Citizen Cited For Displaying “Cops Ahead” Sign Has His Day In Court

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

From screen shot: KOMO News
From screen shot: KOMO News

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.

26 thoughts on “Citizen Cited For Displaying “Cops Ahead” Sign Has His Day In Court”

  1. Forgotwhoiam, generally the police chief serves at the pleasure of the city government, which is run by officials elected by the voters. When the voters care enough about this kind of misconduct to vote out city officials, the city officials will start holding the police chief accountable, who will send a similar message to his managing officers on down to the street level. Voters complain, but they don’t vote the responsible parties out of office.

  2. The responsible party is the police chief. He should be arrested for abuse of the power of government against the people. Congress should impeach the police chief for violations of the Constitution as “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

    Police chiefs perpetrate with impunity the crime of negligence and dereliction during the deployment of police forces. Police chiefs are inordinately compensated for incompetent and criminal performance.

    If cars, air conditioners, televisions, i-phones, or washing machines suffered these many breakdowns, consumer protection agencies would be demanding a “Lemon Law.”

    If an NFL or NBA team continuously loses, the coach is the first to go.

  3. Airdog
    1970… Something, my father got a new family car to drive across the State to visit my sister. We lived in Spokane and she lived near Seattle. “Trucker, trucker, one nine. Come in trucker. One. Nine.”

    Loved that CB radio. My dad’s ‘handle’ later became his LC plate… SILVERFOX.


  4. In days of old when knights were bold and rubbers weren’t invented.
    They tied a donut around the cop and babies were prevented.

  5. In Arizona the prosecutor does not handle this small ticket items. I figure you have a 50% chance of the cops not showing.

  6. I have to chuckle on this one. Reminds me of the days of CB Radio predominance (yeah I’m that old)…where channel 19 was rife with such “warnings” for citizen drivers and truckers. I don’t recall any arrests for that broadcasting, but I might have missed some. 🙂 I favor vigorous, moving, police activity, such as the Ohio Highway Patrol versus the static hide & seek tactics in some other states, including mine. I drive within the speed limit in Ohio, always…because an OHP car can appear behind me at any time. I suspect that is the better method for safety purposes.

  7. Police officers and prosecutors know that even frivolous charges like this can ruin an individuals life at worst and cause server economic dislocation at best and that is exactly what they are looking for. The officer didn’t show up because his goal had been achieved. The citizen had been Inconvinced and perhaps had suffered other inconvenience and costs–mission accomplished. We are all at risk!

  8. You left out someone in the article. The prosecutor. The prosecutor didn’t have to file that charge simply because the police officer wrote up the ticket. It’s the prosecutor’s responsibility to throw out ridiculous charges like that and not inconvenience citizens. Instead the prosecutor filed the charge. The problem is so many prosecutors become chummy with police officers and help cover for them when they do stupid things like write a ticket for the sign.

  9. A litany of reasons demand and require TPTB to financially and if possible, criminally punish this punk jerk power hungry cop from repeating this behavior. At the least he deserves the maximum immediate suspension without pay, and written notice in his file, signed by him, agreeing to permanent discharge the next time he pulls a power move similar to this activity. I’d rather see him permanently discharged, then criminally charged for violation under color of law.

  10. Fun post, Darren. Thanks for sharing it. The shenanigans mere city/county employees get away with under color of law never ceases to amaze. The gig’s up, especially in the recent JT post re the Oakland cop who spit sunflower seeds at an innocent. Following up on Issac’s response, I think remuneration for incidental expenses, like lost wages and attorney fees and costs, perhaps should become the law when a criminal defendant is exonerated or the case dismissed for failure of a cop to appear. Something has to chill unbridled prosecutorial abuse. In this case, whether it was the city council’s fault for making a dumb law, its overzealous prosecution, or the retributive exercise of that law, really doesn’t matter. It’s the inconvenience and emotional trauma to the innocent that matters.

  11. No! It is time for the people to file lawsuits against the police officers, the police departments and the cities for harassment.

  12. One approach would make it mandatory for officers to attend court to defend their actions. If an officer accuses a citizen by writing a ticket then they should be obligated to meet the person they accused and present appropriate evidence.

    Most officers who don’t appear claim conflict of interests or are simply not interested. However, in this case, one which is pivotal in today’s stand off between the citizenry and the police over what a citizen is entitled to do and the degree of police actions, clarification, in court, by a judge, with recompense to the citizen-or not, and instruction to the officer with or without penalty, would go a long way to sorting out some of this.

  13. Someone needs a sign outside the courthouse. “Warning: Lazy donut cops may not show. Do not plead guilty to anything. Ask for a jury trial.”

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