Donna Jane Watts, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper, was working her regular beat one early morning on October 11, 2001 when another police car passed her as if she was standing still, eventually topping speeds of 120mph. The other officer didn’t pull over immediately either, giving chase for a full seven minutes.
She wasn’t clear whether the person driving had stolen the cruiser, or whether it really was a police officer so she approached with a drawn weapon, demanding that the driver put his hands out of the window.
The guy driving was a cop alright, Miami Police Department officer Fausto Lopez, who was still in uniform just after finishing a shift and headed to an off-duty gig.
“I apologize,” Lopez said as he explained why he was in such a huge rush that he needed to put other people’s’ lives in danger. Because cops are allowed to go 120mph to get to work when they are late, and the rest of us can just suck it up if we get fired for tardiness.
“You were running 120 miles an hour!” Watts barked back.
Surprisingly, Watts arrested Lopez, took his gun, and stuffed him into the back of a police car. The dash-cam caught the entire incident.
Because we all love it when the police get arrested for speeding, something with which they get away regularly, this story generated a lot of national buzz. It warmed our hearts to see one of “them” held accountable to the same laws to which we are held. Eventually, Lopez was fired, which also caused a national ripple of water-cooler giggling.
However, Watts’ fellow officers weren’t so amused. She says after the arrest, she started being trolled. People were calling her cell phone, ordering pizza, camping out in cars and police cruisers in the cul de sac near her house. Watts was afraid to open her own mailbox.
Watts believed her driver’s license was being checked by other police officers, and she was right! Her driver’s license had been checked by 88 different cops from 25 different agencies more than 200 times.
So now Watts is suing, a claim based on the Driver Privacy Protection Act, a 1994 federal law that says you can glean $2,500 dollars per offense if the defendant is found guilty of accessing your driver’s record without good reason. It could mean a payday for Watts of $500,000.
The response from the other police Watts is suing is hilarious. Trooper Andy Cobb spoke through his attorney, saying that he accessed Watts’ information “out of public safety” because he had been “hearing rumors that other troopers were threatening” Watts. Why no one thinks that the threat of another officer within a police force is so common place that the correct course of action is to check the potential victim’s driving record rather than go tell a supervisor is really telling. And by “really telling” we mean “Grade A, premium quality donkey droppings.
Even more interesting is what police officers are collectively attempting to do. Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Agencies, says that police officers shouldn’t be penalized for checking someone’s driver’s license a lot. The organization thinks the law needs to be changed to protect officers, not individuals. Because officers and individuals are different, you see.
Meanwhile, Watts has been removed from patrol and is working a desk job, though the FHP wants to assure everyone it is not a punitive move on their part.
For more “Cops are really the good guys, honest” stories, check out the tale of Kelly Thomas, beaten to death by police while calling out for his dad, or the story of the deaf man brutally beaten for seven minutes for not responding to verbal instructions.