Natalie Plummer admits it's probably something she'll never do again: holding a sign warning motorists of an approaching speed trap.
According to ABC News, Plummer was riding her bicycle home from a nearby grocery store when she saw what appeared to be police pulling over "random" drivers. She parked her bike, took one of the paper bags from the grocery store, and wrote "Speed Trap!!!" on it to display to motorists passing by.
I was completely abiding by the law," Plummer told ABC's affiliate KRTK. "I was simply warning citizens of a situation ahead."
Within a mere minutes, a Houston Police officer allegedly approached Plummer, whom he said was in the street (to which Plummer denies), and arrested her, threatening her with a 3-5 year felony charge for obstructing justice. In addition to escorting the woman to jail, the police broke two of the iPods she had in her backpack when they seized her property for a search without her consent. Needless to say, the arrest raises so many red flags Ms. Plummer's lawyer probably feels like he hit Lotto.
The felony threat turned out to be fake, as Plummer was instead lodged in jail for 12 hours and made bail after the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. She eventually was charged with standing in the street, something she vehemently denies.
"He couldn't take me to jail for holding up this sign or he would have. So all he could do was make up something fake about it," Plummer told KRTK. The officer searched Plummer's backpack, she said, and threatened to arrest her for obstructing justice, a felony charge.
But in fairness we should not leap to any conclusions. So we spoke with Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva and asked her 'Could you tell me just how many people do Houston Police arrest for standing in the street?'
She said she couldn't answer that and referred me to the Houston Municipal Courts, which was a polite way of saying 'please, go away.'
We then asked, "If there's a problem with someone standing in the street, wouldn't most police extend a warning first?"
Silva maintained, "It's a municipal court citation, same as a traffic ticket." And she added that the department receives more than 1 million calls anually. Of course, Silva is in the unenviable position of having to defend the indefensible and she said all that the situation requires.
Michael Dirden, Houston's executive assistant police chief, said in a statement that if Plummer believes the police acted inappropriately, she should file a complaint with the department's internal affairs division. Perhaps things in Houston work like they do in Chicago, where two officers were recently investigated for writing one man 15 bad tickets within minutes from all over Chicago. The officers in the Chicago situation were somehow cleared from wrongdoing.
And while Plummer's idea of alerting drivers to an approaching speed trap might have been a nice gesture, state laws covering such warnings are decades old. Their most common form, flashing headlights, is legal in some states but illegal in others.
According to ABC News, laws in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Florida allow headlight flashing, while other states, such as Arizona and Alaska, forbid it. In Washington, drivers may be fined $124 for flashing their high beams within 400 feet of another vehicle for any reason. Other states forbid headlight flashing in some circumstances but not in others.
My money says that if this goes to court, the judge will find that Ms. Plummer's first amendments rights to free speech were pummeled by police who were a bit impatient or overzealous. Why she was placed in jail is something police will have to explain.
Look for the City of Houston to settle this out of court.