Friday, April 10, 2009


It seems that we in the Dallas, Texas area are always in the epicenter of much that is good, though sometimes bad. That would appear to put us squarely in synch with the rest of the world where the might of right ultimately opposes ignorance and injustice. Maybe we can put into perspective a recent and hopefully isolated incident that deserves our undivided attention and understandably weeks later is still big news here in north Texas.

An automobile with flashing hazard lights stops then proceeds through a red light and is almost immediately followed by a police officer displaying lights and sirens. The car would not stop for the police officer though pulls into in the parking lot of a nearby hospital a short time later. The occupants of the car (save one) bail out and the police officer apparently intimidated, draws his pistol and attempts to detain the driver and occupants. The driver of the vehicle while always respectful though in an understandably very animated and agitated manner tries to explain to the police officer that his mother-in-law was dying inside, imploring the officer to let them see her. Two of the occupants disregard the officer’s orders (and gun) and run into the hospital. They turned out to be the daughter and aunt of the now deceased woman. The Father stayed in the car reflecting later that he was afraid for his life.

The thirteen minutes that the driver was detained tragically included the last few minutes of the life of his mother-in-law. The police car’s dashboard camera documented the entire event making even more amazing the police officer’s patently unprofessional behaviors that included such cold and callous classics as, “I can screw you over.” and “I can make your night very difficult.” He also apparently threatened to cite him for illegally parking in the hospital parking lot (private property). Can he legally do that? As absurd as it sounds, the officer later stated that he felt he was just doing his job before publicly apologizing for his “poor judgment and insensitivity.”

The officer was seemingly impassive to the pleas of the driver and contrary to his oath showed no compassion or understanding of the needs of one of his citizens. It wasn’t until a security guard, nurse and a Plano, Texas police officer arrived and clarified the situation that the officer relented. The footage which has been played over and over ad nauseum on local and national TV demonstrates early on the true nature of the situation. These weren’t criminals trying to avoid the law, rather a Family earnestly trying to capture one last moment with a loved one.

I find this situation wholly repugnant, and the purpose of this post is to point out that the officer’s questionable behavior once again reinforces that nothing in our lives is black or white, rather varying shades of gray. While the police officer was technically enforcing the laws of the State of Texas as they are written, he didn’t factor in any extenuating circumstances. He demonstrated absolutely no common sense, a basic commodity that should be in the playbook of every police officer. Why the police officer acted this way we may never know though it could have involved pure and honest fear, racism, the cynicism that recent drug related scenarios have provoked, a lack of training, an indication that this individual was just not suited for law enforcement or all of the above.

That said where was the desire and willingness to protect and serve? Where was that basic common sense and logic? We all understand the tightrope of zero tolerance and citizen rights that police officers have to maneuver though this incident appeared to be locked up in a controlling and egocentric personality not suited for law enforcement. When does talking down to somebody elicit their respect and cooperation? I find it hard to believe that this officer hasn’t acted unprofessionally in other scenarios and, indeed, local prosecutors are reviewing other cases brought by this officer that now may be suspect.

The very high bar set for law enforcement might have come tumbling down were it not for the actions and positive examples set by other Dallas Police Officers. One Dallas TV station while reporting the mostly negative reaction to this incident recounted the statement of one woman who in a eerily similar situation was recently stopped by a Dallas police officer who then escorted her to and into the hospital where he stood duty (with hat off) outside the room of her dying relative until he was summoned on another call. There are many other examples of the compassion and service rendered by the finest in the Dallas Police Department to include the officer who recently risked his life to pull a citizen bent on suicide out of a window in a high rise Dallas hotel. Who heard about that? The bottom line is that the many good deeds routinely performed by the department mostly go unreported.

Having said that this writer became privy to a traffic case in another Dallas County municipality where a motorist late in the evening exited a major Dallas freeway and entered an inside left turn only lane initiating his left turn blinker an undetermined distance (maybe thirty feet) before the red light. The driver sat at the red light which cycled through to green. When the driver turned left a police officer who had drawn up behind his car pulled him over for violation of not initiating his turn signal at least one hundred feet before the light. The driver was arrested and taken to jail for this seemingly minor offense. When we put this “offense” into context i.e. the driver’s intent was never in doubt as he was in the left turn only lane and the late hour of the night, it’s puzzling that local prosecutors even agreed to pursue the case. The Jury by their charge had to find the driver guilty given current state law and the driver’s admission. They, however, unanimously imposed a minimum fine sending the message that while the letter of the law may have been satisfied, the spirit surely had not. That case should never have been brought to trial. The fact that the defendant was of Middle Eastern origins was not lost on the jury.

I don’t know the statistics on the enforcement of traffic violations before and after 911. Notwithstanding population growth and the ever expanding number of drivers and roads on which to ply, it would appear that we are getting overzealous in the enforcement of our traffic laws – to the point that we are losing touch with our constituencies – the people that pay us to protect them. If the two cases cited above are any indication, we may not necessarily be close to a tipping point but perhaps at the time to reevaluate our traffic laws and the unrealistic, excessive enforcement of those that should require further scrutiny. That’s where we as citizens should take over and by contacting our representatives prompt a further review of these suspect offenses.

Don’t get me wrong we certainly need to aggressively enforce the law though some would argue that we need to take our limited resources and concentrate on those offenses and crimes that have a greater affect on our society. That doesn’t include an under control Family trying to capture one last moment with a dying relative or a college professor trying to make a left turn near the midnight hour.

We all know by now that the driver detained by now former Dallas Police Officer Robert Powell was NFL running back Ryan Moats of the Houston Texans. Many of the initial headlines keyed on Moats and his notoriety as if his job should have allowed him some special treatment. To his credit he never brought that up - an indication of his good character and his desire that he be treated no different than anybody else. And that should be one of the major lessons that we learn from this sad incident; that everybody should be treated equally and those that screw up like the aforementioned Dallas Police Officer, be held accountable for their behaviors.

Dallas police officer recruits are required to spend eight months in the department's academy followed by an intensive six months of field training and another six months riding with a senior officer. Before they even get to that point they have to undergo a battery of interviews and psychological testing in order to determine their suitability for law enforcement. Despite all the tests and training (hopefully covering those non-routine varying shades of gray) and other checks and balances that are in place, some recruits are invariably not going to make the grade. That’s part of the paradigm where no matter what you do your ultimate success is not going to be 100%.

We need not continue to isolate, harp and negatively exploit these incidents, rather learn from them. I thank God we mostly have great law enforcement. Though Moats has accepted Powell’s apology it would appear appropriate that far from other prying eyes and cameras Moats and Powell meet, talk it out, agree or disagree and really start the healing process…

Some of us also hope that the college professor ticketed for the absurd left turn violation knows that he won...


Ned Buxton

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