If nothing else, bad BAD public relations have been exhibited by IDOT Director Nancy Richardson in the way she has responded to the outrageous traffic stop/RV search perpetrated on us by one of her law enforcement officers. Read below and you will see that by adding insult to injury she is doing the already tarnished image of her agency no favors. Queen of IDOT she seems to be, Damage Control Expert she most certainly is not.
We sent our first e-mail to Ms. Richardson on Tuesday April 14 at 1:11 P.M. In this e-mail we described the horrendous events of the traffic stop/RV search and listed our concerns about the officer in question Darrell Wiegand. In our e-mail we also questioned specific policies of IDOT which– due to our own observations plus discussions with other citizens and two representatives from IDOT —had begun to raise serious red flags for us.
Ms. Richardson responded quite tersely to our e-mail and not until nearly forty eight hours later, specifically at 9:09 AM on April 16. She did not employ the courtesy of a salutation, nor did she place her name at the end as author of the e-mail:
“This is to acknowledge receipt of your E-mail. I have asked staff for some information to answer the questions you pose. As soon as I have that, I will be in contact again.Thanks for your patience.”
To us this hardly seemed like an auspicious or gracious response to our e-mail which involved some very disturbing allegations against her employee and her agency. Nor did the nearly two day interval between our e-mail and hers indicate Ms. Richardson was particularly respectful of us or particularly cognizant of the seriousness of the matters at hand.
We also thought it odd that in responding to our request for answers to specific questions, Ms. Richardson did not seem to have the answers handy but had to have her staff look them up. In all fairness, when we did receive the answers they were quite exhaustive and appeared to have been copied painstakingly off a website–hardly work for a woman of Ms. Richardson’s position and stature, and no doubt transcribed with some kind of legal concern in mind.
Our next communication from Ms. Richardson was in response to our request to meet with her. Again given her high profile and stature as an IDOT official, Ms. Richardson just naturally assumed that when we asked to visit with her we intended to drive close to two hundred miles one way to the Des Moines area. It did not seem to occur to her to give us the same courtesy as had her employee Major Ned Lewis, whose first inclination on hearing our concerns had been to drive down to visit us. (BTW, not only do we believe the burden of travel should be on Ms. Richardson, but we also no longer feel safe and secure on the roads of Iowa, knowing that apparently we can be pulled over by IDOT officers at any time for any reason they choose to invent, or in fact no reason at all. Nor do we have any guarantees that another traffic stop might not escalate into exactly what happened to us with Officer Wiegand.)
Unlike Major Lewis, Ms. Richardon’s attitude seemed to be based on the assumption she was granting us an audience. When she offered us the choice of going to Ankeny or Ames, we responded by saying she was invited to our home, but in her next e-mail she simply ignored our offer. When we asked the question point blank, as in “……we mentioned in our previous e-mail we were hoping you would be able to come to our home in Fort Madison. Is it possible for you to meet with us here?” she responded with the following e-mail, which for us says it all:
“Mr. And Mrs. Schneider,
A trip to Ft. Madison doesn’t work in my schedule. If you decide you don’t want to come to see me, we can do a phone conference. I am currently out of state with limited E-mail access, but if one of the times I provided works for you to come to meet with us or for a phone conference, please respond as soon as possible so my secretary can get the time secured. Thanks. “
Again, as you will notice, no gracious salutation, no polite sign off, simply a perfunctory and dismissive message which reveals a could- care -less and imperious attitude.
This is part of the general culture of IDOT which has become all too familiar to us in the last few weeks. IDOT is a government agency which not only interprets the law in arbitrary ways but also seems to feel itself above the law. IDOT doesn’t seem to think it has any accountability to the taxpayers who fund it and in fact will use taxpayers money to fight taxpayers should they happen to challenge it as well they SHOULD.
Ms. Richardson’s patronizing, unprofessional, and rude attitude is very much the same–minus the element of terror– as what we experienced from the law enforcement officer for whose behavior she is responsible.
