Saturday, October 1, 2011

Forest Heights Speed Camera Defendant Arrested For Asserting Innocence

A defendant in a recent Forest Height speed camera hearing was ordered to be arrested and held in contempt of court for asserting his innocence.  (This post was updated on 10/15/2011.  Please see the courtroom recording added to the end).
The case was heard on Friday September 23rd in Prince George's County district court, more than a year after the citation had been issued.  The defendant was described by several courtroom observers (both defendants and some who were not there to fight citations) as an African American man who had an apparent disability or injury and required two canes for support to walk. His defense was based on the fact that when traveling South on Indian Head Highway entering from Livingston Road, there are no '35mph' signs between the intersection and the camera location.  (StopBigBrotherMD.org has confirmed using Google Street View that it is possible to drive south on I210 towards the cameras without seeing any 35mph speed limit signs, and that on that route the first sign one would see -- which is visible from the location of the cameras enforcing a 35mph limit-- is a 40mph sign located immediately past the camera.)  This defendant and/or others had apparently presented this claim to the town previously, but rather than correct the signage problem Forest Heights chose instead to stand their ground on the signage and come to court with a photo of the 35mph sign located at Aubrey lane, which is located 1/3 mile north of the camera.  There are at least 2 places one can enter route 210 without passing that 35mph sign (a fact the city reportedly did not mention).  After seeing this Judge Gerard Devlin pronounced the defendant guilty, but the defendant wanted to present the rest of his evidence : "After saying I was not guilty, and wanted to talk about my route home that didn't include Aubrey Lane, and that I come down Livingston Terrace and make a right at Livingston Road, and then a left on Indian Head Highway. I had pictures to show that there were no 35 mph signs on that segment of Livingston RD either. He didn't give me this opportunity. He said if I said another word, he would find me in contempt. I said why can't - he said "I find you in contempt - handcuff him and lock him up." I didn't say another word. I was humiliated and embarrassed. The guard was coming with the handcuffs, when I rose from my seat. He noticed that I walked with two canes, and said the handcuffs were not necessary"  ... "The guard walked me to a back room and asked for all  my items except my clothes and shoes. I was taken to a cell that had a bench and a toilet. After I sat down, my canes were taken. "  He was released later the same day.

This incident is the first report StopBigBrotherMD.org has received in over 3 years of reporting of a defendant being arrested or held in contempt over a Maryland speed camera ticket.

Judge Devlin is the same judge who recently made a ruling that defendants could not use citation images to exonerate themselves even if the time-stamped images showed the vehicles were not traveling the recorded speed, even though other judges had previously ruled otherwise.  That decision (which involved a different defendant than the individual in the contempt case), was widely publicized and distributed by Optotraffic and some local speed camera programs which use Optotraffic cameras.

The town issuing the citation disputed in the hearing, Forest Heights, issued over $3million worth of citations in fiscal year 2011, compared with the town's entire budget of $1.7million prior to introducing speed cameras.  Optotraffic(a dicision of Sigma Space Corporation) builds, owns, maintains, and processes violations from the cameras, scheduling court hearings (something which in this and other cases it took them over a year to do), and has been sending a marketing executive to act as an 'expert witness' at those hearings.  Optotraffic receives a percentage cut of the town's ticket revenue, and has a similar arrangement with several other local governments in the area as well as a newly activated speed camera contract with Prince George's County.

Stop Big Brother Maryland often gets information about speed camera hearings from defendants and courtroom observers which we can investigate further.  Anyone with information about interesting 'speed camera day' events should please report them to StopBigBrotherMD@gmail.com.

This posting was originally posted on 9/27 and was updated on 10/1/11 after we received additional information from the defendant.
Google street view shows no 35mph speed limit signage proceeding camera as seen from Livingston Rd Intersection, click to enlarge
Google Street View shows that a 40mph sign can be seen from the camera site, the camera enforces a 35mph limit, click to enlarge
Signage on Indian Head Highway, click to enlarge

Update 10/15/2011: We have obtained the audio recording of the court hearing.  In the recording you can hear Judge Devin order the defendant, James Bradford (a 71 year old poet), put into handcuffs and threaten him with 6 months in jail for asserting that he was not speeding.