[mug]I always imagined getting arrested for a noble cause, like Mahatma Ghandi with the Salt March, Rosa Parks with her public transit protest or Russell Crowe when he hit that maid in the temple with a telephone (she had it coming – the pillows weren’t fluffed). Despite this fantasy, the law and I clashed for the first time when I was caught drinking a beer, but I guess that’s what I get for minding my own business.
Sure, there were a few times where my actions should have landed me in the drunk tank: that time we stole that mop from Little Caesar’s, the fight in Gumby’s Pizza or any combination of the following words: Brody, beer cans, moving vehicle, broken television or third-story window. However, this evening was not one of those times.
I know this, because unlike most of the weekend galas I attended during college, I actually remained clearheaded. I only had five dollars in my pocket, which used to be enough for a No. 9 at Jimmy John’s (before they raised prices), and there was no way I was spending that on a cup for keg beer – the metal container would predictably run out before I got my money’s worth. There’s just one minor detail: I, like many of my fellow East Lansing partygoers, wasn’t 21, and the lack of that magic number is what got me in trouble.
After a few hours of watching meatheads wearing sideways baseball hats play beer pong and then seeing a woman fall face first into a trash can, I decided the blaring beats of T.I. coming out of the speakers at the house on Kedzie were too much. I went outside to make a phone call. It was raining pretty steadily, but I didn’t mind. I found a tree that provided enough cover as I stood facing the alley adjacent to the Evans Scholars House, my back angled toward the house hosting the party.[cup]
The phone conversation went longer than expected, since I was the honorary guest of some big party back at home. As the phone was passed from person to person, all I heard was how awesome the party was and how I needed to be there. Instead, I was stuck in East Lansing, making seven dollars an hour at an internship, living in an apartment with no air-conditioning, where the only solace was a comfortable couch near a fan. And now all I was hearing was how much I should be at home, as I’m chatting on my phone in a downpour. Great, guys. I really needed them to tell me I needed to be there instead of here. No sooner would I be given another reason to wish I were somewhere else.
People scattered, cups dropped, lights flashed – it was the cops. With my friends still inside, I had to make it back through the muddy backyard and in the side door before the boys in blue could.
Bad idea.
One night in jail, four months of probation, two court dates and five hundred dollars later, the MIP was dropped from my record. The prosecutor said I was lucky. But not by my standards. If I had been lucky, I wouldn’t have walked into that cop and I certainly would not have been arrested. Then again, we’re talking about East Lansing, where being a student is often like being a Detroit Lions fan at Lambeau Field in Green Bay – you just can’t win. Knowing this at the time of my police encounter, I figured I would be polite and honest to ease the situation. But it didn’t help.
Never mind that I had no alcohol on me, and my level of intoxication was so low (.10), that for a 21-year-old, two years ago, it would be legal to take the wheel. I still spent the next hour being harassed and embarrassed by a police officer who probably did so to raise his own self-esteem. His life as a cop with the universal understanding to serve and protect had turned into a job where he harasses and degrades, at least from my perspective.
[beer]Shortly after Officer Chad Pride of the East Lansing Police Department asked for my I.D., he asked me if I had been drinking. I responded with the truth, although, to this day, I’m not sure if I should have. Regardless, I still had my Fifth Amendment right, protecting me from self-incrimination, or so I thought. As it turned out, my admittance of guilt was all the arresting officer had on me, and it was apparently enough to put me behind bars. However, according to East Lansing Police Chief Tom Wibert, there is no process officers go though when determining appropriate circumstances to make arrests. “Regarding criteria an officer must follow when making an arrest, we don’t have a specific policy about what constitutes probable cause,” Wibert said.
The East Lansing Police Department does have a set plan when it comes to their principles of service. “ELPD has a Mission Statement: Quality Service, Protection and Safety – that sums up our philosophy,” Wibert said. “Our goal is to solve the problem, whatever it may be.”
Whether or not the officers actually follow this code is completely arbitrary, especially because the things the officers said to me on the night of my arrest exhibited no signs of quality, service, protection or safety.
During my rain-soaked evening, another officer eventually arrived on the scene. Moments later came the frisking – not enjoyable, but understandable – until the officer asked me if I had “pissed myself,” knowing full well I was soaking wet from the rain that had been pouring down for the last 20 minutes.
The jokes continued as the officer tried to give me a Breathalyzer.
“Do you want to take a PBT?” the officer chuckled
“Not unless I have to,” I responded. “Do I have to?”
“You have options,” the officer said, although I never heard about these options – which acted as a microcosm of my entire legal situation. Under a new ruling in the state, I never actually had to take a Breathalyzer – but they obviously never told me that.
“A recent court case in Bay City found that requiring a PBT when under suspicion for MIP is no longer legal,” Wibert said. “The police can ask, but we don’t demand.”
[police]They seemed pretty demanding to me, especially when they asked me repeatedly to take a PBT on site, and then when they practically shoved it in my mouth at the police station. I also had the option of getting a lawyer, but ASMSU wouldn’t provide one despite the fact that I was currently enrolled with three summer credits, had a summer job with the university and paid my ASMSU fees for the previous six semesters. I had the option of fighting the case, but that would have cost more money, and I would have risked missing out on the plea bargain. With a crowded docket, it also meant that had I actually gone to court and lost, I could have spent my 21st birthday and the months soon after on probation – paired with a nice blemish on my record – for something as petty as drinking a six-pack.
If anything, I’d say it was the arresting officer who “had options.” He could have let me go, because I know I wasn’t a threat to public safety. However, right now, reports through the police chief say the actions of the officers were justified.
“You say you weren’t a threat to public safety – I believe you now,” Wibert said. “But at 2 a.m. in someone else’s yard, in the rain, apparently hiding; if I was the cop, you would have my full attention. From what the officer describes, it sounds like you were more buzzed than you realize. It’s too bad that this didn’t come up sooner, because we could have pulled the video and sat down and watched it.”
This is the part of the night that confuses me the most. I only had a few beers before the party, along with some swigs here and there during some quick rounds of beer pong; how I looked that “buzzed” to the officers is beyond me, and unfortunately, it will have to remain that way. Wibert added the ELPD only has a 90-day rotation on video tapes, so my tapes have most likely been destroyed. Even if I had known about this option, the 90 days after the arrest were spent taking Breathalyzers, meeting with probation officers, taking alcohol awareness classes and working to pay off my large debt, $200 of which was from fines alone. The fact that a MIP costs an offender a total of $50 in the state of Tennessee only added to my dismay.
The EL officers never offered me a chance to explain; I would have told them I was standing under a tree talking on my cell phone. They never told me why they had to interrogate and arrest me in a classless manner, but to be honest, with all the tension between students and the ELPD, I can’t say I expected anything better.
Because the ELPD has been very helpful discussing the matter recently, it makes me angry I had to write this, casting them in a negative light; almost about as mad as it makes me when I remember the nightmarish summer following my arrest. But, I admit, the officer was right. I had options. I didn’t have to drink those beers and I probably shouldn’t have. But more importantly, I didn’t have to tell the truth when he asked me if I had been drinking. This is one case where honesty definitely was not the best policy.

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