I have a story I want to pass on. This one isn’t quite as entertaining as most of my road experiences. This happened to me on the way to my last show.
I was on my way to Coffeeville KS from Chicago. I had my cruise control set to avoid any entanglements with Law Enforcement. It was a pretty uneventful drive until I was just about 20 miles north of St. Louis. Sitting between the north and south bound lanes of I-55 there was a black unmarked car. Lots of antennas on that sucker. Since I wasn’t speeding I didn’t pay much attention to it until I looked in my rearview and saw that they were tailing me.
I’m not really new at this so I just kept on driving and waited to see if they were actually tailing me or just waiting to get off at the next exit. They stayed right behind me for a few miles and then started to pull around me. Instead of passing though, they just drove beside me for a few miles and then got back behind me. I was expecting to get pulled over but they kept tailing me another few miles.
By now we had gone about 10 miles and passed a couple of exits so I figured they were running my plates.
They started around me again so I figured the plates had come back clean and they’d go tail somebody else.
They pulled up beside me again but we were at an entrance ramp onto I-55 and a car had merged into my lane from the ramp so I had to apply some brake to avoid running up their tailpipe. As soon as I applied the brake the black antennae car braked hard and pulled in behind me and hit the lights.
I pulled over and rolled the window down. One of the cops came up to the car and asked me if I knew why he’d pulled me over. I told him I had no idea, I knew I wasn’t speeding and he said no I wasn’t speeding but I was wearing earbuds. They’re for my GPS.
I said OK and then he told me that I also had an air freshener hanging from my mirror that could obstruct my vision, as well as having a crack in my windshield. The crack runs across the bottom of the window, but he said that was also an obstruction of my view.
Years of roadwork and multiple shakedowns from cops have taught me that the best thing to do in that situation is just hand them your driver’s license and proof of insurance and don’t say anything else.
I already had my license in my hand and when I handed it to the cop he initially said he didn’t need to see it, then changed his mind and said he better run it just to be safe.
He went back to his car and after about ten minutes he came back, handed me my license, said it was clean and to not wear earbuds.
I was just about to ask him if I was free to go when he asked if I had any kind of drugs or large amounts of cash in the car. I told him that I didn’t. He asked if I had any cocaine, weed, or meth. I told him I didn’t.
Then he asked if I’d mind if he searched my car. In his defense, he made sure to point out that I wasn’t obligated to submit to a search, he wasn’t requiring me to, as that would violate my 4th amendment right against unreasonable searches.
I know a little bit about searches and what the cops are supposed to be doing since I’m married to a lawyer and my guitar player has a day job as a lawyer, and they are always telling me how this stuff is supposed to go, according to the constitution and the 250 years worth of Supreme Court cases that had to be decided because the cops keep trying to prove that them thinking there’s probable cause is the same as there actually being probable cause. So I know kind of how these things are supposed to happen, and then I also know how they really happen. Which brings me back to my story –
I told the officer that I still had a long way to go and really needed to be on my way.
That was when he told me I needed to wait for the K9 unit to check my car out and that it would be along in just a minute. For those of you following along, the cops don’t need your consent or probable cause to run a drug dog around your car.
The K9 unit showed up about 5 minutes later. I can only assume the dog had already been sent for when they pulled me over. Hell, that might have been why they tailed me for so long, to give the K9 unit time to get there.
The dog handler came over and asked me to step out of the car while he walked his dog around it.
I got out of the car and that was the first time I really noticed the cops. They were dressed like commandos or ninjas, maybe navy seals. They were wearing full Kevlar, weapons all over their vests, pistols and mace and all kinds of Batman looking stuff, dressed all in black right down to their ski hats and gloves. Because people with air fresheners are scary, I guess.
The dog handler took his dog around a couple of times and the three cops had a little pow wow there beside my car.
The K9 officer came and told me that his dog had alerted on my car. He told me his dog never missed (like it mattered if I believed that anyway) and asked where I had the drugs stashed. I told him I didn’t have any drugs or any money but now that his dog had given them probable cause I knew they were gonna do their search. And they did.
I wasn’t cuffed but I was locked in the back of the black antennae car while the three cops tossed my car, all my luggage, my guitar cases, and everything else in the car, including my dirty socks that hadn’t made it into the laundry bag and the mostly empty bag of strawberry twizzlers.
After about 40 minutes they put it all back in my car and then told me they didn’t find anything and I was free to go.
I asked about the obstructed view issue and that’s when the lead cop told me they were DEA. Turns out they weren’t interested in traffic citations, just drugs and cash. So they pulled me over for a supposed traffic violation they never intended to ticket me for to begin with.
I have to say that if you’re gonna have your rights trampled on from a BS traffic stop it is better to have it be the DEA. They’re only looking for dope or money. You’re not gonna get your balls busted for having your tail lights too dim. They were professional and they were courteous, but it was still a BS shakedown.
That brings me to another point besides the unethical at best and illegal at worst traffic stop search.
A couple of years ago I was pulled over just south of Texarkana TX by a highway patrolman for what he claimed was an improper lane change. He said I didn’t have my blinker on long enough before I changed lanes.
After checking my license and proof of insurance he asked if I had any weed in my car. I told him no. The truth is I don’t smoke weed. Never have. I haven’t spent a hundred dollars on weed in my entire life.
But the cop insisted he smelled weed when he walked up to the car and that I needed to tell him where it was stashed and not lie to him.
Now why in the hell should I be the only one telling the truth? Because the truth is – I Don’t Smoke Weed. When he said he smelled marijuana smoke, he balls out lied. But that was his excuse for tossing my car.
The K9 officer told me his dog didn’t miss. Turns out he’s full of shit, too. His dog does miss. Probably a lot considering most of their stops are based on the same stupid shit that made them pull me over. And that got me to wondering how many innocent people have to deal with this BS because a cop thinks he has some special Spidy Sense about who’s carrying drugs.
I lost count years ago of how many times I’ve been shaken down on this kind of crap. About twenty years ago outside of Salt Lake City it took three cruisers, six cops, and a K9 unit to write me a 15 dollar ticket for having too long of a safety chain on my trailer.
All six of those cops I’m sure swear they have that special Cop Spidy Sense.
Over the years I’ve gotten used to it so it doesn’t really rattle me. I just chalk it up to the price of driving with long hair and out of state plates. I’m not intimidated when I get stopped because they NEVER find anything and I always get turned loose after the dog gets its treat for pretending to smell drugs. I get shafted, the public gets shafted, and the constitution gets shafted, but at least one good thing comes out of it – the dog gets its treat. Woof.