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Tickets dismissed in Ainsworth case

Posted by on January 29th, 2009 at 4:02 pm

“…approaches are sometimes different, and misunderstandings likely because we are all human — regardless of whether we wear a stretchy bicycle jersey or an itchy police uniform.”
– From a public statement issued by the City Attorney’s office as part of a settlement reached in the Ainsworth Incident

Traffic citations given to two men who were ticketed for riding on NE Ainsworth Avenue back in November have been dismissed.

The case went in front of a Multnomah County traffic court judge at 1:30 pm this afternoon and, instead of arguing over who was at fault, all parties in the incident have signed onto an “Open Letter to the Community” (read it below, download here).

Reuben Vyn and Peter Welte were stopped by Officer James Pryce of the Portland Police on November 16th. Pryce said the men were impeding traffic, but Vyn and Welte, along with numerous witness accounts said otherwise. They claim Officer Pryce came within inches of them as he passed by on the narrow street and that he only turned around to cite them after one of the riders — in response to the close call — gestured and yelled at the officer.

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PSU Cycling Club president
Reuben Vyn and Officer Pryce. Peter
Welte, who took this photo, was also
ticketed.

After the incident, Vyn and Welte sought legal representation from Portland lawyer Christopher Heaps (who you might remember as the guy who successfully pursued a Citizen Initiated Citation back in 2007). After researching the case, Heaps determined the citations were unjustly issued and he approached the City Attorney’s office to ask that they be dismissed.

Reached via email today, Heaps had this to say about the outcome,

“We are delighted. Our fundamental goal was dismissal of the citations, and we achieved it. But beyond that, somebody at the City heard our message and demonstrated that the City understands the importance of its role in creating streets where all our citizens feel safe riding. We are indeed fortunate to have such enlightened leadership in Portland.”

“The Police Bureau will address this problem by producing a training video for all patrol officers and hopes members of our community who frequently ride bicycles will help the Traffic and Training Divisions with the presentation.”
– From the public statement

Beyond simply a dismissal of the citations, all the parties involved in the incident have signed a public statement. The statement was drafted with assistance from Officer Robert Pickett, who co-chairs the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and has also become a liaison on bike issues between the community and the Portland Police Bureau.

Signed onto the letter are Deputy City Attorney David Worboril, NE Precinct Commander James Ferraris, Acting Commander of the Traffic Division Bryan Parman, Officer James Pryce and riders Vyn and Welte.

Here’s an excerpt from the “Open Letter to the Community” (written on City Attorney letterhead, emphasis mine):

…While our goals of a stronger, safer community are common, approaches are sometimes different, and misunderstandings likely because we are all human — regardless of whether we wear a stretchy bicycle jersey or an itchy police uniform.

The traffic stop on Northeast Ainsworth Street involving members of the Portland State University Cycling Club and a member of the Portland Police Bureau elicited strong, human reactions from all sides. Our community’s law enforcement officers and bicycle riders can probably benefit from a discussion of these situations — from both perspectives.

The undersigned Club cyclists are dedicated to following the rules of the road. They appreciate the progress that has been made in clarifying and refining the City of Portland’s bike law enforcement policy but are concerned that not all police officers understand the City’s police and goals. They know that, when there is confusion in the minds of diligent bicyclists between what they understand to be City policy and what they are told by an officer who has stopped them, it can make the traffic stop an unnerving upsetting occasion. The cyclists ask for predictable and consistent enforcement of the rules of the road.

The Portland Police Bureau…acknowledges that some officers have not mastered all the biking laws and the City’s interpretation of them. There’s a particular risk among officers who are not assigned to full-time traffic enforcement. The Police Bureau will address this problem by producing a training video for all patrol officers and hopes members of our community who frequently ride bicycles will help the Traffic and Training Divisions with the presentation.

The statement goes on to share the perspective of officers at a traffic stop and how they expect people will “express themselves” at traffic stops but asks that, “citizens cooperate with officer’s efforts to manage these scenes and keep them safe”.

Download the two-page statement here (PDF)

Deputy City Attorney David Worboril told me on the phone today that this settlement was reached because “we decided it was in the best interest of everyone involved.” Worboril also said that he’ll be managing the training effort and video creation project from here on out. A new bike law training video is expected to be completed and in use by spring. “Our hope is to have it ready and being played at roll call (a meeting before officers begin their shift) before the biking season is in full swing this summer.”

Stay tuned for further developments.

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Comments
  • Argentius January 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Glad to hear!

    It’s not all bad out there, folks.

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  • Paul Tay January 29, 2009 at 4:24 pm
  • tonyt January 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    A mixed bag. A training video may be a step forward, but it seems to me that yet again, a bully cop got off without a true investigation of his abuse of power.

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  • Paul Tay January 29, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    How to Outwit, OutSmart, and OutGame Outta-Control, Road-Ragin’ Motorists, WITHOUT Really Dying

    1) Make ‘em see ya.

