Tales From My Youth: Us vs Johnny Law
Shortly after graduating high school I made the decision to abandon college, get a full time job, and get married. My fiancé was a year younger than me so she was still finishing out her last year of high school but I wanted to be in a position to be a provider as we looked to start our adult lives together. Being that I was 18 when these events occurred I’m not sure it qualifies as youth but compared to my age now 18 definitely sounds much more youthful than mid-40’s.
The job I had taken was at a local glass production factory. I worked rotating 12 hour shifts and had made new friends among those I worked beside for so many hours each week. One of those friends lived in a nearby town in an apartment with this then girlfriend. They had a PC that needed some work and asked that me and another co-worker who knew about computers to come look at it and provide assistance in repairing it.
After talking about the trip, my fiancé’s brother asked to join us. He had an interest in computers and knew that we would likely end up at a parts store. He was looking to get a part for his computer and figured this would be a great chance to go.
And so it was that on this fateful day that me, my friend Mark, and my fiancé’s brother Daniel loaded up in my red 2-door Pontiac Grand Prix and headed off to our friend Mike’s apartment a few towns over. The three of us arrived at the apartment and set about looking into Mike’s computer issues. Mark was able to find a fix that didn’t require new hardware, which was good considering we later found that the local computer repair shop that sold parts was already closed. Daniel’s part of the trip had been a complete bust but at least he was among good company as the 5 of us enjoyed a nice evening hanging out and then a dinner as we went out to eat after Mark had fixed Mike’s computer.
The 5 of us, me, Mark, Daniel, Mike, and Mike’s girlfriend Jenny, had all piled into my car when we left to go eat and stop by the parts store. Afterwards, it was decided that we would take Mike and Jenny back to their apartment before heading home since we needed to have Daniel, as the youngest of us and the only one still in high school, home before his curfew.
But before heading to the apartment to drop off Mike and Jenny, Mark asked if we could stop by a nearby beer store for him to grab a quick 12-pack. Mark was 21, the only one among of us who was, and was afraid that by the time we took Mike and Jenny home and then Daniel home that it would be too late for him to get any beer that night and he wanted some for the next day. At the time, our hometown was considered “dry” and did not allow retail alcohol sales. Mark would have had to drive several miles outside of town to the nearest store where he could purchase his drinks so it only seemed logical to make a quick stop then while we were already near a store that sold those products.
Nobody in the car thought anything about it. None of us had consumed anything alcoholic all night, there was no other alcohol in the car, and because there was no room left in the car with it being full of passengers Mark’s booze would have to ride in the trunk. Sure, the fact that I was driving the car and was a minor meant that any alcohol in the car could be considered mine and thus would be illegal but we didn’t think about it at the time. We had no intentions of doing anything wrong, only to let my friend run in to legally buy himself some beer before taking everyone home.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the small town where the beer store was located was under surveillance. the local cops were watching for illegal beer sales, open container violations, and cars full of minors with alcohol in them. Apparently, that area was well known for selling beer to minors and local minors routinely having older friends buy them beer. And we walked right into the middle of it giving all the appearances the cops were looking for.
We had a car full of young looking people and someone from the car purchased beer before placing it into the car full of youngsters. We pulled out of the parking lot without a care or concern in the world. Mark had placed the unopened beer container in the truck of my car and we were headed to take Mike and Jenny home. That was it. We weren’t planning some night of underage drinking but the cops didn’t know that.
Within less than a mile from the store the rear view mirror was flooded by the flashing lights of a cop car. I pulled over, as I was expected to, but was unsure why I was being stopped at that point. I knew I wasn’t speeding. My lights all worked and were on. We were wearing our seat belts. Everything checked out aside from the fact that a minor was driving a car that someone had placed alcoholic beverages into, but again that never crossed our minds.
A moment later there were two cops alongside my car, one on each side. I rolled down my windows as the cops went about asking us who we were, if we had ID, what we were doing there, and all of the other usual questions you might expect. At first, I answered the questions honestly and respectfully but the cop asking the questions didn’t seem to believe me. He began asking the same questions repeatedly hoping to catch me in some lie and then he started asking questions that I felt were unnecessary. As his tone shifted, so did mine.
This shift in tone may have also been the result of the growing collection of police cars and officers that continued to arrive on the scene and surround my car. At one point I counted 5 cop cars and no less than 8 officers. And it seemed that the greater the number of officers that showed up to watch the events unfold that the less the lead cop was concerned with respect and more concerned with exerting his authority, not an approach I appreciated and my growing attitude reflected.
Next, the cops decided that they wanted to take us out of my 2-door car 1-by-1 and question us individually about our night. They started with the 3 passengers in the back of the car but refused to let Mark or I get out of the car to allow them easy access into or out of the car. We were forced to sit in the front seats while the passengers climbed through the narrow space between the car’s exterior edge and the seat in front of them. Then, after Mike, Jenny, and Daniel had all gotten out of the car when it was their turn and then gotten back into the car when their turn was over, the officer took Mark out of the car. They saved me for last.
