Category: Iowa

Another old story from my days in Ames, Iowa:

I was making a left turn out of a side road onto a more major (though very sparsely driven) divided road. A highway patrolman was coming from the left and I pulled out with an extremely large and safe amount of distance in front of him. For some reason that I haven’t determined, he whipped around behind me. He pulled me over and told me that my window tint was illegal, my license plate cover made it hard for him to read my rear plate, and he complained that I had no front plate. He said he wasn’t going to ask me to do anything about my tint since it is legal in the state in which my car is registered (Arizona); same thing for the missing front license plate. He said he wasn’t going to write me a ticket but he was suggesting that I remove the rear plate cover. Now I have a few thoughts on this sequence of events. First, I wonder why he flipped around in the first place since my windows aren’t all that dark and he surely couldn’t have seen my rear plate when I turned across his path. Second, I don’t think he would have a case on the window tint considering that it’s legal where the car is registered and it’s hard to imagine Iowa having a law that would basically prohibit visitors from Arizona (the commerce clause might allow the federal government to prevent such a law). As for the license plate cover, sure it’s illegal but it’s not coming off until big brother takes down his ticket cameras.

Now allow me to rant a bit about tint. We supposedly live in a free country yet a person can’t say to himself “You know, I don’t really like the heat from the sun and I don’t like it getting in my eyes so maybe I’ll darken the windows up a bit.” In Iowa the law apparently allows for absolutely no aftermarket tint on the front two windows. Where’s the freedom there? Some people might say that the law exists for the safety of cops. I say that’s bogus. First, anything over 50% tint is barely noticeable. Mine is 35% and you can see through my car with no problem. If I do it again, I’ll probably get the same but I’d be tempted to go to 20%. Second, if the police lock everybody up in prison cells, I’m sure the streets would be safer but that’s just how the tradeoff between freedom and safety goes. How the heck is allowing absolutely no tint a tradeoff of any sort? I probably wouldn’t be complaining if the law was more rational like perhaps 35% or 20%. I can understand that it’s dangerous for people to have windows so dark that they can’t see through them to drive. I also possibly could be sympathetic to the cop safety argument. But no tint at all? That’s the compromise that the legislature came up with? Never mind that factory tint is somehow legal. I can buy a car with dark tint but I can’t put it on myself. Where is the freedom if I can’t even make such basic decisions about my property?

(EDIT August 16, 2015: I found out last week that the officer lied to me about the Iowa tint laws. Some tint is in fact allowed.)

Now let me contemplate why I was even pulled over in the first place. The only thing I can think is that the officer saw my lack of a front license plate (AZ doesn’t have one) and flipped around after me only to discover that I was legal but he didn’t want his effort to be wasted so he found other things wrong. Otherwise he would have to be quite a tint-nazi to waste his time on suspicious tint, particularly since he may not have even been on the correct side of the law given my out-of-state registration.

Here is the real rant. I’ve often said that you can’t drive the number of miles I drive without being pulled over every couple years. That’s about how often I get pulled over and it’s rarely for a good reason. But then I got to thinking a bit deeper. My mom hasn’t been pulled over since the 70s, if I recall correctly. She doesn’t drive as much as I do but surely she has racked up enough miles to get pulled over a few times. She even drives vehicles with illegal tint sometimes. This isn’t that shocking, but the bottom line is that this is police profiling. A lady made a comment about this at a coffee shop one time and it was kind of a new way of thinking about these things. She said something along the lines of “I’m glad I’m not in your shoes because I know how cops target young kids.” Before that, I had never really realized that cops don’t harass everybody. A cop will gladly waste his time with a college kid because there is a statistically good chance that the person is drunk, has drugs, etc. If a cop sees my mom driving with illegal tint he’s not going to think twice because he knows that his chances of getting a real reward are low. In fact, he probably doesn’t even notice the illegal tint until he needs a reason to pull the person over. It’s all about the reward system. Cops aren’t rewarded for illegal tint citations but the system definitely rewards them for a DUI. And if there is no DUI but the person isn’t friendly then the cop can still go ahead and give that tint citation just to assert his authority and raise some funds. The problem is that these are basically illegal stops, yet cops do this every day. I can only assume that it’s way worse for minorities. What really angers me is when it’s the same people who say “well if you did the crime then you deserve to get pulled over” that are also against profiling.

