The career of an effective Trooper hinges on two key elements, Judgment and Experience. Often left without “back-up” anywhere in sight or earshot, troopers are left to make enforcement calls with no advice and are always subject to second be second guessed.
It is not wise to make judgments in the rear view mirror of an incident without being there or hearing the entire story from both sides.
In this case however there are some glaring problems for both the Trooper and U of O football player Cliff Harris.
Let’s review the circumstances as reported:
1) 4:30 AM
2) 118 MPH
3) Strong Smell of what Trooper Stallsworth reports as Marijuana in the vehicle; 4) Suspended Drivers License (Suspended for what is a critical question?)
5) Trooper reports to the supervisor that Harris may be under the influence of Marijuana.
6) Reports eyes as “Blown”. A term meaning showing the potential influence of the use of intoxicants.
7) Gives a passenger in the vehicle a Field Sobriety Test to determine a level of intoxication.
The Trooper had every reason to arrest Harris. These factors lead me to believe the Trooper’s instincts told him that drugs and or alcohol had influenced the drivers reckless driving behavior. And yes, 118 MPH can be considered driving reckless. Extraordinarily high speed alone (even at 4:30 AM) has often been the “probable cause” police officer have used to physically arrest a person and lodged them in jail for the traffic crime “Reckless Driving”.
I disagree with my good friend OSP Spokesman Lieutenant Hastings on three points.
First, there was more than enough probable cause to arrest Harris if not for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (remember intoxicants =drugs/and or alcohol) then for Reckless Driving. The passengers in the vehicle strengthen the case for Reckless driving because of their immediate exposure to Harris’ reckless actions.
Second, back up or not, a troopers job is dangerous and often not convenient. If Trooper Stallsworth believe he had determined he had the elements of DUII, Reckless Driving or wanted to search the vehicle with consent or incident to the arrest or later after the vehicle was towed with a warrant he needed to wait for backup. Or he needed to make the arrest– as happens hundreds of times without backup across this state every year. Troopers’ careers hinge and judgment and experience.
Trooper Stallsworth made the call to issue the citation and release Harris and his passengers. I will never second guess his final decision. However if I were his supervisor, the next day I would caution him regarding the rationale he used to make the decision. A good supervisor would remind him that if releasing Harris would have later ended in a motor vehicle accident or another tragedy just be sure that decision to cite and not arrest was really in the public’s best interest. A trooper’s job is to Serve and Protect and be safe not to Catch and Release because it is easier.
Was there preferential treatment? Probably not. However there was tortured logic and downstream suppositions that should have had no bearing as the facts in front of the trooper were being assessed.
And to Harris and his compadres remember: Oregon State Troopers have a job to do and it is a tough one. Your responsibility under the law is to follow it. But once you’ve made your choices you have other ones too. You can invoke your State and Federal constitutional rights. That is not only your right to do so it is the only smart thing to do.
In other words next time remember …..”You have the right to remain silent”. Bernie Giusto is the former Multnomah County Sheriff, former Gresham Police Chief and former OSP Trooper and Spokesman. His career in law enforcement has spanned more than 30 years.
Tell ’em where you saw it. Http://www.victoriataft.com