February 13, 2014
TRAINED LAW-ENFORCEMENT PROFESSIONALS: Florida Trooper Harassed, Threatened Over Stopping Miami Officer.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Donna Jane Watts was on routine patrol early one morning when a Miami police car whizzed past at speeds that would eventually top 120 mph. Even with her blue lights flashing and siren blaring, it took Watts more than seven minutes to pull the speeder over.
Not certain who was behind the wheel, she approached the car warily, with gun drawn, according video from her cruiser’s dashboard camera. “Put your hands out of the window! Right now!” she yelled. It turned out the driver was Miami Police Department officer Fausto Lopez, in full uniform. Watts holstered her gun but still handcuffed him and took his weapon.
“I apologize,” Lopez said, explaining that he was late for an off-duty job.
“You were running 120 miles an hour!” Watts barked back.
That October 2011 confrontation made national headlines and eventually got Lopez fired. But Watts’ actions involving a fellow officer didn’t sit well with many in law enforcement, and not long after she made that traffic stop, she says, the harassment began. Random telephone calls on her cell phone. Some were threats and some were prank calls, including orders for pizza. Unfamiliar vehicles and police cars sat idling in her cul-de-sac. She was afraid to open her mailbox.
Watts suspected her private driver’s license information was being accessed by fellow officers, so she made a public records request with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. It turned out she was right: over a three-month period, at least 88 law enforcement officers from 25 different agencies accessed Watts’ driver’s license information more than 200 times, according to her lawyer.
Law enforcement officers have long been known to band together and protect each other, but Watts said in her lawsuit that these actions went too far.
When you have a culture of impunity, people do stuff they wouldn’t do if they were likely to be held accountable.