Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Phil Sano found guilty for traffic violations in taser incident

Posted by on September 3rd, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Photo from the scene on June 10th, 2008.
(Photo: Ian Stude)

Phil Sano was in court today to fight two traffic violations related to an incident that occurred back on June 10th. Also in the courtroom to testify were both Portland Police officers involved in the incident; Ron Hoesly and Erin Smith.

The officers allege that Sano did not heed their commands to stop for a bike light violation. When Sano didn’t stop, Hoesly and Smith say he then resisted arrest which led to him being tackled and tasered repeatedly. The incident occurred near the corner of 7th and Alder in Southeast Portland. Sano was cited for Failure to Obey a Police Officer and for a bike equipment violation.

Sano says the Judge offered little sympathy today. He was found guilty of both violations and ordered to pay a fine of $285.

“This is a very emotional case for me, because I’ve never before been a victim of such pain and humilation.”
–Phil Sano

I spoke to Sano via telephone a few minutes ago and he said today’s court session was “terribly frustrating and disappointing.” Sano admits he did not have a bike light mounted on his bike at the time of the incident, but he contends that it was because someone had stolen his mount. He decided to ride without a front light because it was still twilight, and he had a long way home (he also told me he had a sore knee that would have made walking very difficult).

Sano also still maintains that he does not think Officer Smith properly identified himself prior to tackling him. Sano says he told the judge that he didn’t see a badge on any part of their uniforms. “But he [Officer Smith] said he did [have a badge on], so it was my word against his.” Sano recalled that he has previously been assaulted by random people who told him to stop while riding his bike.


Phil Sano

Today’s court session was only for the traffic violations. The criminal case related to the tasering (where Sano could be charged with resisting arrest) is still ongoing. Sano reported that one of his witnesses was subpoenaed today by the Grand Jury to testify in that case. I’ll keep you posted on any developments.

Portland Police spokesperson Brian Schmautz says he can’t comment on an open criminal case but he urged patience. Via telephone today he said, “Don’t judge the suspect or the officers at this point, let’s let the system work. The officers have a job to do and Mr. Sano will have his side heard at the appropriate time and place.”

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  • gabriel amadeus September 3, 2008 at 6:49 pm


    So he was found guilty of riding w/o a light and what was the other?

    Now if the criminal charges also succeed, I\’ll be disgusted.

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  • solid gold September 3, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    wow, a judge sides with a cop, what a surprise! police brutality wins again.

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  • polito September 3, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    A bad haircut is the only thing I can think of that Phil is guilty of.

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  • vanessa September 3, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    This is crazy talk! I remember walking down MLK years ago with my friends at night, we were walking home from our job, and some guy in a car says,\”hey\” and we ignore it and keep walking, and then he pulls into a driveway ahead of us and says,\” hey, im talking to you, why dont you stop?\” And we keep walking. It was a \”cop in an unmarked car, no uniform. He proceeds to get out and give us shit for walking down MLK, telling us all the horrible things that could happen to us, and that he wanted to take us to the morgue to show us. What the fuck is this HEY\” SHIT?
    Ever heard of saying loudly, \”This is the police, stop\”, before you say stop?
    I am not going to stop for anyone saying \”Hey stop\” ever..
    this is ridiculous. And tazering! For no bike light.
    out of control.

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  • matt picio September 3, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Right on, Vanessa – police officers need to clearly identify themselves as police.

    And tasering is NEVER an appropriate response when dealing with a fleeing suspect who is suspected of AN EQUIPMENT VIOLATION.

    \”Common sense\” has never been particularly common, but this is ridiculous.

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  • Chilly Willy September 3, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Q: What\’s it take to get by with murder?
    A: A badge

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) September 3, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    \”And tasering is NEVER an appropriate response when dealing with a fleeing suspect who is suspected of AN EQUIPMENT VIOLATION.\”

    I agree.. but my hunch is that from the officer\’s perspective the tasering had nothing to do with the equipment violation.

    They will say Sano was highly combative and would not submit to their authority after being told to do so. I think they will see the tasering as not being a response to his traffic infraction but being a response to a combative suspect who they felt was presenting them with a dangerous situation that left them with no choice but to do everything in their power to subdue him.

    at least that\’s what I suspect we will hear from them.

    i also suspect that if/when this becomes a criminal trial, we will see the bureau attempt to destroy Phil\’s character by bringing up his past run-ins with the police and painting him as something of a loose cannon.

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  • PoPo September 3, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Just to clarify, the \”Bureau\” does not prosecute cases, the District Attorney does. The DA will craft the argument he/she will use to attempt to convince a jury.