The officer had already grown tired of my attitude just as I had his. When I first handed him my license and insurance information I called out that the insurance was in my parents’ name still but that I was a listed driver. But after his friends showed up, the cop angrily returned to my window and asked me who Rick was and why the car was registered in his name and not mine. He still had my license and insurance card. The insurance card had Rick’s name on it as the policy holder, the address on the insurance card was the same the address on my license, and I had already explained to him that the insurance was in my dad’s name. It was obvious to anyone with a brain with all of those clues that my dad was named Rick, that I still lived at home, and that the car was registered in my dad’s name, hence why he also carried the insurance on the car.
The cop didn’t seem to appreciate it when I pointed that out. “Who is Rick and why is the car registered in his name if this is your car?” “Rick is my dad. They bought the car for me which is why its mine. It’s registered to him just like the insurance is in his name like I already told you once.”
I likely wouldn’t have had as much of an attitude with him if he hadn’t had such a shitty attitude with me. I was raised with the notion of if you want respect then you must first give respect. He wasn’t respecting me so I had no desire to respect him. He may have worn a badge but that didn’t mean he was worthy of my respect. I had to follow his orders as he did have authority but no where in that does it mean that I have to respect him.
So finally when he pulled me out the car, he pulled me around to the back to the car and made me open my trunk. I knew I could have pulled some jurisdictional argument to have delayed things but I would have been forced to open the trunk one way or the other. My goal was get this over with as quickly as possible so I obliged and opened the truck.
”Well what is that?” He asked rhetorically, referring to the unopened case of Budweiser cans Mark had just purchased and placed in the trunk while the cops watched from a distance. “Is that your beer?”
“Well this is your car therefore this your beer!”
”Well, technically, as you pointed out, this is Rick’s car since its registered in his name.”
”Well, you’re driving the vehicle which makes its contents yours.”
”So this is your beer.”
”If you say so.”
”That my lunch cooler that I take to work.”
“What”s in it?”
”Nothing. I just haven’t taken it out of the car since my last shift.”
I opened the cooler, lifted it out of the trunk, flipped it upside down, and shook it.
By the end of the exchange it was nothing but sass and sarcasm being exchanged between me and the lead officer. He wanted so badly to lock me up but had nothing to go on. The only charge he had was Minor in Possession since I was legally in possession of the beer as the driver of the car. Had I thought about it and let Mark drive when we left the store then there would have been absolutely nothing illegal about our situation. They wanted to write us tickets and were bound and determined to do it, especially after getting so much attitude from me over the whole ordeal that I knew was being blown out of proportion. The stop concluded with the cops confiscating Mark’s beer as “evidence” and arresting Mike on a warrant that would later be found to be invalid and he would be released. Mark received a Contributing to the Delinquency of Minors ticket and the rest of us each received a Minor in Possession despite none of us having reasonable access to the beer that had been safely stored in the trunk of my car.
The next day, Daniel’s dad, my soon-to-be father-in-law, called the police department that issued the tickets and spoke to the police chief. He expressed his concerns surrounding the terms of the stop and the legitimacy of the tickets written. The chief stepped away to speak to the officer who issued the tickets and returned a few minutes later with a compromise. The chief of police agreed to drop the M.I.P. Tickets for the 3 passengers in the back seat but that was it. He commented that he considered dropping Mark’s ticket too but couldn’t because if he dropped Mark’s ticket then he would have to drop mine. The issuing officer didn’t want to drop my ticket because of my “bad attitude” during the stop.
We accepted that deal because we had another trick up our sleeves. Mark’s mom was a high ranking officer at a local bank and had friends in a variety of fields, one of whom was a well-respected local lawyer. Mark and I worked out a deal with this lawyer to fight the tickets. We issued written statements to our lawyer regarding the events of the night and went on about our business. Our court date rolled around and our lawyer appeared in court on our behalf while Mark and I were at work. She argued our case and the judge agreed to dismiss the charges. For all that work, all that effort, all that attitude and disrespect from that officer and his entourage, the only thing the department got was a free case of Bud. Not one of our tickets had to be paid. Mike’s arrest was wiped clean since they hauled him in on a closed warrant “by mistake”. We all slept in our beds without a care in the world and they wasted half their shift on stop that only got them angry.
And the truly amusing part of this story is that while they had Mike in the backseat of their patrol car transporting him to the jail to be booked on an invalid warrant, they were asking him about his job. One even asked if he would be willing to vouch for him if he applied where we worked. How pathetic! Makes a bogus arrest on an invalid warrant and then has the audacity to ask for a job reference.
I am not going to lie, I am a combative person who enjoys a good debate. But I’m also someone who doesn’t tolerate disrespect and ignorance. If you come at me with either then expect to get some sharp-tongued replies. If you come at me with both then expect an equal amount of sarcasm. I won’t run from the cops. I won’t fight the cops. I won’t refuse to comply with the cops. But I won’t tolerate a cop being an asshole just because he thinks he can be because he wears a badge. If he wants respect during an interaction with me then he better show me the same respect he expects to receive because that’s exactly what he’s going to get. That sentiment is just as true today as it was all those years ago when that cop discovered it for himself in real-time.
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