I want to be able to wake up in the morning, get in the car, and make it to my destination without being harassed by police if there aren’t any major foul-ups along the way. A lot of these stupid laws are on the books not because of a real danger but because cops want more reasons to stop people. The legislators get to act like they are doing something because the average person doesn’t see any problem with many of these laws in isolation. It’s when they are used together as part of an enforcement regime that they become a problem. We need to repeal many of these laws to return to a system in which police officers stop people because they did something that was actually unsafe. Really, in an ideal system, we would be able to have 100% enforcement, but that wouldn’t currently be sustainable. If every driver, regardless of age, sex, or political connections, were ticketed every time that a cop observed a violation of one of the thousands of laws on the books, the laws would go away rather quickly. This is a good indicator that we are currently burdened with a bunch of bad laws.

bad cops Iowa

Another cleaned-up story from an old blog:

Not long after my interactions with Officer Adrienne Johnson of the Ames Police Department, I heard that a female police officer came to the neighbor’s house (two doors down) looking for my roommate. She apparently had the wrong address and she told the neighbors the reason for her visit (which was nothing big, but did involve investigation of a crime). This is unacceptable. First, the houses are clearly numbered so care should have been taken to go to the correct one. Second, it was pretty dishonorable to tell somebody that she wanted to question their neighbor regarding a crime. It was none of their business and it is bordering on slander. Once she determined that she had the wrong house, she should have moved on. No more discussion was necessary.

We confirmed a week later that the visitor was Officer Johnson. Apparently she also left a message for my roommate. He returned the call (twice), but she never bothered to call back. Putting all of the above aside, what type of unprofessional police department doesn’t return their phone calls?

bad cops Iowa

I came across this story the other night.

Recall that I too was pulled over for honking at a law-breaking police officer. In my case, I had no video. Plus, I didn’t handle it as well. I didn’t stick to the “you were breaking the law” aspect of my honking. When stopped by the police, it’s difficult to remain calm but persistent. It’s easy to let them control the dialog, in which case it turns into a normal traffic stop in which you are the culprit. In my case, Officer Johnson didn’t think she did anything wrong and I didn’t push the issue like I should have.

As for the video above, I am not sure how the officer would have acted if there was no recording. Maybe he would have still been decent about the whole thing. It’s certainly true that some officers are good people. I do believe that they should be called out on it any time they violate the law. Yes, I think 50% of traffic laws are stupid. But I think that the only way we get a fair balance of freedom and safety is for us to push back and make sure that those in the system have to abide by the same laws. This way, if a law is truly terrible, I believe it will be repealed. If a law is fair, then it’s reasonable to expect that the police should follow it as well.

bad cops Iowa

I did a little Google search and found that, in addition to this site of course, Officer Johnson of the Ames Police Department has one other notable mention. It seems that she found drugs on a guy during an illegal search a while back. Arresting a guy and having the court of appeals decide it was an illegal search must be a good source of embarrassment for a cop.

The original link to the court document is now dead.

The best part is her testimony…
Q: You had suspicion that it was drugs?
Officer Johnson: Yes.
Q: You didn’t have probable cause?
Officer Johnson: Correct.

So she was not only horrible on the stand; she also admitted to some pretty dishonorable police action. It raises the question of why she knowingly conducted an illegal search.

bad cops Iowa

I was driving along one night in Ames, Iowa when I saw a police officer (Adrienne Johnson) parked with all lights out in a manner that completely blocked a driveway and partly blocked a sidewalk. I honked because she was illegally parked. Of course it’s no surprise that the officer’s ego was too big for that. Apparently it is illegal to sound a horn in Ames so she gave me a ticket, which I fought out of principle.

I knew I would be found guilty because that’s how traffic court works, but I went ahead and wasted way more than $60 (the price of the ticket) of the system’s time. I saw it as a cheap way to get some more courtroom experience while exercising my rights. I went through the process and discovered some pretty shady things along the way.

