Terry Bressi fights illegal road checkpoint in Arizone

Terry's web site on his case, which includes many updates, photographs, FOIA results, etc.

Date: Sun, 29 Dec 2002 12:53:20 -0700 (MST)
From: Terry Bressi
To: gnu@toad.com
Subject: Police checkpoint incident 

John [Gilmore]

I thought I'd share with you a recent experience I had regarding
travelling & I.D.

Friday afternoon while travelling back to Tucson after working the day at
a remote site, I was detained/arrested at a police check point in the
Tohono O'odham Reservation - Pima County, Arizona. The check point was a
joint task force operation involving the Tohono O'odham police, U.S.
Customs, and INS/Border Patrol. Below appears my account of the events
that transpired.

I will be seeking a change of venue to Tucson for the upcoming court
appearances as well as mounting a vigorous defense regarding the charges
against me. State law clearly indicates that a valid police stop must be
premised on reasonable suspicion or probable cause of wrongdoing. Any
suggestions would be welcome.

It would appear that it is now unlawful in this country to travel home
from a days work without being properly cleared by the authorities that be.

Feel free to distribute this email as you see fit. Thanks and Happy

Terry Bressi

20 December 2002 - 1700: I came upon a police check point on Arizona Route
86 at mile marker 143 in the Tohono O'odham reservation - Pima County,

I called a coworker on a cell phone while waiting in backed up traffic &
informed him of the circumstances. He stayed on the line the entire time I
interacted with the enforcement officers up to the time I was forcibly
removed from the vehicle. My co-worker heard most of the conversation.

The road block was setup in such a place as to provide no prior warning as
to its presence and no ability to bypass it. Route 86 is the only viable
route back to Tucson from Kitt Peak & there is no shoulder along large
sections of the route which would allow an individual the opportunity to
turn around prior to entering the checkpoint.

Spotters were present along the side of the road some distance before the
checkpoint. Their purpose was not obvious until after coming upon the

I was travelling back to Tucson after working at a remote site.

A dozen or so enforcement vehicles were present along the side of the road
at the checkpoint.

Tohono O'odham police, U.S. Customs, & INS/Border Patrol Vehicles were
present along with several unmarked enforcement vehicles.

I was stopped by the officer in charge who worked for the Tohono O'odham

Upon request, the officer indicated the purpose of the checkpoint was
sobriety & license checks which seemed inconsistent with the presence of
U.S. Customs & INS law enforcement personnel.

Upon request, the officer provided his name but failed to provide photo
identification. The officer then requested my license. I requested to know
why he wanted it. The officer indicated everyone was being asked for their
license for identification purposes and to check for compliance with
traffic laws.

I requested to know if the stops being made were based upon individualized
probable cause of wrongdoing. He indicated there was no probable cause &

everyone was being treated the same.

Others officers were beginning to gather around my vehicle at this time -
including the U.S. Customs Agent.

The officer in charge asked me for my drivers license again. I asked him
if he had any reason to believe my drivers license wasn't in order or
whether or not he had probable cause to believe I was in violation of any
statute of the State.

He indicated he had no such belief but that I needed to provide my license
to him.

I indicated that I was uncomfortable providing my license given the
current set of circumstances. He then asked for my name which I provided
along with a contact name and number for my boss who could verify my
identity and purpose for being in the vehicle.

I then reiterated my request to know what law authorized him to stop me
without probable cause of wrongdoing and demand my identification papers.
No answer was forthcoming.

At some point during this conversation, a Tohono O'odham detective spoke
up and indicated that he could tell I hadn't been drinking because my eyes
were not bloodshot, I was communicating effectively, and exhibited no
signs of being impaired but that I still needed to provide a license. He
indicated this was an area known for drug smuggling and illegal immigrants
and consequently folks needed to be identified before they could go on.

Although having no jurisdiction over the subject matter at hand, the U.S.
Customs Agent forcefully entered the conversation and demanded that I
comply with the request along with some other commentary.

I asked the U.S. Customs Agent who had jurisdictional & operational
control over the check point. The officer in charge indicated at this time
that it was a joint task force consisting of the Tohono O'odham, U.S.
Customs, & INS.

I indicated the Supreme Court had made a distinction between check points
set up for public safety, i.e. sobriety check points, Vs law enforcement
checkpoints and that only the former met Constitutional muster when no
individualized probable cause is present. I then indicated the following:

  Due to the presence of U.S. Customs and INS/Border Patrol Agents -
  law enforcement as opposed to public safety was obviously a fundamental
  aspect of the check point.

  The detective indicated he was satisfied I had not been drinking & hence
  any public safety aspect of the check point with regards to me

  personally had been satisfied

  A license check primarily serves a law enforcement function - not a public
  safety issue - thus a mandatory license check relating to a 'public safety'
  stop with no actual or perceived wrongdoing is onerous on my right to
  travel unmolested on the public highways.

The officers present were clearly getting agitated at this point. The
officer in charge asked me to pull the vehicle over to the side of the
road. I asked him why and he replied they needed to ask me further

I asked if I was being detained. He clearly indicated I was NOT being

I indicated that if I was not being detained then it follows that I must
be free to leave.

