May 14, 2010 at about 1630hrs on East Trade in front of the Transit Center. Read the original story here.
Both photos credit of: James Willamor/ CLT Blog
At that moment the cuffs came off I knew that I was not guilty.
First of all big thanks to the Wevenator, and Mark for your wishes of pre-court fortuity.
I formally waived my right to an attorney this past Friday at the first afternoon docket call of criminal courtroom 4310 in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. The prosecutor called my name and I firmly replied, "Not Guilty." He approached where I sat and asked me if I was sure that I was prepared to defend myself at a trial in front of the judge. I told him that I was and that I understood completely the implications of self representation. The red headed fellow nodded, made a note on the outside of my file and let me know that I would have to sign an affidavit. Back to my seat on the long bench in a row of many there to have their cases brought before the court. Listening to the anger and gravity of some of the crime made me feel vulnerable and sort of dirty in way that I felt like I did not belong there. I was completely awake and aware. Time passes with many guilty pleas, punishments and extensions of time to both misdemeanor and felonious charges. I wondered how many of these folks were there because of a mistake in process or a misunderstanding not completely taken into consideration by law enforcement. The story of the Good Spirit came to mind, the strength I pulled then came back to me at that moment sitting there feeling the weight of the brightly lit negative energy.
After almost two hours of various other criminal appearances my case was finally called for the first trial in front of Judge Tyyawdi Hands. The prosecutor announced that Mr. Fehr was prepared defend himself from the charge of: resist delay or obstruct officer XXXX #XXXX, a public officer holding the office of public officer by interfering with him trying to get pertinent information on a traffic collision. At the time, the officer was discharging or attempting to discharge a duty of his office by getting all the pertinent information for a DMV/Police report. I stood alone at the defendant's table as not only the actual defendant but as the defendant's council and only witness. There was no one else that had to be there other than myself, the only person that I truly count on. Judge Hands asked the prosecutor about the location of my signed waiver and he replied that it had not yet been presented to me yet. So, when he turned to hand me the affidavit he searched for a pen but I was already prepared clutching the gold plated metal pen I carry for work. As soon as I signed away my rights he asked for permission to approach and then handed the paper to the judge. She looked at it, and then at me waving the paper for the court to see and then she said, "Mr. Fehr, if I accept this from you, you must understand that if you are found guilty there could be up to a 60 day jail sentence for this crime. Are you prepared to defend yourself?" I replied with a bit of a nervousness in my voice that I was indeed aware of the consequences and that I was completely ready to defend myself. "Let the record show that Mr. Fehr is waiving is right to an attorney, please proceed Mr. Prosecutor", the judge said from her bench.
The State(which included two prosecutors, what looked like a rookie female Asst. DA and Officer Kodad, the state's witness) called the police officer to the stand while I sat there watching and listening intently to every voice inflection in the transfer with my hands at my side, palms open to the front. An attorney sitting in the front row not involved with my case tapped is friend on the leg and quietly pointed to my feet, identifying that I had sandals on at the defendant's table. It was at that moment I realized that I was dressed like me in the role of myself. I was wearing shorts, a short sleeve Kenneth Cole shirt that I found for 2.50$ at the Salvation Army, of course sandals and my messenger bag was slung over my left shoulder. No costume, just me. The line of questioning from the state to the officer never revealed that I was working when I stuck my hand in the ambulance to grab the pleadings. The prosecution asked the police officer around 13 questions before ending with, "We have no further questions your Honor."
"Mr. Fehr, if you have any questions for Officer Kodad, now is your opportunity", Judge Hands said with an encouraging lilt in her voice. I was stuck in a moment at that second digesting the answers that the officer gave and the way that the prosecutor portrayed the events of that afternoon as a sterile series of situations arising from the crash of a cyclist who they thought was my friend and that what was really happening had nothing to do with my work, my living source. "Yes ma'am, of course, thank you."
My questions to Officer Kodad started with my statement of apology for both him and I having to be there and then without time for response I went into my first question. It went something like this and was a bit nervous but honest, Officer Kodad, do you recall on that afternoon of May 14, the day that I allegedly got in your way, that the National Rifle Association was in town? He looked up and honestly thought to himself about the crowd we were surrounded by and what all of those mustaches felt like in the heat. "I do not recall exactly", he said, adding that, he did remember the large crowd in the heat in front of the transit center across from the Time Warner Arena(which was hosting the NRA and all of the NRA diesel buses jammed up to shuttle the weak a mile back to the hotel for more food).
