Jerry Davich: Shady cop or creepy impersonator during police pullover?
Jerry Davich email@example.com June 26, 2012 9:12PM
Haley Sansone, right, and her mother Caroline Davies-Sansone outside their Portage home Tuesday June 26, 2012. Hayley was recently pulled over by a man impersonating a police officer. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:22AM
Haley Sansone did what any driver would do when she saw flashing police lights in her car’s rearview mirror — she pulled over.
The 18-year-old Portage woman, who had never been pulled over before, was driving to her boyfriend’s house in Portage on the night of June 14.
“I didn‘t know what to expect,” Sansone told me.
I do, unfortunately, after being pulled over by cops a few times in my life — the familiar request for my driver’s license and registration. But this didn’t happen to Sansone.
First, the cop uncharacteristically turned off his flashing lights, which came from his dashboard, not atop his unmarked vehicle. He walked up to her car and shined a flashlight in her face.
“Did you know you were going 37 in a 35?” he asked her in a stern voice.
He then told her to get out of her car because her eyes were “dilated.” She did so, but the cop — a buff man in his early 20s with a buzz-cut who stood shorter than her — just stared at her for a several l-o-n-g seconds under the intrusive glare of his flashlight.
Still, she noticed that he did not wear a law enforcement uniform, show his badge, or have a weapon or holster.
He told her to get her driver’s license from inside her car by bending over through the driver-side window. She did. He then stared at it for a few seconds before giving it back to her.
“Get back in your car and consider this a verbal warning,” he told her.
Sansone got back into her car and continued to her boyfriend’s house, thinking she just dodged a ticket. As a nervous teenager thinking she may also get in trouble with her parents, she didn’t tell them until two days later.
“I couldn’t believe what happened,” said her mother, Caroline Sansone, of Portage.
She and her husband contacted the Portage Police Department to find out if one of their officers did, indeed, pull over Haley. An officer invited her into the station to view photos of the department’s officers to possibly identify the man who pulled her over.
None of those officers resembled the man, she told them.
“The police thought it could have been another department and that we had nothing to worry about,” Haley said. “They were very helpful and felt this was routine and not out of the ordinary.”
I disagree. If this happened to my daughter, my mother, my sister, my nieces or my girlfriend, I’d be livid, too. And I’d be asking all kinds of questions to law enforcement.
Was this guy a shady cop or a cop-wannabe creep? What’s the protocol for such traffic stops? Are cops allowed to pull over drivers without a marked car and without a uniform? What should other drivers, especially women, do under similar circumstances?
So that’s what I did.
“Yes, the mom and daughter did come in and speak to my patrol captain about this incident,” explained Portage Police Sgt. Keith Hughes, the department’s spokesman.
“We know it was not one of our officers who stopped her,” he told me. “We also know it was not a Hobart officer or Porter County Sheriff officer. Also, neither one of those jurisdictions have had reported incidents of police imposters.”
Nor was it a Lake Station police officer, I later learned.
Porter County Sheriff David Lain said the man who pulled over Haley, based on her description of the traffic stop, was not an officer from any police agency.
“The odds are that this guy gets his jollies by playing policeman, but it is indicative of a psychological issue that could be more sinister,” he said. “I’d hate for her to be paranoid and jump at every loud noise, but Haley should be hyper vigilant for the near term.”
In other words, the guy who pulled her over, whether it’s a cop or a fake cop, has seen her address on her driver’s license.
As for the law (IC 9-30-2-2), a police officer cannot write a ticket or make an arrest if not in either a uniform or a marked car. However, it does not prohibit an officer from pulling someone over and possibly giving a verbal warning or to intimidate a driver.
“As with many laws passed by well-intentioned yet illogical legislators, the statute does nothing to stop this sort of occurrence,” Lain said.
Of course it has always been illegal to impersonate a police officer (IC 35-44-2-3).
In hindsight, Haley’s mother believes a “Just Graduated” image on her daughter’s rear window may also have lured the man to target the 2012 Portage High School grad. It has since been wiped off.
“I got goose bumps and cried when Haley first told me what happened,” Caroline said. “In hindsight, I can only thank our lucky stars.”
But, she asked, what if? What if something happened to Haley? What if another woman gets pulled over by the same man? What if he does more than issue her a “verbal warning”?
“That’s why I wanted to get the word out to other parents,” Caroline said.
She and Haley also will do so by chatting with me this Friday at noon, and again at 6 p.m., on my Casual Fridays radio show on WLPR, 89.1-FM, www.thelakeshorefm.com.
I, too, want to get the word out to other women, so here is what to do if something similar happens to you and the situation simply doesn’t feel legitimate.
First, acknowledge the presence of the alleged police car behind you with a wave out the window or in the mirror. Then activate your emergency flashers and drive the speed limit to a well-lit and populated site, such as a gas station or, better yet, a police station.
If you have any doubts along the way, call 911 and give the dispatcher your location. Ask if it’s a “legitimate pullover” by a real cop. Don’t stop driving until you’re told it is.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s this: The “warning” that Haley was issued by whoever that guy was should be one for all us regarding this potentially dangerous issue.
In my Sunday column on the death industry, I wrote that spreading the ashes of cremated bodies is illegal. To be more precise, spreading ashes is typically done illegally by most people who do it.
You first need to get a burial permit to do so but most people, if any, do not.
“People scatter ashes all the time,” explained Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris. “It just usually isn’t done through the legal way to do so.”
Even if you dump Aunt Martha’s cremated ashes in, say, her favorite (unoccupied public) woods, it is illegal do to so without first filing the proper paperwork, he said.
Bring your own casket?
Regarding that same column, reader Rick O. asked if funeral homes allow customers to bring their own caskets.
“I know that Cosco sells caskets, but I always wondered how funeral home owners would react if a person wanted to bring in their own casket?”
Harris replied, “The Federal Trade Commission requires all funeral homes to accept third-party caskets without any penalties or extra fees to the family. Some funeral homes may have you sign waivers releasing the funeral home from any responsibility of the casket, but you should never be penalized.”