Saturday, June 30, 2012

Warning drivers of speed trap gets Houston woman arrested for contempt of cop

When my father first taught me to drive back in East Texas 30 years ago, he passed along a practice that used to be common in more rural areas but which I haven't seen much in bigger cities: Flashing one's headlights to let ongoing traffic know they're coming up on a speed trap. My Dad considered it common courtesy, justified because the ostensible point of a speed trap (besides revenue generation) is to get people to slow down, so if private citizens warn their fellow drivers, they aren't doing anything more than contributing to the goal of reduced lawbreaking.

Given that personal history, I can't help but pity poor Natalie Plummer, who was arrested last week in Houston for holding up a sign warning drives of a "speed trap" ahead on a street in downtown Houston. Here's KTRK-TV's coverage:



The officer told Ms. Plummer that she was being arrested for felony obstruction of justice that carried an penalty of 3-5 years. When she was taken to jail, though, she was only charged with "walking in the roadway where there is a sidewalk present," an allegation she says is a lie: Plummer insists she was standing on the sidewalk holding the sign, and when you watch the video with cars whizzing by, it seems unlikely any reasonable person would stand in the street with the sidewalk right there.

One has to wonder, if this were a young black man in the 5th Ward instead of a young white woman biking home from the Whole Foods, would media outlets even consider this news?

Of course, the main reason the officer didn't file felony obstruction charges against Ms. Plummer is that no such law exists. The closest thing on the books I know of is Sec. 38.15 of the Penal Code, "Interference with Public Duties," which is a Class B misdemeanor. But that statute includes a specific exception which should be well-known to any traffic cop. The law states that "It is a defense to prosecution ... that the conduct engaged in by the defendant was intended to warn a person operating a motor vehicle of the presence of a peace officer who was enforcing" traffic laws.

Further, "It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the interruption, disruption, impediment, or interference alleged consisted of speech only," which clearly would apply to holding up a sign. Ms. Plummer wasn't arrested for violating any law and I'd bet dollars to donuts she wasn't standing in the street: She was arrested for "contempt of cop," and the fact that there's no such law on the books didn't stop her from going to jail for it.

How much do you wanna bet it will turn out the officer's dashcam malfunctioned and failed to capture his conversation with Ms. Plummer? This episode exemplifies the adage enshrined in this blog's masthead: You might beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride.

38 comments:

Old Cop said...

Chickens--ts!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I think she might have a 1983 suit for violation of her right to free speech (as well as unlawful arrest, etc.)

Anonymous said...

For years a house on Hwy 21 near Martindale had a plywood sign that read "Speed Trap 0.6 miles". Today you can run an app on your smart phone to share your GPS coordinates with others when you spot such a trap.

The Fishing Physicist said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

She should set up a website to accept donations for defense costs. She would be covered in no time.

The Fishing Physicist said...

Anonymous, 6/30/2012 02:38:00 PM

has an excellent point. I would also think that the two brothers that were so instrumental in ridding Houston of red light cameras might take the case pro bono.

Kerrville Commentary said...

I read an article on this topic within the past year; it was a court case based on flashing your headlights--the defendant won easily. This may be more of a hassle than a hazard, hope so anyway as I always flash my lights for others.

The Fishing Physicist said...

Kerrville Commentary,

I believe that you are referring to a case in Florida.

Circuit Judge Alan Dickey said, “If the goal of the traffic law is promote safety and not to raise revenue, then why wouldn't we want everyone who sees a law enforcement officer with a radar gun in his hand, blinking his lights to slow down all those other cars?”

ckikerintulia said...

I think I'll contact my state representative when I know who he is and ask him to introduce a "contempt of cop" felony.

Anonymous said...

It's easdy to understand where she went wrong. On her sign she wrote speed TRAP!!! The cops hate that. When I was younger I told a cop that had stopped me for spending, "Well I guess you caught me in your radar TRAP." He bristled and replied, Radar GUN son! Radar GUN!

doran said...

