Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Release of Sandra Bland dash-cam video from Texas brings flashbacks of my own nightmarish experiences with cops and unlawful traffic stops in Alabama

Sandra Bland
Yesterday's release of dash-cam video from the Sandra Bland traffic stop in Texas brought flashbacks of my own nightmarish experiences with Alabama deputies during traffic stops. In fact, watching the 52-minute Bland video was so disturbing--and hit so close to home--that I could hardly sleep last night. And when I did drop off for a few minutes, I had nightmares of people grabbing at me.

Bland died after three days in a Texas jail, and authorities claim she committed suicide--a finding her family, understandably, does not buy. (A grown woman can hang herself with a flimsy trash bag? Seems hard to believe.) I managed to survive my five-month stay in the Shelby County, Alabama, jail, but the similarities between the Bland traffic stop and the two I experienced are enough that . . . well, I hardly slept last night, and I doubt I will do much better tonight.

What is the key similarity? The Bland dash-cam video shows that the Texas officer provoked the whole thing. She should have gotten away in about five minutes' time with a warning for allegedly not signaling while making a lane change. But the officer's hyper-sensitivity and stubbornness turned a simple matter into a national story--and a tragic death.

I witnessed similar law-enforcement behavior on two occasions, as Alabama officers sparked incidents where evidence suggests they had no lawful grounds to stop me at all.

The key sequence in the Bland video begins at the 8:40 mark, as trooper Brian Encina approaches her stopped car after writing up a warning in his vehicle. Encina notes that Bland seems irritated, and she matter-of-factly responds that she is irritated--because the only reason she changed lanes was because she saw the officer approaching rapidly in her rear-view mirror and thought he needed to get by. (You can view the video at the end of this post.)

Encina then asks Bland to put out her cigarette, and she objects--noting, correctly, that she's in her car and she doesn't have to put out her cigarette. Encina immediately asks her to step out of the car, and when Bland (again, correctly) states that there is no lawful reason for her to step out of the car, Encina opens the door and starts reaching for her, says he's going to drag her out, and even threatens her with a taser. From there, the encounter turns really ugly, with Bland placed in handcuffs, even though it's hard to see evidence of her committing any crime.

This is very much like my first experience in Alabama, with officer Mike DeHart. My wife, Carol, and I were stopped at the North Shelby County Library, after DeHart claimed he had witnessed me roll through a stop sign (while making a left-hand turn at a "T" intersection). I immediately told DeHart I had not rolled through that stop sign, but he took my license and registration and returned to his vehicle. He came back to us and handed me a warning and returned my license and registration--meaning the traffic stop, by law, was over.

But DeHart didn't let it end there. He handed me a stack of papers and smugly said, "Mr. Shuler, you've been served." I looked at the papers, saw the names Rob Riley and Liberty Duke, and quickly realized DeHart had stopped us only to "serve" a complaint in a lawsuit. The whole story about rolling through a stop sign was a lie. As DeHart walked back to his vehicle I called him a "fraud" and a few other choice words. I got out of my vehicle, went to his patrol vehicle (where he was sitting with the windows up) and let him know in loud, clear, and colorful language that I knew he was a liar and a cheat.

As I was walking away, DeHart got out of his vehicle and directed me to spread my hands across the trunk of our car. I ignored him and opened the door to get back in our car. Like Ms. Bland, I wasn't about to let a corrupt cop treat me like a criminal when I hadn't violated any law. I think DeHart uttered something about "disorderly conduct," which is complete BS--and I knew it.

I tried to shut the door to our car, but DeHart blocked the door with his hip, reached for his handcuffs with one hand and reached for me with the other. He would have arrested me, but Mrs. Schnauzer had what I call an "Exorcist" moment. She started screeching, screaming, and seething to the point that I thought her head was going to start spinning. She made a motion to get out of the car as if she was going to jump on DeHart. With parents and children heading into the front door of the library not too far away, DeHart seemed to realize that creating such a scene was not a good idea, and he let us go.

Was I angry, like Ms. Bland? Yes. Did I have a right to be angry, like Ms. Bland, in the face of a lying, cheating law-enforcement officer who was trying to provoke me? Yes. Did I break any laws? No, and neither did Ms. Bland.

My second encounter came on the night of my arrest, October 23, 2013, when officer Chris Blevins drove at a high speed down our driveway and tried to block me from entering our garage. He failed to block me, so I drove on in, and Blevins exited his vehicle, came to the edge of our garage, and asked me to step outside.

