Volunteer Cop Triggers One-Man Crusade

— Dale Raver, 53, a Poway resident and the owner of a cell-phone-accessory business, is waging a quixotic crusade against the City of Escondido, which he believes is breaking the law. He's spent over 30 hours waging this war, which started with a $30 parking ticket the morning of October 18, 2000. "A buddy of mine called," Raver recalls, "and we decided to go out and have breakfast. We decided to meet in Escondido in the Target shopping center on Auto Park Way -- big parking lot, easy to find each other. I got there a little early, parked, and pretty soon he pulled up alongside me in the opposite direction. We were deciding where to go when this civilian volunteer patrol vehicle passed by the front of my car, circled around, and parked behind me."

Jo Ashley, one of the two uniformed volunteers in the patrol vehicle, began to speak to Raver's friend, Michael Gooch, "saying something to the effect that both of our vehicles don't have front license plates, and that's illegal, and we could get citations for that. My friend says, 'Well, we're on private property so I don't think we can.' She says, 'Yes you can.' He says, 'Show me the law.' She says something like, 'You've got a real bad attitude.' He says, 'So what? Is that against the law? What are you going to do, write me a ticket?' Those were his exact words. So she says, 'Yeah,' and she gets out of the car with her little ticket book and starts writing out a ticket. And she tells him if he hadn't argued with her she wouldn't have given him a ticket. Well, my friend was getting pretty upset about this, and he tells her, 'I want you to call a supervisor.' So we went away and spend a few minutes at a fast-food place, come back, and there's an Escondido motorcycle officer parked there. So we said to him, 'Our vehicles are parked here, this is private property. How can we be in violation of a license-plate law on private property? What law are we violating?' He said, 'I don't know exactly.' So we said, 'Why don't you call a supervisor?'"

When the supervisor, Sergeant Mark Wrisley of the Escondido Police Department, arrived, Raver and Gooch put the same questions to him. Wrisley cited two California Vehicle Code sections, 4000(a) and 5204(d). Raver made a note of the two sections and, upset at the treatment he and his friend had received from Ashley, requested a complaint form. Wrisley said it had to be done at a police station. "So we drive down to the police station. The gal at the front counter says, 'I can't give you a complaint form; a supervisor has to give it to you.' I said, 'Fine, where's the supervisor? Do you have one here?' She says, 'No, I have to call one in from the field.' So she gets on the radio and five minutes later, the same sergeant that we'd met in the parking lot walks in.

Sergeant Wrisley gave Raver a form for complaints against police officers. "We asked if they had any for civilians," Raver recalls. "He said, 'No.' I said, 'This isn't really appropriate.' He said, 'Well, it's all we've got.' "

Back in his home office, Raver inspected the complaint form. Phone numbers for all of the possible avenues of complaint --the Escondido police, mayor's office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the court system -- were out of date. "They had 619 area codes," Raver says.

So he began to write on his own paper. But first, he went online and looked up the California Vehicle Code sections that Sergeant Wrisley had cited to him as justification for the no-front-license-plate ticket. "They don't address the number of license plates," Raver explains, "or the presence of a front license plate, but only that a plate with tag be affixed to the vehicle, even in off-street parking lots. Well, I had tags on the car."

Emboldened by this discovery, Raver started researching a hunch he had that the civilian volunteer patrol person didn't have the authority to write the ticket in the first place. His hunch, he says, proved correct. "There is a section in the vehicle code, 22507.9, which allows civilian volunteers to write handicapped parking tickets only. It specifies sole purpose. That phrase appears in the code, sole purpose. They say, 'This section gives the local authority...to establish sole purpose in issuing citations."

Raver put together a six-page complaint, including pertinent vehicle-code sections he had downloaded, and hand-delivered copies to the Escondido Police Department, the city manager's office, and the mayor's office on October 19. The complaint questioned the legality of volunteers issuing tickets, complained that Ashley was rude and gave the ticket to punish Gooch's "attitude," and said that the Vehicle Code section cited to him didn't correspond to the ticket. He also pointed out that the police complaint form was out of date.

On November 3, Raver received a response from James Stuard, traffic sergeant for the Escondido Police Department, which opened, "The Parking Violation has been determined to be valid." The response went on to cite California Vehicle Code, Section 4850, which states, "The department, upon registering a vehicle, shall issue the owner two...license plates," and Section 5200, which states, "When two license plates are issued by the department for a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear. When one license plate is issued for use upon a vehicle, it shall be attached to the rear thereof."

Stuard noted Raver's citing of Vehicle Code Section 22507.9, which "grants a local authority the ability to establish a special enforcement unit for the sole purpose of issuing citations of section 22507.8." But he went on to claim that the section "does not restrict a local authority from forming any other type of volunteer program, or restrict the enforcement activities undertaken by the member of that program."

"They're essentially saying there," Raver says, "that they're not restricted to the law."