    I don\’t know for sure, but past behavior is often not allowed as evidence in trial for fear of tainting the jury.

    You are right that use of a taser has little to do with the nature of the violation, and lots to due with the perceived behavior of the subject being stopped.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) September 3, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    \”Just to clarify, the ”Bureau” does not prosecute cases, the District Attorney does. The DA will craft the argument he/she will use to attempt to convince a jury.\”

    I realize that PoPo.. I mis-wrote that. thanks for correcting my comment.

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  • Paul September 3, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    PoPo is right, past bad acts are not admissible, the case must stand on its own facts. Any hints to previous actions can through the case to a mistrial.

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  • Paul September 3, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Errata: throw.

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  • girl-shawn September 3, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    811.535. (1) A person commits the offense of failing to obey a police officer if the person refuses or fails to comply with any lawful order, signal or direction of a police officer who:
    (a) Is displaying the police officer\’s star or badge; and
    (b) Has lawful authority to direct, control or regulate traffic.

    I was at Phil\’s traffic court trial today, and while my stomach turned at many of the injustices I heard, the judge\’s reading of the law above was the cornerstone of his (the judge\’s) argument.

    Nowhere in this law is it stated that the police officer must verbally identify himself — he or she must simply display a badge. In Phil\’s case, it was probably close to impossible to see the badge in low light while passing on a bike.

    My feeling is that it\’s unethical to rip a rider off his/her bike in low light without very obviously identifying oneself as a police officer. In Phil\’s case, this would\’ve meant verbal identification.

    This is incredibly frustrating. Argh!!!

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  • a.O September 3, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Has anyone read Rule 404(4) of the Oregon Rules of Evidence?

    To attempt to rebut the comment, \”we will see the bureau attempt to destroy Phil\’s character by bringing up his past run-ins with the police\” with \”past bad acts are not admissible\” is either remarkably naive or simply an attempt to defend the Bureau to those ignorant of the law.

    It\’s not that simple. It rarely is in the law. The prosecutor will attempt to get any evidence introduced he or she thinks is reasonably likely to get in if it helps the prosecution. Go read the rule and you tell me if you think the past behavior will be inadmissible.

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  • Matthew Denton September 3, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    If it was impossible to see the police officer\’s badge because of the fact that it was dark, doesn\’t that mean Phil should have been using a light? And if he wasn\’t using a light, well, then wouldn\’t he be guilty of not having one?

    Not that I\’m justifying the tasering, but it seems pretty clear here that he needed a light, and given that he\’d gotten one from the police in the past, I can understand why they might have gone ahead and given him a ticket this time…

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  • joe September 3, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    either way, the costs of this case seem to far outweigh the absence of a light.

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  • Peter Noone September 3, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    #14 My 100% legal bike light would not illuminate a badge, police or otherwise, unless the badge, and hence the officer, was directly in front of the light, and hence standing in the street at a distance of ten or so feet from the front of my bicycle [idea: let\’s all experiment and figure out this distance]. This seems somewhat unlikely. I have nothing to say about whether or not Phil is guilty-as-charged, but I\’m fairly certain that your argument is bogus.

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  • ambrown September 3, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    While we\’ve all been guilty of that bike ride without a light or a helmet that we feel bad about but legitimize on practical terms, the thought that a police officer used a taser on a cyclist for this seems irrational. I know this got the BP boards all worked up when the story first broke, so I bet this point has been made before, but a cop could hardly legitimately (let alone physically) taser a motorist for not having their lights on, and a car involves a lot more safety concerns than a bicycle.

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  • Matthew Denton September 4, 2008 at 1:15 am

    #16: Well mine would. Seriously, the pavement is in bad enough shape that you really want something bright enough to locate the potholes. And I also want a good look at people before I ride too close by them at night, after all, you never know who might attack you…

    But you are missing my point. If it is too dark to see police officer badges, then it is probably dark enough that you need a light too. People like #3 who are claiming that he is completely innocent of everything, [including the light charge,] seem to be arguing that Phil is totally blind or something: The only way Phil can argue that he didn\’t know it was the police is if it was dark enough to not be able to tell, in which case, he needed a light…

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  • peejay September 4, 2008 at 1:24 am

    OK, I wrote and then deleted a rant about the thuggish origins of the modern American urban police departments, and the dangerous psychology of many who wear the badge, and the irrational deference paid to their members by our court system, but we all knew that here. So, never mind.

