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Bicycling cop, assault suspect sit down, agree to drop charges - UPDATED

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 7th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

"It was great for both of us; he's not in his steel/glass cocoon, I'm not on my bike... looking at this guy, it was therapeutic. You kind of humanize each other. He's looking at me as the guy he almost ran over and I'm looking at him as just a normal guy. Not a motorist, not a cyclist."
— Sgt. Joe Santos, PPB

Two weeks ago we reported on a case of alleged road rage involving a man on a bicycle in Northwest Portland. That man was off-duty police officer Sgt. Joe Santos. He was biking into work when he was nearly run over and then allegedly assaulted by Larry Fornshell. The PPB arrested Fornshell shortly thereafter for hit and run and attempted assault.

It seemed like the classic bike vs. car road rage incident; but this one just happened to involve a Portland Police officer on the bike-side of the equation. For that reason alone, the story spurred considerable discussion in the community (233 comments at last count).

Yesterday, Fornshell's son-in-law Gordon Neitling left a comment about the incident, saying that the two parties had met and that had both admitted some degree of fault. Neitling also referred to Sgt. Santos' conduct as being much more aggressive than the PPB let on. Here's a snip from his comment:

"So now Larry comes to a stop at the intersection, and Sgt. Santos, who is both scared and now angry, catches up with Larry, smack on his car to get his attention, lays his bike down in front of Larry's car, and aggressively approaches Larry in his car... Larry was caught completely off guard in that moment, and panicked.

Larry did NOT want to be involved in any confrontation, and had no idea what this bicyclist wanted from him. In panic mode, he made a rash decision to get out of there and get away from this cyclist, without first finding out what the deal was. Larry backed up, knowing that the cyclist had laid his bike down in the street in front of his car. He then turned and drove forward, trying to drive around the bike to leave the area, but actually hit the wheel of the Sgt. Santos' bike as he left the scene. Larry was so scared in that moment, he didn't even know he had hit the bike."

This morning I spoke Sgt. Santos on the phone to confirm if he'd actually met with Fornshell and if so, what happened at that meeting.

Sgt. Santos confirmed that he and Fornshell sat down for coffee last week (it was arranged by Fornshell's attorney). They talked for an hour about what had transpired. "He gave me a sincere and heartfelt apology," Santos told me today, "and I accepted and agreed to drop the charges. He agreed to pay for the bike he crunched and we called it good."

Sgt. Santos said he and Fornshell had similar accounts, but different perspectives about what happened.

"It meant a lot to me to sit across table form the guy and have him say I'm sorry. That was enough for me to have compassion for the guy and not drag him through ringer of the criminal and civil justice system... He's not a bad guy... He's a nice guy who made a mistake."

Sgt. Santos said meeting Fornshell face-to-face was the key:

"... It was great for both of us; he's not in his steel/glass cocoon, I'm not on my bike... looking at this guy, it was therapeutic. You kind of humanize each other. He's looking at me as the guy he almost ran over and I'm looking at him as just a normal guy. Not a motorist, not a cyclist, just looking at each other as two people coming to a resolution that doesn't involve the legal system."

Friends of Sgt. Santos' urged him to sue Fornshell, but Santos says he had no interest in that approach.

"As a cop, and especially as a cyclist, you're just looking for people to comply with the law; and I'm certain he'll never make that mistake again and he'll think twice about it in the future."

I asked Sgt. Santos whether he felt the community was right to complain about the relatively swift justice the PPB brought to this case, compared to similar situations when the person on the bike isn't a police officer.

"Each case has to be taken on its merits," Sgt. Santos said, after reading some of the BikePortland comments, "In my case, I had my bike run over and I had two witnesses." Sgt. Santos also acknowledged that being a police officer definitely sped up the process.

"With a normal cyclist [not a cop], a report is taken, the officer writes the report, then it goes to the assault team, it can take two days to a week for the report to go through the system... My case spread quicker. I don't think it was by any design, it was by nature of the fact that I'm a police officer. It [the report] got to the assault sargeant quickly... Being a cop has very few advantages, I would certainly hope that if I fall victim to a crime that I could have my case investigated as thoroughly as anybody."

