Speed Trap Vigilante Wins False Arrest Case

A Texas man who warned drivers about small-town speed traps was arrested and handcuffed in his hometown while on patrol. Now, after nearly two years of legal wrangling, Lance Mitchell has prevailed over the authorities that wanted him stopped.

Mitchell, 47, set up his website Speed Trap Ahead in 2007, hoping to warn motorists about locations in Texas where small towns were most likely to trap motorists. The following year, Mitchell took the next step: Standing by the roadside near where police were set up, holding an orange sign warning "SPEED TRAP AHEAD." After getting a ticket for violating sign ordinances in April 2008, Mitchell changed his tactics, wearing a vivid orange t-shirt instead and videotaping his stakeouts.

Even in states like Texas where abusive speed traps compelled laws limiting how much revenue local governments could take from drivers, several studies show that when budgets get cut, speeding tickets increase, and that out-of-town drivers are more likely to get written up.

So it was not surprising to Mitchell when the police chief in his hometown of Lakeway flagged him down during one of his demonstrations in April 2009. After several minutes of discussion, officers arrested Mitchell for several code violations, taking the unusual step of handcuffing him and hauling him to jail for booking. Thanks to the help of an attorney upset by the arrest, Mitchell contested his charges.

Eight months later, a trial revealed that the department's Senior Sergeant, James Debrow, had told deputies to arrest Mitchell on sight if they ever saw him flagging a speed trap — an act that's legal under Texas law. The seargeant had also ordered a code enforcement officer to find any reason to cite Mitchell, saying it was "getting personal." After the prosecutor declined to drop the tickets, the judge found Mitchell not guilty and threw the tickets out.

The following month, Mitchell sued Lakeway for false arrest; last month, the case was settled with a payout that Mitchell says gave him a "nice Christmas," especially considering he's currently unemployed. We'd say this kind of determination in the face of injustice was a job well done. (H/T to BoomhauerTX!)

[Austin American-Statesman]