Given its director’s nature and actions we are not surprised that the culture of IDOT is what it is. As they say, the fish rots from the head down. IDOT, get rid of Director Richardson and replace her with somebody who cares and who will lift your agency out of its current state of irresponsibility and corruption, or somebody who at the very least is capable of doing halfway decent PR work.
Meanwhile, if I get pulled over again by an IDOT officer, the first thing I will do is call 911. Until I know that the corruption and abuse of power at IDOT have been remedied, I consider that being pulled over by IDOT is a threat to my life and well being.
(for those of you who are not yet completely sick and tired of the subject)
The following is a letter we wrote to Nancy Richardson, the Director of Iowa DOT:
Dear Ms. Richardson,
We have some very serious concerns relating to the traffic stop conducted by IDOT Officer Wiegand on the evening of Friday March 27, 2009.
We believe Officer Wiegand used profiling –that we were “carnies”–to pull us over and we know that using profiling is illegal.
We believe that Officer Wiegand denied us our expectation of peaceful travel, the precedent for which has been set by rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court.
We believe that the search of our RV was based on insufficient facts and that by depriving Carl of the opportunity to identify himself, Wiegand denied him the ability to legitimize himself as a U.S. citizen and a member in good standing of this community where his family has lived for four generations.
We believe if the search of our RV by Officer Wiegand cannot be proved to be illegal, it was without question an unreasonable search because Officer Wiegand did not avail himself of information which would have been readily available by asking for driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, etc.
We know that as U.S. citizens we are protected against unreasonable search by the Fourth Amendment.
We believe that Officer Wiegand’s ignorance of gun laws, especially the Iowa CCW laws, and his resulting threatenng statements regarding having Carl’s CCW permit revoked, infringed on Carl’s Second Amendment rights.
Lastly we believe that while trampling over our rights as outlined above, Officer Wiegand also conducted the traffic stop in a manner that was threatening, provocative, abusive, and malicious. His actions have caused us extreme fear and distress.
We would like to make an appointment to visit with you and talk about our concerns. Although they are polite and professional, we do not feel we have received much satisfaction from Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen. There were too many discrepancies between what they told us and what we have heard from other people who have had serious issues with Officer Wiegand. For example, in some instances, people have told us they have registered complaints against Officer Wiegand but your officials are telling us they have no records of these complaints.
In fact, we have discovered there is a bigger picture here: specifically, Officer Wiegand does not appear to be the only IDOT officer who behaves unprofessionally and discourteously in the line of duty. We are getting phone calls from people all over Iowa with complaints. As one 45 year veteran of the trucking business told us, IDOT has a job to do but there is no reason they cannot do their job in a civilized way.
It is of great concern to us that Iowa taxpayers are funding a state agency that is creating so much controversy when dealing with Iowa taxpayers whom they encounter every day on the road in the line of duty. We have written up a number of stories and would like to sit down and share them with you. In some cases the people who called us wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from your agency but in many cases people have revealed their names or have told us they will happily come forward and testify should that become an option and necessity.
Since the story of our traffic stop became popular in a few Iowa papers, we have received dozens of calls. It is particularly distressing that some people feel the need for anonymity in their calls, even calls to us, because they are so afraid what IDOT will do if it finds out they have said a word. IDOT is viewed by many as a public tyrant not a public servant, and from what we have heard (not to mention our own experience) this is not a far-fetched perception on the part of many drivers, both commercial and non commercial. It is WRONG that any government agency would instill such disgust and trepidation in many of Iowa’s citizens. If we were involved in any government agency to whom the taxpayers were afraid to speak up, we would be ashamed. IDOT is funded by taxpayers and should not be terrorizing taxpayers.
