Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Just To Get A Better Understanding Of An Unlawful Arrest The Only Thing Missing is A Little Dab Of Excessive Force,With A Dash of Taser

Papers Please: Arrested At Circuit City

Today was an eventful day. I drove to Cleveland, reunited with my father’s side of the family and got arrested. More on that arrested part to come.

For the labor day weekend my father decided to host a small family reunion. My sister flew in from California and I drove in from Pittsburgh to visit my father, his wife and my little brother and sister. Shortly after arriving we packed the whole family into my father’s Buick and headed off to the grocery store to buy some ingredients to make monkeybread. (It’s my little sister’s birthday today and that was her cute/bizare birthday request.)

Next to the grocery store was a Circuit City. (The Brooklyn, Ohio Circuit City to be exact.) Having forgotten that it was my sister’s birthday I decided to run in and buy her a last minute gift. I settled on Disney’s “Cars” game for the Nintendo Wii. I also needed to purchase a Power Squid surge protector which I paid for separately with my business credit card. As I headed towards the exit doors I passed a gentleman whose name I would later learn is Santura. As I began to walk towards the doors Santura said, “Sir, I need to examine your receipt.” I responded by continuing to walk past him while saying, “No thank you.”

As I walked through the double doors I heard Santura yelling for his manager behind me. My father and the family had the Buick pulled up waiting for me outside the doors to Circuit City. I opened the door and got into the back seat while Santura and his manager, whose name I have since learned is Joe Atha, came running up to the vehicle. I closed the door and as my father was just about to pull away the manager, Joe, yelled for us to stop. Of course I knew what this was about, but I played dumb and pretended that I didn’t know what the problem was. I wanted to give Joe the chance to explain what all the fuss was for.

I reopened the door to talk with Joe and at this point Joe positioned his body between the open car door and myself. (I was still seated in the Buick.) Joe placed his left hand on the roof of the car and his right hand on the open car door. I asked Joe if there was a problem. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Is there a problem?”
Joe: “I need to examine your bag and receipt before letting you leave this parking lot.”
Me: “I paid for the contents in this bag. Are you accusing me of stealing?”
Joe: “I’m not accusing you of anything, but I’m allowed by law to look through your bag when you leave.”
Me: “Which law states that? Name the law that gives you the right to examine my bag when I leave a Circuit City.”

Of course Joe wasn’t able to name the law that gives him, a U.S. citizen and Circuit City employee the right to examine anything that I, a U.S. citizen and Circuit City customer am carrying out of the store. I’ve dealt with these scare tactics at other stores in the past including other Circuit Cities, Best Buys and Guitar Centers. I’ve always taken the stance that retail stores shouldn’t treat their loyal customers as criminals and that customers shouldn’t so willingly give up their rights along with their money. Theft sucks and I wish that shoplifters were treated more harshly than they are, but the fact is that I am not a shiplifter shoplifter and shouldn’t have to forfeit my civil rights when leaving a store.

I twice asked Joe to back away from the car so that I could close the door. Joe refused. On three occasions I tried to pull the door closed but Joe pushed back on the door with his hip and hands. I then gave Joe three options:

  1. “Accuse me of shoplifting and call the police. I will gladly wait for them to arrive.”
  2. “Back away from the car so that I can close the door and drive away.”
  3. “If you refuse to let me leave I will be forced to call the police.”

Joe didn’t budge. At this point I pushed my way past Joe and walked onto the sidewalk next to the building. I pulled out my phone and dialed 911.

Two minutes later Brooklyn, Ohio police officer Ernie Arroyo arrived on the scene. As I began to explain the story leading up to Joe Atha preventing my egress from the parking lot, officer Arroyo began to question why I refused to show my receipt in the first place. I explained that I lawfully purchased the contents in the bag and didn’t feel that it was necessary for me to let a Circuit City employee inspect the bag as I left. Officer Arroyo disagreed. He claimed that stores have the right to inspect all receipts and all bags upon leaving their store.

At this point Officer Arroyo asked to see my receipt and driver’s license. I handed over the receipt, and stated that my name is Michael Righi. Again, Officer Arroyo asked to see my driver’s license. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “I’m required by law to state that my name is Michael Righi, but I do not have to provide you with my driver’s license since I am not operating a vehicle.”
Officer Arroyo: “Give me your driver’s license or I will place you under arrest.”
Me: “My name is Michael Righi. I am not willing to provide you with my driver’s license.”
Officer Arroyo: “Turn around and up against the wall.”

At this point I was placed in handcuffs, patted down, had my wallet removed from my back pocket and was placed in the back of Officer Arroyo’s police car. My three siblings sat in the back of the Buick crying their eyes out, which is the only part of today that I regret. I wish my little brother and sisters didn’t have to watch this, but I knew exactly what I was doing and was very careful with my words. Other than putting my family through a little scare I don’t regret anything that happened today.

Officer Arroyo ran my father’s license plate, my driver’s license and inspected my two receipts along with the contents of my bag. He also handed over my Circuit City bag to Joe Atha and allowed him to ensure that in fact I stole nothing from the store.

While being driven down to the station in the back of the police car I struck up a conversation with Officer Arroyo. I asked him if he was surprised that my receipts matched the contents in the bag and in a surprise moment of honesty he admitted that he was. I then asked Officer Arroyo what charges were going to be brought against me. He explained that I had been arrested for failure to produce my driver’s license. I asked him what would happen if I never learned to drive and didn’t have a driver’s license. After all, at the time that he arrested me I was standing on a sidewalk outside a Circuit City. I wasn’t driving a car, and even when I was seated in the Buick I was a back seat passenger. The officer never gave me a satisfactory answer to this question, but promised to explain the law to me after I was booked.