Grits, in response to your question -- "One has to wonder, if this were a young black man in the 5th Ward instead of a young white woman biking home from the Whole Foods, would media outlets even consider this news?"

The answer is a fairly strong YES. Not because of the arrest for a non existent offense, but because that young black man stands a very good chance of being roughed-up or shot by the cops. Not even Houston media could ignore that.

rodsmith said...

In other words a member of the biggest criminal gang in the country LIED!

as gomer pile would say!

Suprise! Suprise!....NOT!

i'm still waiting for one of the spy store companies to release a simple easy and automatic sytem you can wear that would activate in the presence of any govt officer and immediatly start recording 360% around you with automatic simultanous download to an offsite location OUTSIDE the US!

at that point maybe we can disband this criminal gang and replace it with a REAL police force!

you know one who's REAL moto is "To SERVE & PROTECT"

not the curren one's

"To Lie & Cheat & Steal"

Anonymous said...

didn't the supreme court already decided this was free speech?

The Fishing Physicist said...

Which Supreme Court?

Traffic law is a state issue, so I really can’t see SCOTUS hearing this sort of case. There has recently been some ruling by courts in Florida, but I do not think that these rulings were made by the Florida Supreme Court. From what I’ve read these decisions were made in Florida Circuit Courts, and are trial courts of original jurisdiction. They also handle appeals from county courts. I believe that the case that were decided were appeals from county courts.

Anonymous said...

What is the definition of a "speed trap?" How does a "speed trap" differ from legitimate enforcement of traffic laws? The use of the term "speed trap" seems to imply that the cops are doing something unethical, immoral, or chickenshit. So, seriously, I'm not being a smartass...can someone please explain how a "speed trap" is a "bad" thing and how it is different than the kind of "good" enforcement we citizens should expect?

Wolfie said...

anonymous 2:24, a speed trap is when the officer is hiding, sometimes behind a sign, sometimes in an unmarked car in a parking lot (I-35 between San Marcos and New Braunfels) or some other way that he's not noticed. Everyone slows down when you see a marked car, obviously out doing radar, clearly visible from a distance, or on the road ahead of or behind you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:24, it's a euphemism and the only distinction is in the eye of the beholder. What would you call it when an officer hides to catch speeders?

A greater "slow down" effect occurs if the police car is in the open and people slow down of their own accord. To me, a "speed trap" implies that the the goal is to give tickets instead of to improve road safety, which is the only reason to conceal themselves. Whatever your definition, though, because various "beholders" view the situation differently, state law has exempted informing fellow citizens of police doing traffic enforcement from the definition of "interference with public duties."

Given that, as Old Cop pointed out, "chickenshit" in this instance is probably exactly the right word. The guy pretty much proved her point.

Anonymous said...

Untold millions of Americans have perished fighting for the freedoms that Natalie Plummer thought she had. Our Forefathers would be ashamed that we would allow this to happen without consequence to this "officer" and his family. By our complacency we blatantly dishonor all those who came before us who placed their lives on the line believing that we would cherish these freedoms enough to also fight for them. The fact that the federal government did nothing is ample proof of its illegitimacy.

This should be a call-to-arms for all American patriots and we shouldn't rest until this scourge on our land is completely wiped out without a trace. The true enemy of America and the freedoms she holds dear isn't Muslim terrorists after all, the real enemy has been unmasked as those who wear a badge and seek to oppress the very citizens they claim to serve and protect. As Americans we are all duty bound by The Constitution to protect our liberties and freedoms and to uphold and defend it against those who would dare trample it. Anyone who does nothing loses the right to claim American citizenship and are a disgrace to this once great nation.

Anonymous said...

