By Norris Palmer
On Christmas Eve I was witness to a very sad traffic stop that occurred at 6 p.m. in front of the Mercantile next to the ferry terminal.
There was a Christmas Hay Ride Trailer decked out with hundreds of lights with benches and children with elf hats and antlers, their parents, young and old. They were apparently out caroling on this wonderful Christmas Eve and I saw green and red lights thinking they were part of the festivities and how wonderful our police were to be involved in this “Friday Harbor Christmas Postcard."
It was not part. It was a patrol car making a traffic stop. I parked the car and went over to see what was going on.
I arrived to see these kids and moms and dads in the back of the ride with an officer with his hand on his sidearm pointing at the driver of the vehicle. I then witnessed a patrol car approaching as a back-up with sirens and lights speeding through the intersection while pedestrians jumped out of the walkway in front of the Clam Digger.
The other officer got out of the vehicle. I asked him what was going on and why and he said: “we are doing what we can and to leave the scene”.
I then saw the driver of the truck that was pulling the trailer step out of the vehicle in a non-threatening way. I heard the driver say something to the effect of, “We will handle it ourselves, or not you (name of officer) again”, at which point that same officer placed his hand again on his side arm and lunged at the driver saying the words; “And what will you do about it Marke?”
The other officer held the lunging officer back with two arms on him and his head down like a blocker for the Seahawks, I repeat, held him back as if in a barroom brawl, but this officer has a weapon. I have never seen such wanton lack of training or professionalism from an armed officer.
This was way out of line and could have gone downhill fast, and may turn out to be a very large liability for the county and Sheriff’s Office’s pocket book, which you and I would have to pay for. I was told to leave or be detained and I stepped back to watch along with 12 or more other bystanders holding cameras and cell phones.
The officers then took all of the young children, who were crying, the mothers, the fathers, and the driver and made them stand against Churchill’s restaurant wall and all while blocking any customer traffic to the Mercantile on their busiest night.
These kids were terrified at Christmas Eve by those sworn to protect us. There were lights going at all times, with spotlights on these criminal carolers. This is a travesty of “use of force” policy and I have been in some very tough situations in law enforcement and have never seen anything like these procedures.
These are the people you are supposed to protect. These were not criminals, they were your neighbors, and your children go to school with their children. One of the children was holding what appeared to be a stuffed reindeer seemingly protecting it from the perceived hostile attack by uniformed and armed men.
This is Christmas Eve 6 p.m., downtown Friday Harbor, while the line of tourists departing from our magical island trying to figure out just what Christmas message our police were trying to convey.
The next morning I called the on duty officer asking what happened last night. His comment was cheerfully, to the effect that; “Well, they pulled them over for a safety concern in that they did not want children possibly falling out the trailer, and that the officers were kind enough to escort them safely home and that no citations were issued.”
I urge all islanders to read the report and then ask those involved if the report is anywhere near what actually occurred in those 45 minutes to these hard-working citizens who live here with all of us.
These Island Family Carolers are the same people that stand in line to buy groceries at Kings. The same people that shop at the Thrift Store. The same people that serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Grange, to those that have less than they do.
This display of police procedure, is not going to show well of our intentions and lifestyles on this island and I, as a decorated United States Vietnam veteran am appalled at their display of force and harassment and lack of judgment and damage to the children and their spirit of Christmas and what it stands for. I am so sorry for these children.
Merchants go out of their way to decorate our beautiful city and a sleigh ride with Christmas lights is part of that vision. These officers, in this; “Routine 45-minute traffic stop with no citations issued” need to go back to training. They need to provide an apology to those children and their parents.
We need a clear and defined policy from the Sheriff’s Dept. on just what actions will be taken to correct this in the future. We cannot have our children “fearing” law enforcement officers.
There has been a severe damage to these young people who now, will not know who the good guys are, and run from persons in uniform. Every parent needs to step up and bring this out into the open.
— Editor's note: A San Juan Island resident for more than a decade, Norris Palmer has periodically been a contributing writer and photograph for the Journal of the San Juan Islands.