Traffic Stops Gone Bad
by Mark Scaramella, December 23, 2009
The subject of the 4am hour of Pat Thurston's KGO Radio Show of Saturday, December 5, was excessive traffic fines. Ms. Thurston complained that it seemed like traffic fines in California had become unreasonable what with all the fees they pile on top of the fines, and that traffic courts had become little more than high volume collection agencies to help stabilize California's teetering balance sheet. However, in the last half hour of the show, two callers took the subject a little further than Ms. Thurston had expected.
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Sam In Los Gatos: A couple years ago I checked out of society for a couple years. I lost some money in bank investments and all that stuff. I moved up to a ranch in the mountains. Just kind of worked on the ranch. I've got nuthin' left. I've been layin' carpet over 40 years. I'm all busted up. One morning we were out shootin', you know, targets out here. I threw my gun in my truck because my buddy asked me to go into town and get some goat food and chicken food. I go into the town of Los Gatos. Everything's updated on my truck. Everything's fine. I've got tinted windows. I'm doin' 15mph. All of a sudden here's a motorcycle cop behind me with his lights and siren on. He pulls me over and I pull over into the parking lot and we're talkin'. Now, I've always made this a practice: any time I have a gun in the truck, I make sure it's legal and I always tell the officer because I don't want them to freak out if they see it. So he came to the window and called me out. I gave him my license and registration. He pulled me over for tinted windows, this is why he pulls me over. So all of a sudden he calls for back up. He freaks out. He calls for back up. I'm not even in the truck at that point. So he calls for back up. My truck is emptied! I've got a tablespoon, er, a teaspoon of marijuana in a little tupperware thing because I've been on pain meds for ten years because I am a carpet layer. I am busted up. I've had two knee surgeries, the whole nine yards. My ex-wife doesn't like my attitude on pain pills so she divorced me. But she suggested, Smoke weed. Try it! People say it works. And I'll be darned, it works! I was eligible at the time for a medical marijuana card. I have since got one. Anyway, I go to court. I'm 58 years old. My ears are shot. I've been in construction areas all my life and I can't hear real good. The echo in that courtroom's bad. The judge isn't too close to his microphone and he says, How do you plead? And I said, Judge, I'm actually… He said, No! How do you plead? I said, I just want to explain one thing to you. He said, No! Do you want a trial by jury? I said, Yes. But when I got out of court my ex-wife told me, You blew it! He was trying to offer you to go to drug school and you blew it. To make a long story short, I went back a month later and it was a $500 fine. Now, I'm flat broke. So I get a $500 fine. About month later I get a big carpet job. Great. That's gonna pay for that fine. It's gonna cover everything. So I've got a big flatbed truck up here that I lay carpet out of. But! It has not been registered for two years. So I get pulled over again. The only reason I get pulled over in Los Gatos this time was because I was outta gas! So I get pulled over, and it was the same cop! Check it out: my whole truck is loaded with tools, supplies, everything. Ready to go lay carpet. I gotta go pick the carpet up. He comes up to my truck. I'm parked there, outtagas. He says, You got any marijuana in there? We both laugh. He says, Your truck hasn't been registered for two years. I go, I know! I got this job. I'm gonna make some money, blah blah blah. He says, Well, it's bein' towed away. I go, What?! He goes, I already called it to be towed while I was pulling up behind you. So it's Labor Day weekend. My truck's in impound. They're not open. It's Labor Day weekend. My truck's gotta stay in, like, two extra days. On and on and on. $1700 later — $1700 later! — I get my truck outta impound. I owe my partner now half the money that I made. Plus $400 I had to borrow. Then I had to go to the Los Gatos police station to get my truck released. $150 for a piece of paper from them! Just to get my truck released!
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Mike In Marysville: I've been pulled over five times in the last 18 months for various traffic violations. And I got one that'll top the previous caller by a long shot! It's a missing front license plate story. But first, I'll tell you the five things I've been pulled over for. That missing plate was the first one. I've been pulled over three other times for speeding, and… The missing front plate ended up costing me over $1000. The speeding is my fault, of course. I went to traffic school and all that. $240, altogether. And the fifth time was in Oregon, I got pulled over for not using a turn signal in exiting the freeway. That was a very bizarre experience. The cop followed me for like five miles. I saw him turn around on the highway and he followed me. For like five miles! Then he put his lights on. I couldn't figure it out for the life of me. He gave me the third degree and asked me what I was doin' up there. And why. I bought property up there a year ago with my brother. He was just giving me the third degree about why did I come up there and all this nonsense. Come to find out, this was just a few months ago, in the fall, I guess there's a lot of drug running that goes on this time of year. It's harvest season, and I'm from California. So that was weird. But the license plate situation. I work in Vacaville. I got pulled over for missing a front license plate. I really didn't even realize I was being pulled over. I was just in my parking lot at my work. I'm dressed in my uniform. I get out of my car and this cop's sitting behind me and he gets out of his car. And I said, Is there a problem? He said, Yeah, the reason I'm pulling you over is you're missing your front license plate. I said, Oh! I said, I think it's in the trunk. I'd been in a little bit of an accident. It had got knocked off and I just didn't bother to put it on. Anyhow, I admit, I kinda copped a bit of a Don't-you-have-anything-better-to-do? attitude. I think he had already called back up, because at that point he slammed me into my car and said, You're resisting arrest! I'm trying to turn around and go, Resisting arrest for what? And at that point, three other cop cars pull… And this was within less than a minute. Three other cop cars pull up and they just took me to the ground and they just started beatin' on me. I don't know what I was supposed to be resisting arrest for. He said I was resisting arrest. I said, For a front license plate? He said, You're arguing with me. I said, This is ridiculous. Yeah. I was argumentative, but I didn't raise a fist or try to struggle with him or nuthin'. They take me to the ground and they beat me up. It ended up being, there was eight cop cars in my work parking lot, and a tow truck. They cuff me. They put me in the back seat of the patrol car. And the officer who pulled me over said, OK, what are you hiding in your car? I said, Uh, nothing! He said, I don't believe you. You're lying to me. I know you're hiding something in that car and I'm going to find it. Do I have your permission to search your car? I said, Knock yourself out. So they tear my car apart. The supervising officer gets in and asks me what happened. I tell him. He says, You're in pretty good shape. I'd of beat ya up even worse. I said, For a missing license plate? He said, No, for your attitude. I said, It's illegal to have a bad attitude? I'm sitting there, I'm kinda dumbfounded. I was pretty beat down at that point, but I said, For what, being mouthy with the cops? They were still tearing my car apart. They went through every single thing. They took my cellphone apart! The cop kept sayin', 'There's somethin' in there; you guys gotta find it. He's hidin' something. I know it.' I can't believe it. Half my co-workers were in the parking lot. My boss is in the parking lot. I'm in the back of the cop car. I got blood dripping down my face. I got one cop telling me he woulda beat me up worse. They put the handcuffs on so tight I lost feeling in my hands for the day, and it still lingers, actually, a year later. So he tears my car apart and they find nothin'. So they hauled me off, into jail. For obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. So I spent six hours in jail. I got bailed out. I couldn't get my car out because it was too late. I had to get a hotel. I couldn't get back to work. I had no way to get back and forth. I got my car out the next day. I paid all those fines. It ended up costing me $1,000 in the end. I went to court and basically, I had written the DA a letter before I went to court. I said, This is really ridiculous and basically, they just told me if I just took some, like, anger management courses they would drop everything.
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Ms. Thurston cut Mike off before he got to say if he took the DA's offer. Apparently, Ms. Thurston was out of time and Mike had drifted a little too far off the original subject of the hour.