    2) Make ‘em pass safely.

    3) Quit gutter-trollin’.

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  • Schrauf January 29, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Nice catch Paul. When I first clicked on the link I was expecting sarcasm, and a video of critical mass riders being clubbed… =) Maybe Portland could use or model the video you found.

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  • dan January 29, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I appreciate PPD’s efforts on this one, the letter was well worded with a progressive tone. They seem to be willing to view the situation from the cyclist’s eye, how unsettling it can be to deal with those officers that don’t know the rules themselves.

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  • Paul Tay January 29, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Critical Mass riders being clubbed? By who? Whatchooo talkin’ ’bout, suckaaaa?

    Tulsa motorists and cops HEART cyclists BIG time! Come on down, people!

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  • Loren January 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I hope we can see the video when it’s finished!

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  • Jeff TB January 29, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    TonyT,

    I agree.

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  • Coyote January 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    PoPo & a.O thanks for being part of the solution yet again!

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  • Paul Tay January 29, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Yo, tonyt, with kewl cops like Pryce to push the issue, who needs Sam Adams?

    In the grand scheme of court procedures, that letter was TOTALLY unnecessary.

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  • Paul Tay January 29, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    “regardless of whether we wear a stretchy bicycle jersey or an itchy police uniform.”

    WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT?! Who da WISE guy?

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  • just an ordinary joe January 29, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    at the end of the day, calmer heads prevailed. Nobody seemed to want to beat up on the other, figuratively or literaly. After the conflict occured, SOMEBODY.. ( thank you!) had the sense to find resolution and dialog, rather than making this a Lars Larson exercise.

    Thank you to all parties for exercising maturity and responsibility. Now..if we can use this model in the future…

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  • John January 29, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Right on. I think this is the group I tagged along with the same day: they knew what they were doing, and weren’t grinding any axes out in the street.

    But-

    OTOH… I think this event has as much to say for Ainsworth as a bikeable route as it does for the police response. Ainsworth needs serious attention.

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  • Ashley January 29, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Kudos to Vyn, Peter, Officer Pickett, Heaps, etc. I was not expecting an outcome like this. Thanks for all your hard work, these actions will benefit the whole community.

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  • cmyers January 29, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    I think this outcome has some positive and not so positive results. But this part really hits a nerve with me:

    The Portland Police Bureau…acknowledges that some officers have not mastered all the biking laws and the City’s interpretation of them.

    Aren’t police officers supposed to uphold the law? Doesn’t it makes sense that if we pay someone to uphold the law that there is an expectation that they actually know the law? And if they don’t 100% know a particular law, should they not refer to someone for assistance prior to writing a ticket?

    I think that this officer clearly let his ego get in the way of his job. He wrote a ticket because his ego was bruised after getting “called out” by some bike riders. If those riders had been breaking the law he should have pulled them over PRIOR to passing them in his car. Would he have passed by a speeding motorist and then pulled the car over? Of course not!

    O.k. sorry for the rant. For some reason this issue triggers me a bit. Bottom line is that the officer acted inappropriatley and it sounds like he won’t be held responsible for his actions.

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  • Donna January 29, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    That San Francisco PD training video is pretty good. It would be nice to see one for Portland.

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  • Hanmade January 29, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Next’ let’s get a training video for motorists, with a test before they can get or renew their license!

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  • r January 29, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    can someone please document the “roll call” meeting where the officers laugh off the bicycle related training video?

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  • Matthew Denton January 29, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    cmyers #16
    You are absolutely right. In our justice system, your guilt or innocence has very little to do with whether or not you actually committing a crime, but how the police feel about you, and if you can get a good lawyer…

    If the people hadn’t been white, upstanding citzens that felt confident enough to fight this through the proper channels, and a.O. hadn’t represented them, they would have ended up with a ticket, and we all know it. The fact that this case even ended up this well is remarkable, given how it started.

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  • tonyt January 29, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Let’s see. Cops are human. Cops are an insular group. Humans are fallible. Insular groups protect themselves.

    Not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, but this is a perfect example of so much that is wrong with the PPB.

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  • tonyt January 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Oh yeah, I’m also guessing that it’ll be only a matter of days before we have 9 cops on motorcycles camped out at a stop sign (where there’s never been a collision) giving $240 tickets to cyclists for rolling it. Just to make sure we know who’s boss.

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  • Michelle January 29, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I think this is a very good positive outcome – nice work Heaps, PSU cyclists, City Attorneys and PPD!

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  • Mike January 29, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    So is the city paying the lawyer’s legal fees? Or was this pro bono?

    And I agree with people saying that the officer got off too easily. I’d like him to make a public apology.

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  • JL January 30, 2009 at 4:19 am

    PPD = Tools I paid for but can’t use.

