I did something seemingly stupid earlier tonight and was arrested and cited for it. I’d like to hear some opinions on whether this was justified. I’m going to try to tell the story as fairly as I can, but of course, this is told from my perspective and some degree of bias may be unavoidable. Here’s the situation…
A friend and I went out for a few drinks earlier tonight. She had a few and I had two, both of which I finished before midnight. At 1:30 am, we decided to go to a park for a while to chill and sober up a bit. (This is not a DUI story.)
I drove us to a small neighborhood park nearby, parked the car and started hanging around some picnic tables. We weren’t making a scene or anything, just sitting there chatting. She was lying down on a table and I was standing on one of the benches. After five to ten minutes, a black and white police car drove by and lit us up with its searchlight… the car slowly circled around the park, the light shining on us the whole time, and eventually it came right up to us (there was a driveway leading into the park). One of the officers got out of the car.
He approached us cautiously and politely asked us what we’re doing there. We told him that we were just hanging out. He asked me to get down from the bench, which I did, and he explained that there’s been a few stabbings and other complaints in the area lately and he’s just doing his job and checking us out. He asked to search me, and I said ok. He asked me whether I was carrying any weapons, and I told him I had a small knife on me. I took it out and put it on the table for him, as he asked. Then he patted me down, found nothing (there really was nothing else) and everything seemed cool. He decided not to search my female friend. So he seemed content, was about to leave and asked for my friend’s name (just for his record, I’m guessing?) and she gave it to him. Then he asked me for my name, and that’s when the trouble started.
Instead of giving it to him, I asked “Why do you want to know?” He said something along the lines of “I’m just doing my job. You’re not in trouble or anything… just give me your name and I’ll be off” (my paraphrase). I again asked him why he needed to know if I had committed no crime, and he repeated something very similar – basically, that he just wanted to know. He asked me whether I had my license with me, I told him I left it in my parked car (which was true).
Around this time, his partner came out of the car and approached us as well. He asked the same question, I refused again, asking why they needed my identity or documents. He said they were asking for it and so I must cooperate. I said that didn’t seem fair, we were just hanging around trying to sober up. He said the park was closed. I said okay, we’re sorry, we didn’t know (we really didn’t) and we’ll leave. But they still wanted my identity. I refused to provide it, asking the same question once more. He repeated that the park was closed and that being there constituted a misdimeanor, and further, the knife that I carried constituted another misdemeanor offense in that particular city. The first cop came up to me and, in a seemingly sincere and friendly tone, said “Hey man, what’s the problem? Are you drunk? High? Do you have weed on you or a warrant or something? Don’t worry about that, man, we’re not here for that… we’re just here doing our jobs because there’s been a few transients and gangbangers here lately. But you’re good people. Just give us your name and we’ll be gone… no trouble.”
I repeated that it seemed unfair that we were forced to produce our identities without having done anything wrong and having cooperated fully. In my head, I thought “If staying at the park late and the small knife were so minor that they weren’t even going to care about them, well, they really don’t think we’ve done anything wrong and thus don’t need our identity.” At that point the second cop was getting impatient and asked me, forcefully, one more time to give my name or driver’s license. I refused. The first cop pulled out his tazer, told me to stand up, turn around, and put my hands behind my back or get tazered. I complied, he put his tazer away, and handcuffed me without incident. He walked me to the police car, asked me to bend over the trunk, and I complied. He once again approached me using the friendly tone and asked me “Come on, dude, why are you doing this? Do you have warrants? Weed?” I said no. “Ever been arrested before?” “No.” “Then why do you want this on your record, man? This doesn’t have to be hard. Come on.”
I still refused. He searched me again, more thoroughly this time, emptied my pockets and removed my belt. He walked me over to the other side of the car and his partner came over and said “Okay, now we’re just playing games. Arrest him.” So they escorted me into the back seat and I complied. The first cop, shaking his head, asked “Why, man, why? We have to take you to jail for this now.” I answered, “I told you. It just seems unfair.” “Once last chance, man. It doesn’t have to be this hard.” I refused. “Jail then.” “Fine,” I said. He asked me for my birth date. I asked if I was officially under arrest, he said yes, for the two misdemeanors. At that point, I revealed my full and honest identity, told him where in the car my license was, and gave him permission to retrieve it. He got it while his partner (the second cop) interrogated my friend about my identity. Once they had all the information, they saw that everything corroborated. I asked about my friend – who wasn’t in any sort of trouble – and asked what was going to happen to her and whether they could help her get a ride home. The first cop said not to worry about it. “You’re a good guy. You’re not going to prison. I’m going to write you a citation and then you can drive her home yourself, okay?”
And that was that. They gave me a field sobriety test (which I passed – DUI wasn’t really a concern here), issued me a misdemeanor citation for carrying a concealed weapon, gave me my knife back, and left. I asked if I could use the park restroom before we left. They said sure. Neither one of us were cited for being at the park after closing time.
So… was this fair? From my perspective, we weren’t doing anything wrong. We cooperated fully, nicely, and politely up until I was asked to provide my identity. I did not want to because I felt it was an intrusion on my privacy and civil liberties. Was I wrong, either ethically or legally? Can the police, for no real() reason, require me to produce my identification? Are there laws for this sort of thing? () If the knife or park were REAL issues and not just bullshit excuses, 1) they would’ve been the focal point long before my refusal to identity myself became a problem 2) they wouldn’t have given me the knife back and 3) they would’ve cited us for the park violation too.
From their perspective, I can understand that they were just trying to do their jobs, and aside from tazer threat, they too were very kind and non-hostile through the whole process. What might’ve been a routine “The park is closed. Go home, kids”-type oral warning only turned into a bigger issue because of my refusal to identify myself. That might seem suspicious to them, but does that alone warrant the rather extreme actions they took? In total, about an hour was wasted with two police cars and at least three officers (I suppose they called for backup at some point), an arrest was made, a trip to the city jail was barely avoided, and a barely relevant citation was issued… all this because I refused to give them my full name when they asked for it? My refusal might’ve been stupid, yes – I do have a misdemeanor on my record now – but were their actions reasonable and justified?