This morning I slept through my alarm clock and was in a hurry to drive to Cleveland. I didn’t have time to iron my shirt, and this is what I regretted while my mugshot was being taken. Listen up kids. Always press your clothes because you never know when you’ll be unlawfully arrested.

Shortly after being booked, fingerprints and all, Officer Arroyo presented me with my charges:

ORD:525.07: Obstructing Official Business (M-2)
(a) No person, without privilege to do so and with purpose to prevent, obstruct or delay the performance by a public official of any authorized act within the public official’s offical capacity shall do any act that hampers or impedes a public official in the performance of the public official’s lawful duties.

Not being able to find the law in the books that states that a citizen must provide a driver’s license while walking through a parking lot, Officer Arroyo had to settle for “obstructing official business.” Keep in mind that the official business that I was supposedly obstructing was business that I initiated by calling the police. I called for help and I got arrested.

My father posted the $300 bail that was needed to get me out of jail and back on my way to Park Avenue Place. (Sorry for the lame Monopoly joke, but it’s my first time being arrested. Cut me some humor slack.) After being released I stuck around the police station for a little while to fill out the necessary paper work to press charges against the Circuit City manager who physically prevented me from leaving the parking lot. I’m most interested in seeing my charges dropped for refusing to present identification, but I view that as a completely separate issue from the store manager interfering with my egress.

I understand that my day would have gone a lot smoother if I had agreed to let loss prevention inspect my bag. I understand that my day would have gone a lot smoother if I had agreed to hand over my driver’s license when asked by Officer Arroyo. However, I am not interested in living my life smoothly. I am interested in living my life on strong principles and standing up for my rights as a consumer, a U.S. citizen and a human being. Allowing stores to inspect our bags at will might seem like a trivial matter, but it creates an atmosphere of obedience which is a dangerous thing. Allowing police officers to see our papers at will might seem like a trivial matter, but it creates a fear-of-authority atmosphere which can be all too easily abused.

I can reluctantly understand having to show a permit to fish, a permit to drive and a permit to carry a weapon. Having to show a permit to exist is a scary idea which I got a strong taste of today.

My hearing is scheduled for September 20th, 2007. I will be contacting the ACLU and the IDP on Tuesday (the next business day), and I plan to fight these charges no matter what it takes. I will provide updates on this page as events unfold.

September 1st, 2007 @ 10:50PM EST Update:The police officer never read me my Miranda rights. I’ve heard differing opinions on how much this really matters and will certainly be bringing this up with my attorney.

September 1st, 2007 @11:34PM EST Update:I found the detail on Ohio’s “stop and identify” law. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but I will spell out the important part:

2921.29 (C) Nothing in this section requires a person to answer any questions beyond that person’s name, address, or date of birth. Nothing in this section authorizes a law enforcement officer to arrest a person for not providing any information beyond that person’s name, address, or date of birth or for refusing to describe the offense observed.

I stated my name to the police officer, and if he had asked me for my address and date of birth I would have provided that as well. The officer specifically asked for my driver’s license and this is what I was unwilling to provide. If I’m reading this correctly it would appear that Ohio’s law specifically protects citizens from having to hand over driver’s licenses unless they are operating a motor vehicle. This is what I always believed, but it’s nice to see it in writing.

September 2nd, 2007 @10:01AM EST Update: I was speaking to my father this morning about what unfolded yesterday, and he told me something that I was not aware of until this point. While I was speaking to Joe Atha from the back seat of the car, Santura stood in front of my father’s vehicle with his hands out to the side as a way of preventing him from driving forward. My father would not have been able to drive forward because Santura stood in the way, and he would not have been able to drive backwards because the open door would have hit Joe who was leaning into the car.

September 2nd, 2007 @ 5:05PM EST Update:Thank you for those of you who have submitted donations to help me fight these charges. I have been overwhelmed with the response that this story has received in the past twelve hours. A few people contacted me wanting more information about the case. Here are some answers to your questions:

Q: Which police department arrested you?
A: I was a arrested by a police officer working for the City of Brooklyn, Ohio located at 7619 Memphis Avenue Brooklyn, Ohio 44144. This is in Cuyahoga County.

Q: What is your case number?
A: I don’t know if my case number is the same thing as my ticket number, but the officer gave me a summons with the following across the top: “Ticket Number: A10514″

Q: Did you get Officer Ernie Arroyo’s badge number?
A: Yes, his badge number is #49. His surpervisor is Sgt. Knapp, whose badge number is #36.

Q: Should I be boycotting Circuit City?
A: At this time I am not recommending a boycott of Circuit City because Circuit City has yet to respond to my complaint. I want to give them a chance to respond to this incident before determining whether or not it makes sense for me to endorse a boycott.

Q: Should I be contacting the Brooklyn, Ohio Police Department?
A: Thank you for expressing an interest in taking this matter up personally, and thank you to those of you who already contacted the Brooklyn, Ohio police department. However, I urge you to please not tie up their emergency services with complaints. If you would like to voice a complaint I think it would be more appropriate to do so with the mayor or city council. Their contact information is available at the Brooklyn, Ohio City Government web site.

Q: What is the best way to reach you?
A: I can be reached by email at michael dot righi at field expert dot com.

September 4th, 2007 @ 2:53PM EST Update:Thank you to everybody who left a comment on this page. My web server has been taking a beating from all the traffic and I’m afraid I had to turn commenting off in order to keep the site alive. If you would like to read the comments that people left you can do so here.