Detroit Lions defensive player Ndamukong Suh may not be the best driver in the world. He’s had at least three accidents in the past four years and has also been ticketed. Of course when you and I have a collision or get ticketed, it doesn’t make the front pages, so I have some compassion for Mr. Suh. Actually, he has my gratitude because his latest incident has provided us with video evidence of one of my pet peeves about traffic enforcement, police officers issuing tickets for what police do casually. Anyone who has eyes and a brain can see that in the United States, police officers routinely and casually break traffic laws when performing routine non-emergency tasks and they do so because they think it’s a perk, a benefit, of being a police officer. Fortunately the Lathrup Village Police Department has released the dashcam video of the incident and not only does it show that the police officer himself failed to exercise due care and caution, endangering other drivers while pursuing Suh for a harmless act, the video catches the officer lying about Michigan traffic laws and about why he stopped Suh.
Breaking the law is a fringe benefit of being a cop, particularly traffic laws. They’ll be speeding 15 mph over the limit in the left lane on the freeway, expecting people to get out of their way and when someone doesn’t get out of the way of the king’s man quickly enough, you’ll see the police cruiser’s brake lights go on (indicating that the cop was going faster than his prey), followed by the red and blue lights indicating someone’s about to get a speeding ticket.
A couple of weeks ago on November 15th, Sue got ticketed while driving his Range Rover north on Southfield Road just past 11 Mile Road. The video starts as the police officer is sitting at a stop sign on a side street perpendicular to Southfield Rd. At that location Southfield Rd. is a multilane road with a left turn lane. Just north of 11 Mile, the rightmost lane ends and there are signs telling drivers to merge. Suh, traveling in the right lane, zips past the cop going a little faster than traffic so he could merge left, which he did. The cop pulled into the street and raced up Southfield after Suh. On the video you can hear the cop’s engine rev and going faster than traffic he gets way over to the left turn lane, passes traffic using the left turn lane, and then crosses a lane of traffic to get behind Suh, who is in the far right lane. Suh pulls over onto the shoulder right at an intersection of a side street but the cop on the bullhorn orders him to complete the right turn. Then the cop tells him to stop, so Suh turns left into a parking space. There’s a church there and they have some parking on the street. The cop gets angry saying that he told him to stop, not turn left. The cop then, instead of pulling off the road into a parking space parallel to Suh, angle parks on the roadway, blocking traffic on the street by parking in the wrong direction.
On the video you can hear the cop ask Suh, “Why are you going so fast?” Suh replies by saying that he didn’t know the lane was ending so he was merging. Suh goes on to explain that he was merging, but the officer tells him that he was “passing traffic on the right. Do you know that’s illegal in Michigan?” After they discuss whether Suh was merging or passing, the cop said “You were passing up vehicles and cutting over at the last minute, that’s why I stopped you.” The cop then tells Suh that he’s giving him a break by not ticketing him for careless driving but is instead writing him up for failure to use due care and caution.
So, as they say on TV, let’s go to the video. It’s quite clear that the unidentified officer lied not once but twice to Suh. To begin with, it’s not illegal to pass on the right in Michigan. From the Michigan Vehicle Code:
257.637 Overtaking and passing on right of another vehicle; conditions; violation as civil infraction.
(1) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only if 1 or more of the following conditions exist:
(b) Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles of sufficient width for 2 or more lines of moving vehicles in each direction and when the vehicles are moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic.
Passing on the right is legal in Michigan on multilane roads. The stretch of northbound Southfield Road where Suh was traveling has three lanes in that direction.
That was lie #2. Lie #1 was when the cop said he stopped Suh because he was cutting over at the last minute. I doubt that anyone can watch the video, with the cop starting the chase as soon as Suh drove past him, and agree that he was pulled over for the manner in which he merged. Actually there was a third lie, when the cop told Suh that he “almost caused a crash”. As you can see from the video, Suh merged smoothly into traffic, the driver he was merging in front of never even had to tap his own brakes to let Suh in, and traffic continued smoothly. Nobody had to swerve, or slam on the brakes there were no screeching tires.
I expect cops to lie. That’s one of Alan Dershowitz’s ten rules of criminal law – all cops lie on the stand. I also expect them to brazenly do in traffic what they ticket the rest of us for. I’m pretty sure all of us have been in Suh’s situation. You’re driving on a main street in the right lane and after an intersection the lane ends, so you speed up and merge. It’s done safely millions of times a day most likely. Now compare that to making a right turn onto a busy road, racing up the street, crossing into the left lane, and then using the left turn lane as a passing lane, crossing a traffic lane again and then merging behind Suh. Now who was exercising more due care and caution, Suh going a little bit faster than traffic and merging when his lane ended or the cop doing what he did? Also, the cop got angry when Suh didn’t just stop in the middle of the side street but rather Suh safely pulled off the road and parked. What’s more careful and cautious, pulling off of the road or parking in a traffic lane facing in the wrong direction as the cop did?
Because of Suh’s notoriety, the Lathrup Village police chief and city attorney reviewed the video and have since decided that it was a righteous stop and that Suh will have his day in court. Apparently Lathrup Village is fine with its police officers lying and driving dangerously.
The statute under which Suh was actually cited reads:
“A person operating a vehicle on a highway shall operate that vehicle at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the highway and of any other condition then existing.”
Whose driving behavior is described more accurately by that code, Suh’s or the cop’s? Who exactly failed to use due care and caution? I know that if that same officer saw me or you using the left turn lane as a passing lane, we’d get a ticket.