At this point a different officer (Tohono O'odham K-9 unit) indicated he
had had enough of this and that I was to turn off the vehicle and exit the
car. A few of the officers present put their hands on their guns.

I slowly turned off the vehicle as commanded, removed the keys from the
ignition and placed the keys in full view on the dashboard. I then sat
very still in the front seat with my hands in full view for all to see.

The driver side door was opened, my seatbelt was unclipped by one of the
enforcement agents, and I was forcibly removed from the vehicle and laid
down on the pavement . My hands were placed behind my back and I was
handcuffed. I was then picked up under the armpits and dragged off the
road over to one of the police vehicles.

At no point was I informed whether or not I was under arrest, nor was I
read my miranda rights.

I was left on the ground for the next 30-40 minutes (time not exact). A
few times, the K-9 officer came over acting hostile & belligerent & made
several less than exemplary comments regarding myself. I heard the U.S.
Customs enforcer refer to me as a 'Peace Protester' & the K-9 officer
refer to me as a 'Green Freak'. While I like the color green - neither
reference was accurate or justified.

Early on, my wallet was taken from me and my drivers license removed from
the wallet presumably to run a check. At my request, the detective counted
the money in my wallet before walking off with it. It was returned with my
driver's license presumably after the check was complete and no further
reason to hold on to it was found.

During my time on the ground, I observed checkpoint operations. For the
first 40 minutes - vehicles were NOT stopped in any particular order or
pattern. Officers were clearly using their own judgment to determine which
vehicles were stopped and which were waved through. At times, several
vehicles in a row would be stopped followed by 10 or so vehicles allowed
to pass unmolested. This would be followed by stopping every second or
third vehicle and so on. After an hour or so, the procedure appeared to
become more repetitive with nearly every vehicle being stopped but the
first half of the operation was clearly arbitrary in nature. Everyone was
NOT treated the same from the inception of the operation.

While watching the vehicles being stopped, I also noticed enforcement
officers checking license plates against registrations along with
demanding that car drivers pop their trunks so they could be searched. The
purpose of such an action didn't appear related to sobriety checks but
rather the search for contraband material. Sometime during this time
frame, I observed one of the Tohono O'odham officers approach the Customs
enforcer and gesture at a vehicle that had just passed. The Customs
enforcer started running toward his vehicle. This made it clear that
information gathered by Tohono O'odham officers during the 'sobriety
checks' was being shared directly with federal enforcement agents
for law enforcement purposes.

As time went on, what appeared to be illegal immigrants were loaded into
an INS bus. These individuals were most likely identified by their failure
to have a drivers license - indicating the license check, for which I was
being detained, was being used to share information with the INS for
federal law enforcement purposes. Additionally I was informed later that
several hundred pounds of pot had been seized (probably through the trunk
searches being conducted by the enforcement officers at the check point.)

After some time had passed, the detective came over and informed me that a
citation was being drawn up & I would have the option of either signing it
and being released on scene or not signing it and being brought down to
the Pima County Jail in Ajo for processing. Upon his return, I opted not
to sign and was lead over to one of the Tohono O'odham vehicles to await

While waiting, I was informed my boss had been reached and that he was
heading down to the scene to recover the vehicle and I would be allowed to
talk with him at that time. Another hour passed before my boss and a
co-worker arrived from the University. I talked with them at length
regarding the situation and decided to sign the Arizona Traffic Ticket &

Complaint so I could leave and start preparing my defense.

After signing the complaint, we conversed with the detective and the
officer in charge.  They indicated that while they have jurisdiction to
enforce State laws on the section of the highway nearest their
reservation, because I was not a citizen of the reservation my case would
be transferred to the jurisdiction of Pima County.

I asked if there would be a problem with recording the license plate
numbers and other marking of law enforcement vehicles present. The officer
in charge indicated that was fine at which point I proceeded to do exactly
that. The list appears below:

INS/Border Patrol:
H9739		J-25037
H9483		J-25581
E0703		J-26973
U1192		J22316	(Bus containing alleged illegal immigrants)

Tohono O'odham:
83251		G-415CB
75781		G-450CB
30939		G-874CZ (w/trailer - G-590CJ)
51420		G-135CE
92432		G-461CE
83254		G-413CB

CA-52937	Blue Dodge 4x4
CA-50064	Silver Dodge 4x4
G-34 5DD	White Crown Victoria
G-419DD		White Ford Expedition
CB-88166	White Crown Victoria
CB-32748	White utility truck

Tow vehicles were on site a ways off as well as many vehicles that had
been forced to pull over for further questioning. There was a pile of
unopened containers of alcohol off to the side as well. At this point we
departed the scene.

I was cited with two class 2 misdeamenors - each of which carries a
maximum jail time of 4 months and a maximum monetary fine of $750.00:

	* ARS 28-1595B - Operator fails/refuses to exhibit drivers' license

	* ARS 28-622A - Failure to obey officer while directing traffic

It would appear that it is now unlawful to drive home from work these days
without getting proper clearance from the local authorities.

My initial court date has been set for January 3, 2003 at:

		Pima County Justice Court JP#03
		111 Lamina Ave.
		Ajo, AZ  85321

I will be seeking a change of venue to Tucson, Arizona if at all possible.