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Big Jack Attack

Police cop an atttitude with local teens

By D.C. Cohen

'LAST NIGHT I was pulled over by three police cars and a police helicopter." Sounds like something a 16-year-old might make up to impress friends. In this case, it is not a tall tale but an impossible truth. A good friend, Franco Benevento, and I are driving home from the Oct. 10 Prince concert at Shoreline Amphitheater. We stop for a snack at the Jack in the Box on Branham and Almaden. We order, get our food and sit down with friends. On the other side of the restaurant, an argument breaks out between a few Leland and Pioneer students. It eventually fades, and the sides part. Minutes later, in the parking lot, the fight is rekindled with insults and yelling. A circle of 30 or 40 spectators forms. Employees, noticing the fight, call the police. As word gets around, the crowd flees.

Franco and I leave the restaurant and pull out of the parking lot. We see a friend's car across the street. I make a U-turn and stop behind them, and Franco gets out to see what's going on. They want to wait for everyone to clear out before heading home. Another car pulls up ahead of our friend's, also waiting. Minutes later, a police helicopter's searchlight covers the area. Two cops are about 100 yards behind us. The two cars in front of us speed off. Franco, who's still out of the car, walks over and gets in. Two police cars are right behind us now, and the light has focused on my car. Not knowing what to do, I drive to the nearest parking lot and stop.

The police cars pull in behind me. Five minutes or so pass and nothing happens. Eventually, one officer approaches the passenger side. He asks if we were in a fight. We say no. He asks for I.D, which Franco doesn't have, and then he orders Franco out of the car, searches him and begins asking him questions. Meanwhile, another officer appears on the driver's side and asks me to step out of the car. He searches me and asks questions.

He talks on his radio, telling someone my name and driver's license number. The other officer now comes over to me. More interrogation.

"Were you involved in the fight?"

"No."

"Do you know who was? ... How did the fight start?"

"I don't know. They were arguing inside for a few minutes, but it stopped. Later, it restarted outside somehow."

"You seem like a man of perception. Why don't you infer how it started?"

"I don't know."

"All I want is the truth."

"All I could hear was the swearing."

"So you could hear the argument."

"No, I could hear the swear words because they're louder."

Now Franco walks over to me. The officer asks him similar questions, and Franco's responses are somehow better than mine because the police officer turns to me and says, "See? All I want is the truth, and he told it to me. Instead, you show me disrespect and lie to me."

Now he asks me if I have any drugs, weapons or "anything like that" in the car. I tell him exactly what is inside the car: my backpack, golf clubs, and the food I bought at Jack in the Box. He doesn't believe me.

Now he searches my car. Front seat, back seat, trunk, backpack, golf clubs and all. He even manages to further tear a rip in my seat cover. I guess I could have hidden contraband in this once-tiny hole. Now it's a 4-inch gash.

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see where they have just cause for pulling me over, questioning me or searching my person, my car and my belongings. I was not in Jack in the Box when they arrived, nor in its parking lot. The police simply assumed that since I was a teenager, I must have been involved with whatever trouble there was. If age determines eligibility for crime, are entire adult populations suspects for one adult criminal's actions?

I do not wish to generalize about a police force from a single experience, and I remain optimistic that other officers hold up the ideals of peace and justice. But the officers in this instance followed no such ideals. They violated our Constitution's Fourth Amendment. Unfortunately, I failed to ask for names and badge numbers. If I could confront them, I imagine none of the officers would admit to any wrongdoing or even have the courage to speak with me face to face, without uniforms or searchlights.


D.C. Cohen is a student at Bellarmine Preparatory School.

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From the Nov. 26-Dec. 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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