Simi Valley PD and Me–A Gates-Crowley Epilogue

I live in Los Angeles, but every once in awhile I venture into the county known as…well…Ventura.

Yet on more than one occasion I have been pulled over by their police departments.

A couple of years ago I was with a friend on the way to a party. Next thing I know a siren is blaring, and I am being asked to pull over.

Neither my friend nor I knew what the problem was, but one thing I did know was that we did not have any reason to have a guilty conscience.

We rolled down the windows, and the officer let us know that we had jumped a divider. I showed him my driver’s license, and he noticed I was a Los Angeles guy in his county. He asked me what I was doing.

In a cheery voice that made me sound like a 10 year old, I replied, “We’re going to Isaac’s house!”

This was not a sweet kid routine. I was in a cheerful mood, and again, had no reason to be pessimistic.

The officer asked for clarification, so I elaborated.

“We’re going to Isaac’s house. He’s our friend. We’re incredibly lost. Can you help us?”

The other officer looked at my partner, and asked him about a piece of paper in his hand. Sure enough, it was directions to the house.

The officer looked at his partner and concluded pretty quickly that we were not going to be trouble.

Now did it help that we were the whitest kids on the planet in the whitest neighborhood on Earth?


Yet what the officers noticed immediately was that we were cooperative, and any mistake was unintentional.

I explained that I honestly never saw the divider, and I would not jump it intentionally. I was not in a rush, especially since I was not sure where I was going.

The officers explained to us where we made the wrong turn, and drew their own drawing on our map of exactly what we needed to do to correct the problem. They told us to drive safely, and even provided a convoy to help us go the right way. When we got to a turning lane, they came over their bullhorn and said, “Ok, turn here, make the u-turn, and you will be on your way. Drive safely.”

There are two lessons to learn from this when being stopped by police officers.

1) Be innocent. If you are guilty, you have problems. We were obviously law abiding citizens, and the officers saw that.

2) Be polite. Even in good neighborhoods, cops have danger every time they stop a car. There are remedies for abusive cops, but being an abusive passenger is not the answer.

Yet as surprised as I was by that experience, a very recent experience provided some tough life lessons.

Last Saturday night, I left an afterparty that was being put on at a bar by the Young Republicans for their Simi Valley Convention. At 1:15am, I decided to call it a night. A young lady at the party told me to, “be good, and drive safely.” If she only knew.

Several minutes on the road, and I was being pulled over. I pulled into a gas station, and the officer asked to see my license. I asked the question I would ask in this situation when I had nothing to hide.

“Is there a problem officer?”

Apparently they felt I was driving erratically. That might be overstating it. They informed me that I had crossed the divider of the lane I was in, and that I had done so more than once. I immediately realized that at that hour, they were looking for drunk drivers.

They asked me if I had been drinking, and I explained to the officers that I had not had a drop of alcohol, because I don’t drink at all.

They inquired as to what I mean by not at all. I clarified that I simply do not like the taste of alcohol. I don’t drink. I was in a bar hanging out with friends, but I had nothing to drink.

They noticed a bottle inbetween my legs, at which point I told them that it was diet cola with a lime and cherry in it. it was not Jack and Coke or Rum and Coke, just Diet Coke.

I offered to show it to the officer, but she said that was not necessary. She remarked that she did not smell any alcohol on my breath.

She also asked me twice if I had been taking any medication. I stated that I was taking nothing.

As is typical with me in this situation, I was very polite.

“Ma’am, if you say I crossed the lane, then I did. I don’t drink, I’m not on medication. I am a little tired, but I feel fine. Maybe I just wasn’t cognizant enough of the road. All I can say is that I have a long drive ahead of me, and I will make sure I am cognizant of the road.

She asked if I saw the siren.

“Officer, I did, but at first I did not think about it because I did not think I had done anything. Then after about 10 seconds I noticed that I was the only car on the road, which narrowed it down. So I pulled over.”

She asked where I was going, and I explained that I was headed back home to Westwood in Los Angeles. Then she asked an interesting question.

“That is a long way away. Why not take the freeway?”

I then offered her an answer that nobody would lie about.

“Ma’am, this is an old car. It doesn’t go on freeways. I don’t feel comfortable taking this thing on freeways.”

The officer laughed, and asked me what kind of car it was. At this point I think she was just seeing how coherent it was.

I told her the exact make and model of the car, and that the downside to an old car was longer trips on the road taking side streets.

She asked me if I had ever been arrested. I responded, “Heavens, no. Absolutely not. Never.”

The fact that I was surprised by the question most likely indicated to her that such a situation was a foreign concept to me. She asked me, “not once?”

I replied, “Ma’am, my dad would kick the blankety blank out of me. (I actually used the words blankety-blank rather than curse.) I’d be more scared of him than you.”