From what we have heard, IDOT has gotten away with this behavior for as long as it has because commercial drivers who are given unreasonable citations don’t dare speak up because they feel they are then targeted for an increased number of traffic stops by IDOT. We have heard stories where drivers were pulled over for a minor violation and lost hundreds of dollars because they could not reach their destination in time. We have heard of drivers pulled over for hours on log book discrepancies which later were proven not to be violations –but still the drivers lost time and money that they cannot recover. We have also heard that even when drivers don’t register a complaint or even when the citation is reasonable, that IDOT will still pull them over with increasing frequency simply it seems because they have received a recent citation. This is a fact on which every driver we spoke to agreed. Is there an assumption that once they have broken the law they are more inclined to break it again? Therefore pull them over more frequently and interfere with their schedules, even though often they are not found to be in violation again and are not issued another citation?
The bottom line is that truckers cannot stay in business if they are spending a lot of hours sitting by the side of the road being written up on fair, let alone unfair, citations or having their logbooks checked because IDOT is punishing them for registering a complaint or having a recent violation.
( And by the way, a current popular reason IDOT is using these days to pull people over is for not wearing a seatbelt. We have heard of two instances over the weekend when this occurred. The drivers were wearing seatbelts but IDOT stopped them anyway claiming they thought they were not —and meanwhile taking up their valuable transport time. We suspect if an IDOT officer pulls a driver over for an alleged seatbelt violation that it would be easy, even if the driver is not in violation, for the officer to use the traffic stop as an opportunity to come up with other possible accusations of violations as happened in our case.)
In addition, truckers also cannot stay in business if they take time off work and drive sometimes hundreds of miles to court to contest citations they believe are incorrect/unfair. They simply can’t afford to stick up for themselves —or once again they lose money because they are off the road. And so they let it go and say nothing. And IDOT seems to –literally–bank on the fact that truckers won’t stick up for themselves.
We are not condoning anybody’s breaking the law. We realize IDOT’s job is to enforce laws and that there are a lot of them to enforce. As one driver mentioned, there are plenty of truckers out there who do not respect the laws and they themselves have been known to be at times FAR FROM polite. But the bottom line, we are told, is that just because there are some bad apples, not all commercial drivers should be treated like “trash.” One thing we know for sure is that if IDOT treated the general public the way we hear it treats truckers, people would be up in arms. There would be an uproar, which is actually what is occurring over the way we were treated.
There are a few facts we would like to know about IDOT:
Does IDOT have a “mission” statement?
Can IDOT legally pull over both commercial and non commercial vehicles?
Can IDOT legally pull over passenger cars?
What is the job description for an IDOT officer?
What are the IDOT rules for procedure in a traffic stop?
Does IDOT establish quotas for its officers? Such as number of dollars per day, number of inspections per day, etc.
Does IDOT receive funds–operating costs etc.– from the federal government?
From what we have experienced, learned and heard, we believe IDOT needs to be investigated from top to bottom for the behavior of its officers, its record keeping , and quite possibly for the supervisors’ acceptance and condoning of malicious behavior on the part of their officers.
We are concerned there is a culture at IDOT that is detrimental to the welfare of the general public. IDOT is an agency which no doubt was established to keep citizens safe but we fear it has degenerated into one which harasses and disrespects the very people (ie the taxpayers) who fund it. In addition we feel that IDOT’s interpretation of the laws concerning commercial truckers are often capricious and unreasonable and ultimately have a severely negative impact on their ability to make a living. This needs to stop.
If an investigation of IDOT is conducted, we believe it cannot be accomplished from inside the agency; we seem to have already encountered verbal cover-ups and records discrepancies in the short time we have been observers. We would recommend that an effective investigation can only be achieved by an outside agency, perhaps somebody from the federal government.
Again, we would appreciate sitting down with you to discuss our concerns and ideas,
Jane and Carl Schneider
IOWA DOT has launched an investigation into the complaint we brought against one of their officers Darrell Wiegand, who pulled us over in a highly unusual traffic stop on March 27.
The two officials who came down to talk with us on Monday April 6 were polite and courteous and allowed us to vent our frustrations, for which I did indeed at one point apologize as I felt I had become a bit heated. Because of the unconscionable way we believe we were treated in the traffic stop, our emotions are quite chaotic at the moment and we are both under a lot of stress. We do appreciate being allowed to have our say and explain to IDOT what happened with as much adherence to facts as we possibly can.
