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Mediation in Fiscal Year 2006: Harassment and Intimidation

A citizen filed a complaint against an officer alleging harassment and intimidation directed at her and her daughter. The complainant was driving with her four-year-old daughter on West Virginia Avenue, N.E., and was pulled over by an officer for traveling 40 miles per hour in a 25 m.p.h. zone. Soon after she was pulled over, four additional squad cars arrived. The complainant felt overwhelmed and intimidated by all of the officers and thought it was excessive for a speeding violation. The officer told the complainant that she had been speeding and that her car windows were illegally tinted. The complainant was unaware of tint laws in the District and tried to explain to the officer that she had recently purchased the car from the dealer directly from the manufacturer and had not altered the windows in any way. The officer appeared to be more concerned about the illegal tint than the speeding violation.

When the parties entered the mediation room, they were both agitated and defensive. As the complainant related what had happened to her, she accused the officer of harassment, racial profiling, intimidation, and rude behavior and language. She felt that having so many officers at the scene threatened her and her daughter when it was obvious that a single mother driving with a four-year-old was not a threat to anyone’s safety. She thought the officer was rude and offensive because he kept insisting she had added illegal tint to her windows.

The officer had little patience with the complainant and was adamant that all drivers should know all District regulations including those covering illegal tint. He stated that had the complainant not had such a bad attitude during their interaction, he would only have given her a speeding ticket and not fined her for the illegal tint. He also explained that safety was a huge concern for officers, especially in the neighborhood of the stop, and that when cars have illegally tinted windows, it is impossible to see who is in the vehicle and impossible to determine whether any of the passengers are armed.

The mediator asked about the safety issues concerning tinted windows and the officer mentioned that another officer had recently been shot and killed through a tinted back window when he was unable to see that the passenger had a gun. He stated that since then officers have been on high alert when dealing with vehicles with tinted windows. The complainant was surprised to hear that tinted windows were such a concern but she was also still frustrated that the officer felt she had deliberately added extra tint to her windows.

The mediator asked the complainant about the purchase of the vehicle and the status of the windows. The complainant showed the officer and the mediator her bill of sale, including a description of the tint. A discussion ensued where the officer explained that there were various degrees of tint that were legal and that there were actually machines that measured the percentage of tint on a window. In addition, the tint laws vary from state to state, and are different in the District, Maryland, and Virginia. The complainant stated that the vehicle had been purchased in Maryland and she asked the officer how she could determine whether the tint percentage of her windows was legal in the District. The officer asked to look at the description on the bill of sale and saw that the windows were directly from the manufacturer as she had previously stated.

At this point, both the officer and complainant seemed to relax and shifted from an accusatory, defensive posture to an inquisitive one. The complainant used the mediation as a time to become more informed about the tint laws and to ask the officer’s assistance in determining the percentage of her windows as well as what she could do to correct the situation. The officer explained a few different options and they began to speak directly to each other, politely and with respect. The complainant said she was sorry she had not realized the danger that tinted windows presented for officers and that she had been defensive because she had not understood and actually thought the speeding violation was the greater infraction.

The officer then asked the complainant when her hearing was and told her to bring the bill of sale and description of the vehicle with her. He then promised to be present at the hearing to seek to dismiss the charges or waive the tickets. By this time, the mood and tone of the session had completely transformed. Both parties were smiling and at ease and the complainant actually apologized to the officer for filing the complaint and wasting his valuable time and taking time away from his job. The officer also apologized for anything he may have done to make the complainant feel scared or intimidated. At the end of the session, the complainant agreed to not pursue her complaint and the parties shook hands and said they would see each other at the traffic hearing.

Following the mediation, the officer took the time to call both OPC and CDRC to express his gratitude to the mediator and for the opportunity to participate in mediation. He also stated he would tell his fellow officers about his positive experience