Chief Heaton: Another perspective on tickets

Tue, 03/17/2009 - 3:28pm
By: Letters to the ...

First, let me start by stating that I debated about responding to the letter to the editor sent by Mrs. Copen, titled, “Who are you going to believe: Widow, 80, or cop parked watching a stop sign?” But after reading the article by Claude Paquin referred to by Mrs. Copen, I thought I needed to offer a response and maybe a different perspective.

After reading Mrs. Copen’s letter, I reviewed the in-car camera system of the officer who cited Mrs. Copen. The officer had just parked his vehicle and was watching a stop sign on Beauregard Boulevard at its intersection with Apple Blossom Lane.

That specific area has been a problem because several motorists do not stop at that stop sign, so officers monitor it periodically to reduce any potential opportunities for accidents.

Within seconds of parking his vehicle, you see on the officer’s in-car camera system a vehicle slow down at the stop sign but continue through the intersection without stopping.

The officer initiated a traffic stop and cited Mrs. Copen for failing to stop at the stop sign. Mrs. Copen indicated in her letter that she knew that she had stopped at the stop sign and even saw the officer parked on the hill.

While I believe Mrs. Copen thought she came to a complete stop at the stop sign, the evidence is to the contrary.

Mr. Paquin stated in his article that police officers might be motivated to write tickets because they are “influenced by an underlying and unacknowledged desire to demonstrate his efficiency and his willingness to support the fund-raising necessary to justify his employment.”

Mr. Paquin also suspected that our Traffic Court judges view our officers as “impartial referees” and just accept the officer’s word when there is no practical means of review.

I would offer this as a different perspective. Maybe these officers are just hard-working people who have the awesome responsibility of enforcing the laws of the state and city with the intention of making our community safer to live and travel in.

Maybe part of their responsibility, which they take very seriously, is to reduce vehicular accidents, injuries and maybe even fatalities on our city streets through the enforcement of traffic laws.

Maybe the judges have heard so many people come in to their court and claim they have not done what they are accused of and found no evidence to support their assertion.

There is a direct correlation between accidents and traffic enforcement activities. When enforcement of traffic laws are relaxed, vehicular accidents increase.

It would be my hope that citizens who live in and around the city of Fayetteville would have an expectation that the officers who work in our community would work diligently and without any underlying motivation to keep them safe while they drive and visit our city.

The Fayetteville Police Department works extremely hard to provide the best law enforcement service to our community and visitors. To unjustly infer that they are not honest or that they have some underlying reason for enforcing the law is insulting.

Perhaps instead of assuming the officer who stops you for violating the law is automatically wrong or mistaken and then alleging that the judges are in collusion with the officers, you will take the time to realize that those officers might be saving your life by temporarily stopping you to make you aware of your unsafe driving.

If you have a question about whether you actually committed the traffic offense, you have the right to ask for a trial and view any evidence against you that would certainly include any audio/video recordings the police would have made of the traffic stop. All you have to do is ask.

Steven Heaton

Chief of Police

Fayetteville Police Department

Fayetteville, Ga.

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mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 10:28am.

This is egregious.

Fayetteville has a website which displays Frequently Asked Questions for both the police department and the municipal court.

The police department FAQs don’t show anything about looking at a police videotape.

The municipal court FAQs have only the following question and answer with the word video:

Are officers required to show you the radar gun or video when they stop you for speeding?

Under Georgia law, an officer is not required to show the defendant the speed detection device. When dealing with RADAR speed enforcement specifically, the officer is required by law to ask if you would like for a calibration check of the unit. That check is done by the use of calibrated tuning forks which is used to verify that the counter unit in the device is operating properly. If requested, the officer is obligated by law to perform that calibration check and inform the defendant of the results. The offender is not entitled to witness this check nor are they entitled to see the RADAR display. This does not apply to LIDAR (Laser) speed detection devices because the calibration checks for these units cannot be performed roadside.

What you learn from this is that Fayetteville police officers can hide all they want from you. Nothing there answers the “video” part of the question. There is nothing at all to suggest that “all you have to do is ask” will get you to see any part of the evidence against you.

