What to do about police harassment

I’m in a bit of a pickle here and I want to know what you fellow Dopers would do.

My husband has been harassed by the police officers three times in the past month for absolutely no reason. The first time he was walking to 7-11, a block away from my house, and was stopped and asked to submit to a search of his person - he was told that if he did not voluntarily submit to said search they would get a warrant. He did, they found nothing, and let him go. We later found out that a robbery had been committed in the area and they were searching every white male over 5 and a half feet tall. No biggie, reasonable request, yes?

Well, the other night I was pulled over, because my taillights were out. They asked me to turn around the corner, which I did willingly, and then asked my husband to exit the vehicle and empty his pockets. There were two cars, three officers, at this point. The female came up to me and asked me if I had anything in the car, because she smelled methamphetamines. At this point my bullshit meter went off - my dad is a recovering meth addict, I know what it smells like, and the smell was nowhere in the car. The officer found my husband’s nail pick - he’s one of those people who always has to be doing something, and is like that naturally, so when he’s watching TV or something he’s picking the dirt out from under his nails or making something or fixing something. It’s just the way he is; he’s a recovering meth addict as well and when he does meth, he gets very calm and relaxed, not jittery like most people.

They tested the nail pick for drugs and found nothing, and then asked me if they could search my car. I told them that if they felt there was reasonable cause I welcomed them to pursue a warrant, in which time I would willingly submit to a search. Until then, they were free to peer into my very clean, wide-open car with their flashlights, but they were not going to set a finger in my car. The officer told me that me demanding a warrant made him think that perhaps I had something to hide, and I told him that that statement made me think that I shouldn’t trust police officers, because his first instinct at pulling me over (someone with no record) should have been that I’m someone who is well-versed in my rights as a U.S. citizen. They stalled as long as they could, hoping to rattle me. I was becoming mad, not nervous, because I had nothing to hide and I refused to be bullied into submitting to a search. In all of this time they didn’t give me a reasonable excuse as to why they were holding us, and even attempted to convince me that my husband had track marks and was tweaking (“No, officer, there are spiders in our apartment and he’s a high-steel rigger; I can guarantee that if you examine those marks, they look nothing like track marks, which I have seen; and yes, he’s nervous, he’s being held by police officers. Yes, he’s jittery. He’s like that all the time, he’s hyperactive.”) Finally they asked me where I worked and when I told them I work in the newsroom at the area newspaper, they let me go really fast. Suspicious, yes, but maybe they just figured they shouldn’t piss the paper off. I didn’t bother to ask for badge numbers because, while annoyed, I figured they were just doing their job.

Today, not three days after that incident, my husband was walking home from the cigarette shop and he was stopped by an officer, who demanded that he empty his pockets and refused to tell him why he was being stopped.

My husband is tall and lanky, and has very curly, messy hair, even when it’s slicked back and combed. Neither of these things is something he can help; he was born with it. He has very weathered hands because he works heavy labor. He, unless he’s working, looks very scruffy because he hates shaving. No matter what he does he gets ingrown hairs. I could see if maybe there was a call out for someone matching his description, but it seems to me that they’re just stopping people who fit a particular description because they may be drug users or dealers.

What would you do in this situation? I don’t want him to continually be stopped for no reason. If he’s late to work because of police action, he’s still going to get fired from that gig. What should I do? Should I just file a complaint with the Carson City Sheriff’s Department? Should I consult a lawyer and file a suit? Should I do the first and if it results in nothing do the second? Should I ignore it and just hope he doesn’t get stopped when time is of the essence?


Tried to edit and didn’t catch it in time: I really don’t like fighting with the police, I’m generally content to just let them do their jobs, but at this point it’s bordering on harassment and it’s pissing me off. I also want them to freakin’ explain why they’re stopping us every time they do it, since they refused each of these times.

Drop by the local station and advise the desk sergeant that if your husband or you is stopped again, there will be legal action taken. Then when it happens file a complaint. Then see a lawyer.