However we do have a few concerns at the moment which I will outline below.
First, we had a number of requests of Major Ned Lewis and Colonel David Lorenzen which they were unsure they could fulfill for us, and we are at a loss as to why that might be.
The requests we made of them were:
1)Since the information we were able to find on the IDOT website didn’t seem to give us the flexibility we would like for e-mail contact (it provides only an online form, no email address) or a direct phone number to certain officials, we asked that we be sent all direct contact information for Jon McQuoid, Mark Lowe, and Nancy Richardson. David Lorenzen wasn’t sure he could send this information to us.
2)Since the traffic stop we were subjected to was anything but routine (we hope) we asked if we could be sent the agency’s written procedure for a traffic stop which we are confident (again we hope) exists. Again we were told David Lorenzen wasn’t sure he could send us this information.
3)Since we are concerned that Officer Wiegand’s behavior far exceeded the parameters of his job, we asked if we might see the job description for an officer of his rank and if that could be sent to us. We were told we could find this information on the IDOT website.
4)Since we are the ones who brought the complaint against Darrell Wiegand, we asked if we might be told what is his current status on the force. We were told that is a confidential personnel matter. It seems we cannot even be informed whether or not Mr. Wiegand has been placed on any kind of leave. We are under the impression that since we were involved we must be told this information. Perhaps we are wrong…..
The day following our meeting with Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen, I e-mailed Major Lewis to clarify whether or not he had actually spoken to a particular individual who has complained about Wiegand. In part of that e-mail exchange I again requested contact information on IDOT officials. To date I have received no reply from Major Lewis as to whether he will give us the information, nor have I received the contact information itself….I can’t help but feel this speaks to an apparent lack of transparency on the part of IDOT, that the agency does not make it simple and easy to effect direct contact with the director and other officials on such a serious matter.
Second, in addition to our I believe reasonable requests to Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen, we also brought up with them a couple of serious issues we have with IDOT.
The first issue is that the agency does not seem to take anonymous complaints seriously.
I explained to Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen that what we are finding is how afraid drivers are of reprisal by DOT.They say that when they stick up for themselves, contest a citation, or make waves of any nature that there are a few IDOT officers who then start pulling them over just –for example– to check paperwork. Even if everything is in order and they do not receive a citation, they can be stuck by the side of the road for hours.This puts them behind schedule and they lose money. If they are cited for a minor violation (and there are an astounding number of laws) and want to contest the citation, most do not have the time to travel hundreds of miles and wait hours in court and so they “just let it go.” So no, most truckers are not interested in making waves with IDOT.
Because of this, I feel very strongly that IDOT needs to take every single complaint against one of their officers very seriously, even if it is an anonymous complaint. It is my opinion that IDOT officials are using the excuse of “anonymous complaint” to ignore problems that are occurring out on the road. It seems to me that when they receive enough complaints of a certain nature, particularly when they concern the same individual, that IDOT should investigate.
On Monday, I made a simple analogy for Lewis and Lorenzen: If you have a child and you receive repeated anonymous phone calls that the child has behaved badly or broken the law, would you ignore the calls you were getting just because they wwere ANONYMOUS? Or would you confront the child and ask what was going on? I pointed out to these IDOT officials that they are not only responsible but also liable for the behavior of their employees. It is the job of IDOT officials to keep their people in line using whatever tools at their disposal. If anonymous tips are one of those tools, so be it, they are going to have to use whatever they can get to keep their agency clean.
There is no excuse for IDOT officials not to do everything to ensure that the behavior of IDOT officers remains above reproach. This is what the taxpayers want and I am sure it is also the desire of what I assume is the majority of IDOT officers who are professional and courteous.
