Police provocateur: Man says 'no' to license checkpoint
Joe Draego refused to show a police officer his driver's license at a recent checkpoint. He says he was threatened that his window would be broken if he didn't roll it all the way down and that he would be arrested.
"I asked him if I was being detained," recounts Draego of his encounter with Albemarle police on Old Brook Road off East Rio Road. "He said no. I said, can I go? He said no."
Draego estimates that after 15 to 20 minutes, he was allowed to leave. He returned with a sign: "This is how it began in Nazi Germany— police state checkpoints."
"I'll be honest," he says. "I've had enough of this. We have to stand up and say, you've gone too far."
Draego was one of 262 people stopped at the July 11 checkpoint, where 18 tickets were written, according to Albemarle police spokesperson Carter Johnson. Six police officers and one supervisor were on hand for the checkpoint that ran from 1pm to 4pm, she says. And she says the reason for the checkpoint: Nearby residents had complained about traffic safety.
Draego is not one of those residents, and he says he doesn't buy the idea that it took seven cops— the same number the ABC had on hand April 11 for an underage beer-buying sting at Harris Teeter that landed a water-buying UVA student in jail— to catch speeders. "Set up a speed trap," he suggests. "Don't put up a checkpoint that's punishing and intimidating everyone."
WINA's Rob Schilling was one of those alarmed when he pulled into his neighborhood. "It's out of character to see such a large police presence," he says. "What was the cost for this versus the benefit?"
He notes the parallels between the ABC op at Harris Teeter, where the tactics for confronting young women in a parking lot at night have become an international story. "We're already on edge in this community from the ABC operation," he says, as well as for the SWAT raid for a fake ID ring that closed most of Rugby Road in April.
Maybe there's something in the water, but Draego is not the only recent challenge to police checkpoints. Twenty-one-year-old Chris Kalbaugh's planned video of going through a July 4 DUI checkpoint in Tennessee has gone viral. Kalbaugh, too, refused to lower his window beyond a few inches. He was held by police without being officially detained while his car was searched after a drug dog allegedly "alerted"— and found nothing. Kalbaugh asserts that his constitutional rights were violated.
"You can't just randomly set up a roadblock," says Hook legal analyst David Heilberg. Police have to follow the department's policy manual and have authorization from the commonwealth's attorney, says Heilberg.
"The stop at a roadblock is a temporary detention that's the middle ground between a voluntary police/citizen encounter not covered by the Fourth Amendment and full custodial arrest," says Heilberg.
Police had no reason to arrest Draego, says the attorney. "It's not illegal for police to ask someone if they'll answer questions, but the person approached may decline to speak and go on his way," says Heilberg. "He may not be detained without reasonable, articulated suspicion."
As for the threats of arrest for not complying with a police demand, says Heilberg, "That was an empty threat; that's where they went too far." Albemarle police's Johnson confirms that Draego will not be charged for refusing to produce his license.
Opines Heilberg, "Police are in a position of authority and are used to people doing what they ask."
The Rutherford Institute's John Whitehead, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, was out of town on July 11 when he got a call about the checkpoint. Whitehead, too, lives in a neighborhood off Old Brook Road, and he questions the use of the so-called "safety checkpoint" as going beyond the Supreme Court ruling upholding DUI checkpoints as constitutional.
"The Fourth Amendment is really clear," reminds Whitehead. "You have to have probable cause. When you can do license checks, anyone is a suspect."
Whitehead challenges the notion that speeding and safety are problems on Old Brook Road, but if they are, he offers the same suggestion as Draego: "Put up a speed trap."
For Whitehead, a more likely reason for the license checkpoint: revenue.
Draego, 60, a remodeling contractor, just feels like enough is enough, and the roadblock was the tipping point. "Whether it's constitutional or not, I do not want it," he declares. "I do not want police checkpoints in my neighborhood."