My next question was specific, in a trembling voice not used to being a lawyer I said, "Sir, can you tell me what fell out of my hand and hit the ground when you grabbed my right arm to put the cuffs on me behind my back?" He looked stunned, but professional never looking away from my eyes. " I do not recall"' was his response. I then immediately looked at the judge and said, "I have no further questions your Honor." Then she told the officer that he could step down and go back to his seat behind the prosecution table. "Mr. Fehr, you may call yourself as a witness and give your own testimony at this point", Judge Hands encouraged. So, I stood up and took the seat next to her, just below her right shoulder.
I leaned into the mic and started in a bit of a trembling voice about how I had gotten the call from my rookie Josh telling me that he taken the door prize, was launched into the back of a stopped Gold(Bum) Rush Trolley bus and that 911 response was on the way. I told her that Josh was not only a cycling friend but that he had been working with me for almost eight of the twelve years that I have been a legal bicycle messenger in Charlotte. During that call he let me know that he had court work in the bag. It was after 1600hrs and my first thought after Josh's well being was to get the work done and back to the two clients before 1700hrs on this Friday afternoon. My explanation was thorough about what I saw when I arrived on scene. Josh was in the back of the ambulance and I could see him through the open side door on a gurney. As soon as I saw his eyes I knew that he was not going to die so I asked him where the work for the court was. He reached into his bag and passed through the door a pleading and a research ticket. I grabbed them with my right hand. It was then that the officer engaged me and as he had already said on the stand when responding to one of the prosecution's questions, "He was in cuffs within two minutes of arriving." My paper hit the ground and was left to someone kind enough to take my work to another courier, the 2006 24Hour Solo Single Speed Mountain Bike World Champion who did the work for me and met my client's expectations. My testimony ended with my own memories of not really getting in the way of the officer doing his work while I was focused on doing mine. Silence broken by the judge, "Is that all Mr. Fehr?" "Yes, ma'am."
She then asked the prosecution if they would like to ask me anything and he responded quickly with a, "No, your honor." I stepped down and found my seat alone behind the defendant's table again. The judge asked the prosecution if their summary was ready in which the state's attorney attempted to hold up the charge based on Officer Kodad's judgement. His summary was short, and it ended with a language that I could not understand, like something going blurry in your vision, the communication was audible and intelligible one moment but then it faded into a noise like the school teacher from Charlie Brown makes. I concentrated on my summary in basic thought fashion and could not hear anything else that he said. The state's summary was over quickly in a few sentences.
It was my turn to give summary. Standing back straight with my hands at my side once again palms open I told the truth to Judge Hands. I tried to keep it short and be different from my own testimony. My thoughts honed on the quanta point of this problem. I was never guilty to begin with which makes trying to be exonerated for it such a difficult thing to manifest. Yes, I can use manifest that way. My living is centered around the courthouse, I have no record and have never had trouble with the police generally speaking. Conveyance and feeling emotions are a gift that I have been trying not to squelch since I was seven years old. Feeling my own inner body emotional self within my voice I ended with, "that is why I feel like I am not guilty, your Honor."
Judge Hands called the prosecutor up, they talked quietly and I could not make out anything other than that she was the decider and he would have had to say yes when she asked. He came back to his table once to pull me up on the criminal binary data bank and when he found only a 5mph over speeding ticket from the past, he shrugged and approached the judge's bench again. After they convened again for a few minutes she had him sit down and then called me to stand to receive my verdict.
I did stand, palms open again at my side facing her and the truth. "Mr. Fehr, I find you Not Guilty, you are free to leave", she said with a smile, a real smile not overly exaggerated from a position power, more like one subtle in transfer of understanding. I immediately thanked her and broke for the door down the main aisle which all of a sudden looked like a Christian Church to me. Over my shoulder, I heard her say, "Officer Kodad, please approach." Out of the doors to the left and then the melt down came. Just like when justice was served in the Good Spirit's case, relief, but a huge sense of urgency to get out of the building even though my emotional body was trying to freeze my physical one. I found a marble hole on the 4th floor and cried. Public Officer Kodad came out minutes later and we had transfer. I told him that his job was way more dangerous than mine and he said that what I do is pretty hazardous too.
Finally my shit was together long enough to get to my bike locked on the plaza in front of the courthouse. A public defender lit up a smoke while I unlocked and told me that what I did up there was brilliant, and that he loved to see that kind of shit. He saw my case come up and when he realized I defended myself into a Not Guilty verdict he was moved to congratulate me. "That was awesome man, way to go", he exclaimed as I put my lock in my bag. Thanks, was the only word that came to mind, and as I looked at the PD's face I realized that, that kid's authentic smile being blown up by the sun will be with me for awhile. It was over, I was never guilty to begin with, so how could I be now...