I'm not that interested in figuring out exactly what happened in this incident (I still find it fascinating, however, how much different this case was framed in the local media than others involving non-cop bike riders). What's more important is that judging from both Sgt. Santos' and Neitling's accounts, it seems everything has been resolved. This proves once again that — while far from fool-proof — it's amazing what a bit of face-to-face dialogue can do.

UPDATE, 4/9:
The attorney for Larry Fornshell, James J. McIntyre, just issued this statement to the media (note the reference to BikePortland.org in the last paragraph):

On March 22, 2011, Larry Fornshell and Joseph Santos, an off duty Portland Police employee were involved in a traffic incident that resulted in damage to Joe Santos’ personal bicycle.

Larry Fornshell and Joe Santos have agreed that this matter was an accident that resulted in damage to Joe Santos’ personal bicycle. Larry Fornshell has agreed to reimburse Joe Santos for the cost of his bicycle as he acknowledges that he damaged the bicycle.

Both Larry Fornshell and Joe Santos agree that they honestly reported these events as they both perceived them at the time of the incident.

However, after a closer evaluation of the events and a lengthy discussion between Larry Fornshell and Joe Santos it is apparent to Joe Santos that, although it may have been a dangerous situation as it developed, there was no intent on Larry Fornshell’s part to harm him.

Many other individuals who were not present and are not associated with the case or the investigation have expressed their opinions of what occurred. Neither Larry Fornshell nor Joe Santos agree or adopt their opinions.

Specifically, many of the opinions and summaries of what may have occurred as stated on bikeportland.org are not accurate and not supported by either of the gentlemen who were directly involved in the incident.

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Comments
  • Dave April 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    ...and what the two people being face to face in the first place could potentially have prevented (de-humanizing aspects of being in large cars, tinted windows, etc)

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    • Chris I April 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      Amen.

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  • 9watts April 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    "Sgt. Santos also acknowledged that being a police officer definitely sped up the process."

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  • Jim April 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Yep. Perhaps Sgt. Santos didn't identify himself as a cop. We'll never know.

    But I do know sitting across from the person who intentionally tried to hit me (real story) would only want me to press charges.

    Wait, not even possible because I'm not a cop.

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  • Duncan Watson April 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Personally I feel this resolution is disappointing. Getting a case on record where the cyclist isn't subject to the death penalty by frontier justice for smacking a car hood would have been nice. Currently the environment for non-police cyclists who smack the hood of a car is they deserved whatever happened afterword.

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  • dan April 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Sounds like both parties acted maturely, at least in the end. Kudos for that. I would never have the brass to lay down my bike in front of an aggressive motorist, because my first assumption would be that they would drive over it. The fact that Fornshell went out of his way to (try to) drive around the bike on the ground suggests he really was not intentionally driving aggressively.

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  • 9watts April 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Santos' swagger is palpable in every paragraph. He's in charge of the situation by virtue of his employer, and he knows it. The fact that he was on a bike strikes me as incidental. I think what we see here is the power of the office on display.
    The slapping the hood part never comes up (like the rest of us would ever be so lucky). Ha.

    "Being a cop has very few advantages, I would certainly hope that if I fall victim to a crime that I could have my case investigated as thoroughly as anybody"
    I think this shows how far Santos's notion of justice is from those who posted in the comments in the first discussion of this incident. 'As thoroughly as anybody' - I thought what emerged was a pattern of the police failing, by and large, to follow up reports of such incidents when filed by non-cops.

    Oh, and what about Fornshell's police report, the one he filed?

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    • wsbob April 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm

      "... He's in charge of the situation by virtue of his employer, and he knows it. The fact that he was on a bike strikes me as incidental. I think what we see here is the power of the office on display. ..." 9watts

      The power, in addition to the training and experience of the officer was of course brought to fore by the officer in handling this incident. What did you expect him to do? Go all weak in the knees, and allow himself as a cyclist, to be further abused and intimidated by Fornshell, because Santos didn't yet have his cop uniform on?

