Police Chief Tells Driver Ticket for Flashing Lights Was Wrong

By Rick Rojas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 7, 2009

The Washington lawyer who threatened to file suit against Montgomery County police after being ticketed for flashing his lights in a speed enforcement zone says he is not likely to take legal action after he received an e-mail from the police chief.

Mark Zaid said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger wrote that the officer had acted outside the policy of the department in issuing the ticket.

"I don't have any reason to believe this was anything other than a small number of officers who followed a mistaken policy," Zaid said Wednesday.

Zaid was ticketed in April in a Bethesda speed enforcement zone after he flashed his lights to thank a driver for warning him of the police officers stationed ahead.

The officer who ticketed him cited a law stating that it was illegal to flash his lights. Zaid examined the law and found that it refers to civilians driving with continuously flashing lights, like those on an emergency vehicle.

Zaid did not pay a fine. He challenged the ticket in Montgomery County District Court in June, and the citation was dismissed because the officer did not attend the hearing. At the time, the officer was on military leave.

But it didn't end there: Zaid said he wanted to challenge the reason the ticket was issued. He said he would file a lawsuit if he found that it was a "systematic problem" with Montgomery police. On Wednesday, he said it appeared that was not the case.

There has been an increase this year in the number of tickets issued for violation of the flashing lights law, according to Montgomery police figures.

From 2000 to 2008, the department averaged three tickets a year for flashing lights. Through April this year, the number was 15. But there is no way to know whether citations were given to motorists driving with continuously flashing lights or if the drivers flashed their lights once to warn other drivers.

Two officers -- including the one who ticketed Zaid -- wrote all 15 tickets, police said.

In his e-mail, Manger said "appropriate action" was taken with the officers, but he did not specify what that action was.

Manger also defended his officers. "The fact is, we have a pretty darn good bunch of cops here. Some of the best in the nation," Manger wrote. "Good cops make mistakes . . . honest cops make mistakes."

Manger sent the e-mail to Zaid on July 24, and Zaid forwarded it to The Washington Post. Montgomery police verified it.

Manger said Montgomery police will stop ticketing drivers for flashing their lights around speed enforcement zones until more definitive legislation is passed.

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