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Lawyer in Ainsworth Incident pressures leaders to seek dismissal of citations

Posted by on December 23rd, 2008 at 9:37 am

“This will adequately address the inequity of this situation and show the community that bicyclists will not be punished for riding legally on the streets of Portland.”
— Lawyer Christopher Heaps

The lawyer for two men who were ticketed for riding their bikes on NE Ainsworth last month is imploring city leaders and the police chief to recognize the error made by the officer and have him dismiss the citations.

The request by Christopher Heaps, a lawyer with downtown Portland firm Stoel Rives who is representing the riders, comes in a nine-page letter sent yesterday to Mayor Potter and all four City Commissioners (download PDF, 1.0MB). According to the letter, Reuben Vyn and Peter Welte were “wrongfully issued traffic violation citations by Portland Police Bureau Officer Jimmy Pryce,” and Officer Pryce’s actions were “vindictive and violate Portland Police Bureau Policies”.

PSU Cycling Club president
Reuben Vyn and Officer Pryce.
(Photos: Peter Welte)

On November 15th, Vyn and Welte were riding westbound on NE Ainsworth St. with teammates from the Portland State University Cycling Team. According to the riders and several witnesses, Officer Pryce passed Vyn very closely (it’s a narrow, one-lane street with on-street parking). Then, after Vyn gestured to Pryce about the near-miss, Pryce stopped his patrol car and pulled him over. As Pryce and Vyn discussed the situation, Welte engaged in the conversation and began taking photographs. In the end, both he and Vyn were issued a variety of citations.

(For a full recap of the incident, read our story, Riding on Ainsworth leads to tickets for PSU riders.)

Not much space on Ainsworth.

Heaps is no stranger to representing the rights of people on two wheels. Back in February, Heaps successfully filed a “citizen initiated violation” after the police chose to not issue a citation to a driver who struck a woman who was riding in a bike lane.

“Officer Pryce issued these citations as retribution and not for the purpose of enhancing road safety.”

In the letter — which was also sent to PSU President Wim Wiewel and Police Chief Rosie Sizer — Heaps details the laws that pertain to the situation and he calls on Mayor Potter and other city leaders to contact Officer Pryce and persuade him to dismiss the citations when the issue is heard in traffic court.

About the law, Heaps writes:

“Officer Pryce’s act of passing Mr. Vyn at approximately 30 mph demonstrates that Officer Pryce could not have reasonably believed that Mr. Vyn had committed the traffic violation for which he was cited (impeding traffic) since the infraction requires blocking or impeding the reasonable movement of traffic (ORS 811.130(1)).”

Heaps feels that not only were Vyn and Welte cited incorrectly, he also contends that the entire stop violated Portlnd Police Bureau policies which prohibit officers from making a traffic stop out of retaliation. From the letter:

“Officer Pryce’s statements after initiating the traffic stop provide ample evidence that he initiated the stop because of a gesture made by Mr. Vyn and not because of any other action Mr. Vyn had taken while riding his bike… Officer Pryce issued these citations as retribution and not for the purpose of enhancing road safety.”

If Officer Pryce’s actions are not acknowledged and censured, Heaps feels it will send a chilling message to Portlanders who use bicycles to get around. In his letter, he states that “condoning Pryce’s actions prevents more Portlanders from bicycling and is bad public policy.”

From the letter:

“When Portlanders see that the City’s law enforcement officers themselves are exacerbating this safety concern (passing a bicycle too closely) by driving in a way that flagrantly disregards the risk to bicyclists, they will rightfully ask whether the City and its leaders are serious about promoting safe and legal bicycling.”

Heaps says his clients’ goal is to avoid further legal action because, “they are mindful that such conflict could worsen the already strained relations between our city’s bicyclists and the PPB”. They simply want Officer Pryce to dismiss the citations. If the dismissal is not granted, he states in the letter that Mr. Vyn and Mr. Welte “will take legal action” which he says will include a citizen-initiated citation against Officer Pryce, filing a complaint with the Independent Police Review, and “other action as necessary to ensure that Officer Pryce is held accountable for his conduct.”

