5/09/2008

Smokey: Alabama State Troopers



Ahhh yes, Alabama's finest. If you have ever had the fortune (or, as in some cases, misfortune) to encounter our Alabama Highway Safety Officers, you always get greeted, initially, with warmth and respect. Of course, they expect the same from you. I suspect the State Trooper I saw handcuffing a young man at a convenience store last night didn't receive the respect the officer felt warranted. I don't think it was for robbing one of these “rob me, please” stores. The officer had pulled in behind the man in the convenience store parking lot. I have no idea what happened. But, it reminded me of the three times I've had encounters with “Smokey”.

The first two encounters I had were not really noteworthy. They were brusque and curt in their responses to “slow it down on my highway.” Yes sir, officer, wilco and out. The last one, I had, occurred back in the mid-eighties (yeah, I know, everything in my life seemed to happen in the mid-eighties). That was over 20 years ago. But, it stays fresh in my mind. I do remember the speed limit on the interstate (I-10) was still 55MPH. Like most people, I ignored that. But, it is the law and State Troopers are only doing their jobs. I respect that and, for the most part, they are courteous, helpful and professionals.

Unfortunately, the State Trooper that I zoomed by didn't ignore me. He immediately pulled in behind me and hit the lights. Cursing to myself, I pull over into the median. After sitting in his big cruiser for about two minutes, he comes out, clipboard in hand, adjusts his Smokey the Bear hat with the other hand. Of course, the sunglasses seem to be a requirement. All three together are quite intimidating, I admit. “Good morning to you sir! May I have your driver's license and vehicle registration, please?” I don't know why they say please. You know damn well you are going to give it to them regardless. I give him both requested items. He says” Wait right here, I'll be right back.” Where the hell did he think I was going to go? He had a high-powered Crown Victoria. I had a beat up little green Ford Pinto, vintage 1972. So, the Alabama State Trooper sits in his cruiser for a good five minutes before he comes back to me. He is holding both my license and registration in one hand. “Well, sir, you have no outstanding warrants.” Obviously, I'm relieved to hear this, although I have never done anything for the law to swear out a warrant for my arrest in my life. “I just have one question for you”, Smokey says. “How is it that you just sped right on past me? Didn't you see me?”, he asks. “Honestly, officer, I guess I wasn't paying attention.” Absolutely, positively, totally the wrong thing to say.

You could see the blood rushing up to his face. I have never seen a black man turn red. But, he gave it his best shot. He was ranting and raving, marching back forth the length of my car. I mean he is flailing his arms around like helicopter blades! I thought people passing by us must think he is nuts. And I couldn't disagree with them. He screamed at me, “YOU WEREN'T PAYING ATTENTION?!?!?! WELL, LET'S SEE IF THIS EIGHTY-SIX DOLLAR SPEEDING TICKET WILL GET YOU TO PAY 'ATTENSHUN (I felt he was mocking me here the way he sarcastically said attention)!!!” He stormed back to his cruiser, opened the door, slammed it shut and came back ranting and raving again. I honestly thought about calling the police...but damn, this WAS the police. I felt threatened by him, especially the way he kept hitting his pistol with his right hand. He goes on, “Don't you see all these people going up and down this interstate? Do you realize how your not 'paying attenshun' could kill one of them and possibly even yourself?????” There wasn't much I could say to that even if I had the notion to do so. The thing is, I was only doing 58MPH. He knew and I knew that he wasn't going to write me a ticket for going 3 MPH over the speed limit.

He kept ranting and raving on for about a good 15 minutes. It seemed much longer. I finally figured he wanted to hear something from me. Something that would assuage his ego, to end an unpleasant situation. So, I gave him what he wanted; “I'll pay attention from now on, officer. I am sorry.” With that said, this Alabama State Trooper handed me my drivers license and my vehicle registration. His entire demeanor changed as suddenly as it had started with my stupid remark. “Good day to you sir, and have nice and safe weekend.” And with that, the situation was defused. He even pulled out onto the interstate, with lights flashing, so I could get back on into the flow of traffic. I was absolutely speechless.

I related this story to my family. They were all insisting I turn this man in for his actions. I was hesitant to do so because I just didn't want any more trouble with this guy. After much prodding, I did go make a report at an Alabama Safety Department station. They seemed to make light of it and said maybe he was just having a bad day. I told the reporting officer I think it has much more to do than just having a bad day. He seemed to have some psychological problems. He got miffed by my saying that and said he would submit the report.

Of course, I never heard anything else about it. My mother wanted me to pursue it even further. But, I declined. I told her that someday his day would come. He would be held responsible for his actions. And those that ignored his actions, would be called into question also (such as the desk Sargent). Sadly, I discovered I would be right. I couldn't have been more prophetic.

NOTE AND UPDATE 03/28/2015:   Don't do as I did in this incident and actually answer or even speak to law enforcement.  You are under no obligation to ever speak to law enforcement, no matter how much they intimidate or threaten you.  Take the 5th, say, "I do not answer questions" or "I am going to remain silent."  Again, don't talk to law enforcement as I stupidly did in the above incident. 

2 comments:

It sounds like he thought he was still in the military. He was the sarge and you were the recruit. It's right out of one of those tv series. Gomer Pyle or something. But still pretty alarming.

davidlind,

I've had several stops by police over the course of my adult life. None appeared threatening. Most were courteous as I said in my post. I had never felt threatened by any law enforcement officer until this state trooper came along. If you clicked on the link (my last sentence in the post), you'll see why I felt this guy was a ticking time bomb.

Hope you have a great weekend.

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