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  • mmann April 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    It's called "breaking bread" together. Real wars could be prevented by practicing what Officer Santos and Mr. Fornshell were ultimately willing to do. I applaud the example both set in how they resolved this.

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  • Joe April 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    re: "In my case, I had my bike run over and I had two witnesses."

    Two years ago, at least a half dozen witnesses saw a pissed off motorist jump out his car and start swinging punches at me on my bike because he thought I was slowing traffic on a four-lane boulevard marked with bike route signs. Two guys from a restaurant pushed him off, others called the Portland Police, gave the officer the car's plate number, etc. But it prompted no action on the part of the police. The officer said it was up to me to pester the district attorney's office if I really wanted any action. When I asked the officer if I should have just kicked the guy's ass, she said I'd risk arrest in a "mutual combat kind of thing." So, being a police officer/cyclist doesn't just "speed things up." If you're not a cop, the police may not do anything to apprehend a violent road-rager.

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  • Bjorn April 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Seems like gordon's previous account that they agreed they were both at fault was pretty generous. They keep saying the car hit the wheel but since both stories say that the driver will be replacing the entire bike it seems like more than the wheel was hit. I don't hear a lot of admitting to fault here by the sergeant, which leads me to question gordon's account even more. I guess the victim got more from this than most of us would though, as typically even getting a damaged bike replaced can be quite difficult. I would agree with the sergeant though that witnesses are key. Whenever you get hit by a car try to find someone who saw it and get them to stay so you can get contact info, otherwise it is just your word against the drivers, and if you aren't a cop that isn't going to get you very far.

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    • wsbob April 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      Santos, in his remarks to bikeportland's Maus, sounds very confident in his position regarding Fornshell's actions towards Santos on his bike. Sounds like Santos was fully prepared to take the case forward if he hadn't received an apology. Maybe though, after hearing Fornshell talk, Santos didn't got to thinking he didn't have a solid enough case to get the assault charge to stick. At any rate, it seems that Fornshell, (in addition to Santos in avoiding getting run over.) ...got lucky.

      I'd still like to the hear an explanation from either Fornshell or Santos, as to why Fornshell's vehicle came as close as it reportedly did, to Santos on his bike.

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  • peejay April 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Whatever happened was not justice. There was no precedent, no deterrent, no example of procedure to follow if this happens to anybody else. The rights of citizens are abrogated if they happen to be occupying car territory, and no amount of sit-downs will make this better.

    I am NOT a fan of vigilante justice, but you had better be prepared for disappointment if you rely on the police or the courts to right a wrong that happens to you on the street.

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    • Jim April 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      What's more there's no public statement of culpability by either party. Spell it out, let the public know so it knows how to act accordingly before the next incident occurs.

      That's what we teach our kids, to learn from their mistakes.

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      • jeff April 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm

        do you not think both parties learned a lesson? why does there have to be a public statement to make you happy? what good would that do?

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        • Jim April 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm

          Let the PUBLIC know so the POPULACE can behave better in the future.

          Wow, such a pissed-off tone.

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  • A.K. April 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Of course cops are going to look out for each other! Anyone who thinks otherwise is silly, and it's even more silly that Sgt. Santos is trying to tell us otherwise. I think most cops are great people, but just overworked (we clearly need more and don't have the budget for it) so of course reports from normal folks are going to be overlooked on an alarmingly-regular basis.

    The thing I hate is the causal nature that surrounds most car/bike interactions, given that it is so easy for the cyclist to wind up dead. These need to be taken more seriously, and I don't begrudge a cyclist that slaps a car out of concern of not being seen and ran over - I'd rather face an irate car driver and be alive then be dead on the side of the road.

    And what's with car drivers being so scared all the time? You always hear about drivers being "scared" when confronted by a cyclist. Excuse me, but you're the one in the 4,000 lb metal and glass cage, I'm on my bike. Who has the power in the equation?

    The last time I was hit (after stopping at a 4-way and waiting my turn, a lady still decided to "drive through me" and hit my rear wheel) I pulled out my best Cavendish impression and sprinted after the lady, who rather than stop when I yelled at her decided to break the speed limit to get away from the scary guy in lycra. Cowards, the lot of them. God this topic gets my blood boiling. I wish swift karma upon anyone who hits and runs from anyone else.