Grits, FYI HPD doesn't have dashcams in their vehicles. Their union boss, Gary Blankenship, successfully fought against them every time council tried to create funding for them. The only vehicles equipped with dashcams are those assigned to the DWI Task Force. And BTW, Blankenship, who almost singlehandedly is responsible for HPD being a rogue criminal organization, has now been elevated to a federal marshal's position. Scary...

Anonymous said...

LE is always hiring. So those that are always critical of LE on Grits, put in your application and get you some. Maybe you can change what you see as wrong with the current system.

Lee said...

The correct charge should have been "Obstruction of Revenue".

On the speed trap note: The presence of a standard a patrol cop in plain sight is enough to send the message to drivers to slow down.

I hope she beats them in court, sues then and then sends HPD to hell.

To HPD I Ask: Were we supposed to feel safer because HPD arrested this woman who was of no danger to society? It sounds like she was being a service to other drivers.

Anonymous said...

Reverend Kiker, be sure to mention that the proposed felony should include an enhancement if the offense occurred while holding an oyster.

Rage

john said...

Yes, you're very clever--can't beat the ride, we get it. And it's a sick comment on "our" system that has evolved. That's because COPS have been trained to lie to us, haven't they? And all the bigger-money "lawyers' union" folks will cover for them, because they need those willing henchmen. They'll also detain you in jail for (unjailable) traffic misdemeanors, because they know if people EVER realize they're corrupt tyrants, their days in power could be limited. She's lucky she wasn't further abused. And yes, the request for the camera tapes, etc., is always delayed, and finally it's lost or erased. Because there is no oversight, because the Legislature is AT LEAST as corrupt.
Please prove you're not in power: Al Turin say captchacha--v7 torture, how appropriate.

ckikerintulia said...

Rage, great idea for an enhancement.

Anonymous said...

I know I will be accused of being a libreal so, before I start, this is coming from a former Republican Conservative, now libertarian conservative.

If something doesn't change the anger and hostility towards the government is going to escalate and eventually, there will be violence.

Those on the right complain about the federal government being too powerful and becoming too intrusive while embracing all powerful and intrusive local government authorities. Those on the left do just the opposite (sort of). Concern about oppressive government at any level is justified. Many of those on the left embrace ideas of what they see as compassionate, but history tells us would ultimately be authoritarian, centralized government control over much of society. Those on the right decry such a thing but embrace authoritarian control by local officials. All one has to do is look at the history of these types of governments to see that they inevitably lead to oppression, starvation, misery, and often, rebellion. Unfortunately, both sides are marching us to those ends while pointing the fingers of blame at the other.

Those in law enforcement need to recognize that, if things don't change, we are going to see escalating violence towards the police. I'm not endorsing that, just predicting.

Phillip Baker said...

1) Definition of a speed trap? Selma, Tx- a city whose limits exactly conform to a section of I35 this side of San Antonio. The "government" of said city is a family, with the sons-in-law being the cops. They have been and are making tons of money for decades now.(Presuming they have not retired yet.)
2) Free speech has been ruled to cover shooting the finger many,many times, along with signs and words cops don't like.
3)SCOTUS did, indeed, rule on a traffic matter. A woman in one of the western suburbs of Austin talked back to a cop giving her a ticket. He cuffed and arrested her, took her to jail. They had to get CPS to come care for her kids in the car. The justice (Scalia?) who wrote the opinion said that the cop's act may well be obnoxious and far overboard, but it was legal.
I still offer $1000 to ANY cop who arrests Scalia for some traffic/other minor offense and hauls his ass to jail.Maybe then he'd change that arrogant mind.

Anonymous said...

I too thought the Supreme Court at one times ruled that flashing your lights at oncoming drivers to warn them of a speed trap was protected free speech.

Anonymous said...

I know of a case that was in Washington state where the driver beat his ticket based on the cop was parked on the inside shoulder of the freeway with no lights what so ever which was a hazard in itself and that it was illegal to park like that with no lights on. I once worked in a bar where these 2 cops use to hassle the workers. They pulled me over on a made up excuse. I turned them into internal affairs and these 2 were told never jack with me or the bar. They already had a reputation for violating people's rights and I helped fix that.

jcfromnj said...

