Two men and a baby Emotional emergencies: Story of arrested father is a tale of attitudes and authority.

July 12, 1996

IF THERE IS ONE thing policemen hate, it's an attitude. The display of a little deference can make all the difference between a hefty ticket and being sent on your way with the admonition to slow down from now on. In the case of David R. Lemmon, the Baltimore City firefighter arrested for speeding Mondaywhile trying to get his sick baby to the doctor, attitude accounts for why he ended up in handcuffs -- despite circumstances that cried out for leniency.

This is the story of two men in uniform who made each other angry, with unpleasant consequences for both. Mr. Lemmon faces prosecution for speeding. (Prosecutors had the good sense to drop more serious charges of fleeing and eluding arrest.) The officer, meanwhile, made county police look stupid for throwing the book at someone whose error stemmed from panic during a genuine emergency.

Mr. Lemmon was going 50 mph in a 25-mph zone in Reisterstown to get his daughter, who was running a high fever, to the doctor. When a policeman tried to flag him down, he refused to stop. He should have stopped. But he was frightened and upset, he said, and people don't always think clearly when in that state.

The officer chased him to the doctor's office -- after all, he had no way of knowing why Mr. Lemmon was not stopping -- where the distraught father was more concerned with getting his child in the building. His mistake was not that he put the baby's needs before the officer's demands, but that he gave the officer the definite impression that he didn't have to answer to him at all, because he was a fireman and because of the situation. The police report says he argued with the officer and walked away when the officer started to write a ticket -- not a smart thing to do.

Was it necessary for the policeman to arrest the fireman, in front of his children and a doctor's office full of people? No. Speeding is wrong, as is mouthing off to an officer. But Mr. Lemmon clearly was distressed over his child. The policeman should have finishing writing that ticket and told Mr. Lemmon to tell his story to the judge. The fireman still would have had to answer for his misdemeanors. And the police, in exchange for the satisfaction of punishing a bad attitude, would have avoided looking like bad guys.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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