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    • Jim April 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      Yes, the woman who hit me told the cops she was "protecting her baby."

      Huh?

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  • Jim April 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Jonathan--I'm hitting Reply to individual posts but the Machine spits me back to replying to the story.

    FYI.

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  • Jim April 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    wsbob
    "... He's in charge of the situation by virtue of his employer, and he knows it. The fact that he was on a bike strikes me as incidental. I think what we see here is the power of the office on display. ..." 9watts
    The power, in addition to the training and experience of the officer was of course brought to fore by the officer in handling this incident. What did you expect him to do? Go all weak in the knees, and allow himself as a cyclist, to be further abused and intimidated by Fornshell, because Santos didn't yet have his cop uniform on?

    He could act as a citizen of Portland, rather than a cop who is a bit big for his britches.

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    • wsbob April 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      "He could act as a citizen of Portland ..." Jim

      I think that's exactly what he did do, rather than flashing his police I.D. while in his civvies to take shelter under the authority of his police department credentials. You apparently don't think so, but you didn't bother to detail how you think a citizen of Portland would have handled the situation. Explain what you mean by "... bit big for his britches.".

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      • 9watts April 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm

        wsbob,

        you misunderstood what I said earlier. I was referring to Santos' in the interview with Jonathan--describing how he extracted an apology from Fornshell, and graciously decided to let him off with a warning.... I was not referring to anything that happened on the street between the two.

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        • wsbob April 7, 2011 at 11:54 pm

          Okay...9watts, thanks. I don't think I did realize your remarks in your comment:

          http://bikeportland.org/2011/04/07/bicycling-off-duty-cop-assault-suspect-sit-down-agree-to-drop-charges-51004#comment-1783430

          were intended to be limited to the face to face with the lawyer present, rather than both that one, and during the course of the incident itself.

          Still, I tend to feel my response to your comment still applies. Once the driver and cyclist sat down to talk, wasn't the cyclist, who as it turns out, is also a cop...obliged to rely on his training and experience as a police officer to evaluate and consider driver Fornshell's presentation of his side of the incident, and his offer of apology? Maus's story indicates he did exactly that, in addition to, according to Santos's remarks, also finding it his responsibility to evaluate and consider Fornshell's actions from the point of a non-police officer road user.

          Most likely, this incident, the personalities of the two people involved, and the specific character of what transpired between the two people when face to face at the scene, is considerably more complex than what we've been able to learn from reports here at bikeportland. Because it's likely so complex, were possibly not going to ever hear those things described in exacting detail.

          I've never met either of the two people. For all I know, Santos could be an authoritarian jerk, though he certainly doesn't sound that way in his remarks to this story. He sounds in those remarks, like he should be: sure of what he did...which I think is good...as long as they're supported by his having done the right things at the scene.

          Maybe the two both had legitimate reasons for doing what they did, and face to face at the time the lawyer was present, they both came to realize this to be the situation.

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          • 9watts April 8, 2011 at 11:13 am

            My point is simple: Santos comes across as fully in charge of the situation, the meeting, the outcome. Not only that, his characterization of the events has a swagger to it. Given that none of us regular folk on bikes who might have had an encounter on the street like his with Fornshell could dream of landing in a mediation room and calling the shots, I thought it worth calling attention to the way power is involved in getting to the 'resolution' we've been privy to here. Fornshell, notwithstanding his being inside a car, becomes the worm, and finds (it appears) his police report ignored, similar to how several folks on bikes who've written in were treated.

            We've learned that Santos-on-a-bike wields the kind of asymmetric authority that most car drivers in similar situations appear to (when no cop is involved). I find it fascinating to see this play out, and also very troubling. As I noted in a comment on the first report of this incident (3/23):
            "It would be good to keep track of the details here, of how the case unfolds, what the fines or other outcomes are, and then compare these to similar cases where the cyclist isn't a cop, with all the power that comes with that office. If there end up being any glaring discrepancies, I'd hope this could be brought to the attention of the PPB and that they would offer an explanation, or better yet a plan for how to take what they've learned from this case and apply it more broadly to less well-positioned cyclists who also find themselves in the unfortunate position described here."