I asked Heaps of such a request is standard procedure. It isn’t. He said, “Asking for a dismissal is extraordinary… this is a public relations thing. We want to say, look, if you’re a leader in this town, you can’t let something like this happen.”

No date has been set for the trial.

Download Heaps’ letter here (PDF, 1MB).

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Comments
  • 007 December 23, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I thought it was okay, in fact the safest thing to do, to take a whole lane if one feels there isn’t safe clearance for a car to pass.

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  • ericbuilds December 23, 2008 at 10:48 am

    it is.

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  • GJB December 23, 2008 at 10:58 am

    (oops, posted to old article…reposting here)

    Just take the lane already, you’re going to get yourself killed letting cars get that close to you – cops or not.

    ORS says 814.430:
    “…
    (2) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is not operating a bicycle as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway under any of the following circumstances:

    When reasonably necessary to…avoid unsafe operation in a lane on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side
    …”

    See:
    - http://www.oregoncycling.org/2008/01/oregons-new-passing-law/
    - http://www.stc-law.com/slowmoving.html

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  • G.A.R. December 23, 2008 at 11:09 am

    This is a great move. I hope it works!

    Speaking of obstacles, the steaming heap thrown into the political thoroughfare by this officer stands as a poopy sentinel of stupidity and despair. Nothing of any value happened on Ainsworth that day. If the case goes forward, can the city shovel its way out of this fetid pile without damaging its relationships with road users and the police association? Not likely. What leverage will be lost and what good will squandered if the city insists on prosecuting this noncrime? Please dismiss the case.

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  • Snacky December 23, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    I dunno. I feel like we shouldn’t ride on streets like N. Ainsworth.

    There’s no reason — there are unlimited low-traffic parallel side streets, not even considering those that have been set aside for bike traffic.

    And it just causes stress for no reason.

    The arguments in the attorney’s letter also seem to contain a conflict: on one hand it argues that the cop passed too close (look at how narrow the street is, etc.) But on the other hand, it uses the cop’s passing at 30mph as evidence that the bicycles were not blocking the street. It seems like these two arguments conflict with each other.

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  • Argentius December 23, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    As an alumnus member of the Portland State cycling club, I’m encouraged by the level of support that Vyn and Welte are receiving from the local bike community in Portland.

    When reading of the original incident in question, I felt outraged — I’ve ridden numerous times with the club, and I’ve ridden frequently on Ainsworth, and the entire traffic stop and citations seem clearly retributive.

    Hopefully Officer Pryce, having had time to consider his likely overly emotional response to the situation, will agree with Mr Heaps’ assessment and allow this, too, to pass.

    It would be a disgrace to the city and the Bureau otherwise.

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  • alien December 23, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Snacky (#5): Ainsworth is an established, marked and signed bike route. I feel like we should be riding on these.

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  • steve December 23, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Way to go Chris!

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  • GJB December 23, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Snacky,

    I pay the same taxes for road usage as everyone else. It takes me long-enough to traverse longer distances via bike, why should I be forced to travel even slower via crowded stoplight/stopsign-riddled roads?

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  • Snacky December 23, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    alien (#7): I didn’t realize that — thanks. That makes the police stop even stranger.

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  • KWW December 23, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Officer Pryce is getting called before teacher!

    [IMG]http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/images/2008/03/05/nelson_muntz.jpg[/IMG]

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  • velo December 23, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Officer Pryce – you are a disgrace to Portland and the PPB. I hope that you are censured, demoted or fired. There ought to be zero tolerance for the police abusing their power. We need to not set the precedent that such nonsense is OK. Otherwise we send the message to cops that they can get away with worse things like random shootings, beatings, TASERings and other illegal acts.

    As a society we vest in the Police a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. In exchange they ought to be held to a very high standard of review and civilian control. This sort of harassment does send a chilling message to Portlanders who bike. I am less certain of a given officer being worthy of my trust. I hope the court tosses these citations and the officer is hit with the strongest consequences possible.