She asked me why, and I replied, “Ma’am, my dad was a military man. If I were ever arrested, I would be safer behind those bars where he couldn’t get to me. No ma’am, I don’t need that stress.”

She seemed amused, but I was not giving her schtick. These were honest reactions.

She then asked why I was in Simi Valley. I responded that I would be happy to tell her since the reason was completely legal, but that she should not hold my reason against me. She agreed, legality pending.

I explained that I was in town for a political conference. I showed her my political tote bag, emphasizing that if she did not share my views, I was still a nice person. She asked what I was doing politically.

I explained that I was a recent author, and did she want to see a copy of my new book. Her partner shined a light, which was obviously so he could see what I was reaching for. I showed her my book. I made it clear that I was not trying to sell her a copy, but just answering the questions she asked. I explained in a nutshell what the book was about.

After 10 minutes, she simply said, “just be careful on the road. Have a good night.”

Again, being innocent is a good start. Politeness can only help the situation.

Ten minutes is a long time to be interviewed, and even though it was genial bordering on friendly, I have to admit that I probably was distracted. Unfortunately, after the officers left me, I was even more distracted. My night was about to get worse.

I drove away from the gas station. Several minutes later, my car came to a complete stop. I was out of gas. I had forgotten to fill the tank. I changed lanes to enter the gas station! That is what the officers saw as me swerving. I was now stranded in the middle of nowhere, at 1:30am, with no gas.

I had a bunch of cash in my pocket, and asked God to let me not be killed. Yes, this was a good neighborhood, but Ennis Cosby was in a good neighborhood. Bill Cosby no longer has his son.

Triple A kept saying somebody was coming, but after two hours I was really starting to come unglued. Out of nowhere, I saw a car come driving fast. I rolled down the windows, and flagged the car down. It happened to be a police car. For the second time in two hours, a pair of officers would be questioning me.

These officers were less genial. They were not mean, just businesslike. It was 4am, and they did not want a problem.

I had a bright light in my face. I kept my arms outside the window so they could see me unarmed.

I said, “Officer, the light is very bright and straight in my eyes. I’m not drunk. I am not on any medication. I am out of gasoline. I am stranded.”

The officer asked me how I could allow my car to run out of gas. I again gave an answer that nobody would lie about.

“Officer this is an old car. The gas gauge does not work. I usually know when I need to fill it up. I hardly ever go anywhere, but tonight I drove far, and messed up. I ran out of gas.”

The officer asked if I called Triple A, and I explained that it had been over two hours. The officer seemed surprised by this. I then said something else.

“Officer, I am not going to make any sudden hand movements, but I would like to reach for my cell phone so I can show you how many times I have called these people. Can your partner shine the light on my passenger seat so he can see it is a cell phone?”

The officer did so, I slowly reached for my phone, and handed it to the officer. He saw that I began calling Triple A at 1:51am.

“Officer, this has been a nightmare.”

At that point the officers explained that they did not have any gasoline, and that they would call a tow truck for me. By sheer dumb luck, as they were doing that, my phone rang.

“Officer, that might be them.”

The officer handed me back my phone, and they listened to the quick conversation. The driver was about 60 seconds away. I explained that the driver was exactly 4/10 of a mile away. The officer was curious as to how I knew that to such specificity. I told him that if he shined a light on my passenger seat again, he would see my GPS tracker.

The officers waited for the tow truck to pull up. They then checked out the tow truck. After all, it was 4am, and maybe this was just a ruse for a drug deal. All I know is that everything I claimed, they verified just to be sure. They then told me to have a good night, and left. The tow truck put enough gasoline in my car to get me to a station, where I filled the tank.

Again, at the risk of being a broken record, an unfortunate situation ended without incident. I was innocent of wrongdoing, and I was polite. These officers had a bright light straight in my face, but no incident occurred. At 5am, I finally made it to my own bed for well needed sleep.

As much as I made plenty of mistakes on this long night and morning, I did a couple of things right. I made sure my cell phone had enough juice. I religiously charge the thing. Had I not been able to call, I would have been stranded on a barren road until the sun came up. I also used my GPS tracker to provide my exact coordinates.

I also made sure to keep my hands where the officers could see them, and made sure to let the officers know what I was reaching for, and that they could see what I was doing. I did not make erratic hand gestures.

I simply remained very calm. Well, sort of. I was angry internally, but calm when the police showed up.

While I cannot control the fact that I am a white kid with a poor car in a good neighborhood as opposed to a young black man driving a fancy car in a bad neighborhood, I can and did control my behavior. Again, I had a bright light in my face. The officers did watch my every move. They simply believed my explanations, because my explanations were believable. My explanations were believable because they were truthful. I simply was not up to anything deviant.

Professor Henry Gates could have done the same thing when confronted by Police Officer Sargent James Crowley. Instead Mr. Gates got belligerent.