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      • Jim April 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm

        You seem to think his police training took over, which looks like it did. A bit more self-regulation and knowing his role in society at that point might have defused the matter there and then.

        As I stated above he needs to identify himself to the public as a police officer at that point. He had a chance to get his badge after he got strafed and flash it, but chose to bang on the hood.

        Me as a cop? I would have flashed it, pulled him over, gave him a stern lecture, heard his side and act accordingly from there.

        The story is messed up because he chose at some arbitrary point to change from citizen to cop. In the meantime the car driver might not have known what he did and it looks like a lunatic is coming after him.

        Not saying the driver is absolved of responsibility, but the onus is on the cop to do the right thing at that point.

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        • wsbob April 8, 2011 at 12:11 am

          You've got good points. They may or may not though, be valid, applied to how this particular incident transpired, because we don't know all the details. Sure...Farnshell might for some reason, thought Santos was a raving lunatic. What about Santos's perception of Farnshell, based on Farnshell's actions on the road, towards Santos?

          Santos may have taken the actions he did...throwing the bike down in front of the vehicle, slapping the vehicle...because of what he had just experienced from Farnshell, giving him reason to feel he had to abruptly get Farnshell's attention, and proceed to learn what was up with his driving. Do we even know that Santos didn't think to, or at some point, decided not to show his I.D. to Farnshell? i don't think we do.

          At any rate, as maus said..once sittting down together away from the incident itself, the two apparently were able to satisfactorily answer questions left hanging and avoid a drawn out, contentious, expensive court process. As long as each of the two guys are fit to be on the road, that works for me.

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          • Jim April 8, 2011 at 11:49 am

            The person with the most training in this kind of situation is the person who should take control of it. Turns out they both kind of freaked.

            It's clear these two learned something from the incident. "When I was a kid" every event, large and small, was seen as an abject lesson to learn from.

            What concerns me is not so much these guys understand each other, but that their experience can be extrapolated so we all know what to do better in the future.

            True story: when the cops arrived after I was intentionally hit they asked for our stories. Knowing the way the law is I didn't expect any action but I asked the cop, "What did you say to her--did you ask her if she swerved into me on purpose?" No was the answer. When asked why not he responded his duty is to keep the peace and asked me what would I have him do. I told him he could lecture her on bicyclists' rights (I was in the bike lane), caution her on using her suv as a weapon and if she had admitted to swerving she could be going to jail. His tone immediately changed, his body relaxed and was thoughtfully nodding.

            The cop's role, as I see it, is to mete out common sense when necessary.

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  • Opus the Poet April 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I wish I could have had a sit-down with the guy that hit me, but he continued to drink and drive and I didn't find out who he was until after he died in a drunk driving wreck into an immovable object (I was told he hit a very big tree, which is ironic as that was in inverse to what he claimed happened to the borrowed vehicle the night he hit me, he said a tree fell on it).

    Well actually I would have liked to have a sit-down after he recovered from my kicking his testicles out his nose. Being crippled and left for dead has a negative effect on your personality. I still want to know why he hated people riding on bicycles so much that he pulled a u-turn at 1 AM to hit one on the other side of the street...

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  • kww April 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    methinks they had a beer with Obama

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  • Jim April 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    wsbob
    "He could act as a citizen of Portland ..." Jim
    I think that's exactly what he did do, rather than flashing his police I.D. while in his civvies to take shelter under the authority of his police department credentials. You apparently don't think so, but you didn't bother to detail how you think a citizen of Portland would have handled the situation. Explain what you mean by "... bit big for his britches.".

    You seem to think his police training took over, which looks like it did. A bit more self-regulation and knowing his role in society at that point might have defused the matter there and then.

    As I stated above he needs to identify himself to the public as a police officer at that point. He had a chance to get his badge after he got strafed and flash it, but chose to bang on the hood.

    Me as a cop? I would have flashed it, pulled him over, gave him a stern lecture, heard his side and act accordingly from there.