"In a Police State, the Policeman's Job is easy..."Orson Wells

Anonymous said...

I did a little Google-ing, and it seems that many states consider flashing your headlights to warn oncoming traffic of a speed trap is protected free speech under the 1st Amendment.

Anonymous said...

Two words that offend traffic enforcement officers: "trap" and "quota". :-)

Anonymous said...

I would urge this lady to file a section 1983 suit. Its clear the arrest was merely a pretext for violation of her free speech rights.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, (if I may?) -

While it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway especially since none of the 30 plus Commenter’s above mentioned it nor was it in the GFB Post. *Ms. Plummer is a real life sized Public Hero, for her brave actions caused speeders to slow down and avoid a ticket, a rear end accident or another false arrest by those with QUOTAS. To be honest, no one actually turned their head to ‘READ’ the friggin sign & if they did, all they’d seen was her legs, blondish hair and more legs. Most folks are immune to folks with signs on the side of roads. STOP. Don’t read any further unless you are ready to appreciate her heroism on your (public at large) behalf and donate a couple of bucks to GFB in her name.

She is very lucky that she didn’t get chosen to be a ’filler’ in one of those infamous HPD live Show-Ups. Why? History teaches us that she could’ve ended up being positively picked out as a suspect in a crime where the victim described the suspect as having black skin & black hair. 120 days or less find herself as a Defendant in a jury trial, be plea bargained away at lunch recess & in prison by the holidays. Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

* Do I stand alone in my call for the Mayor, DA & Police Chief of H-Town to publically denounce the actions of the bad cop and those that charged her, denied her freedom for 12 hours plus & unanimously agree to settle out of court for an undisclosed amount of taxpayer funds? And reveal the findings of an investigation into all past arrests made by this MO-FO.

Houstonians, it’s your tax dollars.

Texans, it’s your state. GFB subscribers, it’s a Blog Posting about what could’ve been you or a family member.

Bad Cop, you my friend are a MO-FO!

The Lone Arranger said...

I saw the video and have read a few of the stories regarding this matter but it comes back to taking her on face value. There is nothing proving the officer said any such thing regarding a felony. That doesn't mean we should accept the officer's word on face value either but frankly, calls for lawsuits and punitive action based on one sided stories strike me as questionable.

In terms of speed traps, it is generally believed that they are defined by great reductions in speed limits of 15 MPH or more, obscured signage, or officers hiding to the point where someone cannot see them from the roadway. A few states have specific statutes prohibiting this but locally, there are so few traffic police that they need not hide, there are very few, if any spots where speed zones change more than 10 MPH without very good reason, and since most enforcement is done on major streets or highways, obscuring sings rarely apply. I've seen police sit in their cars in the middle of medians in the middle of school zones get so many violators that it wasn't funny.

In terms of the cameras, remember that HPD is a department that still has thousands of rape kits untested. Installing thousands of cameras in cars and the resulting manpower need to organize the recordings as well as screen them in a quality control process is far more than some of you seem to want to believe. The DWI and traffic divisions still have them but even those few in place result in a great many man-hours that could be better spent elsewhere.

Big Texas News said...

Houston has the worst police chief and mayor. HPD has lost all respect. They let this Q-nell run all over them. He is supported my color. He is a ex-drug dealer etc. Q-nell did not come out to help this or any white people. This was an Officer with a hot temper over doing his job. Suspend the Officer.

Anonymous said...

Suspending the officer without a thorough review of the facts is exactly what many on here rail about when the roles are reversed. I have yet to see anything backing up the original claims so why not advocate restraint until the truth comes out?

Anonymous said...

I strongly doubt she resisted arrest. This is just another example of the tyranny of authoritarianism. Google Milgram Experiment.