I had to wait a couple of days before writing this diary, the memory was still too fresh and my anger about the whole situation tended to cloud some of my perspective.
You know the old saw that a conservative is a liberal whose been mugged?
I can demonstrate the inverse:
A liberal is a conservative whose experienced what I did Sunday night.
This last Sunday night in Tempe, AZ, I was driving in my truck with my fiancée. Having left my brother’s place, we made a stop at the drive thru for some iced chai and then headed for her home. As is usual we were laughing and being generally entertaining to each other. Tonight the topic was about our Halloween costumes, modeled after the SNL Bees, which we plan to wear to a party up North. She has decided that if someone asks if she is a killer bee she is going to say, "No senor, I am only a very painful bee."
Laughter ensued as we made our way up Mill Avenue. As I am heading up Mill I realize that I have picked up a police cruiser in my rear view mirror. No biggie. The cruiser then follows me as I make a right turn and then another left turn. At this point I am pretty sure that something isn’t right, although I am pulling a blank as to what offense I committed.
No stop signs, driving at the speed limit. What was going on?
I mention this to my future bride who also seems at a loss for any infractions on my part.
As I make the final turn into my fiancée’s driveway the cruiser hits his lights and turns his spots on my truck. Sighing, I prepared my license and registration and then we sat and waited.
Watching behind I see that 2 more police cars have pulled up near the driveway to reinforce the one blocking me in. 3 cop cars? My simple traffic stop was starting to take on a more serious note. I conferred with my passenger and we agreed that there was some sort of misunderstanding going on. Perhaps a truck matching mine was seen at a nearby crime. Like I said, we waited and waited until finally we started to receive the commands.
"Driver throw your keys out the window!" I complied.
"Driver stick your hands out the window and open your car door from the outside and step out of the vehicle with your hands on your head!" I complied.
"Drop whatever your holding!" My registration. Complied.
"Do not turn around! Now lift the back of your shirt by pulling on your collar! Now turn around slowly, keep turning, keep turning!" As I complied I finally got a chance to see what was going on behind me. What had been 3 was now 4 police cars. I also saw Tempe police officers crouched down behind their doors with guns drawn.
Damn. I've never had guns pointed at me in that particular number. I knew at this point that something was terribly wrong. After turning completely around I was instructed to keep backing slowly towards the police officer. As I complied I remarked that there was obviously some big misunderstanding going on and that they had no reason to worry about us being dangerous. Acting reasonable. I am told I have a reasonable temperment.
I backed up until I was commanded to my knees at which point an officer handcuffed me, ignoring that I was wearing an elbow brace. I am trying to recover from some ligament damage. Hauled to my feet I finally asked, "Why is this happening? What did I do?"
No answer other than a command to stay against the car.
They then proceeded to command my fiancée through the same drill. At this point I was close enough that I could clearly see the front officers with the guns still out, trained on my fiancée. This unnerved me and I pleaded with the officers to please lower their weapons, which they ignored. Finally my future wife was also cuffed and they proceeded to stick us into different cruisers. Still no mention as to why I was being detained. Only questions about anyone else being in the truck.
Cuffed and stuffed in the back of cop car I am dumbfounded. I’ve cooperated. I’ve complied. At what point do I get some clue as to what the fuck is going on?
After 15 minutes an officer opens the door to talk to me.
"I’d really like to know what’s going on right now, officer."
"Your truck was reported stolen," was the reply. I explained that I found that highly unlikely and that if they would check the registration and insurance card that they made me drop on the ground they could confirm that it was my truck. No, I’ve never reported it stolen. No, I don’t know how someone else can report it stolen. Thinking, isn’t that your job to know?
That ended the questioning for the time being. I sat patiently, my injured elbow not responding well to the handcuff job. I peered through the rear window of the cruiser where I could see the silhouette of my fiancée sitting in the other patrol car. I mouthed as much reassurance as I could.
"It’s alright." "Over soon". "I love you."
Still I waited. Finally a K-9 unit arrived and although I was never asked permission, they proceeded to let the dog up into my truck where it rummaged around for a minute. Silently, I am cursing the police. What the hell are they looking for? I am secretly hoping that I am getting Punk’d. Allen Funt. Something. The situation is just too surreal.
Another officer opens the door and starts asking me questions. He asked if that was my license plate on my truck. I look at the plate. I can’t be sure. I can never remember it anyway. Doesn’t it match my registration? He has me stand up and he removes my driver’s license from my wallet. I realize this is the first time in half an hour that I have been asked who I am.
Finally, half an hour after being pulled over, the truth comes out. Someone has swapped my license plate with one that was reported stolen.
"So, apparently I am the victim here?" I inquired of the officer.
"Yes, it happens pretty often. It could have been swapped a while ago."
"Am I free to go?" I the victim, and my fiancée, are still sitting in cuffs.
"Not yet. Have you had anything to drink tonight?"
My god these guys are really scrambling to find something aren’t they?
I tell the cop that I did indeed have a beer at my brother’s place earlier that evening but I am in no way impaired or even remotely close to being over the limit. He leaves me in my cuffs and shuts the car door. I watch him walk over and start talking to the fiancée in the other car.
Meanwhile I have 5 other Tempe police officers standing around the scene. Laughing, joking about whatever. My elbow is moving from uncomfortable to painful. I am passing through the shock and incredulity phase and I am becoming very pissed off.
The officer finally comes back and lets me out of the cruiser. He turns me around and starts to remove my cuffs, remarking, "Oh how’d you hurt your arm?"
"Chopping wood, fishing, too much fun." I replied.
Thanks for noticing, fucking geniuses.
Still desperate to justify their massive overreaction I am asked to do a sobriety test. Despite the little pissed off voice in the back of my head, I cooperate, yet again. They have been talking to me and already got to watch me walk backwards and do my little spins so there was nothing left but for them to do but that lame sobriety test where they have you follow the light without moving your head. I pass, vindicated.
Finally I am reunited with the future missus. Rubbing my wrists I ask what’s next?
"Well, we have to take this plate off."
Understandable, it’s stolen. I will have to go get a new one tomorrow. We wait around while they find a screwdriver and pry the plate off.
"Do I get a report or something?"
This seemed to take them by surprise. "Well, you’re not under arrest so you don’t need it but you can request a copy. Grudgingly they give me a card with the report number on it and the lead officer’s information.
Pressing the officer I asked if it was really necessary for all the guns, dogs and handcuffs. I was informed it was standard procedure.
No empathy about being victimized.
No indication that at somepoint it should have been very obvious we weren't a danger and, in fact, were victims but still had to sit through this whole ordeal in handcuffs? It may have started out as a high risk traffic stop but that risk was gone once we were out of the truck. It appears the Tempe police are incapable of flexibility and adjusting their tactics according to the situation.
I was done and I didn't want to argue with the Tempe cops and their Blackwater training. We got in my truck and drove it the rest of the way around the bend in the driveway, feeling pretty violated and vulnerable.