Showdown on the High Trestle Trail

In Editorial on July 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

When I was a boy of about four or five and in the tow of my parents in an appliance store, a kindly salesman reached into a display freezer and handed me a popsicle.

It was delicious. My parents bought the appliance and we went about our way.

A few months later, we were in the same store when my parents decided to buy another appliance. I could barely contain myself as I immediately stationed myself next to the display freezer I knew contained the icy treats. The salesman walked by and I flashed my most sincere smile.

No popsicle.

After what seemed like an eternity and my parents had purchased their new appliance. They took my hand and led me, as I screamed loudly, out of the store. It was carefully explained (a-hem) to me that the salesman was most certainly not required to give me a popsicle each time we visited the store.

It was a valuable lesson.

A few weeks ago two bicyclists, Cathy Olson and Lisa Schaa, approached a marked trail stop on the High Trestle Trail in central Iowa. A Polk County Deputy, Dale Petersen, was near the trail crossing in his police cruiser.

The two women allege that they “thought” Petersen was going to “waive them through” the stop sign “because other motorists had done so”. Petersen did not waive them through and the women hauled back on their bikes in what Petersen called “an emergency stop”.

Let’s deal with as much of the story, thus far.

The two women were counting on getting a popsicle from Deputy Petersen. Other drivers had dispensed popsicles to them in the past and they assumed Petersen would magically turn their stop sign into their popsicle as well.

He did not. Let the screaming begin!

According to the women, Petersen called to them in a condescending tone and asked, “Do you girls know what a red octagon means?”

The two women became (properly) indignant. After all, would Petersen address a group of African-American men as “boys”?


“You ofay muther-f**cker. The next time you call someone boy there better gawdamn well be a boy present.”

According to Olson, the deputy appeared to be addressing Schaa and she (Olson) rode off; thinking Schaa was Petersen’s sole target and also that she feared saying something which would hurt her companion’s case. Petersen “tore” down the trail to apprehend her.

Olson made the wrong move.

The right move would have been for her to ask the deputy, “Am I under arrest, or am I free to go?”

Besides, had she stayed with her friend and quietly monitored the deputy’s encounter with her, she would have been a good friend and a good witness.

Nope. She took off, leaving Schaa to deal with Petersen on her own. Narcissism and self-protection won the day.

The end result was that both women got tickets.

Each of the women got tickets for failing to stop at the stop sign.

What? But that’s not what happened.

According to the published stories of everyone concerned, the women did stop. Petersen even admits it looked like an “emergency stop” (if the vehicle code contains such a term).

Face it, Mr. Petersen, they stopped. You may not have liked how they stopped and you may have assumed they were not going to stop. A judge should toss those tickets.

As for disobeying a peace officer’s orders?

Did Petersen order Olson to stay with her friend. Remember, for an arrest to be an arrest, the magic words “You’re under arrest” need not be uttered. However, detention must be obvious and understood by the detainee. Petersen, like the women, made an incorrect assumption that the women were detained and that they both understood that they were being detained.

Was Petersen in the act of writing the tickets when Olson peddled away?

Nope. At least not according to the stories from each of the participants.

Out goes the charge against Olson for disobeying a peace officer’s orders.

Later, Olson made a complaint about Petersen’s behavior (and the tickets) to Sgt. Rich Blaylock, a compadre of Petersen’s back at the sheriff’s stationhouse.

According to some reports, Blaylock alleged that Petersen had “signed statements from witnesses saying Olson had used the ‘F-word’ numerous times during the encounter”.

So what?

It’s not like cops don’t hear “f**k” at least a hundred times per shift and that seventy-five of those utterances are made by their fellow officers. Sheesh!

Petersen simply could not have arrested Olson for what really pissed him off: “Contempt of cop”, because the charge does not exist…

…Except in the minds of a few cops.

My guess is that Petersen knew his cojones would be in a wringer if the ladies made mention of his condescending address at the onset of the encounter. The ladies had relied on a juvenile popsicle assumption and Petersen would play the juvenile response in return…

…”Whaaaaaaa! Sure, I called them “girls”, but she used the really bad word that starts with ‘F’. Whaaaaaaa!”

The response is the close cousin to “But he started it!” defense used by misbehaving children.

Had Petersen been an ordinary mook in his car on that day, would Olson and Schaa have made an “emergency stop”? Or, would they have zipped happily across the road, child-confident in the magical protection of Lycra and Spandex? Did they only clamp on the binders because this particular mook (Petersen) wore a badge and was in a marked patrol car?

Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?

Here’s what is certain. There should have been at least one adult present during the confrontation.

There was no adult present.

And that’s why attorneys make such a good living.

I’m certain the women would take issue with my referring to them as behaving like children.

But before their panties crawl into a bunch, I would remind them that Deputy Petersen had a greater duty to act like an adult. When you carry a gun, being an adult at all times is requisite.

The women behaved badly, like many citizens will in such a situation.

Petersen should be accustomed to that kind of behavior and he has been trained how to deal with it.

The greater obligation to society was upon Petersen and he failed in his obligation.

What is the proper outcome here?

I hope the women prevail against Petersen’s charges. I also hope the judge gives them a stern bicycle safety lecture from atop his bench. Ordinary motorists have no lawful authority to “waive” someone through a traffic control device on a whim. And, deputy sheriffs are not supposed to lecture, that’s the job of the judge.

The Polk County Sheriff should take a long, hard look at Petersen to see if he’s really fit to carry a badge or a gun.


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