    The story is messed up because he chose at some arbitrary point to change from citizen to cop. In the meantime the car driver might not have known what he did and it looks like a lunatic is coming after him.

    Not saying the driver is absolved of responsibility, but the onus is on the cop to do the right thing at that point.

    Sheesh I can't get the hang of this format.

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  • Paul Tay April 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Lesson Learned #1: NEVER lay bike down in FRONT of cagjaaaa. When engaging in battle with opponent with bigger stick, defense is the more inspired offense.

    Lesson Learned #2: NEVER hit the cage. The more inspired offense is the merciless taunt.

    Lesson Learned #3: NEVER get close enough to cagjaaa to make actual physical contact. Put traffic between you and cagjaaaa, before taunting him mercilessly.

    A cagjaaa scared like that, a gun might have been involved.

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  • DG April 7, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    So Satnos comes across as totally forgiving and magnanimous. I want to know, did he apologize to Fornshell?

    As for the posters who said "And what's with car drivers being so scared all the time? You always hear about drivers being "scared" when confronted by a cyclist. . . . The answer is, you never know who has a gun on them. Fornshell is 68 years old . . . what, he's supposed to open his door and get out and chat with an angry man who is hitting his car with his fists and laying down his bike on the road to pin him in? Um, no . . . you get out of there!

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    • wsbob April 9, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Never was there any indication or report that Santos used his fist on Fornshell's vehicle.

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  • Ted Buehler April 8, 2011 at 2:17 am

    Lesson learned -- we need to encourage cops to commute by bike.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Barry April 8, 2011 at 7:03 am

    That's great. So, the end result is letting an aggressive and dangerous driver off the hook and back behind the wheel; or an aggro and apparently dishonest (by his own two accounts of the event) officer back to work--neither with any reprimand...

    If it went down the way Santos originally described, charges should be pressed. Someone who cannot control such a temperament shouldn't drive.

    If we're to believe Santos's second account, he's acted in a threatening manner toward a citizen and lied in a police report. What would the consequences be if he were merely a citizen as well?

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    • JE April 8, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Agreed

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    • wsbob April 9, 2011 at 11:05 am

      "...apparently dishonest (by his own two accounts of the event) officer ..." Barry

      It's your conclusion that Santos is dishonest by "... his own two accounts ..."? Go ahead and provide in a comment to this thread, relevant excerpts from those accounts that you seem to be implying you have read.

      If the cop was dishonest relative to this incident, and you believe you've winnowed out some truth that you think people should know about, show us.

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  • Aaronf April 8, 2011 at 8:01 am

    There isn't enough speculation in this comment section!  My turn:

    Fornshell didn't see Santos, and drove way too close to him while passing him initially.  Some folks here seem to find it implausible that someone could not notice a cyclist on the side of the road, but I believe this is possible.  He was driving to work, and maybe he had a sort of mental tunnel vision. 

    Then Santos, angry and scared, decided he had to catch up with Fornshell so he could yell at him.  When Santos had almost caught up to Fornshell, the truck unexpectedly slowed down and Santos made his evasive maneuver/truck slapping move. 

    Now, if Fornshell had known that he had buzzed the cyclist, it seems like he would already be planning his exit at this point, but he wasn't.  He was totally surprised. 

    In the original story Santos claimed that at this point he "jumped off of his bike and ran with his bike to the sidewalk. Fornshell then hit Santos' bike as he was holding onto it."  Now, if Fornshell was just trying to get away, and Santos had really gotten up on the sidewalk, it seems like Fornshell would have just driven away, right? 

    It seems more likely that Santos put his bike in front of Fornshell's car and then approached him to give him a stern lecture/scream at him.  Fornshell panicked and drove away, over at least part of Santos' bike.

    It seems like either A) Fornshell is a malicious monster who is also terribly inept, or B) Fornshell is an inattentive driver, and when Santos tried to chase him down and yell at him for being inattentive he overreacted to the point that he scared Fornshell enough to make him panic.