Some would say he had a right to be angry, but even if he did (he didn’t), having a right to do something does not make doing something wise.

In fact, a driving term is “right of way.” I learned in Drivers Education that “No one ever has right of way.”

If a driver insists on right of way, and an accident ensues, it does not matter from a danger standpoint who was right. Either way there is an accident.

Situations like this, especially at odd hours of the night and morning, are like a bomb. They can be defused, or they can explode.

I made a conscious decision that going to jail or getting shot was not part of the plan. I acted appropriately, and the situations were quickly diffused.

Handling situations the right way does not guarantee the right results. I will be the first person to claim that no good deed goes unpunished. However, doing things the wrong way drastically increases the chances of negative results.

At 4am with police officers, negative results can be deadly.

Professor Gates chose escalation, and had it escalated any further, there could have been a dead individual, followed by racial riots and cities burning.

Ordinary citizens do not get invited to beer summits. They either cooperate or suffer potential grievous bodily harm.

These are life and death situations. Tread carefully, and handle with care.

It really is that simple, and does make a world of difference.


5 Responses to “Simi Valley PD and Me–A Gates-Crowley Epilogue”

  1. I used to live in Ventura County and travel to Westwood pretty regularly. That said – HOW THE HECK DO YOU GET TO WESTWOOD FROM SIMI VALLEY WITHOUT TAKING THE FREEWAY??? My god, man, did you Baha the PCR??? I mean, I would have taken 23 to 101 to 405. I couldn’t imagine any other way. Did you go all the way around the Topanga?


    There’s a huge difference between what happened to you that night and what happened to Professor Gates, and that difference is PLACE. This is no mere techincality – it has vast importance in real law. You were driving (or not driving! lol!) on PUBLIC roads. Mr. Gates was inside his PRIVATE home. Yes, he may have handled it better (me thinks you assume to know too much about what happened), but just the same there was a very simple reason the charges against him were summarily dropped – because he was in his HOME. Aside from comedian Stephen Wright, you can’t drive your home down the road.

    Remember this one?

    “The other night I came home late, and tried to unlock my house with my car keys. I started the house up. So, I drove it around for a while. I was
    speeding, and a cop pulled me over. He asked where I lived. I said, “right
    here, officer”. Later, I parked it on the freeway, got out, and yelled at all
    the cars, “Get out of my driveway!”” – Steven Wright

    Back to the subject, yes, we do sometimes have the right to be jack@$$es. In fact, it is ofetn conservatives and libertarians who fight vocifierously for that right. The right to wear offensive T-Shirts in public places, the right to drive around with offensive bumper stickers on public roads, the right to act like pubescent boys in the workplace, etc. So, I sense more than a little hypocrisy here. But that’s beside the point. If Mr. Gates had been pulled over on a public road and he started yelling and screaming at the cops, insulting them, etc, they’d have every right – in fact, duty – to arrest him. Drivers who behave erratically can be a danger to the general public on the road. It’s an established matter of law. But homeowners who act stupidly in their own homes are beyond the reach of the law, as long as they are no threat to themselves or others. I know conservatives are rather subjectively selective when it comes to rights, but this is about legal facts, not opinions. And that’s why you are completely wrong and being completely inane in your analogy.

    Glad you made it home, though!


  2. Oh, I just remembered something that happened to me.

    A few years ago I was in my apartment with my wife. Just the two of us, watching TV in the evening. Suddenly, there’s this pounding on the outside door (we lived in the upstairs of a two-apartment “railroad house”). I looked outside and saw cop cars – lights on. We were in our nighttime lounge clothes. I quickly threw on a pair of sweats and ran downstairs to see what the fuss was about. Well, I peeked out the window and there were like 5 cops there demanding entry, without a warrant in hand. Like you, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I opened the door. As it was an apartment, the hall was sort of a public space, so I saw no intrusion in doing that. They rushed in and kinda startled me and I withdrew a bit. They told me there had been a 911 complaint that there was violent-sounding noise eminating from my apartment. We weren’t watching a horror flick or anything like that, and we certainly weren’t fighting, and we could always hear what was going on downstairs and there was nothing coming from there either. I told the cops to wait right there so I could go upstairs and ask my wife if she heard anything. They started rushing up the stairs behind me.

    Now. I know my rights. I stopped half-way up the stairs. I turned to the cops. I held my hand up to them and said quite firmly, “Now now, boys, you stay RIGHT THERE.” I was respectful, but firm. I know my rights. I called my wife to the door, she peeked around and said she heard nothing, but then she presciently remembered that our next door upstairs neighbors had a rather frighteningly volatile relationship and that the caller probably made a mistake as all the railroad houses were very close together. The cops could see we seemed fine and calm, even if they didn’t get a very good look – but more importantly, that we knew our rights. They apologized, thanks us for the heads-up, and sure enough, within a few minutes, one of the neighbors next door was taken out of the house.

