A Bad Day in Prairie Grove
In October 2012, my wife, our daughter, and I flew from Iowa to McHenry, IL, in order to attend a birthday party and spend time with my wife's family. As we were headed back to the airport, we drove through Prairie Grove, IL. I was seated in the front passenger seat of my brother-in-law's pickup truck, which he was driving. My wife was seated behind me, and our daughter was in a car seat behind my brother-in-law. A Prairie Grove, Illinois Police Officer named James G. Page, Badge Number 8227, stopped the vehicle and claimed that he saw me not wearing my seatbelt. I was most certainly wearing my seatbelt, as I always do when in a vehicle (I'm a very safety-conscious person).Puryear beat the rap, but had a heck of a time on the ride.
After running my ID, Officer Page returned it to me and began walking back to his vehicle, ending the traffic stop. I politely asked Officer Page for his name and badge number, as I wished to address this improper stop with the Village of Prairie Grove. In response, Officer Page demanded my ID again, stated that he would write me a ticket with his name and badge number written on that ticket, and proceeded to do exactly that. Myself, my wife, and my brother-in-law all observed that I was wearing my seatbelt throughout the trip in my brother-in-law's truck.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests, I eventually obtained video from Officer Page's squad car, which revealed that he pulled over several Ford pickup trucks in a row, as if he were looking for someone in particular and using pretextual reasons like a supposed missing seatbelt as an excuse for the traffic stops. I say that I "eventually" obtained that video, as the Village of Prairie Grove initially tried to say that it was unavailable due to an "error," and it took my submission of multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to finally obtain that video. In court and under oath, Officer Page later admitted that he wrote me the ticket as retaliation for my request for his name and badge number.As Puryear believed this to be part of a larger problem with Page and the Prairie Grove police, he started a Facebook page about it:
Officer James Page has attempted to have Facebook remove the Prairie Grove Justice Facebook page that I created. This is one of many attempts that Officer Page has made to block my right to free speech and to attempt to stop my firm from providing free legal representation to those who he has wrongfully stopped. As expected, Facebook denied Officer Page's meritless request. More information, including the emails between Officer Page and Facebook, can be seen here: http://www.pgjustice.com/facebook.htmlAnd now, Puryear has decided to make this a cause.
At Puryear Law P.C. we have decided to handle Prairie Grove, IL matters (and Bull Valley, IL matters involving Officer James G. Page) on a pro bono (free) basis, in situations where a person has been wrongfully ticketed, charged, or had their civil rights violated. We cannot handle every case for free, and therefore select the cases where we believe our time is best spent to seek justice. Should your case be selected, Puryear Law P.C. will represent you without charging you legal fees for our services.
About five years ago, I wrote about how the same things that happen to other people suddenly become real when they happen to you. Now that Eric Puryear has felt the sting of a false accusation, the smack of a cop who didn't care for his failure to respect his authority, he has decided to do something about it. Good for him.
Some of the reactions to this have been less supportive. After all, it was just a seat belt ticket, for crying out loud, not a killing or even a beating. He didn't spend days in jail, no less years in prison, for a lie. And this is true, in the scheme of bad things that can happen at the hands of cops, this barely makes a ripple.
But as Amy Bach pointed out in Ordinary Injustice, it's the little things, the millions of little injustices, that have made us "so accustomed to a pattern of lapses that they can no longer see their role in them." Maybe Puryear saw them before, but it's different when it happens to you. The little thing wasn't so little anymore.
Just as every prosecutor should spend some time in jail to appreciate what it means when she argues for the need to imprison someone, and every judge so she knows the suffering of the sentence, maybe every defense lawyer should be both the victim of a crime and the victim of police misconduct and lies, so we can know what our clients know. Eric Puryear now knows the feeling, and it has moved him to act.
Sure, this may not be the biggest instance of impropriety, or the worst pain inflicted by a cop on an undeserving person. But every bit of extra effort in the fight helps. By channeling his frustration into pro bono representation of people who had their rights violated in Prairie Grove, Eric Puryear is putting his anger and frustration to good use by helping others who might not otherwise have representation.
Every little bit helps, even if you never realize it until it happens to you.