The story of Amanda Jo Stephen, a 24 year old runner in Austin, TX, is making the rounds right now. Out for a run she was physically detained by a pair of Austin Police and later arrested under Texas’ Failure to Identify law.
Herein lies a tale which I can only describe as a twisted story of intransigence and sorrow. But lets take a step back and review the details.
Austin, TX is currently conducting an enforcement campaign which is supposed to protect the city’s more vulnerable citizens via their new Vulnerable Road Users Ordinance. And let me say that I think this is ultimately a good thing. This is that city’s “3 foot” law without a doubt and is intended to reduce or eliminate deadly collisions between motorized road users and the self powered set.
Chief of Police Art Acevedo has received a number of very public kudos because he has made this a primary concern of the force he manages. The problem, as I see it, is that I’m finding a lot of comment online that a preponderance of this enforcement effort is focused on changing the behavior of vulnerable user, not the already privileged, driving majority.
Yeah, sure, pedestrians should follow the rules of the road. Cross on the signal, blah blah blah. But let me make something abundantly clear. Sending out numerous patrols to manage bad pedestrian behavior, behavior which may be an avoidance strategy in the first place, is *not* protecting vulnerable users. Not by a long shot.
Acevedo has had to go out of his way to earn his horns in the case of Amanda Jo Stephen. Per multiple eyewitness accounts the officers involved created this situation and then leveraged their power position in an effort to humiliate Stephen.
Texas law is pretty clear on this one. The officers involved leveraged Title 8, Chapter 38 of the Texas penal code to arrest Stephen.
Sec. 38.02. FAILURE TO IDENTIFY. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information.
According to eye witnesses an officer grabbed Stephen after she crossed the street. Now ask yourself, “If I were jogging down the street, and someone grabbed my arm, how would I react?” Yeah, it doesn’t matter who that person happens to be. To complicate this situation, per the video and photos, the grabber was an older, heavy man nabbing the arm of a twenty-four year old female.
At best, this stop can only be considered a poorly executed Terry stop. Per the Texas statute this is not enough to compel any identification from a suspect. They made an arrest for a crime that can only be committed after an arrest is made.
Stephen’s big mistake was not that she refused to provide identification, rather she it was that she should have uttered the magic words, “Excuse me officer. Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” Certainly, difficult to do since the officer who grabbed her immediately escalated the situation and may be guilty of disorderly conduct.
The fact that Acevedo has taken a hard line by continued to endorse the behavior of his employees in creating this situation unnecessarily seems to me to indicate the real intent of the enforcement effort. Worse, Acevedo seems perfectly happy leverage this jay-walking arrest to grandstand his department’s other convictions.
“I stand here proud as a police chief saying that I am proud that this is the controversy that I am dealing with today on the day that we are actually convicting somebody of capital murder,” Acevedo said, referring to the conviction of Brandon Daniel for the slaying of Austin police officer Jaime Padron.”
It is my sincerest of hopes that Stephen gets some excellent representation, then when she is cleared, I hope she takes it to the department and sues their socks off.
Acevedo, your actions speak much louder than your words. Your words can only be considered insensitive, at best. You’re not developing credibility with the public you’re employed to serve and protect with stunts like this. If you want us to celebrate your department’s well earned success stories, don’t act smarmy and ensure your officers don’t behave like agents of a tyrannical, uncaring government. Seriously, we don’t need to escalate our level of civic discord to mimic Argentina, Syria, or the Ukraine before we recognize that things are getting out of hand; we shouldn’t have to question the conduct or interests of the people employed to keep us safe.
Oh, and one more thing, these officers are obese. Not just a little over weight, but nearing corpulent. How are they supposed to protect anyone, if they’re busy fighting Type 2 diabetes?