The law in Ames doesn’t allow for a deposition in such offenses but the prosecutor’s office has an open door policy so they were actually pretty helpful. That said, the prosecutor and the police officers I spoke to didn’t seem to understand the purpose of a deposition. They acted like there was no good reason to have that information before trial. It’s common sense that you want to know all of the officer’s answers before you ask the questions in court. That’s why depositions are allowed for bigger offenses.

Then some major shadiness occurred when I attempted to get dash-cam video footage from the Ames police department records division. First, I called and was told that I needed a subpoena to get that and I was specifically told that public records laws do not apply. I did some looking on the internet and found that the police department must give up video footage in most cases and that to knowingly deny access to public records is a misdemeanor. It’s really too bad that I didn’t get that person’s name, though the refusal was probably simply due to lack of training. Then I walked in to the records department in person. I told the employee there, Cheryl Spencer, that I’d like to get some footage. She asked me what I needed and I told her that I could give her an officer, date, and time period. She said that wasn’t good enough and that I needed to identify the incident. I was very adamant that I didn’t like being required to tell her my name and the case this was in regards to. It happens to also be illegal. Iowa public records law requires only that I give enough information for a subject matter expert to retrieve the requested document. Finally, I was told that if I wanted it, it was going to cost $23. The price seemed a little high to me considering that Iowa public records law does not allow for a profit to be made on the duplication of public records. For these reasons, I contacted the ombudsman at the Iowa Attorney General’s office in order to get the Ames Police Department to start obeying state laws.

Finally, let me tell you about some of the ridiculous things that Officer Adrienne Johnson (she goes by Adi) said in court. Part of the reason I fought this was to bring light to the types of ridiculous things that officers say in court. The officer is the only witness against a typical traffic-court defendant. For that reason, officers have to come in there acting like they know their stuff and remember details of the encounter even though in reality they have pulled enough people over in the past two months that there is no way they can be a good witness. Let’s just say in a felony trial, such low-quality witnesses would be impeached quickly.

1) She claimed that she was an expert on license plates and that’s how she noticed an Arizona plate on a car earlier in the evening. When I asked her to describe an Arizona license plate, she said simply that it is yellow. That’s not very accurate. The background behind the numbers on an AZ license plate is white. When I asked her what color the letters are, she didn’t know. When I asked her how it differed from an Ohio license plate, she didn’t know. When I asked her if she could tell the difference between an Arizona license plate and an Ohio license plate, she said no. She ended up acknowledging that the car that drove by could have had either an AZ or OH license plate. Her original statement is called perjury.

2) She went into great detail describing how dark it was where she was sitting and then, 10 minutes later, explained how it wasn’t really that dark. This is also called perjury.

3) When asked what road I was stopped on, she named the wrong road. It wasn’t just me tripping her up on names either. She legitimately thought she pulled me over on the major road that was north of the small side street that I was actually stopped on. This is pretty bad memory considering she no doubt studied her notes beforehand.

4) When asked if anything was different about me on the day of the trial from when she stopped me, she didn’t notice my full growth of facial hair in contrast to being clean shaven when stopped. This is pretty bad memory. At about this point she acknowledged that it had been two months so she didn’t remember many details.

5) One interesting thing I discovered when looking up the relevant city ordinances is that, in Ames, an obscure code requires a person to honk before making a turn if there are pedestrians around. Officer Johnson did not know about this law, but she was nice enough to state on the stand that she was sitting there because there were a lot of pedestrians around after spring break. Considering I was about to make a turn, I was exactly within the letter of the law. On the stand, she said that the other part of the code didn’t apply to me because I was honking at her. Honestly, what type of terrible police officer would cite somebody for obeying a law simply because she didn’t like the reason? Just because she doesn’t want to follow the law doesn’t mean that I wasn’t in the right.

I took the stand since I knew I would be found guilty either way. But really, I shouldn’t have. Seeing how little credibility Officer Johnson was on the stand, a fair court might have thrown the charges out. The good news is that, after this case, the City of Ames was required by the state Attorney General’s office to change the price structure for dashboard camera footage.

bad cops Iowa