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  • P Finn December 23, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    It seems reasonable to push for no parking on this route whatsoever. Parking is usually sparse if memory serves; driveways abound…

    This could be a first-class route with the proper roadway design implements.

    Who’s with me on this?

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  • Oh Word? December 23, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    This article made my day, that cop thought he could throw his weight around- but now it’s just gonna come right back around and hit him!

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  • Paul Tay December 23, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Pryce can dismiss the cites simply by not showing up for the bench trial.

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  • wsbob December 23, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    “Pryce can dismiss the cites simply by not showing up for the bench trial.” paul tay

    Unless there’s some legal reason he can’t, wouldn’t it just figure that he would do that? Even amongst the local law enforcement establishment, might there not be some question about the caliber of Pryce’s professional conduct in this particular incident?

    So,if things are looking a little hot for him, what better way to avoid being raked over the coals, even possibly being obliged to admit wrong doing and apologize, than to just not show up? Too bad really, if he does that, or even if he simply drops the charges. I’m probably not the only one that was looking forward to hearing how each party explained their situation in court.

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  • Loren December 23, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Seems to me that maybe we need to better train these officers. What a headache for everyone.

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  • jgadamski December 23, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    My experience with MultCo traffic court is that 1) the cop is always right. 2) when facts contradict the testimony of the citing officer, see rule #1

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  • dmarshall December 23, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Does anyone know exactly what kind of gesture was displayed towards the officer. The article stated that the cyclist made a lateral motion of the hand. Was it a middle finger salute or just an open hand? Flagrant disrespect (flipping off the officer) could play a role in the outcome.

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  • Blah Blah Blah December 23, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    I’d like to know what kind of gesture Mr Vyn used? The bird?

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  • revphil December 23, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Maybe they are fearful of the dreaded “slippery slope”. 1st they will want dismissals, then they will want apologies… and then what, a safe passing distance?!?

    I would like to see how the city auditor figures out how much these kind of encounters cost us.

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  • joel December 24, 2008 at 7:09 am

    dmarshall and blah blah blah: doesnt matter what the hand gesture was. it is well within your rights as a citizen to flip a cop the bird when theyve been a jackass. more people should do it. being an officer of the law does not entitle one to break, flaunt, ignore, selectively enforce, or incorrectly apply the law at will, and the more theyre called on it, whether in court, or by individual citizens giving them what for, the better. flipping him off would have been rude, perhaps, but why should one be willing to flip off jackass civilians, but reticent to flip off jackass cops? fear of retribution merely encourages them to do worse, out of a feeling of impunity.

    and snacky – even if ainsworth wasnt a marked bike route, cyclists have every legitimate right under law to use it, even if there are more pleasant alternate routes. and theres not conflict in the letter – the cop passed too close, but he *did* pass, at speed, and thus his flow, as traffic, was not impeded. claiming he was impeded, while clearly not having been, is a logical fallacy.

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  • John December 24, 2008 at 9:11 am

    I was riding that day and tagged along with a PSU cycling group for several miles along Marine Drive and 33rd. They knew what they were doing; good awareness and they were a safe group that rode considerately and showed experience working with traffic. Friendly, too! They freely absorbed some fredly dude (that’s me!) in a t-shirt with a basket on his bike into the group for several miles.

    I can’t imagine anyone in this group blithely tooling around in the middle of the road unaware of a driver approaching. Much less blocking traffic for no good reason. Like others have stated, I would have to conclude that party most likely to have inspired the hissy fit in question, under the conditions typically presented at this location would be Ainsworth itself. That road need a Tillamook-style roadblock, it’s not fit to serve as an arterial.

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  • metal cowboy December 24, 2008 at 9:38 am

    go get em. Chris. I ride Ainsworth all the time – It’s a great place to cycle in teh fall with all the trees in full color. I for one don’t think people on bicycles should conform to the back of the bus, only certain roads attitude.( even though it’s marked as a bike route) Of course I wouldn’t take the lane on the I-5 bridge into Vancouver, or put myself in overtly dangerous situations, given the choice, but Ainsworth is not a dangerous road, unless you happen to find a cop with bad manners on your tail.

