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. I’m surprised that the prosecutor failed to request a continuance. Usually, each side is granted at least a one time continuance. If the officer was unable to appear on that specific court date, a request, by the prosecutor, seeking a continuance would’ve given the officer another opportunity to appear and testify. The case is not typically dismissed if the prosecution requests a continuance, especially when one has not been previously granted with regard to that matter.

    1. bam bam – in many states, including Arizona, these ticky-tack ticket are handled by traffic court. In traffic court the prosecutor is the officer. If the officer does not show, the ticket is dismissed. As I said in an early post, in Arizona you seem to have about a 50/50 chance the officer does not appear.

  2. In the spirit of above quoted and appreciated limericks, a critical quote from the police swearing-in oath of every major city: “…and I will solve no crime, before there’s overtime…”

  3. Richard,

    I stand corrected. Thank you for reminding me. I moved from Cerritos, CA, near Huntington Beach, CA. There may have been 3500 votes of a population of about 58,000. Politicians play “musical chairs” with positions. If the mayor loses next year, he’ll be assigned to “Dog Catcher” at $250K, then run for mayor again next cycle.

    10 and more years ago, the City Manager cleared about $400k and spent much time “fact finding” in Paris and Rome, flying first class. Huntington Beach, as an example, provided the same or higher compensation for Managers and, of course, Assistant City Managers (city manager needs a helper, seriously?), directors et al.

    After local teachers strikes, in many cases generally, all government workers are quietly gifted “comparable pay.” Comparable pay means teachers pay forms the baseline and it goes up into the stratosphere from there. These governments don’t allow the free market to set the pay, and pay workers the minimum necessary to obtain a workforce. It’s “glorify” the duties and “accomplishments” and government workers and pay absurd levels above what is necessary. The more the janitor gets the more the city manager can justify. I like the teachers union propaganda best. After infinite convolution, it’s necessary to have a Masters Degree to teach illegal immigrants to be fork lift drivers and dental assistants (of course, the most important aspect of education is not teachers, it’s the student’s capacity to learn – Lincoln, Einstein, Bill Gates, Johnny Depp, etc. didn’t have degrees).

    All because the people who vote are the people getting the paychecks – and their co-workers, local businesses seeking favor, friends and family.

    There should be some laws put in place that limit total compensation and require specific performance.

    City Managers do next to nothing, especially in cities that are fully developed. There are plenty of unemployed people with advanced degrees who could perform city management duties.

    These local cliques have discovered “cash cows” called cities, counties, states and federal government.

    The “dictatorship of the proletariat” is very lucrative in deed. And corrupt.

    I wonder if we’re near the end of this corruption.

    I suppose it will go on forever.

  4. And this related posting from the blog of the Massachusetts’ ACLU:

    “Reversing course, DOJ issues new policy requring warrant for cell-site simulator surveillance”


    The DOJ’s new cell-site simulator policy is a step in the right direction, and marks a sea change in the federal government’s public attitude about the technology. But it cannot and should not take the place of law reform that requires police at every level to obtain warrants to conduct invasive electronic surveillance. DOJ policy, as the policy itself states, is not law.

    Now it’s time for advocates across the nation to use this policy change at the DOJ to support our calls for comprehensive digital privacy reform at the state and federal level. The Department of Justice has made it clear that it’s not afraid to apply a warrant standard to stingray spying. But it should not just be a policy. “Get a warrant” should be the law of the land.

  5. Thanks, Max-1.

    Another article that may be of interest:

    “Justice Dept. to Require Warrants for Some Cellphone Tracking”


    Civil libertarians have expressed grave privacy concerns about the technology’s proliferation, but the new Justice Department policies do not apply to local police forces.

    It does not cover state or local law enforcement agencies, however, unless they are engaged in a joint task force with the federal authorities. Local authorities have widely adopted the technology to hunt thieves and other criminals, but do not often disclose its use.

    That is sure to rankle civil liberties groups, which have fought for greater transparency around when and how the devices are used by law enforcement agencies.

    “This is a strong step in the direction of protecting the constitutional rights of Americans,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U. Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. But, he added, the Justice Department could have extended the rules to apply to state or local agencies that have borrowed the devices from federal ones or purchased their own with federal grant money.

    Ms. Yates, the deputy attorney general, said she hoped local agencies would adopt policies similar in spirit to the ones laid out by the Justice Department. She also said that the Department of Homeland Security was working on a cell-site policy similar to the one she outlined.

    The size of a briefcase, the technology is referred to by various names, including StingRay, Hailstorm and “dirtbox.” It is powerful enough to penetrate walls and is, in some cases, deployed from airplanes.

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