Man Arrested for Riding His Bike Home From an Airport (Stephan Orsak)
Wednesday June 20th, 2007
Here are the salient facts of this case:
I was leaving MSP airport by bicycle after a flight from California. I was legally operating my bicycle completely in accord with MN statutes and MAC airport ordinances. I was following all posted signs. There were NO signs at that time prohibiting bicycles. I was rudely accosted by an officer in a passing squad car, came to a stop, and was immediately threatened with mace and taser if I didn't get off the bike and up on the curb. I did not understand the reason for this outrage.
I calmly yet firmly protested the threats, and said that I was happy to abide by all laws that applied, but asked what I had done wrong and why the process was so immediately belligerent. Officer Wingate said 'You can't ride here'.
I asked where that was posted. Officer Wingate made a vague gesture in the direction of the Lindbergh terminal and angrily said 'back there'. I asked for specifics of where it was and what the sign said, and tried to explain that I had been to the airport many times and had never seen such a sign. Officer Wingate became more angry at this questioning of his authority, and burst out 'I'm *telling* you you can't ride here'. I never raised my voice, used profanity or made threatening gestures yet I was threatened again: 'I'm going to mace you, I'm going to tase you!'.
I told Officer Wingate that he was being rude to me, and as I said that, I read his name clearly aloud off his shirt and asked to speak with his supervisor. At this, he took a step back and changed his tone for the better. He asked if I worked at the airport. I answered 'no' and explained that I had just come in on a NW flight from California. He asked where I was going. I said I was on my way to St Paul to see my family. He asked how I planned to get there. I explained my planned route out of the airport that completely avoids the highway, using the service roads, connecting to Post Road and then the bike trails in Fort Snelling State Park. Officer Wingate said, 'Well, I see you've done your homework. *Just this once* I'll let you ride out along here', referring to the one-way service road that parallels the main airport egress, but traveling against the marked flow of traffic, and that connects to Post Road, Fort Snelling, and so forth.
I replied 'OK, that's fine, but what do I do the next time I come to the airport, because I don't want to go through this again?'
The notion that I was even thinking of ever operating my bicycle again at the airport brought back Officer Wingate's anger in full force. He vehemently replied, 'NO, you're going to *WALK* your bike to Post Road'. I asked what had changed all of a sudden. The one way service road is rarely traveled, a walking cyclist is twice the width of a riding one and with more limited control and you would be on the road 10 times longer. I stated that I saw no problem with doing what he had just said, as there was no traffic at all on the road. Officer Wingate then blurted, 'NO, you're going to *walk your bike back to the terminal and take public transportation*'.
This last order was clearly not in the interests of my safety, but was delivered in a vindictive and punitive way. I would have become a pedestrian (illegal), double the width of a normal cyclist, walking back against 2 to 3 lanes of oncoming traffic on the main airport egress road with no sidewalks, blind walled curves allowing no margin of safe retreat from the road, and regular posts and pillars along the small curb that is there. I stated what was obvious: 'that's ridiculous, that would put me at risk'. Officer Wingate then ordered me to 'get on my knees'.
I replied that that was absurd, that there was no basis for that as I wasn't doing anything threatening to him. I stated again, 'You are being rude to me and I want to speak to your supervisor'. Officer Wingate then said, 'Look, you're wasting our time. We were on a call to the Humphrey Terminal for a runaway teenage girl, and we would have been there by now.' I completely agreed that it was a waste of time for everybody. I noted that I was not being cited for any violation, nor told any statute that I had violated. I explained that I would follow the first and most reasonable, safety-wise, of the conflicting orders given to me, and then said 'I'm going to wish you both a good evening, and hope the rest of it goes better than this has gone.' I then got on my bike and began to leave.
I was instantly and with absolutely no verbal warning whatsoever attacked from behind and thrown to the ground. I received wounds to chin and arm. The impact put a new casing crack on my helmet. My glasses were thrown off by the impact and bounced several feet away. The bicycle continued to roll forwards a few feet, coming to a stop in the center of the road. (A gold van would later have to stop, because the bike was crumpled in the middle of the one lane road.) Officer Wingate then came up behind me and jerked me up into a standing position. I then heard him yell an order to Officer Bryant- 'Shoot him!'. Officer Bryant then shot me with the taser. I fell uncontrolled to the pavement for the second time, experiencing the full force of a weapon that can only be considered barbaric. (There are many documented deaths by taser. For this reason police departments do not consider it a 'non' lethal weapon, but a 'less' lethal weapon. It was developed to be used in lieu of a gun, as a weapon of last resort when a person is seriously threatened. Needless to say, I did not give permission for this to be used on me as part of the exercise, nor was I asked in advance if I had any medical history that could have led to my death. Only after the fact, in the hospital, was I asked my medical history.)
