DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — A deputy issued a speeding citation to Gabriel Stitt in late March without ever seeing him drive over the posted speed, according to prosecutors.
Jeff Cruden, assistant district attorney, says the ticket was issued based solely on the words of a former law enforcement officer who phoned in Stitt’s alleged speeding to the Dare County Sheriff’s Department.
Cruden says he believes the traffic stop is “unusual,” but legal.
“I’m being given a ticket because someone said I was speeding?” Stitt asked in a video of the traffic stop he recorded on his cell phone March 24. “Some woman said that I was allegedly speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour.”
The traffic stop occurred near the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. In Stitt’s video, you can hear the deputy say the speeding violation allegedly occurred on the bridge.
“It’ll be your word against hers when it comes to court,” the deputy said in the recording.
Cruden says the former law enforcement officer’s background and training in speed detection makes her qualified to assess Stitt’s speed.
“If it was a regular civilian, the officer would not have wrote that citation on the word of someone like you or I,” said Cruden.
Stitt says he doesn’t know the former officer accusing him of speeding, but he questions her qualifications because he maintains he was driving at or under the posted limit.
“It was a cruel, unusual thing to do to someone coming home from work without any kind of radar device,” said Stitt. “Because someone says you’re speeding? If that’s the case, anybody can say you are doing anything in this country and you get locked up or you get cited.”
Cruden says in a majority of cases, officers witness the offense themselves to corroborate any witness statements. He says that didn’t happen in this case, but it doesn’t make it an illegal stop.
“I thought the officer showed great restraint, was patient with [Stitt], talked to him much longer than most folks would have done, but [Stitt] had it in his mind that he was being profiled, which is not the case at all,” said Cruden.
John Graham, a traffic defense attorney who’s been practicing law on the Outer Banks since 1985, says it is legal in North Carolina for an officer to issue a citation “based on the observation of others.”
Graham, who has no ties to Stitt’s case, says the former officer will have to testify in court in order for a judge to convict Stitt for speeding.
“It’s different than your routine speeding ticket,” said Graham. “It might be a reasonable assumption that if [the deputy] was told the vehicle was traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour, that even if she was 20 miles an hour off then he was still traveling 80 in a 60 mile an hour speed zone.”
Graham says if Stitt was his client he would question the former officer’s expertise and make the state prove beyond a reasonable doubt Stitt was speeding.
In Virginia, police officers said that while it might be a legal stop, they would not write a ticket if they didn’t see the offense with their own eyes.
“I have seen many cases in which somebody might perhaps have a grudge against you and calls in a totally false report and the officers end up stopping you as a result of that report,” says Graham.
Stitt says he wants his case to be dismissed and wants Cruden to apologize.
Cruden says he offered Stitt a dismissal at his first court appearance, but Stitt did not appear satisfied.
“I said, ‘Well that’s fine, if you want the court to hear your side.’ I tore up the dismissal, I gave him his court date and I said ‘you can come and try your case in front of a judge.’” said Cruden.
Stitt says he plans to fight the $213 ticket in front of a judge in early June.
Cruden says the former cop plans to testify.
Meanwhile, court records show another deputy in Dare County issued Stitt a second speeding ticket about three weeks after the citation in question. The citation says the deputy used radar to determine Stitt was traveling 85 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone.
Stitt says he plans to fight both tickets.