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  • joe January 30, 2009 at 6:35 am

    why is the ppb so reluctant to say that one of their members made a mistake or acted badly?

    also, we do not expect the police to know the laws? if this is the case, how can a “regular” driver be expected to know that passing a cyclist this closely is wrong?

    the last part of the letter about how difficult traffic stops are seems to completely ignore the fact that this stop was illegal to begin with.

    while this incident was a small one, it highlights many of the problems we see with ppb:
    more PR response than any actual changes.
    refusal to admir responsibility when an officer is wrong.
    leadership that accepts and condones poor behavior on the officers’s part.

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  • a.O January 30, 2009 at 7:06 am

    I’d like to comment a little further on a few specific things:

    First, we should not overlook the significance of the City and the PPB acknowledging that all of its officers “have not mastered all the biking laws.” This is a very positive step and it shows that these folks are willing to engage constructively to get where they need to be.

    We should help them. Let’s get involved with the Bicycle Advisory Committee and start a more detailed dialogue about what our rights are on the road. That’s how we’re going to avoid a situation like this again.

    Second, there is no better example of people in the PPB committed to solving problems than Officer Pickett. He did a great job in his work drafting this statement and deserves credit for that. Maybe they’d be more friendly if their unis weren’t so itchy? I kid. I really like the touch of levity too.

    Third, I took this case pro bono publico, i.e., free of charge for my time. I did so because I think a city where people feel safe biking and walking is key to a livable community and to a sustainable future. I will continue to represent bicyclists and pedestrians like this when the need arises and my workload allows.

    Lastly, the primary barrier to more people riding bikes around town is the general public’s perception of safety. Unsafe passing by motorists is a common behavior that creates a real and unacceptable safety risk to bicyclists.

    The current rule applicable in most situations that motorists must give a “safe distance” is ambiguous and inadequate to protect the safety of cyclists. We need a better standard. Please join me in advocating for a City ordinance that sets a definite minimum distance for a safe and legal pass. This is a simple and concrete step that our (still) bike-friendly city government can take to improve conditions for bicyclists.

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  • buglas January 30, 2009 at 8:43 am

    In a view from out of town, I think this looks like a pretty big win. Vyn and Welte got their tickets dismissed, which I seem to remember was all they really asked. The city of Portland isn’t facing a potential liability for any wrongdoing or harassment. The cycling community will get a better trained police force and officers who don’t learn from the training video will have no excuse for future ignorance.

    Some are lamenting that Officer Pryce seems to be getting off easy. Remember that personnel issues are usually held in confidence. The police training video will not be free to produce. Officer Pryce’s actions are costing the city money. I suspect that will be noted.

    Big kudos to a.O for stepping up on this one. Also to Messiuers Vyn and Welte for standing up rather than folding under.

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  • buglas January 30, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Red face. Ok, it’s “Messieurs.” I ain’t so practiced with all that classy stuff.

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  • Paul Tay January 30, 2009 at 8:59 am

    a.O., ditto. Laws are supposed to be ambiguous. Everything from the tax code, social security disability, to traffic ordinances are subject to interpretation.

    That’s why a.O. and company get the big bucks. But, are traffic laws, in and of themselves, the REALproblem?

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  • Paul Tay January 30, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Buglas, #28, ditto. It’s a HUGE step forward. With nice guys like Pryce, who needs another lying Mayor?

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  • M January 30, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Another lawbreaking police officer escapes accountability!

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  • Paul Tay January 30, 2009 at 9:13 am

    M, #32: “Another lawbreaking police officer escapes accountability!”

    Oh, fo’ shure. Just like lying Mayors and Presidents. Gimme me sumthin’ new like violin-playing chimpanzes.

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  • Oh Word? January 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    So, is “training video” code for doughnut break?

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  • Jim January 30, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    “that the officer got off”

    He wasn’t the one with charges against him. The cyclist is the one who “got off”.

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  • Paul Tay February 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    #34, Oh Word, they’re serious. It’s in writing.

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  • Joe Rowe February 2, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    While driving his car this one officer broke laws followed by most cops.

    However, the same laws are violated by most car drivers: Not giving the full lane to cyclists ( 811.140 ) and reckless driving. ( 814.430(2) )

    The case is now dismissed, so let’s move on to this huge unanswered question:

    What will the police do about the majority of car drivers who put cyclists at risk in this same way?

    If we have 2 witnesses we should be able to call in the license plates of cars who put cyclists at risk and get them a ticket, or at least something on record for future hearings on the driver or that spot of roadway.

    Jonathan, please promote the B-Smart tool with a mention in more news stories. Please put a link on the right column.

    The cycling team never reported this close call.
    http://tinyurl.com/bikeportlandclosecalls

    other close call links
    http://tinyurl.com/pdxcopsqueeze
    http://bikeportland.org/closecall

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