Police brutality is big news these days -- but until this week, I'd never experienced any problems with law enforcement. The events at 16th and Champa streets on Monday night, however, have changed my whole perspective on abuse of power.
That night, I was riding my bike and turned off 17th street onto Champa, heading toward the mall. Traffic must have been heavy, because there was a reflective-vested officer standing in the "cushion" of road between the bike lane and the traffic lane. As I neared the officer, a car pulled out of a parking garage to my immediate right and nearly hit me. The police officer saw nothing wrong with this. But I did, and questioned his decision to bring the car out without bothering to notice the bike-rider. Had I been in a car, it would surely have been hit.
On the defense immediately, the officer blamed me for not taking notice of his traffic direction. He told me to step to the side, and as I continued to ask why he'd decided I was at fault, Sergeant Walter Greene asked for my license.
As far as I could see, I was not being detained and had not broken any law whatsoever, so I turned and started to pedal away with my bike. I'd made it three feet onto the sidewalk when I heard a very audible "HEY" and felt the strong arm of the law come crashing down on me. In a blink, I was drop-shouldered into the large plate-glass window lining the Chili's on the corner, and looking up at a very displeased policeman.
Across the street someone was backpack-reporting the incident with a camera-phone in hand. (He was a lawyer, it turned out.) Inspired, I pulled out my phone -- my trusty, cracked-screen iPhone4 -- and began recording everything the officer said.
At :09, you will hear the radio dispatcher say, "An officer pushed over a bicyclist."
At :14 seconds, the officer looks at the surrounding crowd of people and says, "You guys are stupid! Jesus! You think I don't have it on the radio right here?"
At :22, I muster up all the knowledge I have from every police show I have ever watched and manage to get out: "That's what happens when you abuse a civilian. I have done nothing wrong."
The second clip starts as I continue to ask what law I'd broken and how I could get a ticket when A) I almost got hit by a car because a police officer didn't see me riding in the legal bike lane, and B) I got shoved off my bike for leaving when I was not notified that I was being detained.
:04 is me using more of that Law & Order talk I've learned over the years. Notice the use of "care" and "law." Proper.
:23 is me stating that the officer did not see me coming. That's why I almost got hit, starting everything else.
At :25, the officer clearly states that he did not see me coming. Thank you.
Still, I wound up getting a ticket. The infraction? "Bicycles to obey traffic laws." But I didn't break a traffic law through any of this -- even when I rode three feet onto the sidewalk, since I was not traveling at a speed of six miles per hour or faster.
The remainder of my evening was spent at the Denver Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, filing a formal complaint against the officer. The whole interview was recorded and I was asked to draw a picture of the situation. Photos were taken of my battle wounds, which were borderline carpet burns and about as painful as a sneeze.
Could this situation have been avoided? Sure. But it's not illegal to question authority -- even though I now appear to owe Denver $50 for exercising my right to free speech.
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As he looked through his cheat sheet of charges, the officer warned me that if I didn't keep my mouth shut, I would get a much worse ticket for disobeying an officer. He also said that had I just apologized, I would not have gotten the ticket at all.
More from our News archives: "Vicki Ferrari second Denver cop/American Gladiator contestant sued for excessive force."
This week's cover story also has to do with police interaction: "Alex Landau was pulled over for making an illegal left turn and ended up beaten bloody."