My second biggest issue with IDOT is that the agency does not seem to be keeping reports of complaints even when they are NOT anonymous. In the last few days I’ve received firsthand reports of several complaints called in to IDOT where the callers identified themselves. One involved a UPS driver who told me he had been harassed by an IDOT officer and even on one occasion wrongfully cited, something which he actually brought to the attention of a prosecutor, a fact to which the prosecutor agreed!. I described a couple of these situations to Major Lewis over the phone. I believe he told me it would be easy to check out at least the UPS driver’s story,even though I didn’t know his name, because IDOT would have a record of the problems. But when Lewis was down here Monday he told me he couldn’t unearth a single bit of information about this UPS driver in IDOT’s documents, nor did he seem to have documentation of other complaints I’d heard about.
So we have a few choices here: the UPS driver(and others) is(are) fabricating stories for my benefit and in fact never complained; Major Lewis doesn’t know where to go to find the information (or in any event has not been able to find it yet in the “system”); or lastly, formally lodged complaints and citation anamolies have vanished into thin air at IDOT. Take your pick.
And by the way, I have been in contact with several more people who have lodged complaints against other officers and against Wiegand, and in the case of Wiegand, it seems Lewis had no knowledge of any previous complaints, or at least that is what he seems to be indicating. (This although reporters working on the Wiegand story now have received countless calls about Wiegand and other officers, our own phone has been ringing continually for more than week now, and our answering machine even received messages during the time Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen paid us a visit!)
I don’t think I need to point out in so many words that Something is NOT right here. Or at least there is something I am having trouble understanding.
For now we are going to watch and wait and see where the investigation leads. But we cannot help but be troubled by some of the issues I have outlined above. Although IDOT seems willing and eager to placate us, if events continue to unfold in the present manner, we aren’t confident that the investigation will be thorough, competent, or effective.
UPDATE: A few hours after I wrote this,I received a conference call from Major Lewis and Colonel Lorenzen saying they would send us e-mail information on two out of three IDOT officials I requested. It seems these officials’ phone numbers are at the idot.gov website but I had been unable to find them previously. I seem to rememeber that at one point I gave up on the website and tried a main number, in any event I think I overlooked information that was actually there. Major Lewis helpfully supplied me with the proper links, for which I am grateful.
The other information I received from the call is that Darrell Wiegand has been placed on administrative leave. I was not told exactly when that leave began.
Several days have passed since the IDOT Law Enforcer pulled us over in our RV, and there has been a lot of speculation and misinformation out there on the web. I’d like to try to set the record straight with what I know for sure.
1) My husband and I were not participating in any illegal activity.
2) The guns in the RV were legal.
3) There is no law in Iowa that requires an individual to reveal to a law officer that he is carrying a concealed weapon. Again, it is considered a courtesy by some to do so and may or may not be considered a safety issue, but the choice to reveal to law enforcement that you are carrying is up to you. You are allowed by law to use your own discretion. Given the extremely unusual circumstances of the vehicle stop we were involved in my husband felt safer in not telling the officer rigjht away that he had a CCW.
4) We are fully aware that gunlaws differ from state to state and when we travel we go online to make sure of the laws or else consult The Traveller’s Guide to Firearms so that we do not break the law. We also know how to store and transport firearms in different states. We also know full well it is as important for the traveller to know the laws as it is for the Law Enforcement officer who might pull him over.
5)The essential oils I use are insect repellents, astringents, and softeners for the skin. I make my own lotions and some have quite a pungent odor which might indicate drug use to people who don’t know better and are prone to stereotypes, some of them quite laughable. But the oils themselves do not smell like marijuana and any well trained officer searching for drugs would know the difference. The presence of the oils in an RV does not indicate that the occupants are drug users.
6)An IDOT officer can come up with any kind of reason he wants to search your vehicle and he can question you over and over with the same question relentlessly to try to break you down and force you to admit that what he is saying about you is true. The two most common examples of why an IDOT officer will tell you he must search your vehicle seem to be that he smells drugs or that he smells alcohol.
7)If you do not agree to a search, the IDOT officer can impound your vehicle until whatever time he might be able to get a search warrant and that could take days. You wonder if you want to have your vehicle impounded. You worry about what might happen inside and outside your vehicle if the IDOT officer has it impounded.
