05/18/2024

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Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley appears in police body-worn camera footage, on the left; she appears in her official portrait, on the right

‘I understand the law better than you’: District attorney who drove home instead of pulling over during traffic stop goes after cop for his knowledge of the law — but who is right?

Main image: Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley appears in police body-worn camera footage (Webster Police Department); Inset right: Doorley appears in her official portrait (Monroe County)

“I understand the law better than you,” Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, a Republican, tells a seemingly bewildered member of the Webster Police Department during a belated traffic stop after driving home and parking in her own garage last week.

Details of the interaction, by now somewhat infamous, are a bit more clear after police released the officer’s body-worn camera footage.

“Sorry, I’m the DA,” Doorley’s voice can be heard saying as she steps out of her black SUV. “I was doing 55 coming home from work.”

The officer, audibly stunned, exclaims: “55 in a 35!”

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    “I don’t really care,” Doorley replies in the footage first obtained by Rochester-based PBS affiliate WXXI — her face visible.

    “OK?” the officer hesitantly ventures before asking the district attorney to come outside. She refuses to do so, and instead, while the two bicker back and forth, calls Webster Police Chief Dennis Kohlmeier. Eventually, Doorley passes the phone over to the officer.

    “Talk to Dennis,” the district attorney, who was first elected to her position in 2011, says to the officer. “This is ridiculous. Just go away.”

    Doorley has been heavily criticized by other elected officials over the controversy since the Town of Webster released the body-worn camera footage of the interaction. Local officials in Rochester, state representatives and even New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, all Democrats, have issued statements calling for an investigation into the matter.

    In one open letter, all nine members of the Rochester City Council denounce Doorley’s actions in strong terms — while calling for New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, to investigate the district attorney for possibly violating the law.

    The governor also referred Doorley to the state Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct for allegedly “claiming she is above the law, attempting to use her public office to evade responsibility, and acting unprofessionally toward a police officer simply trying to do his job.”

    The current version of the Empire State DMV driver’s manual includes a section on “Emergency Vehicles” that says: “When you hear or see an emergency vehicle heading toward your vehicle from any direction, safely pull over immediately to the right edge of the road and stop.”

    That manual, however, does not directly address what a driver should do when pulled over by police.

    Police departments in New York, at least two explicitly, encourage drivers to “pull over parallel to the right side of the road” as soon as they see an officer’s “red overhead lights” or hear their siren.

    At least one New York federal court has used a driver’s failure to “pull over immediately” as a reason to believe the driver was “acting evasively and would be difficult to manage going forward.”

    Doorley, for her part, is visibly and audibly confrontational toward the officer who repeatedly asks her to go to the back of her vehicle.

    “I’m not going to,” Doorley says. “I’m home.”

    “I don’t care if you got home,” the officer responds. “You were supposed to stop at Phillips Road when I pulled you over — when my lights were initiated.”

    The two go on to argue about whether or not Doorley knew the officer was actually trying to pull her over and again the conversation turns to how she will not be leaving her garage, leading the officer to begin a series of questions about why the woman is reacting to his commands the way she is.

    “I’m just doing my job,” the officer says. “You say you’re a DA?”

    “I am the DA,” Doorley responds — punctuating with a hand gesture.

    “I don’t understand the hostility toward me,” the officer says in the video. “I’m just doing my job.”

    To which the district attorney replies: “You’re being an a——.”

    The officer continues to express incredulity.

    “I am the DA of Monroe County,” she repeats — prompting the officer to finally say that her elected law enforcement position does not give her the right to, admittedly, go 20 miles above the speed limit.

    The two argue some more. The district attorney notes that she was half a mile from home when she first saw the officer’s lights, that she did not know who he was trying to pull over, and that she called the police chief — hands-free — during the drive to let him know about what was going on.

    “I don’t really care,” Doorley says at one point. “You know what, if you give me a traffic ticket, that’s fine. I’m the one that prosecutes it, OK? Just go ahead and do it. Go ahead. Go ahead.”

    Later, after another officer arrives and the two wait for backup, the argument about what Doorley saw in her rearview mirror, when she saw it, and the officer’s authority begins again.

    “Just write me the f–––––– ticket,” the district attorney says at one point. “I really don’t care. Because I’m the one who’s going to prosecute myself. You know what I’ll do with the ticket?”

    The ticket is eventually printed out and handed to Doorley. Both the district attorney and the officer offer one another conciliatory, even apologetic, words by the end of their interaction — with the officer maintaining that he was in the right by following a vehicle that did not stop.

    In the aftermath of the incident, Doorley issued a written statement that took responsibility for the speeding violation but did not address the tense interaction between her and the officer.

    “Nobody, including your District Attorney, is above the rule of law, even traffic laws,” the original statement concludes. “Anybody who knows me understands without a doubt that I have dedicated my entire 33 year career to the safety of this community. My work to ensure the safety and respect of law enforcement is well proven time and time again. I stand by my work and stand by my commitment to the public safety of Monroe County.”

    The district attorney also said she sent the ticket to the Webster Town Court and that she pleaded guilty to the speeding offense.

    In the aftermath of the controversy, Doorley issued a video apologizing for her behavior — saying she will take an ethics class and refer an investigation into her conduct to an outside district attorney.

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    The post ‘I understand the law better than you’: District attorney who drove home instead of pulling over during traffic stop goes after cop for his knowledge of the law — but who is right? first appeared on Law & Crime.