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  • Peter Welte December 24, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    I really appreciate the support Reuben and I have received from the Portland bike scene so far. Thanks, everyone.

    RE: #19, #20. To clarify, it was an open hand lateral motion. Those of you who know Reuben know he’s super polite. I’ve ridden with and worked with Reuben for about a year and a half now, and he doesn’t even swear much, let alone flip off cops.

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  • Opus the Poet December 24, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    @Snacky(#5)

    Actually both conditions can exist at the same time, there can be ample room to pass safely, and the passing vehicle can at the same time pass too close. I’m not familiar with the street in question (couldn’t get Google Maps to pull up the street without a block number), but there could be enough room to make a safe pass if the driver had pulled a little closer to the inside curb. When I was driving I had no problem with driving real close to the left side of the lane because I was next to that side of the car and could judge the distance to obstructions accurately. Perhaps Officer Pryce needs a remedial course in car handling.

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  • Bjorn December 24, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    My girlfriend ended up with a serious concussion that resulted in memory loss, a very scary night in the hospital, and days of pain last year after an aggressive driver came up on us quickly and honked his horn. Her bike was also broken in the incident. There was no room to pass where we were although about 100 feet down the road where there were not parked cars would have been fine. She got so freaked out by the car, thinking I was getting hit by it that she looked back and ended up running into the curb. She had her helmet on but still sustained a pretty serious concussion. Thankfully it wasn’t any worse, but since the driver took off at high speed and I was trying to make sure she was ok before looking at the plate the cops didn’t even want to take a report. What the street needs is enforcement actions that target aggresive drivers like this cop who are passing where there is not room! Also the bike route signs should be moved over a block to encourage beginning cyclists to avoid the street because it does tend to breed confrontations with aggro cagers who can’t be held up for 5 seconds until there is a safe place to pass.

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  • Greyhound December 25, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Similar experience happened to me, but I’m the lawyer and the cyclist. I stood my ground against an officer who buzzed me and then cut me off, dared him to write me a ticket, complained to his boss, got a back dated ticket, got it dismissed, and am now deciding whether to target the officer further. A bully with a badge is still just a bully, only twice as dangerous in his ignorance.

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  • GJB December 25, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Greyhound,

    I applaud your efforts, though I’d encourage you to pursue this further. Bullies have no place in positions of authority.

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  • Ali December 25, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    I too ride Ainsworth every day – to go down another street would take me out of my way. It is a very reasonable street to ride once you realize that you must take the lane and not tempt people to pass. I get over as soon as possible if cars are waiting, and for the most part, people are very considerate – it slows them down for a few seconds. the speed limit is 30 but should probably be 25 – people tend to go 35-40.

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  • Pat Malach December 28, 2008 at 9:32 am

    If there isn’t enough room on Ainsworth to ride safely, maybe the smart option would be to find a different route.

    There are plenty if you drop the stubborness and use some creativity.

    Share the road!

    perish the thought.

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  • wsbob December 28, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Malach, did you even bother to inform yourself about this particular incident (there’s a link above to another thread on this subject with many more comments), the circumstances, and the parties involved before spouting off? The character and tone of your comment is consistent with comments you leave from time to time over at blueoregon.

    So far, all indications are that the riders were willing to share the road, if given reasonable opportunity. Ainsworth is sufficiently wide enough for safe riding if responsible road users, particularly those driving police cars, are prepared to make allowances for the roads somewhat narrower width, as they attempt to pass others traveling more slowly than they down that road.

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  • MeMyselfAndI December 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Malach,

    Did you mean by “…find a different route…”, that motorists should select a different route? A route where a hurried driver can safely pass other legitimate, albeit sometimes slower-than-the-posted-speed, road users?

    Share the road does not mean to get off it. To share the road means that motorists, and cyclists alike need to be considerate of each other (well, pedestrians too).

