Man, 74, cuffed like a criminal

May 03, 2001|By Myron Beckenstein

IN RECENT articles about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it's OK for police to arrest and handcuff people for minor traffic violations, they have reassured us that it can't happen in Maryland because state law prevents police arrests in almost all such situations.

Maybe in theory.

Several years ago, my father was arrested and handcuffed for allegedly driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone.

He and my mother were on their way to Baltimore for Mother's Day and had just entered Maryland on Interstate 70 near Hancock when the "crime of the century" took place. My father was pulled over and, after he refused to sign the ticket -- an act he thought would acknowledge guilt -- the state trooper took appropriate action: My 74-year-old, 5-foot-7-inch father was arrested and handcuffed.

The trooper could tell my father had no concealed weapon because he wasn't wearing a jacket. The potentially dangerous felon did pose one problem because he only has one arm. But the trooper was up to the situation and handcuffed the arm to the back of my father's belt.

My mother posed another problem, even though she was two years younger and quite a few inches shorter: She never had learned how to drive and recently had been ill. So what was to be done with her while my father was hauled off to jail? The trooper decided the car would be impounded and my mother sent to a motel.

Preferring to confess to the crime than have who-knows-what happen to his wife, my father relented and signed the ticket. Only then was he told that the signature was not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment of receipt of the ticket. If he had been told in the first place, the incident would have prevented.

The handcuffs were removed and my parents were able to continue their trip without further turmoil.

Was this an isolated incident? I certainly hope so, but it still was one the state condoned. The trooper wasn't a rookie -- he was a 20-year veteran -- and a police sergeant was in his patrol car.

The story came out only after my parents had been visiting for a while, not right away. Furious, I wrote to the then-acting state superintendent of police, detailing the complaint. He never replied. I then wrote to the governor. He (his aides, most likely) contacted the superintendent, who conducted an "investigation" and got in touch with me.

The "investigation" turned up what most such police investigations turn up: The facts were misrepresented and the officer conducted himself flawlessly. That the officer's story made no logical sense didn't seem to matter. The steps had been followed and another pesky civilian complaint had been dealt with.

But even in whitewashing the trooper's actions, there was no denial of the arrest and handcuffing. And no one ever said it was against state policy, something I never knew until the reassuring news last week that such things never happen in Maryland.

Myron Beckenstein is an editor on the Foreign Desk at The Sun.

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