Raver was not ready to quit. He spoke over the phone November 14 to Escondido police chief Duane White, whom he questioned about the authority of volunteer civilians to give tickets. "He told me," Raver says, "that California Penal Code Section 837, which is the citizen's-arrest clause, and Escondido municipal code section 28-35 gave him the ability to authorize it. Well, section 28-35 says, 'It shall be the duty of the traffic division, with such aid as may be rendered by other members of the Police Department, to enforce street traffic regulations of the city and all of the state vehicle laws....' Well, those volunteers aren't 'members of the police department.' "

That same day, a Lieutenant Milks of the Escondido Police Department drove to Poway and interviewed both Raver and Gooch at Raver's home. "During the interview," Raver recalls, "I noticed that the copy of the citation Lt. Milks [showed me] had 'request supervisor' written in the comments section. I showed him that my copy of the ticket was blank in that section. That meant it had been added after it was issued. Altering a citation after it has been issued is a misdemeanor."

On December 4, 2000, Raver put all these arguments and the new citation- alteration complaint into another six-page brief, including all the pertinent vehicle-code sections, and sent it to the mayor, manager, and police chief of Escondido. Five days later he received a response from Chief White's office, written and signed by Lieutenant J.W. Houchin, of the Standards and Ethics Unit. In it, Houchin said, "The allegation that Volunteer Ashley acted in a rude and unprofessional manner was sustained."

However, Houchin made no direct response to Raver's complaint that the vehicle code section 5200, which Sergeant Wrisley cited to Raver the day the ticket was given, didn't correspond to the ticket he received. And it didn't answer Raver's questioning of the authority of the volunteer to give the ticket in the first place. Instead, all Houchin said was, "The allegation that Volunteer Ashley acted outside of the scope of legal authority was exonerated."

Raver wasn't satisfied. More research in the two months between complaint and response convinced him it was illegal for a civilian volunteer to have issued the ticket. And he checked with San Diego police and San Diego County Sheriff's offices, both of which told him their volunteers are only allowed to give handicapped-space parking violations. And he made a trip to the North County Law Library, where he found Assembly Bill 2537, adding Section 22507.9 to the vehicle code, which passed in 1984. It reads, "This bill would authorize every county and city to establish a special-enforcement unit solely to enforce laws on disabled persons' parking spaces."

"And before the word 'solely,' " Raver points to the page he photocopied from the law library, "you can see that the word 'primarily' has been crossed out. They didn't want to create a volunteer force with open-ended duties so they used the word 'solely.' And later on, 'Nothing in this section precludes members of the special-enforcement unit from enforcing provisions of this code not in this chapter' has been crossed out."

On December 27, Raver received another letter, this time from Jack Anderson, Escondido's deputy city manager. His "finding" regarding the "authority of citizen volunteers to issue citations" was that they "are serving as a designee of the chief of police, and their authority rests with that designation."

"He still doesn't say what law or vehicle-code section gives the chief the authority to designate them," Raver says. "Because there isn't one."

With regard to the post-facto alteration of Raver's citation, Anderson said in his letter, "I find that the notation made on the citation 'request supervisor' was a note made by the issuer after the citation was issued and a confrontation occurred with the recipient of the citation. I find that the citation was not changed to alter the offense...."

"So what!" Raver responds. "I never claimed she changed the offense. This is the worst kind of double talk." He shuffles through the sizable file he's compiled on this matter until he finds California Vehicle Code section 409202(c). "It's very clear," he says putting on his reading glasses. "'Once the issuing officer has prepared the notice of parking violation and has attached it to the vehicle...the officer shall file the notice with the processing agent.' This is the important part: 'Any person, including the issuing officer and any member of the officer's department or agency or any peace officer, who alters, conceals, modifies, or destroys, or causes to be altered, concealed, modified, or destroyed the face of the remaining original copy of a citation that was retained by the officer, for any reason, before it is filed with the processing agency or with a person authorized to receive the deposit of the parking penalty, is guilty of a misdemeanor.'"

Raver sent another letter of complaint to the City of Escondido on January 10 of this year, reiterating his belief that the ticket was illegally given and adding the new citation-alteration complaint. A week later, he received a reply from City Attorney Jeffrey Epp, which said that Escondido was done investigating Raver's complaints. "If you wish to pursue this matter further...your only remedy now rests with the judicial system."

That's exactly where Raver intends to go. He has already applied to North County Superior Court for a hearing on the matter. Asked why he's so committed to this fight, Raver answers, "It's their I-don't-need-your-stinking-laws attitude. Instead of answering the questions I've put to them, their position has basically been, 'If you don't like what we're doing here, you can go through this long, time-consuming, punitive process of appeal.' They know most people aren't willing to do it. But I am."

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I just took a photo of the volunteers writing a handicapped parking violation, while they themselves were illegally parked in a handicapped spot. I hate how they think they are above the law!

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