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  • peejay September 4, 2008 at 1:37 am

    And Matthew, you\’re chasing the wrong horse. In broad daylight, if someone rapidly approaches me from the side while I\’m operating my bicycle in traffic, they could be dressed as the King of France, complete with powdered wig, and I might not notice it. If they do so in a way that makes me feel threatened, I\’m going to take a few seconds to decide how to deal with the threat, and assimilate the data, not instantly come to a stop.

    I\’m sure you\’re not arguing that the correct approach to dealing with the safety risk of someone riding without a light is to knock that person to the ground and taser them, are you? But let\’s all focus on the crime of lightless riding, not on the brutality on display.

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  • Steven J September 4, 2008 at 2:46 am

    As someone that has himself been attacked while riding, I can say without a doubt that simply saying \”stop\” without identifying themselves, would not cause me to stop.
    A verbal disclosure followed by a badge flash would. I also would check my surroundings before doing so.
    I have the Emergency records to back up my behavior.
    That being said, With proper ID, I would indeed stop.
    The taser use is up to a judge or jury to decide IMO.
    The equipment violation could have been a warning, with explanation Phil gave initially.
    This is not just about the DA\’s discretion..It\’s about the officers judgment as well. The backing up of their actions which caused harm to a civilian.
    If we as a society are going to demand justice for the biking community.IE..the spanking we get by drivers in vehicles at times, We need to accept the responsibility\’s for riding that way.

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  • heather andrews September 4, 2008 at 7:47 am

    Agreed, Steven J. There are lots of situations where I actively ignore someone who is vying for my attention on the street, or someone in a car who has slowed down and yelled \”hey\” at me–both on my bike and on foot. Given past posts about the safety concerns of women cyclists, I imagine that I\’m not the only one.

    And what if the police were to try this business on a deaf or hard of hearing bicyclist? Oy.

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  • Robin September 4, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Ditto #22!

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  • KT September 4, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Also ditto, #22!

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  • Ashley September 4, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Ditto on #22- being a female cyclist, and hearing impaired- I would not have stopped unless I could SEE that they were police. I can\’t hear what people shout, or comment as I pass, so if I couldn\’t see, I would have tried to get as far away from the area as possible. MLK at night with a bunch of large male figures? No way.

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  • wsbob September 4, 2008 at 10:37 am

    The street location might have been somewhat darker than depicted in the picture above, but c\’mon…there were street lights. The cops were wearing those new all black tactical force uniforms, but still, it should have been fairly obvious that the large male figures were likely to have been cops. No doubt Sano saw the unmarked police car across the street too. Even though it was unmarked, there\’s something about a police car that many people, especially an activist type of person that Sano is, somehow know instinctively are police cars.

    Maybe it could be argued that a reasonable person in that situation may have suspected the large male figures weren\’t really cops, but rather non-members of the PD dressed up as cops trying to commit a crime. Other than that, what else might there be?

    I\’m still not convinced that the police in this incident weren\’t out of line, I think Sano\’s got a tough row to hoe if he\’s going to beat them on this.

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  • ayresjk September 4, 2008 at 10:53 am

    It seems like everyone is forgetting one thing. Sano had a bike light….in his pack. He claims the mount had been stolen. When I ride at night I have a grand total of SIX lights on me and my bike, for that exact case. but I can see that if I only had one light and the mount had been stolen AND it was only dusk, not dark, that I would ride without the light, knowing that if I had to ride for a while, or down an unlit street, that I could pull it out.
    Very good point #25, what if sano was deaf? would the police have known? and why did they not have their lights flashing because they had another cyclist pulled over already? so may questions!

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  • ayresjk September 4, 2008 at 10:55 am

    why did they not have their lights on…because that would have made if very obvious that they were the police. I would avoid a dark car with NO police lights and someone yelling \”HEY!\” at me too.

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  • a.O September 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Fourthed on #22. They encountered the same type of issue with James Chasse and they killed him.

    \”[I]it should have been fairly obvious that the large male figures were likely to have been cops.\”

    It also should have been fairly obvious that, if you approach someone on a dark street while yelling at them without identifying yourself as a police officer, their first instinct will be to flee rather than to comply. And that\’s the error that apparently created the whole problem.

    Is there anyone from the PPB who is claiming that the officers did so identify themselves?

    Is there a specific guideline or rule requiring this?

    Wsbob, please tell us some more things that \”activist type[s]\” know.

