Recently I told you about the arrest of two of my employees for cleaning up our little neighborhood. We’d been doing it for quite some time at no cost to the city of Miami. But on Columbus Day, not knowing about the arrangement we had with the local authorities, a police officer arrested my guys, handcuffed them and threw them in jail for felony dumping.

When we left the story, my guys had insisted on pleading not guilty (since they were) even though it meant risking their chance to gain citizenship. Several of you responded very graciously with offers of help, but none was needed.

The good news is that the case was dismissed, we avoided having to pay a $500 fine, and no one has a felony on his record. Our costs amount to little more than $3,000 ($1,000 for the bail bondsman, $1,500 for the lawyer, $160 for our impounded trust, two days’ work lost times two employees and their manager), plus of course the intangibles of the fear and frustration.

Chastened, we are now allowed to go back to our volunteer cleanup efforts.

I had assumed the story would end there. But we made one pretty serious mistake. My manager, Sal, in fighting this, angered the arresting officer by questioning his actions, both at the time and then as the case proceeded.

I don’t want to anger him, so I will call the arresting officer “AO” (for “arresting officer”).

AO, in fairness, knew none of the background of our commitment to the neighborhood. Most people dumping stuff in Miami are doing so to avoid the cost of hauling it off legally. And most people don’t clean the streets of debris on a volunteer basis. We believe AO should have given us the benefit of the doubt, since Sal identified himself as a C.O.P. (citizen on patrol, a group that volunteers its services to assist the police). But no one likes his authority questioned, and one thing led to another.

So here was AO, losing face. The arrest he made was being thrown out, and he was being criticized by us, and perhaps by some of the police we normally work with and to whom we had appealed for help.

Put yourself in his shoes. He wanted to prove we were bad guys after all, or at least cause us some trouble for causing him some trouble. (Though would it be too infantile to point out, as my brother and I used to from the back seat of the station wagon, that “He started it!”?)

In the course of the first arrest, he had determined that one of our two guys — not the one driving — had a suspended driver’s license. (It had been suspended a couple of years earlier for driving under the influence. This is a serious offense, obviously. But all had been well since then, and he would have had his license back had he been able to afford the insurance on his own car.) So on Veterans Day — maybe I should call him Cop Holiday — AO waited and watched until my guy did something very dumb that he was not authorized to do: he drove the truck a half mile from his place to the job site instead of being driven by one of our other guys or riding a bike.

AO pulled him over on the pretext of the crack in our truck’s windshield and the tape on one of the brake lights (though I don’t see why any pretext was needed, since he knew my guy had a suspended license) and “discovered” that he was driving with a suspended license.

Apparently, there is a relatively small fine for doing this, but the AO has the discretion to give a ticket or, in addition, to make an arrest. In this case, of course, he made the arrest. When Sal arrived to try to help, Sal was also arrested for “knowingly permitting an unauthorized driver to drive his vehicle.” This, too, carries a fairly trivial fine but also gives the officer discretion, never mind that Sal maintains, and I believe him, that our guy was not authorized to drive the truck and was cutting a corner.

So my guy and Sal were handcuffed, booked, fingerprinted, and tossed in jail, with the prospect of getting out in a couple of days or else, again, posting bail. Five hours in jail, in a cell with people accused of domestic violence, and another $1,000 for the bail bondsman and another $160 to retrieve the impounded truck, they were out. Presumably, with another set of legal fees my guy will be allowed to pay the fine for driving with a suspended license and Sal will either pay his fine or else we’ll pay a lawyer to help us insist that Sal really hadn’t authorized our guy to drive it until he had his license.

Sal is taking all this well. He has been advised by friends in the police department that there are basically only two choices if a police officer has it in for you: move to another city, or else apologize and completely submit to the police officer on everything, right or wrong. He doesn’t want to move to another city and has invested too much of his life in trying to improve this neighborhood, so his current intention is to go with Plan B.

 

 

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