Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"Citizen Contact"

An Escambia County small claims-type judge, sitting by request of the State's Attorney office and informed exclusively by evidence presented only by the prosecution without any opposing counsel's presence, has ruled "that Officer Jerald Ard's pursuit of Victor Steen after spotting him in the early morning hours of Oct. 3 was lawful." The county judge's full opinion is here.

Now, who could have predicted this?

A number of things leap out at anyone who reads the opinion closely. Some that may support the police officer's defense and some that cast doubt on it. For now, however, we want to focus on just one of them. It's a minor issue in some respects, but one that affects everyone who may have the misfortune to be peddling past a Pensacola police officer in the future.

The judge explicitly finds that when Officer Ard began chasing the teenaged bicycler with his patrol car, he had no probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, much less that Steen might have committed it:
Officer Ard intended to make a "citizen contact" with Mr. Steen in an effort effort to discover whether there was any criminal act committed...
Nevertheless, the judge concludes that the patrol car chase (at speeds never mentioned) was "lawful" in part because "Mr. Steen operated his bicycle between sunset and sunrise without the appropriate front and rear lamps." In other words, the boy was bicycling through the dark without a light or reflectors.

In very nearly two decades' residence in the Florida Panhandle, we have not seen the day -- or, rather night -- pass without spotting at least one bicyclist in the Pensacola area navigating through the gloom without lights. It shocked us years ago when we first moved to the beach. The fact is, almost no one in Escambia County rides a bicycle with the "appropriate front and rear lamps."

We can't explain it, other than by inferring it reflects a chronic, long-term lack of enforcement of the bicycle laws. Too bad some lawyer wasn't allowed in the "inquest" courtroom to inquire about the last time Officer Ard, or any other Pensacola policeman or county deputy sheriff for that matter, arrested a bicyclist for violating Florida Statute 316.2065.

Now, all of a sudden, they're free to willfully run them down whenever they want to make "a citizen contact"?

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