Monday, August 31, 2009
Help Me Howard: Refused To Stop
Let me ask you a question: You see an unmarked car behind you with a flashing light and a person trying to get you to pull over, is it a cop or a criminal impersonating a cop? What happens if you don't stop, and it is a cop? One man didn't, and now he is facing $1,000 in tickets. Here is Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When Michael Hernandez gets behind the wheel he's like the rest of us: just wants to get where he is going safely.
Michael Hernandez: "Avoid accidents. Last thing I want is my vehicle damaged."
And he thought he was avoiding trouble this summer when he saw a Ford Taurus blocking his lane.
Michael Hernandez: "So, as traffic passes, I am able to make my left, but I have to go into oncoming traffic in order to avoid the car, avoid hitting him or anything. He was right in the entrance."
Michael went on his way. Then, suddenly that Ford that was blocking the road pulls up behind him.
Michael Hernandez: "Looked like a normal, daily car. Just comes up behind me at high speeds with lights flashing."
Michael's first thought: be careful, it might be someone pretending to be a police officer.
Michael Hernandez: "Like I've heard on the news, if you see a car, an unmarked vehicle, and you don't feel safe, come to the nearest business."
Michael did one better since he was in Hialeah; he called their police dispatcher.
Michael to police dispatcher: "I do not want to stop for this guy. I don't know who he is. He just dropped some guy off. He's not in uniform. He's in a white shirt. He thinks I'm going to stop for him, I'm not. The streets are very crazy. I'm not going to stop for him."
With the dispatcher on the phone, Michael kept driving.
Police Dispatcher: "What color is the unmarked, unit sir?"
Michael Hernandez: "It's like Ford Taurus, like a 2000, beige in color."
In the meantime, Michael says the driver of the car was right on his bumper, so he rolled through two stop signs.
Michael Hernandez: "I did not stop for him because I was fearing for my life."
Then the dispatcher told Michael the car was driven by a Hialeah cop and to pull over. He did.
Police Dispatcher: "Stay with me on the phone, if you don't feel safe."
The officer then walked up.
Michael Hernandez: "He pointed the gun directly at me from his car, and he told me, 'Get out of the car, get out of the car.' I told him I was on the phone with the Hialeah Police dispatcher, and that she wanted to speak with him. He hung up the phone, and from there on he started insulting me. He started telling me I was an effing moron, an effing idiot. Every single bad word you can think of, he told me."
Michael says, as the officer spun him around and handcuffed him, he tried to explain why he didn't stop.
Michael Hernandez: "I said, officer, I did not mean any disrespect toward you. I was not fleeing from you, but I was in fear for my life."
A few minutes later, the officer took the cuffs off Michael and handed him four tickets for reckless driving, illegal lane change and running two stop signs. Michael says he didn't bother to argue.
Michael Hernandez: "I'm sorry, officer, I didn't mean any disrespect toward you, and he said, 'Just shut up and drive away.'"
Michael did, but as he drove away with a $1,000 worth of tickets in his pocket, he wondered. Was he wrong to wait until the dispatcher confirmed it was a Hialeah cop behind him before he pulled over.
Michael Hernandez: "If somebody else encounters the same problem I did, if they should respond the same way or what should they do?"
Howard, we hear all the time about crooks pretending to be cops, so you want to answer Michael's question?
Howard Finkelstein: "It's only fleeing or disobeying a police officer if you know it's a police officer, and just because someone has a flashing light, does not mean it's a police officer. I don't think Michael broke the law."
A Hialeah Police spokesperson told us Michael did the right thing by calling police and driving to a public place before stopping, but he said his mistake was driving carelessly to get there. However, Howard says, the law sometimes allows that.
Howard Finkelstein: "It's what the law calls the defense of necessity. If your wife is giving birth, you can speed to get to the hospital. If you are afraid because you think someone is impersonating a police officer and might hurt you, you can roll through a stop sign."
Michael is now going to court to face the officer again and let a judge decide if he should be punished for not pulling over immediately.
Michael Hernandez: "Here to ask for trial by judge. I'm going to plead not guilty, hoping to get this over as soon as possible and definitely hoping not to pay those tickets."
Will Michael win in court? Howard thinks so, and if an unmarked car tries to pull you over, keep going until you find a busy, well lit place to stop. If you get a ticket, you can fight that, and it's much better than getting hurt by some wannabe cop pretending to be a police officer.
Uncovered a situation that is driving you crazy? Need someone to police your problem? Contact us, we don't have a gun and a badge, but I do wear plain clothes.