, Blogger Annette said...

You did the right thing, that woman was using her daughter to try and get off with the offence.
Good for you.

 
At December 25, 2007 12:46 AM, Blogger DirkStar said...

Ouch...

Uh, Merry Christmas.

 
At December 25, 2007 8:37 AM, Blogger Wizened Wizard said...

You did the right thing. My cousin was wheelchair-bound and drove a van with side wheelchair lift. It was amazing how many times people would violate the handicap parking space, either by taking it (when they weren't handicapped) or by parking beside the van's lift door by parking on the yellow striped lines of the handicap space. I say "Thank You" from those people who deserve those spots.

Here is my holiday card for you.

Hope you have a great holiday season and all that's good in the new year.

Wiz

 
At December 25, 2007 11:49 AM, Anonymous tony said...

That was the right thing to do. I hate to see people get away with something because they THINK they are special. She didn't have a permit, she broke the law, and now she has to pay for it!

 
At December 25, 2007 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was the right thing to do. I hate to see people get away with something because they THINK they are special. She didn't have a permit, she broke the law, and now she has to pay for it!

 
At December 31, 2007 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is right is not always popular...and whats popular is not always right. You did the right thing. Obviously after the citation she got the handicapped parking permit.

 
At December 31, 2007 2:10 PM, Blogger Christine said...

You did the right thing. You're a great police officer.

It just makes me angry that she tried to use her child as an excuse for her irresponsibility.

 
At January 02, 2008 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe you did the right thing as the mother did not have a permit to park there. However, as the parent of an autistic child who LEGALLY possesses a parking permit, I have a comment for the poster about "real" disabilities and bum excuses. Autism is very real and often times very disabiling. It doesn't "show" itself as most other disabilities do so don't be so quick to judge. As the mother of two small children, one of whom doesn't respond to commands, suffers from sensory integration disorder,and is a flight risk, parking lots are a very dangerous place. That permit helps ensure my family's safety in getting into and out of a store / doctor's office / etc. as quickly as possible with minimal exposure to moving cars. If my autistic son is not with me, I do not use the tag. I would gladly trade the tag in exchange for a normal life for my son. Your comment shows your ignorance on the subject of autism. My son is a real person with a real disability and I am very offended by your comment.

 
At January 04, 2008 12:12 AM, Blogger emergencyem said...

Good for you for not caving!

I love your blog.

 
At January 10, 2008 11:58 PM, Blogger Mr. Police Man said...

I would have done the same thing. Heck, I hold the monthly records for parking tickets (386) and that doesn't count the moving citations and reports I had to write.

However, like one cop I work with said. I hold everyone, even the Chief accountable (he cited our Chief's secretary). But I'll throw down who I am in case the officer wants to let me off with a warning. Its all about the attitude.

 
At January 13, 2008 10:36 AM, Blogger Jim said...

I am disabled but I don't have a handicap tag specifically for me. But I do have a handicap tag for my daughter who has severe case of cerebral pasly.

I do not like it when people uses excuses for mild disabilities when those who have real bad case of disabilities needed most.

For I, support your decision on this matter and I thank you.

Jim

 
At January 26, 2008 7:11 PM, Blogger Jeanellen said...

I think you are heartless and sick. I also am a mother of an autistic child. The prejudices we face b/c the disability is not as obvious as one of a child in a wheel chair is especially burdensome. Walk a day in our shoes and see if your black and white philosophies still apply. Anyone who comments on here that have not been exposed to the daily life of caring for an autistic person has no business commenting. Get some education and sensitivity in this matter.

 
At January 26, 2008 7:45 PM, Blogger 5150Wife said...

jeanellen:

Wow, those are some pretty harsh statements you made.

#1 Being cited for parking illegally has nothing to do with prejudice.

#2 The same can certainly be said for you walking a day in Officer Gary's shoes.

#3 I suppose if we want to follow your logic, the same can also be said about those who have never dealt with the daily life of a police officer not having any business commenting here either.

#4 Get education and sensitivity? How about some education and sensitivity on obeying laws and taking responsibility for one's actions...for those who choose to knowingly break the law and make excuses for it.

 
At February 17, 2008 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeanellen:

As the mother of an autistic child, I have some real issues with your comments. This officer did NOT discriminate against anyone...he was only trying to do his job. This woman DID NOT have a handicapped parking permit, plain and simple. Using her autistic child as an excuse as to why she parked there is in my opinion, quite despicable.

Also, Jeanellen, I have walked a day "in your shoes". I do care for an autistic child who is 2 and 1/2. I also have a 7 month old daughter. I have plenty of education and sensitivity in this matter. I would NEVER use my son as an excuse for parking in a handicapped spot...he walks just fine. I have trudged across parking lots carrying my son and daughter and have never thought once about parking in a space meant for someone who has a physical handicap. Besides it being illegal, it's also wrong morally.

I am sorry that you, like this woman that Officer Gary dealt with, feel that you are "special", but there are a lot of parents out there who have autistic children. You need to deal with it and not use it as any excuse when things are not going your way in life.

Nice blog by the way Officer Gary. I am married to a Police Officer and am a former Police Dispatcher. I am well aware of the struggles that officers must go through every day.

Take care and stay safe !!!

Michelle D.

 

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