    Personally, if someone buzzes right past me I don't assume that they saw me and did it deliberately, I am a bit more understanding and less hostile in my approach than Santos was.  Of course, I'm not a PPB guy, and I don't have the latitude in a confrontation that they seem to enjoy.  Imagine if you got red-faced angry every time someone is focused on making their right turn while you prepare to cross the street.  Do you run in front of the car and block them in and scream at them?  Personally, I accept that people focus on what they are thinking about at the time, people aren't perfect, and accidents really do happen sometimes.  So I'm more charitable in my approach I guess.

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    • wsbob April 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

      Descriptions of his driving on that day, suggest that to observers, Santos being one of them, driver Fornshell's actions with his vehicle were particularly dangerous. As a citizen and a cop, directly affected by Fornshell's actions, Santos had more than an average citizen's obligation to approach Fornshell to make some determination as to whether Fornshell, was fit to drive.

      Was there something medically wrong with Fornshell that caused him to drive the way he did? Was he DUI? Was he just groggy from waking up? Just absent minded? I suppose some people are happy to think Santos should have just sucked it up, not have confronted him directly, and let Fornshell go on his merry way. Santos could have blown the incident off, because he had a standard excuse at hand...'Heck with that...I got to get to work.'.

      Instead, he took personal time out of his day to confront an example of driving behavior that from what he observed, may well have posed imminent danger to other road users down the road.

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    • James Crawford April 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      This is the point people fir get. It was 6 am when this incident occurred. It was still dark and probably rainy. A car driven at average speed on the section of Cornelle travels about 80 feet per second. Normal perception, decision reaction time us two seconds or 160 feet. Unless Santos had a good tail light as is legally required, Fornshell could easily not see him in time to move over. This would be particularly true if his vision was affected by the glare of the headlights from an oncoming car.

      As for Santos giving chase to confront the driver, this is classic road rage behavior! As an off duty cop he should have taken a license number then called. 911. By persueing and agrilly confronting the other driver, he created a situation where he was the aggressor. Any citizen would have felt threatened, even if he had displayed a badge.

      Keep in mind that I've driven everything from a 25 pound bike to a three ton SUV to a 40 ton semi truck. I never, ever try to peruse some one to confront them. Just smiling and waving with all five fingers is the best way to avoid a confrontation and modify behavior. I thought all you bike people were peacenijs who understood nonviolence.

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      • wsbob April 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm

        "... As for Santos giving chase to confront the driver, this is classic road rage behavior! ..." James Crawford

        How do you figure? It's Santos that got squeezed by Fornshell, not vice-versa. It's Fornshell that for some reason, abruptly stopped, short of the intersection in front of Santos, causing Santos on the bike to make an emergency stop. Having personally experienced and observed this display of driving from Fornshell, now Santos, on his way to work....as a cop, has got to be asking himself 'What the heck is going on with that driver?'.

        You're really suggesting Santos, rather than pursuing Fornshell's vehicle and confronting Fornshell directly, should have just wrote down the vehicle number and let Fornshell....(who by his display of driving, indicated he could have had any number of things wrong with him that may have been interfering with his ability to drive safely.)...drive away?

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  • jeff April 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

    oh ain't speculation fun to write on open internet forums? there are so many 'truths' here I'm getting dizzy.

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  • Mark Hashizume April 8, 2011 at 10:16 am

    This incident highlighted two things for me:
    1. Most bicyclists feel that they do not get justice from the police and it takes being a cop in order for that to happen.

    2. It is better to talk face-to-face when the emotions are cooler to know that the other person is human.

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  • Andrew Holtz April 8, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Lots to talk about here... but just want to highlight one aspect, the difference it makes when we look past the "cyclist" & "motorist" labels and instead consider matters from the perspectives of a person on a bicycle and person using a car. It won't make all the conflicts go away, but it can make it easier to make progress.

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  • Fronk April 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Slapping a car, other than as an emergency effort to let someone know you are there, is NEVER a good idea. A cop should know that. It doesn't help the cyclist, and it doesn't diffuse the situation. The driver does not "learn a lesson". Absolutely nothing is accomplished. I was visiting DC once and a pedestrian slapped a car for driving through a crosswalk. Was the pedestrian right to be angry? Sure. Did he he get pummeled by the cars occupants for slapping it? Why yes, yes he did. The car slap invokes a fight or flight response in the driver. Neither is good for the cyclist since "flight" might include over your bicycle, as happened here.

