COMMENTARY: Under Paso Robles’ wild’n’crazy “Big Tint”
September 24, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
A businessman seeking equal justice is learning that tinted vehicle windows, tinted law enforcement, and tinted truth has put him squarely in the path of conflict with Paso Robles’ dancing police chief, Lisa Solomon.
Last week, the Paso Robles businessman was dining at a local eatery when he noticed a police patrol car pausing several times near his parked van. When the man left the scene, he Paso Robles Police Officer Kevan Harder immediately pulled him over and cited him for the egregious offense of driving with an overly-tinted window.
The van’s owner, who asked to remain unnamed because of business contracts he has with the city and a fear of retaliation, makes no excuses regarding the citation. It was just a fix-it ticket, after all. That might easily have been the end of the matter, as this law makes real safety sense, helping shield peace officers from unnecessarily life-threatening situations while on duty.
Only one problem here: the business owner, a lifelong Paso Robles resident, happened to know that many local police officers’ personal vehicles also have darkly tinted windows. So, he took photographs of the automobiles. As luck would have it, some of the out-of-compliance cars belonged to high-ranking lieutenants, and one belonged to Christopher Chitty, an officer with the San Luis Obispo Police Department and husband of Chief Solomon.
So, the businessman set an appointment with Solomon to discuss apparently selective law enforcement practices. The chief stood him up.
Shortly thereafter, the man was having coffee with an UncoveredSLO reporter at a Starbuck’s when a PR police officer stopped by for a cup. The businessman asked the officer to sign off on his ticket. Then, he asked her why some police officers have darkly tinted windows on their private vehicles. The officer told the man he would have to direct that question to someone else.
The man said, “I have an appointment to talk to Lisa later today.”
At this, the officer bristled, curtly informing the man, “You don’t call her by her first name. You are being disrespectful.”
“That’s because I don’t respect her,” the businessman replied.
The officer then demanded the man provide his name. She stabbed at her shoulder-mounted two-way radio and repeated the man’s identification into the speaker.
When the reporter drove away from the coffee shop, she was briefly followed, first by a Paso Robles police motorcycle officer, and then by a patrol car.
The business owner took his story to a city council member, and just like that, Chief Solomon found time to talk. Or at least enough time to request that the man hand over those incriminating pictures. He declined. The businessman asked Solomon if she planned to cite her own officers for their unlawful vehicle windows. She said, “We are leaders, and we have to act like leaders.”
Solomon also said she had sent a memorandum Monday to her officers. The memo reportedly demanded they get their expensive tints off within 30 days and start complying with California law.
The businessman suspects Solomon included his name in the memorandum, which would place him squarely in the center of the issue and on the bad side of armed lawmen paying good money to fix their own windows. Solomon said the businessman is not named in the memorandum, but she won’t give up a copy of the order without a fight.
Earlier today, the businessman parked near the police department on his quest for a copy of Solomon’s secretive memo, and was immediately approached by Lt. Ty Lewis. The lieutenant walked across the street and ordered the businessman to move his vehicle while alleging, with a smile, a curb violation.
After he moved his van a few inches closer to the curb, the businessman stepped inside the station and asked the chief if she had also ticketed her men for tinted windows, or if they simply received a warning.
Solomon said she did not have time to ticket her own men. She accused the businessman of talking to the media about officer-tinted windows. Solomon then provided a physical description of a reporter that included the attire she was wearing at the coffee shop, and said, “I know you were at Starbuck’s talking to that woman reporter.” The chief added, “No one reads UncoveredSLO anyway.”
Solomon refused to identify the officer who took such personal and brittle umbrage at the use of the name “Lisa.” So we offer this description: “Adult female Caucasian, 30-35 years old, 5-7, 135 pounds, dark hair cropped short, last seen wearing a police uniform, carrying a big gun and a bigger attitude.”
When the businessman asked Solomon if this was about retaliation, he said she told him, “I can guarantee nothing. File a complaint.”
As a practical matter, this police chief can guarantee anything she wants when it comes to sworn officers and every other employee in her department: She is Queen Bee. She alone sets the tone for her officer’s conduct.
A police department is identifiable by its particular “culture,” which includes the face its officers present to the public, as well as the department’s established behavioral policies and procedures. And it’s always seemed to us that police officers are generally responsive when they know their chief will not tolerate certain kinds of conduct.
Asked by a reporter if department policy requires citizens to address the chief in any particular way, Solomon replied, “We have no policy on this issue.”