As happened in the Bland case, Blevins gave me no lawful reason that I had to leave my own home. He showed no warrant, didn't say he had a warrant, said nothing about why he was even on my property. I said I wasn't coming outside and instructed him to get out of our house (the garage is under our house, part of the structure). Blevins came in and proceeded to beat me up, knocking me to a concrete floor three times, dousing me with pepper spray, and placing me in handcuffs before dragging me out of the garage--all over alleged contempt of court in a civil matter (the Riley/Duke lawsuit).

I hope Sandra Bland's family gets to the bottom of what really happened to her in Texas. I hope to someday get to the bottom of what happened to me in Alabama. Both cases present clear evidence of civil wrongs--and I suspect criminal actions are involved, as well.


Anonymous said...

Your use of loud clear and colorful language, as you put it, seems to meet the definition of disorderly conduct. Your link to disorderly conduct actually goes to the Code of Alabama, but I searched for the actual code.

13A-11-7 .
Disorderly Conduct
(a) A person commits the crime of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he or she does any of the following:
(1) Engages in fighting or in violent tumultuous or threatening behavior.

(2) Makes unreasonable noise.

(3) In a public place uses abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture.

Sounds like you violated the first 3 in the list.

legalschnauzer said...

I've read that, and I had no intent to cause inconvenience, alarm, or annoyance with any member of the public. I had the intent of spending a peaceful afternoon in the library, with my wife, until DeHart detained us without cause. As for communications after that, I had the intent of expressing my displeasure directly to a corrupt police officer, who instigated the whole incident, and that's why I went right up to his window. No one else was within earshot. Even DeHart didn't think I committed disorderly conduct because he didn't arrest me for it.

Anonymous said...

You skipped the part after the or; "recklessly creating a risk thereof, he or she does any of the following:". You recklessly created a risk and you violated the law, the fact you didn't get arrested is immaterial. Perhaps, Dehart wanted to use his discretion to allow you to be free to defend yourself. Rather than being upset at him, maybe you should thank him.

legalschnauzer said...

You weren't there. The three people who were there--DeHart, my wife, and me--apparently agree that there was no disorderly conduct. You must be a professional grasper of straws. You don't know the facts or the law, and you write so poorly that I can't even tell what you're talking about. If you want to continue this discussion, let me know your name via e-mail and we can arrange a time to talk by phone. Perhaps I can figure out what you are trying to say then. Otherwise, goodbye.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, @12:52. You are one of the biggest douchebags of all time.

Burton said...

No way @12:52 will give you his name or talk to you on the phone. He's too big a p-ssy. I know a p-ssy when I see one, and this guy is a world-class p-ssy.

legalschnauzer said...

For the record, and I'm sure this will go over @12:52's head, it generally is not illegal to mouth off or even curse a police officer. It can become disorderly conduct if you try to incite the public against an officer. But that was not present in my case, not even close. In fact, no other member of the public was in earshot:

legalschnauzer said...

Here is more information about what you can and cannot say to a police officer:

legalschnauzer said...

For those who are interested, here is an explanation of Alabama disorderly law from Montgomery attorney Patrick Mahaney:

"Whether or not making an obscene gesture at a law enforcement officer is a crime under Alabama law is debatable. There is a Code section in Code of Alabama, 1975, section 13-11-7
"Disorderly conduct" wherein that section of law states:
(a) A person commits the crime of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: .....
(3) In a public place uses abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture; ..."

However, there is a body of law derived from Constitutional precedent regarding first amendment protections of speech and assembly that holds law enforcement officers in the line and scope of employment are afforded less protection from abuse and obscene words than are ordinary citizens and what may be a crime to direct vile conduct toward an ordinary citizen will not suffice when dealing with a law enforcement officer. See, Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130 (1974): appellant's conviction of violating a New Orleans ordinance making it unlawful "to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to" a police officer while in performance of his duties was overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and facially invalid. There are similar, related Alabama cases on point regarding uttering profanity or curse words towards a law enforcement officer."

In other words, the First and Fourteenth Amendments--and resulting state case law--protect the expression of harsh language toward a police officer.

legalschnauzer said...

Again, for those interested, here is Alabama law on disorderly conduct in the context of harsh language directed at police. It's from a case styled Robinson v. State, 615 So. 2d 112 - Ala: Court of Criminal Appeals 1992:

"With reference to the disorderly conduct statute, the words "abusive or obscene language" and "obscene gesture" have been "interpreted narrowly to apply only to `fighting words.'" Swann v. City of Huntsville, 455 So.2d 944, 950 (Ala.Crim.App.1984). See also Mosley v. City of Auburn, 428 So.2d 165 (Ala.Crim.App.1982), superseded on other grounds, Mason v. City of Vestavia Hills, 518 So.2d 221 (Ala.Crim.App. 1987). "Fighting words" are "those words which have a likelihood of causing a violent response by the person to whom they are addressed. They are words that by their very utterance provoke a swift physical retaliation and incite an immediate breach of the peace." Skelton v. City of Birmingham, 342 So.2d 933, 936-37 (Ala.Crim. App.), remanded, 342 So.2d 937 (Ala.1976). See also Swann. The words used by the alleged offender must "`be calculated to cause an immediate breach of the peace. It is not enough ... they merely arouse 114*114 anger or resentment.'" Swann, 455 So.2d at 950 (quoting Skelton, 342 So.2d at 937) (emphasis in original). Here, the language used by the appellant did not amount to "fighting words." There is no evidence that the statement made by the appellant was for the purpose of provoking physical retaliation or causing an immediate breach of the peace.

