Tuesday, February 19, 2008
For Lucy
This post is for Lucy, who wanted the rest of the story mentioned in this post.

Back when I was a sophomore in college, I was fortunate enough to have a car on campus. This was a big deal to my father who didn't want me trapped anywhere.

If you've ever been to a Big 10 school on the day of a home football game, you know how crazy it can be. Everywhere you go, there is a line to get in. Everywhere you go there is a crush of people and not enough air.

Well, on one such evening, I needed some open air and space. So, I invited a few friends and we hit the road. We intended to drive to Gibson City, IL and stop at the Rock 'n Roll McDonald's for a coke. This was the plan...but the minute we arrived in Gibson City, we hit a wall. You see, we had forgotten to look at the time. In Champaign-Urbana, 11 p.m. is early; but in Gibson City, everything was closed down for the night.

From the minute that we rolled into town (obeying all traffic laws and speed directives), the error was obvious. So, at the stoplight, I turned east, intending to find an alternative place to stop, or turnaround and head back to campus. In no time at all, it became obvious that we were being followed.

As I said, the town was dark and nobody was out and about. So, the lone car in town following us closely was a bit...odd to say the least. But, I continued to obey all laws and turned into a side street to turn around. The strange car followed however, flashing his red and blue lights, and then turned this big spotlight on us. I pulled over to the curb like the good little girl that I was and waited for the officer to come to the door.

It took a very long time for him to arrive at my door, but when he finally deigned to do so, I rolled down the window to speak to him. He did not identify himself. He asked me what I was doing in town. I explained our goal and our error as it pertained to the clock and indicated our intention to return to Champaign when he pulled me over.

He asked for my driver's license and I handed it over. He returned to his vehicle and made us wait another 15 minutes.

A 15 minutes, by the way, in which I was becoming increasingly more nervous. Because it is now nearly midnight and we are parked on a dark street, we can't see if the car behind us is actually a cop car. And, since his lights are still trained on us like we are sneaking over the wire of a prison, seeing anything much of our surroundings is difficult. He finally comes back to the car and I am expecting to be ticketed, so I ask what I did wrong.

He refuses to respond, instead asking me for identification of all of my passengers.

Now I'm smelling somthing rotten, but I continue to play nice. There was one girl and two boys in the car. The other girl was of Latin origin, one guy was black, and the other guy was pasty-white and geeky. I only mention it so that you will understand it would be difficult for us to match any profile or a description of some wanted suspects.

Unfortunately for our "cop", we were college students. Nobody else in the car had any id on them. They handed over their names, however, and the girl knew her license # by heart, so she gave him that. He then retreated back to his car and left us cooling our heels again.

Another 10 or 15 minutes later he comes back to our car. This time, he asks if we are hiding any contraband, if he can search the vehicle. I tell him no, we aren't hiding anything and no he can't search the car. I figured that if he wanted to search the car, he needed probable cause to do so. And, to be honest, I didn't think he was a cop. But, this was back before cell phones were really commonplace, so I was hedging my bets. If he really was a cop, he could call another officer to the scene and search the vehicle if he felt he had probable cause. If he were not a cop, however...something else would happen.

I literally didn't know which way it would go. Anyway, he goes back to his car again, leaving us wondering, and returns five minutes later to tell us we were free to go.

We drive home, still not knowing if he was a real cop, just thankful to be alive and safe.

The next day, I call my dad and tell him about our adventure and he...freaks. He says I need to call the cops and report it. So, I did. I called the Gibson City PD and reported my being stopped and not being sure that it was a cop who did so. They looked my license plate up and informed me that they had no record of me being stopped. And, neither did the county when I called them. More importantly, neither the city nor county cop shop was all that concerned that I was stopped by someone pretending to be a cop.

So, I called my dad back and told him what I was told.

That's when my father called the County Sheriff and demanded to know what was being done to make the streets safe - that there was some sort of predator on the loose. He assured the sheriff that I was a very observant girl and could work with an artist to produce a sketch and would happily drive back to Gibson City to give an interview to the investigating officers. He also told the Sheriff that had his daughter listened to him "and kept a handgun under her seat like I wanted her to, that SOB might be dead now." The Sheriff didn't really give my father any information either.

But, 30 minutes later, the district attorney called me up. She informed me that there was no reason to panic, that I was pulled over by a cop. She refused to explain, however, why when I asked, neither the city or county boys would admit to it. She then went to great pains to explain to me exactly what rights you and I don't have when we are pulled over by a cop.

Suffice it to say that I have never been so pissed in my life as I was at that moment. I will never again travel anywhere in a car without a cell phone. I will never again submit to being stopped without getting the officer's full name, badge number, and license plate.

I don't really know what that guys problem was with us. We were driving 20 in a 25 and obeying all traffic laws. Maybe he was just bored - I don't know. But he really scared the shit out of me, and the departments denying I'd been pulled over stank of coverup...but of what?

I don't know. Just be careful out there. Because, real cop or no, he can still be a threat to you.

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posted by Phoenix | 12:27 PM


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