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  • IM September 4, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Sounds like this Phil guy is making up some stuff. \”My knee was sore so I didn\’t want to walk\”… I\’ve had some pretty serious knee surgery and I can tell you walking is way better than mashing up hills on a bike. Makes you wonder what else he is lying about… of course it\’s not like cops always tell the truth either.

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  • wsbob September 4, 2008 at 11:51 am

    \’…their first instinct will be to flee rather than to comply.\” a.O.

    Except that Sano didn\’t flee. He just kept on rolling with his hands off the bars (I forget the reason why). He didn\’t follow their orders. Why? Was he araid as they approached him? If he was afraid of them and didn\’t think they were cops, wouldn\’t he have put his hands on the bars, stomped on the pedals and got the hell out of Dodge?

    And about being able to recognize unmarked police cars, I said \”…especially an activist type of person that Sano is.\” It\’s not that hard to tell an unmarked police car from a non-police car.

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  • Roma September 4, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Phil is a habitual line-stepper. Plain and simple. I think he probably did know they were cops. I mean, why did he even slow down? If he really was in fear of danger, wouldn\’t he have ridden away as fast as possible?

    I don\’t think he deserved to get tasered, but I do think his side of the story is BS.

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  • ayresjk September 4, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I can tell an unmarked police car from a non-police car any day of the week, but my wife couldn\’t necessarily. that being said, how many people are driving around in an old retired crown-vic that still has the black and white markings of a police car? so if they stop and yell HEY! I am supposed to just stop?

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  • Scott September 4, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    A few things disturb me…..

    1) Black Police Uniforms, at night, yelling to stop, and the only identifier is either a small badge on the front of the uniform or a reflective \”POLICE\” stripe on the back. I for one doubt any of you could recognize a small badge 10-15 feet away, at night, while riding and trying to pay attention to everything else that endangers us on the road. Either way, not the greatest way for compliance, especially while the officer was already involved in a traffic stop for the same violation. Just wear the plain PPB Blues and drive a car that can be identified and we\’ll all be better off.

    2) The rest of my disturbance is focused on how the criminal side will turn out. My gut tells me that Phil will most likely not get a fair shot at this though. The police have been known in this city to be very tough to beat. PPB and the DA play a good game in this town. Good luck Phil, I fear you will need a lot of it.

    3) #27, so it should be obvious that they were cops, not feds or bouncers from a bar? So does that mean if I see a 7 foot guy in Portland that he plays basketball for the blazers? Or better yet, if a vehicle pulls up next to you with no lights flashing, no sirens, etc and the guy flashes a badge, is he a cop? Should you pull over?

    The community at large should be yelling loudly for an independent review of our local and state police departments. Until they can stop hiding behind the defense of the Union and be held accountable for their actions, non of us are safe.

    I\’m not saying any one certain police officer or all police officers/police agencies are bad, what I\’m saying is that there will always be bad apples in the box and they are the ones that give everyone else a bad name. It is nearly impossible to get them fired and when they do anything close to what the public views as bad, or something that is against the law, they get out on paid leave and then get a slap on the wrist.

    Its all just non-sense!

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  • Joe Rowe September 4, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Cops sometime make mistakes but a lower court Judge will never rule against the cop. Bogus tickets must be hard fought in Salem on Appeal, often the appeal brief can be in writing. I was illegally ticketed and searched and had to win the hard way.

    To Shawn and the Rev. The ORS law is on your side because you have to look at the word \”displayed\”. Often an appeal will argue over definitions and intent of the lawmakers. The intent of the lawmakers was that the cop has to be wearing a visible badge ( not true in these dark conditions, the cop clothing clear intent to subdue visiblity ) .

    Here is a copy and paste from the Oxford English Dict. display |disˈplā|

    verb [ trans. ] make a prominent exhibition of (something) in a place where it can be easily seen :

    the palace used to display a series of Flemish tapestries | a handwritten notice was displayed in the ticket office.

    • (of a computer or other device) show (information) on a screen.

    • give a conspicuous demonstration of (a quality, emotion, or skill) : the aggressive kind of baseball he displayed as a player.

    • [ intrans. ] (of a male bird, reptile, or fish) engage in a specialized pattern of behavior that is intended to attract a mate : she photographed the peacock, which chose that moment to display.

    conclusion: Because there was not a prominent exhibition of an easily seen badge, the badge was not displayed, and thus the ORS law is clear, and ORS 811.535 can\’t be applied.

