Friday, April 24, 2009

Tased and beaten for riding a bicycle

Bike lawyer Bob Mionske's latest column on the rights of cyclists has been making the rounds. It's a long article but worth reading: Tony and Ryan were heading home from a long road ride when Lawrence County, Ohio Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife reportedly began harassing the cyclists and got all rambo on the cyclists. When local police arrived, they tased Tony repeatedly even after he was down on the ground. The 16 year old kid was just standing by calling his mother on his cell phone when a police officer knocked the phone out of the kid's hand and knocked him face first into the pavement before cuffing him.

The cyclists were arrested and jailed and charged with various trumped up charges that ended up dismissed by the court because, it turns out, the cyclists did nothing illegal. The court correctly recognized that the cyclists have a right to the road and, because the deputy's order for them to pull off the road was itself unlawful, there was no duty for the cyclists to obey that unlawful order.

Mionske concludes his article with this statement: "For most of us, I suspect it's easier to just quietly comply with a law enforcement officer's misguided attempts to enforce laws that don't exist. Sure, we know the officer is wrong, but do we really want to go to jail to make that point, instead of wherever it is we happen to be going at that moment? The problem is, if everybody acquiesces to a violation of our rights, do we still have the right? I would argue that unless the right is exercised, it doesn't exist. Therefore, when a law enforcement officer is enforcing laws that don't exist, it is incumbent upon us to stand up for our rights.

That's a pretty bold statement, and to be honest I'm not sure I'd be the one standing up in that kind of situation. How about you?

This reminds me of Stephan Orsak, who was tased and arrested as he rode his bicycle out of the Minneapolis airport. Unlike Tony and Ryan, Orsak was charged, tried and convicted of "Failure to comply with a lawful order," when, in fact, the police order for Orsak to ride his bike against traffic was unlawful and dangerous.

Courtesy Rob in Ohio and others.


  1. So, you can get convicted for doing something NOT illegal. That, and being tazed, strike me as pretty good reasons to roll over, no matter how unfair the situation is. Like that old public service spot: "You could be right. Dead right."

  2. Yesterday, two bike riding police officers were coming towards me as I was on my bike also. One was riding on the wrong side of the road while the other was weaving back and forth across the center line. It was rush hour and I rode right between them. Is cycling just a form of fun for these guys or do they have no appreciation of what is right and wrong when on a bike?

    Education of law enforcement officers, the front line of respect and STR, is greatly needed. Ugly story and unfortunately an indication of what many cyclists may be up against. The call to support your rights takes me back to the 60s.

  3. This will sound paranoid, but I usually ride with my camera on and around my neck. I do it to take pictures as I see them arise, but I have also known, that in a situation like this, I would hit video record in a heartbeat. I tend toward the fight for your rights side of things, so video is a good tool (that cop in NYC comes to mind)

  4. Bottom line. You won't win the argument then and there, right or wrong, if you have a cop with a John Wayne attitude. How bad do you want your day ruined in lieu of saving the argument later with the dept's Internal Affairs when you can pick the time? Don't judge all cops the same.
    Sort of like Curtis's comment about dead right.