You were right to refuse them permission to search your car. Stand strong and don’t let petty bullies with a badge push you around.

Tashabot, I too would be angry. I am interested to hear what others have to say. Good on you for not allowing the search!

Do you live in an area with a lot of drug trafficking? I live in a neighborhood that the local paper has described as an “open-air meth market”, and I can say with certainty that people with an unkempt appearance (you did say he looked scruffy) walking down the street in a neighborhood like mine can definitely attract the attention of some bored cops. It may not be the ideal, but I’m sure you know that meth is a scourge upon our nation, and maybe they’re a little overzealous, but whaddya gonna do?

We have a problem with meth but I wouldn’t call my area an “open-air meth market.” The point I’m making is that their overzealousness may cost us our livelyhood if they decide to stop him on the way to work. Each time this has happened he’s been detained for over 30 minutes. Overzealousness is not an excuse for denying us our rights (they are supposed to tell us why they’re detaining us if we’re not being arrested). Also, telling me that they smell meth in the car to try to get us to admit to something we’re not guilty of strikes a chord in me. I’m worried about this, and the fact that there are people out there who are innocent and DON’T know their rights.

silenus - I’m just worried that this might open a can of worms, you know? I don’t want the police pissed at me to the point where everything I do gets scrutinized and blown out of proportion.


It sounds like it’s happening because of the meth problem in your area… That sucks. The only thing I can think of is for your husband to try to look a little more groomed if he is walking around the neighborhood.

I wonder, can the cops detain you without telling you why you are detained, or without arresting you? Do they have to tell you what they are holding you for, or are you free to leave if you’re not under arrest?

I can totally understand the worry about your husband being stopped on his way to work… The few times I have been pulled over for a traffic violation, it’s taken at least 20 minutes, which if it happens on your way to work could certainly make you very late.

I would also suggest making sure that everything is in perfect tip-top shape on your husband’s car, and that he is very careful to abide by all traffic laws on his way to work. (I am sure you already thought of all that…)

My husband has a number of black coworkers who were apparently pulled over on their way to their office - a branch of the US Postal Service - in a well-to-do suburb for DWB (Driving While Black). After this became an obvious pattern, the postmaster called the police station and told the chief that she was sick of her carriers being late to work because of traffic stops, and that if the pattern continued the police could deal with coming to get their mail at the office every day, rather than having it delivered. If the OP’s husband’s boss is sympathetic, maybe he/she could call and express “concern”?

I hate to suggest it, but maybe the OP’s husband needs to get a short haircut. Yes, it’s unfortunate and wrong that he’s being profiled in this fashion, but that might also be a fast way out of this problem.

He does have a short haircut; short of shaving his head, which is against the rules of most of his workplaces (he works out of a hiring hall union) I can’t think of anything that would make that better. No matter what he does, he looks scruffy. Other than shaving every day (which he can’t do without getting sores on his face from the ingrown hairs, and then they’ll REALLY think he’s a tweaker) we can’t think of anything that might stop this.

And he doesn’t have a car at the moment; when he drives it’s my car. Hence him walking everywhere and getting stopped for really no reason. There’s a whole plethora of things wrong with my car (that’s an entirely different thread, probably due in the Pit) thanks to a shitty dealership and the fact that Nevada has almost no regulations regarding used vehicle sales. I try to keep up on it but every time something gets fixed, something else goes wrong. Cars. :smack:

That’s the problem we’re having, though. There’s no way really to change how he looks without making the problem even worse. Which means that, due to unfortunate genetics, he’s going to be getting harassed by the police officers constantly.

He doesn’t even wear icky clothing! His slacks and shirts are always clean and his jacket is in one piece with no stains on it. He showers every day. If the only reason they’re stopping him is because he’s not clean-shaven, I’m going to be annoyed (besides, I think he looks like a geek when he’s shaved…very Screech from Saved by the Bell-esque).


Is a neatly trimmed beard out of the question?