    The Rev. and others should send a certified memo to the city attorney Linda Meng to put a halt to the black jacket police ninja patrol with no displayed star or badge. If this happens again we sue. Call Meng\’s office (503)823-4047

    I know Rev. He does lump all cops into one stereotype. Some are bad, some good. Nor should cyclists lump cops. The cops just did a great job by handling teens with guns at High School game last Friday. They could have easily used intimidation but acted reserved when attacked. The result is nobody got hit by the many bullets.

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  • Joe Rowe September 4, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Update. Ellen from the city attorney office said it is not their job to help the police read the law. She suggested I call Mary Beth Baptista ( Law Degree) in the IPR ( Ind. Police Review ).

    Call 503-823-0146 and ask for the voice mail of Ms. Baptista.

    These black ninja police raids on cyclists need to be made legal by changing the display of police ID to be visible.

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  • KWW September 4, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    If Sano got his act together and filed civil suit against the city, then he will get a much fairer shake at the criminal trial.

    Sometimes you gotta play hardball…

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  • DD September 4, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    It is absurd to disassociate the tasering from the original \”crime\” of not having a light. The extent and severity of the escalation must be proportional to the nature of the offense – a combative cyclist without a light is not the same as a combative murderer. To erase that distinction is to ommit the context from the equation and is the same as giving illimated powers to cops once they decide to engage/provoke a citizen.

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  • Donna September 4, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I can say without a doubt that simply saying \”stop\” without identifying themselves, would not cause me to stop. A verbal disclosure followed by a badge flash would.

    I was raised to believe that stopping in such circumstances meant you had little regard for your personal safety. Thanks to my dad, I\’ve not been a victim of violence in my life thus far. There\’s also no way I would ever be able to recognize people in black outfits as police officers at night.

    It seems like common sense to me that police should look like police and not paramilitary ninjas. Guess not.

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  • jim September 4, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Too bad it wasn\’t a bike cop- we could have had a low speed chase down Alder.

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  • Joe Rowe September 5, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Update. I called Ms. Baptista at the IPR. She called me back the next day. We spoke for about 15 minutes. I pointed out how some police have trends that the IPR system is not correcting. Police make repeat major violations ( police policy, and law )

    a) racial trafic stops, no cause ( a young teacher friend of mine was stoped 2 times the last year )

    b) intimidation of random people by asking for ID.

    c) breaking up legal assembly of protesters on sidewalks. Cops in court on record saying these are \”illegal\”

    In conclusion, Ms. Baptista said that if I felt these trends were not being adressed by the IPR policy then I had to go up the chain to the Mayor and City Auditor. So let\’s call those 2 offices. We have to get united here to fix the small but costly errors by a few police. Otherwise this will get bigger. They are all connected: Driving while black or brown, protesting, and riding your bike.

    ps: Oregon has no stop and identify law. Police can only stop you if you are violating a law, a danger to yourself or others, or impeding an investigation. In other words, they can ask you for your name, and they must take no for an answer. Often cops don\’t tollerate no and then issue bogus citations. The burden is then on the citizen.

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  • YZWolf September 6, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Give me a break……why is it that when someone disobeys the law, or disregards the LAWFUL order of OUR police, it is the officers fault when that the person gets tasered or physically restained? When did personal responsibilty become the past? Seems to me this is another case of someone who believes that he can do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants, and everyone one else needs to take a bake seat to his desires. He was found GUILTY by an elected judge of the traffic offenses which were the catalyst for the rest of the stop. A situation created by this individuals refusal to obey a lawful order. Get real, the fault and responsibilty here lies with the person, not the officers. The officers react based on the actions of the citizens. I suggest you all go on a ride along with our officers and see the world through their eyes before you go criticizing them for something you know nothing about.

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  • TS September 7, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    @42: I don\’t think most people dispute the traffic charge of riding without a light. It appears Phil is guilty of that offense, even if there may be mitigating circumstances.

    Failing to obey a police officer is what\’s in question. There is no law requiring compliance with a random citizen on the street, so Phil must have known the order came from an officer to be expected to comply. The legal standard there is prominent display of a badge, which is a point of dispute.

    As for what happened subsequently, we\’ll hear from both sides when that case comes to trial. The responding officers are reasonably expected (and specially trained) to consider the situation calmly and avoid unnecessary escalation. It\’s questionable whether that occurred here. Concluding right now that either side (Rev. Phil or the police) was right is premature.

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  • Caroline September 8, 2008 at 6:22 am

    My mom told me not to talk to strangers or go with strange men.

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  • Joe Rowe February 5, 2009 at 8:54 am

    The trial begins in Feb 2008. If you have subscribed to reader comments you might like to read the new article, found on the URL Below


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