"Unfortunately, epithets ... directed at a police officer in the performance of his duties are not uncommon in today's law enforcement environment. The fact that an officer encounters such vulgarities with some frequency, and the fact that his training enables him to diffuse a potentially volatile situation without physical retaliation, however, means that words which might provoke a violent response from the average person do not, when addressed to a police officer, amount to `fighting words.'"

Did I direct "fighting words" toward Officer DeHart? Not even close.

Just more evidence that @12:52 has no idea what he's talking about.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schnauzer, I get the sense you enjoying proving dumb asses like 12:52 wrong.

legalschnauzer said...

I do enjoy it, absolutely. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I started this blog for intelligent people who care about the rot and corruption in our justice system. I didn't start it for stupid, uncaring people, but I figured it would attract some of those. When they appear, I guess it's fun to toy with them, sort of the way a cat does with a mouse. I generally give them just enough rope to hang themselves--and they fall for it every time.

I've made the offer to numerous such cretins to ID themselves and contact me so we can talk one to one. Not one of them has taken up that offer yet, and I doubt it ever will happen.

Yes, there is a satisfaction from being on the right side of things, even though it's been extremely difficult. There is satisfaction from knowing that, no matter how much my wife and I have suffered, we've stood for right over wrong, the law over the unlawful. We have stayed neutral in times of oppression. We have stood for, and with, the oppressed.

There also is a satisfaction from trying to comfort the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. That's sort of what journalism used to be about.

Anonymous said...

The officer in this video won't be an officer much longer. His behavior is horrible, and this was totally unnecessary. He is going to deeply regret the day he stopped Sandra Bland.

legalschnauzer said...

I know an officer or two in Alabama who won't be officers much longer, either.

Anonymous said...

The "Excorcist moment" is feared by any man and or law enforcement officer. Certainly it is far better than quoting law.

Anonymous said...

Read up on what Humpy Parker and his deputies were doing to drivers in San Jacinto Co., Texas back in the day. Hopefully most of us won't ever experience that kind of situation, but training Le to de-escalate conflict and keep their calm and professional in dealings with upset or angry citizens is sorely needed.

I've experienced two questionable pull overs - both officers claiming that I was swerving when I knew I hadn't been, while driving at night. Both asked me to step out of the vehicle, asked to search my car (which I permitted both times) and sent me on my way when they discovered nothing illegal. However, their attitudes and professionalism vastly differed.

The first cop (in Missouri) was rude and demanded that I get out of the car as soon as I provided him my license and insurance without telling me why. He then accused me of either drinking or using narcotics while he shined a flashlight at my eyes, had me do a field sobriety test in 40 degree, windy weather, and then failed to notify me if I had passed or not, but angrily barked at me that I was free to go when I repeatedly offered to take a breathalyzer and drug test. Not an experience that I would want anyone to go through, and to do this day I'm nervous about driving anywhere near that county, for fear of running into that officer.

The second officer (in Mississippi) was calm and polite, asked if had been drinking that evening (no) asked politely if he could look at my vehicle, gave it a brief look over and then told me to drive safely and let me on my way. A completely different attitude and experience than the simmering rage I felt from the cop in Missouri. The woman in this case did escalate the situation, but the cop reacted in such an angry manner reminded me of my own Missouri run in....he should have dealt with her irritation if a far more professional manner.

dash cameras said...

Nice clip..!! Thanks to share.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this video. I know I am late to the party but this is the first time I have ever seen this story. I agree with you on all points. Everything seemed to change as soon as she told him how she felt. If the cop doesn't want to hear the answer, don't ask the question.

The thing that left me scratching my head, after watching the video in its entirety, is the reason he gave for pulling her over. I thought for sure he was going to say it was for running through the stop sign. As soon as he wraps up the previous stop and starts driving forward, you see her running a stop sign and she barely slows down for it. It's not even close. He appears to notice it and immediately makes a u-turn to follow her. As he is turning around you can clearly see it is a stop sign and not a yield sign at the intersection. So not only is he wrong for the way he treats her but he is also not as observant as he should be.