I am sorry, but the website tells us more about your attitude, Chief, than your self-serving letter.

matt.barnes's picture
Submitted by matt.barnes on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:40pm.

You have the right to a trial and at that trial you get to see your video. All you have to do is ASk for a TRIAL. He didn't say you can come down to the station and review you tape.

Submitted by helpful lawyer on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 4:59pm.

Actually, Matt, you’re expected to spend at least $1000 to hire an attorney who will file a motion before the judge which will read about as follows:

COMES NOW the defendant, John Doe, by and through the undersigned counsel, and respectfully moves the Court to require the City to produce and make available to Defendant all exculpatory, impeaching and mitigating evidence within the possession, custody or control of the City, pursuant to the provisions of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, and in accordance with the principles of United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97 (1976); Giles v. Maryland, 386 U.S. 66 (1967); Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); Radford v. State, 251 Ga. 50, 302 S.E.2d 555 (1983); and Williams v. State, 250 Ga. 463, 298 S.E.2d 492 (1983).

Defendant specifically requests that the City be ordered to furnish and make available for inspection and photocopying, as soon as possible, any and all evidence, material or information, whether recorded, written or otherwise documented, that is within the possession, custody or control of the City, or which by the exercise of reasonable due diligence may be obtained by the City, and which evidence is favorable to or which in any manner exculpates Defendant or tends to establish a defense, or which may help Defendant impeach City witnesses, or which may help Defendant avoid conviction or mitigate the punishment.

Defendant would show further that disclosure of the evidence requested herein will pose no burden on the City of its agents in the investigation and prosecution of this case, and that disclosure of said evidence is necessary for Defendant to prepare an adequate defense, and that said evidence cannot reasonably be obtained other than through discovery requested herein.

Defendant, therefore, respectfully moves this Court to order the City and its agents to advise Defendant of the existence of the following evidence, and to permit Defendant or his attorney to inspect, review, analyze, copy or photograph and, as appropriate, to test, the following enumerated records, papers, documents, books, physical and tangible property, tapes, photographs, video recordings and any other property of whatever nature.

1- Statements of Defendant, whether reduced to writing or not
2- Names of persons with knowledge of facts
3- List of witnesses
4- Criminal and juvenile records of witnesses
5- Defendant’s criminal record
6- Consideration or promises of consideration to witnesses
7- Threats against witnesses
8- Impeaching materials
9- Non-witness declarant statements
10- Witnesses’ prior testimony
11- Tangible objects (including all books, papers, writings, documents or other tangible objects the City plans to offer into evidence in this case, photographs or moving pictures taken at any time during the investigation or prosecution of the case)
12- Scientific tests and results
13- Searches and arrests
14- Medical, psychological, psychiatric and institution records (of all persons the City may call as witnesses, including any police officer witness)
15- Exculpatory information known to or in the possession of the City
16- Communications with Defendant
17- Extrinsic offense and conduct evidence
18- Original notes, memoranda and tape recordings

Wherefore, Defendant respectfully prays as follows:
1- That the court enter an order granting the discovery requested in this Motion, and directing the City to immediately make such disclosure
2- That Defendant be allowed to amend and supplement this discovery request as the disclosure of information provides further basis for relief
3- That Defendant be permitted to file such other motions not filed concurrently herewith based on further disclosure of information not now available to Defendant; and
4- For such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.

Date and signature

The above Motion skips a lot of material that was in the model. This is like shooting a cannon to hit a fly. But clearly the defendant has the right to look at some things well before the trial.

SPQR's picture
Submitted by SPQR on Thu, 03/26/2009 - 9:40am.

and what actually happens of course is that in a small community citizens of means are recognized and often let off the hook rather than duke it out in court

matt.barnes's picture
Submitted by matt.barnes on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 7:38pm.

I've been through the process before and no lawyer is helpful.

The whole system is FUBAR'ed.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Wed, 03/18/2009 - 3:41pm.

Chief Heaton, you wrote (and I quote) "Maybe the judges have heard so many people come in to their court and claim they have not done what they are accused of and found no evidence to support their assertion."

Maybe they have.

It doesn't matter.

What these judges...and YOU, sir...have lost sight of is the fact that this is the United States of America.