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  • Bob April 8, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    It would be nice if Officer Santos would do some seminars with his fellow officers explaining:

    1) how terrifying it is for a cyclist to nearly killed by a "too close" car.

    2) how even a trained officer, experienced in stressful situations, might hit a life-threatening car with his hand to warn the car that it's too close and that, therefore, arresting the average untrained cyclist for assault is never appropriate.

    3) that any automobile driver that causes damage to a bike with a car is, prima facie, the aggressor and should be held accountable.

    4) when the driver, face to face, apologizes to the bike rider, than charges, if unfair, could be dropped.

    Charging the bike rider and not the car driver NEVER allows for a fair and just resolution.

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  • Kristen April 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Bob, that's a great idea. Maybe include video footage of the average cyclist riding in urban and suburban traffic to illustrate the point.

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  • Opus the Poet April 11, 2011 at 8:03 am

    The reason so many here are ready to believe Santos' version of the story is so many of us have experienced their own version that was almost or exactly identical to what he said except of make and model of vehicle. And some have gone through much worse and gotten nothing from LEO in regards to the matter.

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  • Michaelk42 April 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    "It meant a lot to me to sit across table form the guy and have him say I'm sorry. That was enough for me to have compassion for the guy and not drag him through ringer of the criminal and civil justice system..."

    Or, at least not any more so than he already has.

    As I've stated before, it's interesting regular cyclists who *aren't* cops who have things like this happen to them don't have this sort of power. Or people tirelessly making apologies for when this disparity becomes this glaringly apparent.

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    • wsbob April 13, 2011 at 12:42 am

      What power? "...apologies..." ; Of course you're referring to my comments (and yours.), deleted by maus, pointing out that you decline to prove your claim that Santos was road raging, where there's absolutely no indication he was.

      There were witnesses to the incident. Are they saying Santos was road raging? If they were, isn't there a good chance Fornshell be suing Santos? What's Fornshell's impression of Santos? Is he saying Santos was road raging? Not that we've heard.

      The cop had the power to hear this guy out and have a role in not following through with the citation, because he's a first person witness, and a police officer, sworn to uphold the law. Unless they want to become sworn police officers, ordinary citizens aren't going to be extended the same trust from the court.

      The courts trust that a sworn police officer can be relied upon for a higher standard of truthfulness than can be expected of random citizens.

      During the course of this incident, if Santos violated his code of responsibility to conduct himself as a decent citizen, and to also tell the truth and uphold the law as a police officer (which is kind of inseparable from his like as a citizen, once he's sworn.), he certainly deserves justice and penalties accordingly. So far, no one has shown that he did violate the law. Show proof he did violate the law, and the story could be different.

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      • Michaelk42 April 13, 2011 at 5:02 am

        (Once again) I never made any such claim. I have not said one word about road rage on *either* party's part. You're engaging in a logical fallacy; you can't attack my position, so you associate me with someone else who you think you can attach to my position (criticizing police would be the thing in common) and attack that position. It's not what I said, but it looks related enough that you think you can get away with it.

        Fornshell didn't meet with Santos because Santos was a cyclist. He met with Santos on his lawyer's advice, because as a cop, Santos had the pull to get the charges dropped.

        "The courts trust that a sworn police officer can be relied upon for a higher standard of truthfulness than can be expected of random citizens."

        The courts often do give more weight to officer than citizen testimony. This isn't, however, proof that officers don't lie or are actually more reliable witnesses than anyone else. All you're doing here is reinforcing my point that the officer has more power than the citizen in this situation. Certainly more power than any other cyclist in this situation, which judging by other experiences related here is borne out by history.

        But never mind that, you're trying to infer that I'm accusing Santos of violating the law in the original incident, which I never did. Are you going to try and make the case that any cyclist has as much privilege in this situation as a cop? Or are you just going to keep having Maus delete comments where you lose the argument?

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