Photo by Nick Cooper, May 6, 2007
Nick saw this as a case of cops hassling sleeping homeless folks and making them move elsewhere. He wanted to document it. Ever since Rodney King (and probably long before), cops have hated having their work photographed or filmed. But remember, there is nothing wrong or illegal about what Nick did.
The police decided to try to intimidate him. They stopped him and ran his tags. Finding nothing, they let him go, but then as he was driving away, they indicated for him to turn right and pull over. Cooper followed their instructions, only to find himself ticketed for going the wrong way down a one-way street!
His contention was that he was essentially entrapped--the police instructed to do something illegal, then punished him for obeying! Pretty slimy tactic!
It was a minor offense, but Nick decided to fight it in court. But the petty bureaucratic intimidation didn't stop there.
Nick pled not guilty and appeared in Houston Municipal Court Number 11 at 1400 Lubbock on October 15, 2007, for trial at 8:00 am and had to stay until after 1:30 pm before the Judge said no trial today and Nick’s trial was reset to April 14th, 2008. Nick again appeared in Court on April 14th, 2008, for the reset trial date at 8:00 am and had to stay until after 1:30 before the Judge said Nick’s trial was again reset to October 13, 2008.
Nick again appeared for his trial at the October 13, 2008, trial setting at 8:00 am. This time Nick explained to the Judge that the burden was too high to get a trial on his ticket. The plea fell on deaf ears and the Judge again reset the trial for June 1, 2009, at 8:00 am. Now Nick’s main witness, a homeless fellow named Ken, no longer is reachable by the cellular number that Ken gave Nick.
Civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen said, “It is violation of defendants’ right to trial when they must spend so many days in court on a traffic ticket just to get to trial. How can defendants and witnesses be expected to show up for trial on so many occasions only to be reset for another day ? Presiding Judge Mejia needs to start thinking of Houston citizens’ rights and not city revenue.”
Nick is not alone and Court 11 is not the worst. Court Number 6 has six defendants on trial docket for June 1, 2009, who are each charged with a single traffic violation and have appeared at trial settings for longer than Nick--four since 2006.
Doing the math means hundreds of defendants trial rights are violated each year by Court 6 alone. (Houston Independent Media Center)
Nick finally got his day in court today, and was found guilty. He paid a $100 fine. The police and the justice system figured they could intimidate him by making it too expensive to stand up for his rights. But in the end, I'd say Nick cost them a lot more time and money than they cost him. Way to stand up for photographers' rights, Nick!