RAISE YOUR HAND if this has ever happened to you:
You want to drive your car. But you hurt your right arm.
So you shift gears with your left hand.
That’s difficult and uncomfortable.
So you tuck the seat belt under your arm instead of over your shoulder.
A cop stops you for not wearing your seatbelt properly.
Defying years of common sense and general consensus that the best thing to do when a cop stops you is stay in your car —you begin to get out of your car anyway.
The cop pulls his gun on you.
The cop doesn’t shoot you. But he writes you a ticket for a seatbelt violation.
The cop does not charge you for driving unsafely by shifting gears with the wrong hand.
You decide to fight the $15 seatbelt ticket in court.
Not a typo—it’s a fifteen-dollar ticket.
The judge dismisses your seatbelt violation.
You file a formal complaint against the cop.
The cop gets in trouble for drawing his weapon when you tried to get out of the car.
The cop has to take courses on use-of-force training, and take a “fitness for duty” exam.
The cop sues the City.
Oh, I left this part out because it almost certainly doesn’t apply to you:
During the traffic stop, you quickly identified yourself as the Savannah city manager’s spouse.
This is what happened in July 2013, when Robert Cutter, husband of Savannah City Manager Stephanie Cutter, was pulled over by Officer Frank Reteguiz of the Savannah/Chatham Metropolitan Police—a department which, it must be said, is high on the city manager’s agenda due to top-level corruption issues.
I usually don’t bend over backwards to defend police who are quick to pull their guns out. Not a fan.
But people get shot all over Savannah literally every week. In this gun-crazy town I worry about the cop that’s not worried about his or her own self-defense.
The City’s official party line is that it was against policy for Reteguiz to draw his weapon since it was a “non-felony traffic stop,” even though they admit the gun was drawn in the “low/ready position.”
In an official report, one of Reteguiz’s superiors is quoted as telling Reteguiz “the average person is going to try and get out of their car” during a traffic stop.
Really? Maybe in 1974. Not 2014. No.
Here’s where it gets really weird: The City expressly claims Reteguiz was not disciplined for his actions during the stop.
They claim—and again, this is the official party line—that because Reteguiz isn’t losing pay or rank, that’s not the same as being disciplined.
Reteguiz, however, begs to differ. So does his attorney, Will Claiborne, who is also handling the dozen-odd other cases against the City involving alleged high-level retaliation against employees.
Interestingly, the City says Mr. Cutter dropped his wife’s name out of “panic” when he saw the officer’s weapon.
In addition to the official position, there is other, informal talk defending Mr. Cutter.
Some say that because his wife, the city manager, is responsible for terminating several officers involved in the corruption scandal, Mr. Cutter has every reason to be suspicious of local police. That he has every reason to believe they might retaliate against him personally.
For me though—and I suspect also for Reteguiz’s lawyer—the thing that really doesn’t make sense about the City’s position is this:
If Mr. Cutter feared personal retaliation by the police because of who his wife is—why then did he immediately mention his wife’s name out of “panic?”
If all this is indeed a “no harm, no foul” situation, as the City apparently prefers us to think, then why was the officer sent to a remedial course and forced to take an exam?
And why did Mr. Cutter file a formal complaint against Reteguiz?
And why did Mr. Cutter choose to fight the $15 ticket in court and not just pay it?
Since no one disputes that he was wearing his seatbelt improperly?!
Look, I’m not stupid and I’m not naïve. I understand that people in power and close to power will always get more of the benefit of the doubt than those who aren’t.
That’s the way of the world. It was always thus. Life ain’t fair, etc., etc.
The phenomenon of powerful people getting favorable treatment—or appearing to get favorable treatment—didn’t begin with this city manager, and won’t end with her either.
And I’m trying very hard to separate this story from the unfortunate and almost certainly unrelated fact that the Cutters’ son has a long and notorious history with law enforcement. He currently faces serious drug felony charges and is looking at prison time.
I know, it’s not fair to bring that situation up. Not fair at all.
But then again, given the circumstances, you could also say it’s impossible not to at least think about it.
That’s why the phrase “appearance of impropriety” is so important, and so often applied to those in power.
Even if Mr. Cutter is totally blameless of using his marriage to the city manager to turn the situation to his advantage, the situation as it played out certainly gives the appearance otherwise.
And once again, Savannah is faced with yet another situation involving its leaders which will have no good ending either way, which will only add to the steady drip-drip of erosion in public confidence.