Cops drag woman out of car under commercial transportation law

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Diana Watt, after being handcuffed, is ordered out of a car; the officer is counting down the time for her to act before he drags her out under the commercial transportation statute at Title 55, which requires the state to exhaust its administrative remedies. (Photo Jalonda Oattes on Facebook)

Police’s routine claims upon travelers are in evidence in a noisome arrest video posted by businesswoman Jayla Oattes showing the arrest of her mother at a gas station on Wilcox Boulevard in Chattanooga.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

It’s not immediately clear what crime Diana Watt has committed other than that her arrest is connected to a driver license, which the daughter iinsists has the backing of an additional piece of paper to make that license acceptable to the officers.

The video that surfaced July 7, Saturday, indicates that Mrs. Watt, a woman in her late 40s in casual private dress, is not involved in the regulable activity of transportation. First indications are that, as the officer counts, “one, two, three — four,” for her to “get out of the vehicle” as he is handcuffing her, that she is a private user of the people’s roads, not a commercial operator.

Old policy dies hard

Police in Chattanooga enforce Tennessee Code Ann. § 55, the commercial transportation law, on people who are not involved in transportation.

In the law, as explained by Transportation Administrative Notice, the only category of traveler that has to have a driver license — and have it current (nonrevoked, nonsuspended) — are drivers and operators.

An operator or driver is usually an employee involved in moving goods or people for hire in what’s called a vehicle for hire. She is acting for-profit, she is acting commercially, and she is imposing upon the people’s asset, the roadways, an extraordinary use. That commercial exploitation of the people’s property makes her subject to regulation.

She must have a driver license of the proper classification (depending on their vehicle’ weight). She is required to prove she has compulsory insurance under the financial responsibility provisions of Title 55. She must have her car registered as a (commercial) motor vehicle with the department of safety and homeland security and her county clerk.

Police are continuing to have a bad name across the country for imposing transportation statutes on private users, many times slaying the individual, such as Philando Castile, gunned down exactly two years ago near St. Paul, Minn., for obeying an officer’s commands to produce a driver license in a transportation stop. Area police have been notified about the scope and limits of Title 55, and appear in the Watt arrest to be courageously violating its provisions and acting in personal capacity.

Mrs. Watt appears to have no passengers at her elbow in a for-hire capacity. There’s no immediate evidence in the video that she is involved in the movement of cargo for profit (not hauling pizzas, vegetables or other goods). She seemingly is not attired for the job of transportation in a corporate or personal capacity. Officers seem cognizant of that private capacity: They do not demand manifests, contacts or other evidences of her having a cargo and being a carrier, which under Title 55 is part of enforcement jurisdiction.

Mrs. Watt is just a woman in a car, with her daughter, Ms. Oattes, arriving at the gas station separately at her mom’s request with a document to show police pertaining to a bankruptcy filing and a connection with her assets or license. Police are arguing that the mother is  involved in transportation and thus required to have a driver license and exhibit it on demand in proper form pursuant to TCA 55-59-351, the exhibit on demand rule for licensees.

Officers kept in dark

The mother of Jayla Oatte is tossed to the tarmac Saturday while being arrested under the commercial transportation statute.

The video indicates that Mayor Andy Berke, police chief David Roddy, city attorney Wade Hinton and city council counsel are refusing to acknowledge the state of the law, as highlighted by transportation administrative notice, given to the city Feb. 20. The notice simply restates Tennessee law, federal law and court cases indicating the scope of Title 55. Its authority is not over a private person traveling, but over the commercial driver and operator of a motor vehicle.

The police accusation under Title 55 starts with the premise that Mrs. Watt is, in fact, a party in the activity of transportation. At best, this allegation is a rebuttable presumption that the woman must deal with at the very beginning of a hostile police encounter, arguing that Title 55 does not apply to her and that she is not involved in the activity of operating a vehicle for hire in commercial capacity. She is a victim of mis-enforcement of the commercial travel statute. African-Americans, the poor and Spanish-speaking immigrants are the leading victims and the least able to resist or mount a proper defense, but Caucasians and other homeborn Americans are likewise subject to this commercial operation.

Transportation administrative notice put the city on notice that its officers cannot enforce the travel statute on a private traveler without committing either a civil tort or a statutory oppression under the Tennessee or U.S. oppression statues. But Chattanooga police officers and Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies have for decades enforced the law in the broadest possible fashion, with the support of the courts and the bar.

Tennessee courts are progressive and activist, having upheld a legal fiction as state policy summarized best in Chattanooga by district attorney Neal Pinkston, who says, there is no right to travel by car, only “[t]here IS a constitutional right to freedom of movement between states,” as in changing one’s domicile.

But Tennessee law and court cases from the very beginning of the era of the gasoline engine and self-propulsion make it understandably clear that travel is the main category and the transportation is the sub-category involving commercial use of car or truck on the roads.

The refusal of the Berke administration to notify city corporation officers of the limits of the double nickel (Title 55) enforcement puts officers personally at risk for civil action by aggrieved parties shanghaied on the roads, as Mrs. Watts appears to have been.

The party running her wireless phone, Ms. Oates, runs the Pink Paw shop, evidently online from Chattanooga, though it’s not clear where she resides. Her video, and an angry post-arrest soliloquy on  Facebook Live, are laced with profanity and should not be viewed in the presence of minors.

Transportation Administrative Notice as PDF, 20pp

This is the Facebook video  posted July 7, 2018, showing the arrest of an apparently private person in a car who is said to have caused an offense under the commercial transportation statute that regulates for-profit use of the people’s roads. (Photo Facebook, Jayla Johnsonn)

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