Commentary

Saunders: A parking lot encounter with the law

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2013 

This could’ve turned out to be a very different story – one where someone ends up trying to raise bail or, at worst, face down in a dirt parking lot.

Instead, it’s a story about two bored dudes who last Friday night decided to go to a Hillsborough bar/gin mill/sin den known as the Platinum Club to listen to music, look at dancing women and drink a beer.

The crowd was so sparse – there were only six other cars in the parking lot – that we sat in my truck debating whether to go in while listening to the ’70s music channel on the radio. While we were trying to decide whether to stay – I voted yea, my friend said nay – an Orange County deputy sheriff made the decision for us.

He swooped into the parking lot two minutes after we arrived. He slowly circled the truck in his cruiser, then parked about five feet away and perpendicular to us – his headlights shining directly into the driver’s side window.

Say, homes …

We tried to ignore his provocative action and his apparent Jedi mind tricks – continuing to eat a Honey Bun and sipping a Mountain Dew – although under our breaths we questioned his relationship with his mother. Failing to get the desired response from us – panic? rage? a confrontation? – he circled the truck again after five minutes and parked the same way. This time he was about 20 feet back, his bright lights still shining into the driver’s window.

‘Is there a problem?’

Fed up with being in the spotlight, we got out of the truck after 20 minutes and walked toward the club’s entrance, not really wanting to go in, but wanting even less for this deputy to continue shining his lights in our faces. We also knew that if we drove away, he’d probably find a reason to pull us over.

As we approached the club’s door, the deputy shifted his cruiser into gear, pulled up behind my truck and, I later confirmed, called in my plates.

That’s when I stopped.

“Is there a problem with my truck, deppity?” I shouted after he emerged from behind it. I stopped about 20 feet away, arms extended to the sides for my protection.

“What’s that?” he responded, pretending not to hear.

“I asked if there is a problem with my truck?” I repeated.

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH MY TRUCK?’ ”

“No,” he admitted.

After a silent stare down that lasted 10 seconds but felt like 10,000, he drove off, and we turned and headed toward the club. The doorman asked and answered, “Was that deputy messing with you? They’re always doing that.”

Why hassle us?

We left after about 40 minutes, long enough for our anger to subside and without drinking anything.

Even though my friend and I both respect cops and view them as the good guys, being hassled by one was not that surprising.

What happened when I described the incident to Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass days later, was surprising: He acknowledged that the situation could have been handled better by the second-year deputy.

“There’s no reason for him to be up there unless something caught his eye,” Pendergrass told me. “We don’t usually go up there unless there’s a reason. We’ve had some problems up there with robberies, and he said he saw y’all sitting there and you didn’t get out immediately. … That was no reason for him to shine the lights on you like that.”

I felt better after the sheriff explained the deputy’s view. But I also knew how easily the situation could have escalated and become troublesome or even deadly – all because we chose to sit in the truck and listen to the O’Jays singing “992 Arguments.”

When you’ve been in that position as often as we have, it’s easy to remain cool. Because you know that, ultimately, any encounter with a cop that ends with you free and still alive is a good one – even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong.

But what if we had been rookies to the intimidation game, a couple of squares who’d panicked and fled or who’d confronted the deputy? “I say, Old Bean. Why don’t take you take those bright lights and shove ’em up your nose?”

Depending upon what kind of night he was having, the situation could have escalated from there, and I’d have been charged with attacking his billy club with my head. Or worse.

That’s why I let the sheriff know about it and why I’m letting you know about it. Because the next two dudes who decide to sit innocently in a parking lot listening to the O’Jays may not be in the mood to be hassled for no reason.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service