It’s been a long time since I took Criminal Procedure, but I didn’t think a police officer could force you to empty your pockets. They can do a patdown for weapons, but only if they have an articulable suspicion that you might be dangerous.

I wish he could neatly trim his beard. It’d be really, really sexy. :wink: But no, he’s got scraggly facial hair. And no, they can’t force you, but seeing as he had nothing to hide, he just went ahead and did it, which made the police even angrier because he had nothing to hide and they couldn’t bust him for anything.


Well… maybe you could start driving him to the store? If it’s a neighborhood with a meth problem, it’s probably best that he not be walking around at night anyway.

Speaking of the beard, many times a beard on a man makes him look outdoorsy and distinguished, kind of like Bob Vila. So what’s the difference between your husband and Bob?

Anytime the cops detain you you’re under arrest. Unless you’re free to just walk away from the cop you ARE under arrest.

I’d carry a personal recorder with me. Next time you get pulled over turn the recorder on and record the incident.

The only thing that makes me cringe at the situation is that the cops would not tell you why they pulled you over and the fact that they lied about the “meth” smell.

I don’t mind cops stopping people because they look suspicious or they fit the description of a potential criminal. But them not telling you just because is a pure and blatant abuse of power and they should be dealt with accordingly.

What **silenus **said. Take no guff from these swine. And read this.

Sometimes I suspect police assholism is departmental.

Makes me wonder if the mood in the local PD can have an affect on the behavior of all the officers.

In my town here, I’ve been stopped about 2-3 times in 20 years of living here off and on (my parents have always lived here so even when I haven’t, I’ve been around.)

Every time it’s happened it’s been for a legitimate reason (usually an expired registration or expired inspection sticker, I’m ludicrously bad about renewing them.) Every time, the officer has almost fallen over himself apologizing saying, "I’m sorry I had to pull you over sir, but you have an expired registration sticker.’ They’ve always just given me a citation, and told me to bring proof of a new registration to the county courthouse by X date and I’d receive no fine. Very polite and professional.

I lived in Newport News for awhile, and 2-3 times I was accosted by police and they were all insufferably rude. Once they grilled me for 20 minutes while I was preparing to park my car outside the apartment building I was living at, apparently not believing me that I actually lived there even when I showed them that very address on my driver’s license. Another time while I was walking home from work, they followed me in a squad car for 4 blocks, before pulling over, shining flash lights in my face and interrogating me in a very rude manner about what I was doing there. That time I said it wasn’t any of their business what I was doing there, that it was a public sidewalk and I had a right to be there.

I was surprised they let me go, I think they wanted to do more but the way I carried myself suggested to them that they weren’t going to be able to get me on anything and that I fully knew my rights and would cause trouble for them if they didn’t leave me alone.

I do have a problem with it. Every time he’s been stopped he’s just been walking to the store or home or something, doing nothing suspicious except for existing. And the time I got pulled over he was just sitting there. He wasn’t doing anything to alert the police to him, and he wasn’t doing anything that might have made them think he might be guilty of some crime, other than looking a little unkempt, which, as I’ve stated before, he really has no control over. Reading up on fourth amendment rights, the police seem to be in error in every single one of these instances, up to and including not telling us why we’ve been detained (and by detained, I mean being forced to sit there at their bidding when we have other shit to do, not being arrested - you CAN walk away, but then you can be arrested for running from the police). I’m just very nervous about actually filing a complaint simply because, well, I don’t want the officers to take it out on us.

Incidentally, he has reminded me that every time he’s been stopped he was wearing a baseball cap, so they couldn’t even see his hair. Just his facial hair.

Queen Bruin, thanks for the link. I’m gonna print it out.


It sounds to me as if they are looking for someone who fits his description.

If he gets stopped again, then I would suggest that he hands over his ID promptly and asks them wheter they are looking for someone specific.

No, cops have the power of detainment, which is a middle ground.

That’s called “profiling” and it’s wrong.