Soddy-Daisy tries to make roadblocks avoid offense to constitution

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Jeff Gann, acting police chief in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., says the town conducts 6 to 10 roadblocks a year. (Photo David Tulis)

Jeff Gann, acting police chief in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., says the town conducts six to 10 roadblocks a year. (Photo David Tulis)

A Soddy Daisy roadblock July 2, a Friday night, was designed to comply with a court ruling and constitutional protections that seek to reduce the offense of roadblocks against travelers’ fourth amendment rights.

The roadblock on Dayton Boulevard ran 9 to 10:45 p.m. on a Fourth of July holiday weekend, manned by acting chief Jeff Gann and six officers.

By David Tulis / AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio

In an interview, Chief Gann says the roadblocks are intended to reduce injury risk to members of the public by keeping drunks off the road. Soddy-Daisy does six to 10 roadblocks a year, mostly during holidays. The blockades are paid for by the state through $35,000 worth in grants. 

Fruitless roadblock

The Friday blockade was a dull affair. “We issued zero citations,” the chief says.

But that’s typical of the north Hamilton County town. Chief Gann says Soddy-Daisy checkpoints over the past several years have produced no DUI arrests. The rise of ride-sharing services such as Uber get Chief Gann’s credit for keeping sloshed people off the road.

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“No kind of alcohol was detected, not even from any of our passengers,” he says. “It’s been several years since we’ve actually had any DUI that has actually come into the sobriety checkpoint. Word is out pretty good. I’m very confident in the [state] campaigns” that dissuade careless use of motor vehicles.

State law as interpreted by the 2001 Hicks ruling directs his department to allow for an escape from the roadblock, the chief says. This exit is allowed by warning signage ahead of the blockade and by advertising. 

The advertising came a classified ad June 28 in the Times Free Press saying roadblocks were planned on six major roads July 1-5. Hicks requires “advance publicity” because roadblocks infringe on constitutional liberty if they are too intrusive. The ad, however, fails to accomplish its purpose, lacking actionable specifics and saying no more than this: “Travel any main street on these dates and you may meet a roadblock.” The ad needs to give exact date, time and location information so people know enough to avoid the blockade.

A resident should bring this problem up at the next city commission meeting.

The roadblock in Soddy Daisy was in front of the Regions Bank down by Soddy Lake. Warning signs telling drivers of a coming DUI checkpoint allowed those drivers to turn off and avoid an unwelcome encounter with officers. No one has a duty to go through a roadblock.

“If someone chose to read that sign, they would not enter that sobriety checkpoint.”

Enter by free will

“Making you aware that we are ahead, once you enter into those — past those signs, you are actually at your free will entering the said sobriety checkpoint.” Entering the zone is a grant of consent to at least be stopped and questioned, though entering zone does not require a yielding 4th amendment rights in an absolute sense, he indicates.

Drivers going north were able to avoid the checkpoint by taking a right turn on Old Hixson Pike. Drivers going south were able to take a right turn on Ducktown Street, Chief Gann said, and avoid the blockade.

With at least one exception, the checkpoint seems to have complied with existing standard under the constitution by not allowing the officers to foist fishing expedition queries upon the person behind the wheel. The sole purpose of the checkpoint was to detect the smell of alcohol from the lips of the driver, and once that was accomplished, the officer told the driver to depart.

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State v. Hicks makes constitutionally protected rights yield to the pressing requirements of the state, and makes no absolute bar to warrantless confrontations. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tn-supreme-court/1126395.html

Officers were not allowed to ask for driver’s licenses. But if officers at a DUI roadblock see a vehicle infraction, they have probable cause to ask for the traveler’s connection to commercial government — namely, to demand his driver license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Deeper investigations at the roadblock are prompted by such problems as an expired tag, a broken tag light, a dark brake light, an open alcohol container or too-dark window tinting.

Cop hands tied

Hicks says the most important attribute of a reasonable roadblock is the presence of genuine limitations upon the discretion of officers in the field.

Cops did not obey this rule as Chief Gann had directed in a debriefing. One driver who went through the Dayton Boulevard roadblock said a city cop asked him if he could search a bag on his motorbike. The checkpoint was for DUI only, and he had no business asking for anything beyond that, the driver said he told the officer.

The cop waved the helmeted figure through without further ado.

Police departments execute the will of the executive branch of government — that is, the mayor. Rick Nunley, Soddy-Daisy’s mayor, favors roadblocks.

“I don’t they would be offended if they are law abiding and not driving impaired,” Mr. Nunley says. “They should be thankful that these men and women are out on the streets trying to protect their safety.”

Prospect of police reform?

Police killed 250 people in the first three months of the year, according to the Washington Post, making you 50 times more likely to be killed by a cop than a Muslim terrorist. In 2015 cops slew 984 people.

I ask Chief Gann if police reform would work in the direction of demilitarization and disarmament.

He says disarmament is unlikely because criminals use weapons and many people in the population are armed under license from the state’s department of safety and homeland security. So it unreasonable for police to be weaponless. The department is led by a military man, Phil Hamrick, absent for a year on a Navy assignment in the Middle East.

Thankful for servitude

Nine of 10 members of the public express thanks to officers when they go through a DUI checkpoint, the chief says.

Many needlessly have their driver licenses and registration ready to show before they get to the officer. To Chief Gann, this phenomenon suggests that the public generally is not upset at traffic stops and roadblocks and is willing to comply without taking offense.

When I say that my reader and the AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio listener is hostile to roadblocks, he is baffled. Members of the public are more accepting of roadblocks if a personal relationship between officers and individuals exists.

“My biggest question would have to be, ‘Why? What is the offense?’ Traffic stops are wide. There are so many violations,” and he goes on to describe how many offenses he lets go with warnings. “Not everyone gets a ticket and not everyone is going to jail.”

Travelers use phones to video encounters with his officers, Chief Gann says.

“We are willing to have a relationship with the public. The question is, ‘Is the public willing to have a relationship with us?’”

Note: A quote from State v. Hicks

This quote is from Hicks: Regarding the severity of the interference with personal liberty and privacy, we have held that a roadblock cannot be deemed constitutionally reasonable unless “it is established and operated in accordance with predetermined operational guidelines and supervisory authority that minimize the risk of arbitrary intrusion on individuals and limit the discretion of law enforcement officers at the scene.” Downey, 945 S.W.2d at 104.  To this end, our decision in Downey enumerated several characteristics of a roadblock that minimize the risk of arbitrary intrusion under Article I, section 7, including (1) stopping all cars traveling in both directions, unless congested traffic requires permitting motorists to pass through;  (2) taking adequate safety precautions, such as warning approaching motorists of the roadblock and stopping cars only in a safe and visible area;  (3) conducting the roadblock with uniformed officers and marked patrol cars with flashing emergency lights;  and (4) providing advanced publicity of the roadblock to the public at large, separate from, and in addition to, any notice warnings given to approaching motorists.   Although the absence of any one of these factors does not necessarily invalidate a roadblock, they each weigh heavily in determining the overall reasonableness of the checkpoint.

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