As I lay still on the pavement, Officer Wingate walked over to my glasses and smashed them into the ground with his boot. I was handcuffed, body searched and baggage searched. Reinforcements were called in, a total of (4) squad cars and a paramedic unit.
Officer Wingate said, 'Well, you wanted to speak to my supervisor, here he is'. I then asked Sergeant Karsnia 'What in the world is going on here?' He also wanted to know from me what had happened but said 'first, I'd like to speak to my officer, and then I'll get back to you'. He had a private conversation with Officer Wingate, came back, asked what had happened but immediately interrupted me and said 'Look, I'll do the talking here because you tried to take a swing at my officer'. At this point the collusion was clear. I then had no reason to believe that the brutality was over. As I stood on Outbound Rd next to the squad car, handcuffed, I called out 'Help!' to all passing traffic, hoping to draw attention to the situation, and in hope of a witness. No cars would stop. When ironically asked to 'calm down' I explained to Sergeant Karsnia that I wanted a third party present, as I no longer had reason to trust the police. At no time did I physically resist arrest.
After being taken to the hospital, I was again in the squad car. At this point Officer Wingate was calm. I asked him if he *really* thought that I was going to take a swing at him. I think this caught him off-guard, and he replied, a bit hesitatingly and somewhat sheepishly, that in police work any gesture has to be interpreted as potentially aggressive. In demonstration he put his fist to his chest, and said 'you never know when someone could put their hand like this, and then suddenly strike out'.
My California driver's license passed with flying colors- I have no criminal record, and no recent moving violations. The Minnesota test also passed with no violations or adverse history of any kind.
I was put in Hennepin County jail, and on the entry form the box was checked that I should be detained WITHOUT bail, because I was 'likely to commit another crime'.
I was thus held without charges and without bail. The admission process was intentionally made to take over 8 hours, so I could legally be held through the long weekend to an arraignment on Monday. Everything was taken from me. I could only make collect calls to numbers I had remembered. It was impossible with this arrangement to even leave a message on a message machine.
Police photographs were made that night of a series of 'NO PED XING' signs and a lone 'AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY' sign that is buried in the transit hub, and not even visible from the road. That is the photo 'evidence' against me.
24 hours later I was released on a negotiated $2000 bail, reduced from an intermediate $10,000. (note- Vikings player Travis Taylor in an incident earlier this year, was released in 45 minutes on a $50 bail.)
Sergeant Karsnia had by now reviewed the CCTV video evidence and made a margin note ordering the video evidence from 5 cameras burned to disc. My personal request for video evidence was never answered by Airport Police. There are over 800 CCTV cameras at MSP Airport. The system was substantially upgraded after 9-11. Police are now claiming through the prosecution that I didn't show up on any camera.
I was kept in limbo for one month, then finally charged with (6) counts, including a Gross Misdemeanor of Obstructing Legal Process 'with force or violence or threat thereof'. (see the CASE SUMMARY link for details on all the counts).
Four months later, new signs prohibiting bicycles are installed by police without the knowledge of the Metropolitan Airports Council.
I think the underlying circumstance of the incident is clear. I later learned that the threatening officer, Officer Wingate, had taken his oath of office less than 3 years previously. The squad car driver, Officer Bryant, had taken his oath of office less than 3 weeks before. To begin with, Officer Wingate probably doesn't like cyclists. He was also likely showing off to the younger recruit, using me as ready educational fodder, demonstrating how immediate threats of violence can quickly force the compliance of a suspicious person. He became angry when I legally questioned the legitimacy of it all. Is this what his education taught him? Is this courtesy, respect and professionalism? Hubris and unchecked authority are a volatile combination, and should have no place in a peace officer who has taken an oath to 'serve and protect'.
An altogether illegitimate police stop cannot trump our Constitutional Rights. If this is not the case, then any officer for any whim whatsoever could blurt out (4) warnings to anybody's grandmother that they 'will be tased', and then do it if they don't like being disagreed with. It would be hard to imagine a clearer definition of a police state.
At the very least MSP Airport Police are in violation of the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights Amendments IV and VIII, Metropolitan Airport Council Ordinance 58, discrimination and profiling of a cyclist, flagrant violation of the MN police policy manual's stated force continuum policy, collusion and embroidery of police narratives to support a Complaint against an innocent person supported by spurious and irrelevant evidence, posting of new signs without due notification of the appropriate authorities and the likely destruction of key CCTV video evidence that would make the truth of what happened clear to all.
I remain committed to the peaceful and lawful resolution of these issues. For whatever reason I am truly glad to have no anger over the matter, but this is fully replaced by a heightened concern for everybody of what the precedent could be from the outcome of this case. On one level this is a personal case for me, and an important test of cycling civil rights, but at an even deeper and more profound level it is about the Constitutional Rights of all of us and whether we will allow them to be trod upon.
With thanks to the many voices of support,
Peace and best wishes to all,
More complete details may be read in the CASE SUMMARY.