Complaint over police cell phone use followed by citation, charge of retaliation
(FOX25 / MyFoxBoston) Mike Beaudet
Mike Beaudet Producer Kevin Rothstein
The way Dr. Curtis Schondelmeyer sees it, the Lexington police officer talking on his cell phone was so distracted by the conversation he was having the officer wasn’t paying enough attention to the rush hour traffic at the intersection of Bedford Street and an office park outlet.
As Schondelmeyer recalls, he raised his camera phone and snapped a picture, planning to send it to Lexington police as part of his complaint.
“He was on his cell phone in his right hand, talking very animated on his cell phone, while trying to direct traffic out of the parking lot and also stop traffic on the four-lane road there,” Schondelmeyer told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
The officer noticed Schondelmeyer but didn't stop him, and Schondelmeyer went on his way, reporting the incident to Lexington police the next day.
A few days after that, he got a ticket in the mail charging him with impeded operation with a handheld device, a $40 ticket that could result in an insurance surcharge.
But there's one big problem with that, according to Schondelmeyer.
“I was not driving so I was upset with the fact that it was clearly you were so distracted on the cell phone you couldn't catch what was going on in the car,” he said.
Schondelmeyer's partner signed an affidavit, writing under the penalty of perjury that he, not Schondelmeyer, was the one behind the wheel. Schondelmeyer is going to court to fight the ticket, which in Schondelmeyer’s mind was “absolutely” retaliation.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” he said. “I don’t understand it at all, except for the fact that he did not notice that somebody else was in the car with me because he was on the cell phone and did not see it.”
Schondelmeyer may also have to explain to the court the three surchargeable incidents on his driving record from last year, though he says they are irrelevant because he wasn’t behind the wheel this time.
FOX Undercover reviewed Schondelmeyer’s complaint with Tom Shamshak, a former police chief in Winthrop and Spencer.
“This should trigger an investigation of this officer's use of his cell phone on details,” Shamshak said.
“This guy says he wasn't even driving when this happened. What does that tell you?” Beaudet asked him.
“It says that this was not a thoroughly investigated incident,” Shamshak replied.
“It has the stink of retaliation,” Beaudet said.
“It does have a sense of retaliation because the officer did not take the time then and there to stop and find out the identity of who was actually driving. It was a knee jerk reaction,” Shamshak replied.
But Lexington police are standing by their officer.
“In the officer's mind, he believed that person was operating the vehicle negligently. The operator of the vehicle was not paying attention,” Lexington police Capt. Manny Ferry told FOX Undercover in a phone interview.
Ferro said officers should not be using their phones while they are in the road unless it’s an emergency or a call from the police department. The call that Schondelmeyer witnessed was, according to Ferro, a call from the police department.
“Were we happy that the officer was cradling the phone on his shoulder while directing traffic, even though someone from the police station called him? No,” he said.
Lexington police have spoken to the officer but they're not planning to take any further action.
The captain insists the officer placed the call from the police department on hold while he was in the road, something Schondelmeyer says just isn't true.
“I don’t care that there's a traffic detail out there. They're doing their job. I just think that people should be doing their job and they shouldn’t be distracted, especially when there are motorists coming by and their own life is at stake out there,” he said.