The rule of law in this land has alway been "Innocent until proven guilty".

That these judges have "heard it all before" and "found no evidence to support their assertion" matters not one damn bit.

We citizens don't have to prove we're innocent.

It's up to law enforcement to prove that we citizens are guilty.

I'm sure you might consider that a trifling bit of wordsmithing, yet upon such wordsmithing are great countries made.

In a situation where it becomes a police officer's word against a citizen's, who should prevail and why? Absent any other evidence (photographs, witnesses, etc), why should a police officer's sworn testimony have any greater importance than that of a citizen?

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Mon, 03/23/2009 - 11:12am.

I find that I must agree. What Chief Heaton cites is the likely fact that everyone is "innocent." That is, a typical day in court is a parade of people with every overused and lame excuse in the book. And so judges and others involved in upholding and enforcing the law tend to become numb to those excuses.

But it is not only possible but probable that the parade includes a few who really are innocent, though, given the realities of life, have no way of proving it. What resources, after all, does one typically have for later proof in a typical traffic stop? In the event that the infraction or non-infraction is not caught on the cruiser's cameras, where else would one turn?

And, years ago, my two sons were stopped and subsequently arrested by a Fairburn cop and, when we challenged every feature of the arrest, the video mysteriously disappeared! As it turned out, the charges were dropped and the cop was fired (for falsifying his report, using unnecessary force, etc.). But this result was due only to a good lawyer who pressed the issue that the onus is upon the state to prove guilt.

I suspect that most people will simply take the hit and pay the ticket and suffer whatever other consequences because they do not believe the system to be fair. Their disbelief may well be warranted. But that is a sad commentary on the current state of things.


"Puddleglum" by Weatherwax (one of the Muddlings).

Jeeves to the Rescue

Submitted by 1bighammer on Mon, 03/23/2009 - 10:51am.

and he hit the nail on the head with "Innocent until proven guilty". and It's up to law enforcement to prove that we citizens are guilty.

I can answer the "why should a police officer's sworn testimony have any greater importance than that of a citizen?" question. Its simple, they always tell the truth...duh! Like those police in ATL that busted in and Shot the elderly lady or the policeman at the ATL airport that slammed the lady to the ground.

Forgive me Chief, if I just don't quite have the faith I used to in Officers.

The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 2:11pm.

to forgo the traffic court and go before a trial. I believe that the rules of evidence that you are stating would require a trial. Since that costs much more than most a willing to bear, we have this truncated system for traffic court. Be careful how we craft what we want. What you seem to want is a trial for each ran stop sign. I would just rather pay the ticket, than the court costs too if I am guilty. Of course if I am innocent, I will most likely pay the fine anyway to avoid the trial. Don't think that is unusual, companies have to make that choice everyday in this country due to our litigious nature and tort laws.

DarthDubious's picture
Submitted by DarthDubious on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 12:27pm.

Them sounds like fightin' words!!! You might get labeled as an extremist/terrorist!!!

In Liberty,


suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 03/18/2009 - 4:26am.

When I, and several others, appealed our tickets and requested the video, we were told that it was only turned are stopped. We thought that strange since the tickets has 'videoed' marked.

"If you have a question about whether you actually committed the traffic offense, you have the right to ask for a trial and view any evidence against you that would certainly include any audio/video recordings the police would have made of the traffic stop. All you have to do is ask."

Submitted by Incognito on Thu, 03/19/2009 - 3:19pm.

Did you win the appeal or what? Curiousity compels me

The Crime Dog's picture
Submitted by The Crime Dog on Tue, 03/17/2009 - 10:35pm.

This 4-way stop also has a crosswalk that links directly to the path along Beauregard. So thanks to the officers who make an effort to keep us all safe, especially the defenseless pedestrians!

Fayetteville should charge MORE for stop sign violations at crosswalks. That would get some folks' attention.

In fact, the speed limit on Beauregard should be lowered because of the path's proximity to the road. Matter of time before a cellphone-yapper plows over somebody.

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Tue, 03/17/2009 - 9:31pm.

As a homeowner in that area, I think you guys are doing a great job, keep up the good work.

I yam what I yam....Popeye

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