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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Traffic Stop Protocol Issue Is a Reminder That Motorists Have Option to Call 911

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Call 911. That was the message the City of Malibu’s Public Safety Commission received during the portion of their August meeting that dealt with the issue of sheriff’s department traffic-stop protocol.
The City Council directed the safety commission to address the issue after Monique Lukens, who received a ticket on PCH on June 24 just after midnight for “failure to yield to an emergency vehicle” while reportedly attempting to find a well lit, populated area to pull over after being directed to pull over by a sheriff’s department vehicle, repeatedly brought her concerns to the council.
“We are being tasked with just what it says,” cautioned Commission Chair Carol Randall before public comment, explaining that the commission could only discuss the issue in general terms and could not take a position on Lukens’ specific case.
“Our task is to choose whether or not to pass [this item] to the city council and for that purpose and that purpose only,” Randall said. “I just want to make clear we have no power.”
According to Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Malibu Liaison Lt. Jim Royal, Lukens was initially instructed to pull over near Las Flores Canyon on PCH near midnight on June 24 because one of the headlights on her vehicle was out.
According to Royal, Lukens continued driving for approximately 1.3 miles, past the Carbon Canyon Fire Station, and finally pulled over at a Carbon Beach-area shopping center. She was issued a “fix it” ticket for the light, but also a $500 ticket for failure to yield.
Lukens told the Malibu Surfside News after the meeting that she was looking not only for an area that was brightly lit but for a business that was still open, where there would be other people.
Lukens told the commission that she wants “to make it a civil right for people to be in a well lit populated area” for a traffic stop. She also expressed anger that the deputy involved in the incident did not record the exchange.
“I know we need law enforcement, but we need one that isn’t using intimidation,” she added.
“I’m concerned about some of the incidents that have happened recently, Motorists that are stopped in a not safe area,” said Armaiti May, a Santa Monica veterinarian who regularly travels PCH on house calls. “Monique was issued a citation for failure to yield. She just asked permission to go to well lit area. [It’s an] example of a motorist having safety compromised.”
May said that the option of moving to a well lit, populated area would be safer for drivers and law enforcement officers.
“A suspected violent criminal should be treated differently from a fix-it ticket,” another speaker said.
However, the sheriff’s department liaison pointed out that the deputies making the traffic stop have no way of knowing whether the suspect being pulled over is a violent criminal or not.
“Regarding traffic stops,” Royal said. “The sheriff’s department does not discriminate based on age or gender. The primary concern is safety—for the public, the sheriff’s deputy, the person stopped.”
“Drivers shall immediately yield to authorized vehicles. However, our department is reasonable and sensitive to these issues if a driver, any driver, has a question, that driver may proceed to a safe location. The issue is whether that particular person is driving reasonably at that time.”
Royal reminded the commission that ticket recipients have the option of taking the citation to court for adjudication. “In addition, the driver has option to call 911 to find out if they are being stopped by a legitimate law enforcement officer,” he said.
Royal also explained that there is a complaint process, which involves calling the station watch commander to investigate. There us also an independent ombudsman.
“I would also like to add to that when a driver doesn’t yield [the deputies] assume they’re hiding something. I ask you to consider the other side of equation. A few years ago, the driver of a car refused to yield [on PCH] and shortly after fired multiple shotgun rounds at the deputy.
Royal stated that there were two officers in the car during Lukens’ traffic stop, that it was a marked radio car with a light bar and sirens, and that the deputies signaled Lukens near Rambla Vista, and she pulled over at the 23600 block of PCH at Carbon Beach. He declined to discuss any additional details, stating that the case is still under investigation.
“You can call 911 or call a second car if you are in doubt or in fear, Commissioner Susan Tellem said. “I don’t think people realize that.”
“If a person is concerned at that moment they would be offered the opportunity to call 911,” Royal replied. “They would absolutely be told to call 911 and confirm it.”
Lukens’ case was heard at the Malibu Court on Aug. 4. Judge Pro Tem Bonnie Chermak found the defendant guilty of failing to yield.
“She didn’t give a verbal verdict,” Lukens told The News “She didn’t allow me to give all my evidence. It seems like she was proclaiming me guilty before I entered a plea.”
Lukens told The News that she will appeal the ruling, and plans to request community service in lieu of the fine. “I feel that I’ve already been doing community service, [speaking about the issue] at these meetings,” Lukens said.

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