California Highway Patrol Misconduct
I had a Caifornia Driver's License for years and no issues with law. On a Sunday night driving from Los Angeles to Ojai on North 101, the junction to Highway 33 was closed due to construction but there were no signs or indications of a detour. If was late night. I was not familiar with the area. The next exit I believe said beaches and the exit after that was 9 miles away, and I was low on gas.
After the junction, on a wide section of the shoulder I saw a CHP (California Highway Patrol) police car with lights on. I pulled over to ask him for help in finding the way. He had a rough attitude and issued a ticket which I politely accepted. He said there were detour signs before the junction but there were none. He was giving me false information. The proof of it is that another lady stopped for a minute and asked him the exact same question. He told her the same thing he told me – that we needed to go to a gas station to ask for directions. What a lousy answer. A CHP officer should know what is going on with highway closure that he's patrolling. He didn't give her a ticket for stopping to ask him a question but he gave me a ticket for stopping to ask him a question.
I contacted CHP and CalTrans afterwards and obtained info. I decided to fight the ticket because it was totally unjust. I went to court - first time I had been to a court and the judge was a totally careless robotic guy pushing through cases like chickens going through slaughter house -- in a total rush -- not interested in truth -- and any case where the police officer showed up he sided with the police officer.
I then wrote to the Commissioner of CHP who answered me (see below).
Here's my letter:
TO: Commissioner D. O. Helmick, 2555 1st Avenue Sacramento, CA 95818
SUBJECT: Officer W.
Dear Commissioner Helmick:
I trust you agree that helping a stranded motorist late night is part of the job of a CHP officer. Instead, officer W. issued a citation for stopping to ask him which way to go now that highway 33 off 101 was closed. The fact is that there were not proper signs (an issue I am picking up with CalTrans), and as an evidence, another motorist stopped and asked Officer W. the exact same question. It was late night, we did not know which way to go, officer W. was parked on the shoulder, I pulled over to ask him for help and instead he issued a ticket for crossing coned zone.
Even another CHP officer (I have his name) whom I was helping push a car the next day told me officer W. should have been more liberal. You know, the reason I am bringing this to your attention is that perhaps you should remind your officers why they’re there. Their job is a lot more than to bring in revenue for the state. And if they’re upset or stressed or prejudiced or whatever problem they may have, they should not take it on the motorists. Everyone I have told this case to has been appalled as to the lack of judgment and the lack of competence of this system which punishes a stranded driver as such.
Of course details of the case exist which I can pass on to you if you like but what I said above is pretty much it. "People of California" convicted me of wrongdoing for stopping to ask a question with a $140 fine and mark in my driving record, but every single person of California I spoke to with common sense was ridiculed by Officer W.’s poor judgment.
I trust you will take appropriate action to set a fair culture within the department, most importantly a simple reminder of why the officers are there.
The best way to reach me is by email: <>
There's an advantage to going to the top. It gets full visibility which affects the way it's handled. I received a letter from W. J. Leist, Captain, Commander of Internal Affairs Section with cc to Coastal Division Ventura Area. Captain Leist wrote that he was asked by Commissioner Helmick to address my concern. Then I was contacted by the Commander of Ventura Area, Mr. D. W. Bower, Captain. He wrote that an internal investigation has been initiated. Then I received correspondence saying if I had complained to CHP initially instead of contesting the traffic ticket, CHP would have cancelled the ticket. But since I took the official route and the case was adjudicated, CHP wasn't able to reverse it. But I felt good about the fact that CHP was able to review the conduct of its officer and take appropriate action which would mean next time the officer would live up to his duty instead of playing hardball with a stranded motorist late night.