    For this issue, both parties seem at fault:
    1) Cyclists need to take the lane, when safe to enter it, and when it’s not safe for cars to pass. Then, move-right when there’s ample room for a bike and passing vehicle to occupy a width of road.

    2) Motorists need to simply slow down and give ample space; allow the legitimate road user ahead of them, the person who was in-fact there first, to travel without intimidation or threats to their life, health, freedom, or safety. Motorists also need to know “where” their vehicle is on the road; so that they can judge for themselves if its safe to pass a slower moving vehicle on a narrow stretch of road.

    By his own admission, Portland Police Officer Pryce was driving recklessly, willfully violated multiple provisions of the Oregon Vehicle Code, and then proceeded with an illegal stop in violation of both state and federal laws. Officer Pryce’s actions did nothing to serve the public good, and instead needlessly threatened lives, intimidated legitimate road users, and now makes even more people reconsider the prospect of riding their bikes through the streets of Portland…all for no purpose but to bluntly abuse the power of his position.

    Though, despite all that, I can’t help but also partly fault the cyclists. These cyclists, by their own admission, failed to take the lane when it was not safe for a following vehicle to pass. Cop or not, they should have taken the lane if it was not safe for the vehicle to pass.

    Now, the road conditions may not have allowed the cyclists to safely enter/take the lane, before the approaching vehicle started to pass, but, that topic has not been raised yet.

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  • Pat Malach December 30, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Share the road; take the lane.

    You realize how stupid that sounds, right, “MemyselfandI”?

    Almost as stupid as claiming that the obviously stupid cop “threatened people’s lives.”

    That kind of hyperbole makes you sound a bit unhinged and is detrimental to your credibility (there was some?)

    A typical reactionary (thoughtless) response by yet another anonymous braveheart.

    By thew way, I was penning essays arguing that autos should be banned from urban roads before you were likely a twinkle in your daddy’s eye.

    I’ve ridden many times on Ainsworth. I even won the Woodlawn criterium one year.

    In my judgment, Ainswroth is plenty safe for a parked car, a competent cyclist and another vehicle to pass.

    If your particular skill levels do not allow you to actually share (rather than hog) that stretch of road within your own comfort level, the smart (rather than stubborn) thing would be to find a different route. There are plenty. If you believe there aren’t, you also believe the word “gullible” isn’t in the dictionary. It’s true, look it up!

    Just like a sensible skiier with limited skills doesn’t shoot down the black diamond runs expecting everyone else to look out for them and slow to their speed, cyclists with sketchy handling skills (including people who crash because they hear a horn honk) should find routes that match their skill and comfort levels.

    Apply a little thoughtful common sense rather than reactionary stubborness, and you’ll find it’s just as easy to avoid road conflicts as it is getting into them.

    Share the road.

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  • El Biciclero December 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Hey now, Pat– “sharing” can be accomplished by taking turns, as well as by simultaneous usage. Are you also saying that truck drivers or folks pulling RV trailers should find ways to go around mountains because they might hold up lighter vehicles on the way to the ski slopes? Are you claiming you have never ridden on a street where the passing space was too narrow even for your awesome skill level? Have you never moved over into the lane when going around blind corners on narrow country roads?

    I don’t think “Share the road” and “take the lane” are incompatible statements whatsoever. A cyclist is only “hogging” the lane when a wider spot comes along and they refuse to move over.

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  • MeMyselfAndI December 30, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Malach,

    Hmm…born in 1964, nope, I was more than a twinkle… Though congrats on all your accomplishments, I’m still working on my stack.

    As for my assertions regarding the cop’s behavior, I stand by them, but cannot take full credit; the PDF that most of us (except clearly you) read, gets first dibs. Check out pages 5 & 6…

    I agree that less experienced/competent cyclists should consider alternative routes. Which such routes do you propose; routes that are in-fact NOT designated as existing bike routes through the city? Now, how safe is that? Further, what’s the point of a designated bike route, if its not accessible to all but the most-experienced of seasoned & elite cyclists boasting a lawnwood medal?

