Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) 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”.
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.)
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).