    Here we accomplished two things: we protected our rights, and we helped to the police to do their job securing the safety of our neighbors. Allowing the police to trample my rights, in this case, would only have wasted time, time that could have been used by one of the neighbors to kill the other, for all we all knew. There’s good reasons for rights, and good reasons for observing them. Simply cowing to authority is both stupid and irresponsible. Authoritarianism is for fools.


  3. Dav Lev says:

    The problem in Mass. was NOT about the officer and an innocent
    person who was inside (his) a home, it was about Mr. Gates.

    I have posted recently several times that Mr. Gates, who is obviously
    black, likes to provoke.

    Look guys, see local PBS commercials recently. Mr. Gates is one
    of several people on the advertisement for the program.

    He seems personable, pleasant and the last person to intentionally
    upset the police.

    But go back in the PBS see him in his full character.

    He narrated a program on Abe Lincoln, where he revealed that Lincoln
    was not the savior that everyone believes. In fact, Lincoln only freed
    the slaves in the South, and that was part of the strategy to win the war.

    During the documentary, Mr Gates visits a Southern group of whites,
    who were celebrating the old South, flags and all. During the program
    a group of Southern blacks entered the room, and applauded the
    South’s Civil War efforts ( blacks fought on the side of the South too).

    Gates intentionally provoked those in attendence. It’s right there for everyone to see.

    Frankly, I couldn’t believe my eyes while watching.

    So, Mr. Gates is not the innocent guy who was profiled by the white
    cop. He asked for it. He did not behave the way he should have. He
    wanted the publicity in my opinon.

    As far as being in his own home..vs a public road…a drunk driver
    can kill, Kill, KILL on a public road. Someone inside an empty house
    is there to rob…only., but could be obviously dangerous, to anyone
    there, or the police.

    I was stopped years ago in Westwood, Calif. by an LAPD. He said
    I was waving on the road (Pico Blvd)., but it had rained and the dividing
    line was not apparent. I told him I had just come from a bar mitsvah, with
    my girl friend, and had had a few drinks.

    He grined, told me to drive her home, and go home directly.

    No harm, no foul. I was honest, and not, like Gates, belligerent.
    I did not get a ticket. The cop was fair., but could have tested me for
    DUI. He didn’t.

    Again Obama shows his failed leadership. While he had a beer fest for
    Gates and the cop, Iran was being lost to the mullahs and spite
    of over 50% of their electorate who demonstrated or questioned the

    Carter (Peanut Brain) Carter lost Iran once. Obama lost it again.

    We have 3 battleship groups in the Gulf..ready to bomb the 30 plus
    nuke sites with Cruise Missile, etc. We didn’t.

    Instead, Ahmad blamed the US, Britain and the Jews for the protests.

    In the meantime, Iran’s nuke development goes on unabated.

    My only question is: when will Iran nuke Tel Aviv. Any bets?

  4. Okay. Dan Lev makes a fair point. Mr. Gates was inside A home, as opposed to what any policeman would know whose home is whose. That is a fair point (though, given today’s police state, any cop can almost instantly figure out whose home is whose). Given my example, the police should have rushed up the stairs and rescued my ostensibly abused wife! But here’s the difference: both I and Mr. Gates had proof of where we lived. The cops could easily have called in the info to confirm that, and they would have quickly confirmed that we had no history of criminal behavior. But even then… Who knows?

    Dan is concerned with Mr. Gates provocation, but I read nothing in our constitution that forbids provocation as long as its not violent nor threatening violence. There’s a huge difference between “F-U” and “I Will Shoot You.”

    Dan, just for once, would you consider actually debating me on these points?


  5. Cooper says:

    @ Jersey McJones: If anyone interferes with an officer’s ability to contain and control a situation, they may then be arrested (officer determines). Harassing an officer verbally and/or physically does represent interfering with an officer’s ability to contain/control a situation.

    About Gates “being in his own home” and all the rest, Gates pursued officer Crowley to the outside of Gates’ home — Crowley was trying to leave, Gates pursued him yelling profanities and insults at Crowley — and Gates was arrested outside his home. Another officer at the scene confirmed this and affirmed the arrest, and, photos taken at the scene show Gates outside his home when arrested.

    I think it’s very clear that Gates was quite certainly “agitating” or attempting to instigate his own arrest; he clearly incited the situation to something WAY beyond the normal and even an average anger/upset by a “tired, old, handicapped” home/resident. But whatever his conscious motives, Gates was interfering with the officer’s (or officers’) ability to complete their jobs. Running after a departing police officer, yelling profanities at them and anything else, is not the behavior of a reasonable or even sane individual.

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