By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Last June we reported a rather upsetting incident involving the Seattle Police Department Motor Traffic Unit. Citizen Daniel Gehlke saw motorcycle officers set up near the intersection of 14th Avenue South and South Washington and begin enforcing stop sign and speed laws. Mr. Gehlke then obtained a Rubbermaid container lid and wrote thereon the words “COPS AHEAD! Stop at sign and light!” He stood nearby the intersection displaying the lid to warn drivers of the traffic unit’s presence and recommend compliance with the law.
Unfortunately for Mr. Gehlke the traffic unit took exception to this and cited him under a Seattle Municipal Ordinance making the display of a sign “bearing any such words as ‘danger,’ ‘stop,’ ‘slow,’” and more… [with] Directions likely to be construed as giving warning to or regulating traffic.” In the view of your author this was a highly suspect and chippy charge, and is only a minimally veiled pretext to retaliate against the citizen holding up the sign and thereby thwarting the number of tickets to be issued.
The Motor Unit officer issued Mr. Gehlke a notice of infraction having a $138.00 penalty. He then altered the sign to remove some of the words and continued his speech. Now, Gehlke had his day in court.
For the legal particulars of this action, please read our article HERE.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Gehlke appeared before the Seattle Municipal Court to contest this charge. But, the notice of infraction against him was summarily dismissed by a judge due to the citing officer failing to appear and testify.
While this certainly made it an easy defense and a short court appearance it only serves, at least at face value, to show how frivolous this entire matter was on behalf of the city. Here a citizen was in my view charged under very suspect probable cause where on the contrary it surely appeared to show a government action to chill a free speech activity by Mr. Gehlke. Had a contested hearing happened, a formal dismissal based upon the weakness of the city’s case, and the strength of Mr. Gehlke’s defense on constitutional grounds, would have made a very strong rebuke of the city’s actions.
Moreover, this case demonstrates how initiating a hollow action against a citizen can cause a disruption to them by putting defendants into legal jeopardy, requiring them to perhaps take time off from work or hire a babysitter to attend to their children. Yet, the officer spends ten minutes writing up a violation and then fails to appear in court.
It is time for Seattle PD to stop this type of unconstitutional behavior, for their citizens’ sake and their own coffers.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.