    To be clear, I never advocated riding beyond your means, but if your path down a seemingly safe road suddenly narrows…I’d say you need to be ready to take the lane. It’s really not that difficult; ensure the path is clear and lacks any rapidly-approaching vehicles, signal, and then enter the lane.

    The sad fact is, there’s no “real” competency test given to Oregon drivers…just watch a busy road from a pedestrian overpass some day. Or worse, drive with them… Yet less competent drivers are no less permitted on public roads, than those with decades of experience and defensive training under their belt. When can we ban the dangerous and irresponsible drivers, such as the sixth-DUI-strike CDL holder that crushed a cyclist to death last year? In-fact, when could we hope to obtain traction telling them to drive elsewhere? Can, and should, we start scoring drivers and then banning some from certain roads – such as designated bike routes? Wouldn’t that make things safer for everyone too?

    As for your experience with Ainswroth, if its so safe to pass, then exactly what was the on-duty Portland Police officer trying to accomplish by passing so recklessly close? Or, maybe there was no malicious intent? The answer could be simple; an inattentive driver, startled and embarrassed by causing a life-threatening situation, and the potential victim’s sharp responses. Except this was different; this driver worsened things by illegally detaining otherwise innocent citizens, and then further abusing powers vested in him. Though I guess there’s a message here; it’s a good thing the cop wasn’t instead some nut with a gun and jonesing for a fight…or…

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  • fixedad January 4, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    I live in the neighborhood and have been looking forward to my daughter reaching an age at which my wife and I can safely bring her along on bike rides. This has me rethinking my own selfish motives for getting a bike trailer, specifically because of what the story implies, that we cannot rely on the people (PPB) we have invested our trust in to help us or protect us. What if this was a parent with a child? Would this jerk have committed the same disdain for cyclists?
    Truly disgusting behavior.

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  • wsbob January 5, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    “By his own admission, Portland Police Officer Pryce was driving recklessly, willfully violated multiple provisions of the Oregon Vehicle Code, and then proceeded with an illegal stop in violation of both state and federal laws.” MeMyselfAndI comment #33

    If Pryce has admitted to driving recklessly in this incident, please show us all where he’s admitted that. I assume you’re referring to the linked pdf in the article above. There’s no such statement to that effect by Pryce on pages 5 or 6 in that article.

    We haven’t yet heard Officer Pryce’s perspective on this encounter between himself and the people on bikes as they both traveled Ainsworth St. I’m wondering if he’ll ever share that perspective with us. Never the less, I hope that people won’t be somehow led to the conclusion he’s admitted to things he hasn’t actually admitted to.

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  • MeMyselfAndI January 6, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Answering #38:
    “…If Pryce has admitted to driving recklessly in this incident, please show us all where he’s admitted that…”

    If it was unsafe to pass, then passing constitutes reckless driving…and Officer Pryce clearly indicated that he passed the cyclists.

    I wonder if the dash cam was running…

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  • wsbob January 6, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    MeMyselfAndI, sure, maybe, but it’s not right to say someone admitted to something they haven’t admitted to.

    The incident needs to be looked into more closely. One of the things that’s interesting is the issue of relative speeds of the two parties. If Officer Pryce was traveling 30mph, that doesn’t mean he was traveling 30mph faster than the people on the bikes when he allegedly passed at a distance of 1 foot away from them.

    The people on the bikes were moving too. At what speed? Shall we say, 15 mph? That would represent a 15 mph differential between the two parties. Seems like a modest speed differential on the face of it, but given the particular, obvious circumstances, some people might consider this kind of pass to be dangerous to a vulnerable road user, or possibly a careless or reckless maneuver. But what is Officer Pryce’s opinion of the situation? Seems like that’s something we could all benefit from hearing something more of.

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  • Chris Anderson October 23, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Link to the follow-up for anyone reading along at home (6 years later) http://bikeportland.org/2009/01/29/exclusive-city-police-and-riders-reach-settlement-in-ainsworth-case-14064

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