Police: Asking for ID to verify a stop is legit
Posted May 30, 2008 12:33 p.m. EDT
Updated May 30, 2008 8:56 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Raleigh police arrested a Garner man Thursday on charges that he impersonated a police officer.
Marcus A. Avery, 33, of 119 Rum Place, faces one count of impersonating a law enforcement officer, one count of obtaining property under a false pretense and one count of larceny from a person.
Police said Avery allegedly approached a woman on May 5 at the intersection of Method Road and Western Boulevard near North Carolina State University and told her he needed to speak to her in reference to an investigation.
The 18-year-old victim, Megan Wenzinger, said she was sitting at a stop light at about 11 a.m. when a man approached her on a bicycle, asked her for her name and driver's license.
During the course of their brief conversation, she said, he reached into her car and said he needed to take her cell phone.
"Even if you haven't done anything wrong, it's kind of scary," she said, adding that the way the man presented himself made her believe he could be an officer, although he wasn't in uniform.
When the traffic light turned green, she said, Avery told her to drive to a nearby gas station.
At that point, Wenzinger said, she realized she needed to ask for identification.
"I didn't want to upset the police officer by questioning him," she said about not asking him earlier.
But he was gone. Wenzinger said she was relieved that the situation was not worse.
"The one thing I learned from all this is to ask for ID," she said.
Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said most stops are made by officers in a marked patrol car and a uniform – enough indication to most that a stop is legitimate – but that officers will always have further identification.
"(Motorists) have every right to ask an officer for ID," he said.
When personal safety is a concern, police say it is OK for a person to lock his or her vehicle doors and keep the windows up.
"Certainly, if someone is out alone at night, and there's some attempt to stop them by a vehicle that doesn't appear to be a law enforcement vehicle, they can put on their flashers and drive slowly to a public place that's lit," Sughrue said.
And a person can also call 911 if he or she is unsure whether they are being pulled over by a police officer, he added.
"A police officer is going to realize that the situation is one that might give a person some pause," Sughrue said.
Sughrue said police departments take such cases very seriously because they have the potential to cause the public to lose confidence in police.
"Police officers have some rather unique power when it comes to interacting with people, and people do respect both the law and law enforcement officers, in general," Sughrue said. "Any case like this could certainly erode that."
Avery, who has been arrested 52 times under eight aliases in Wake County since 1992, was previously arrested on May 20 and charged with possession of stolen goods.
He was in jail when he was charged Thursday.
Other charges on his record involve stolen property and include robbery, larceny, breaking and entering, trespassing, disorderly conduct, communicating threats and resisting arrest.
Avery was also charged with assault on a female in 2005.
He was in the Wake County Jail Friday morning under a $28,000 bond. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 30 months in prison on each charge connected to his latest arrest.
Sughrue said there is no indication Avery has ever been accused of impersonating an officer before.
"As far as we know, right now, there are no other incidents that have been reported that match the description in this case," he said. "But that's something we want to find out."