8)If you agree, however unwillingly, to let an IDOT officer search your vehicle, your agreement makes the search legal. You are not allowed to watch him while he accomplishes the search and you are told this is for his safety. Meanwhile you are going to be standing outside worrying about your VEHICLE’s safety and if what was in there before is still there and also if what was not in there before is in there now, if you get my meaning.
9) According to IDOT they may legally pull over any vehicle they think is engaged in a commercial venture whether or not the vehicle has commercial plates. According to IDOT they do not have to have proof of wrongdoing to pull you over. According to IDOT they are allowed to pull you over basically it seems just to check you out. Further, the law somehow seems to have gotten quietly extended in the last couple of years to include pulling over passenger cars (which one would think would be least likely to be engaged in commercial activity.) So it’s not just the Avon lady that IDOT gets to pull over and question without having done anything wrong! According to IDOT, it could be any of us.
10) IDOT is a very controversial agency in this state. I myself don’t have a lot of affection for IDOT because in the last five months, IDOT has forced us to sell fifty acres of a fourth generation farm for a highway bypass that cuts the place in half and pretty much ruins it. We have lost one quarter of our income because of this. We were paid for the land and we got a good price but we would rather have the income and our farm back the way that it used to be. The next run-in we had with IDOT was the other night when we were pulled over and our RV, which is a home to us, invaded and searched in a manner that made us feel violated and humilated.Finally when we returned to the farm we found the next morning that IDOT highway workers had taken down our livestock fence without telling us and our horses could have been running all over the county. So no, IDOT is not my favorite government agency although I have to say that the fellow we dealt with over the sale of our land turned out to be okay and in the long haul put up patiently with a lot of grief from us, but then of course he was the messenger of a lot of grief to us! I can certainly say that in the last five months we have received the IDOT triple whammy.
11) There are many many truckers out there who quite frankly despise IDOT. Lately we have received five or six calls a day from some of them. They all call to offer their support and say how sorry they are that we had to go through the experience we did. They assure us they know we are telling the truth because they have had similar experiences, several with the very same officer Darrell Wiegand who pulled us over. And the truckers are thanking us for bringing out the truth of what happened to us, because they simply don’t dare to.
Most of these truckers are furious over the way they have been treated by Wiegand and other IDOT law enforcers time and time again. IDOT has made life absolutely miserable for these folks and also for many trucking companies, not to mention any other business that uses trucks.
I have found out that the actions of IDOT have been blamed for the destruction of entire businesses. I’m told the way it works, every time a truck gets pulled over, it is time lost, fines paid and insurance raised and eventually this can put such a strain on a budget that companies simply can’t make it anymore. One trucker told me today that the state is broke and they are trying to pull every penny they can out of the truckers by using IDOT to harvest money from truckers in the form of fines.
Not one of the truckers I talked to wanted his name used, they are terrified to speak up because of retaliation from IDOT.They say if they make a single wave, IDOT is all over them and can shut them down or seriously slow and handicap their business. Truckers said the only way they would speak up and register a complaint against any IDOT officer is to make a deal with IDOT for no reprisals, and even then they are still afraid that some of the bad actors out there will not be sufficiently reined in. Until the truckers feel safe enough to talk they will not file complaints and all the bad actors and horror stories will continue. I’m convinced that the reason all these abuses of power and harassment continue is because the truckers don’t dare say a word. An IDOT official was quoted recently as saying there have been very few complaints in the last couple of years. Either IDOT is stretching the truth or else many many incidents of abuse and harassment are going unreported.
Big grown men and women are running scared from a government agency that appears to be out of control. And from what I have experienced these men and women are smart to be scared.This is a terrible situation that needs to be addressed pronto. We can’t allow men and women who work so hard keeping America moving to be treated like this. These are the people who help feed us and clothe us and provide us with so many of the products and necessities that make us prosperous and comfortable.
IDOT needs to clean up its act and root out what I have experienced first hand as rank corruption.I have had all the reminders I need that IDOT is an enormous part of Iowa’s government. IDOT has tremendous and far reaching power into many aspects of our lives. BE AFRAID unless IDOT drastically changes its ways.