By Michael A. Scarcella Published Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
Last updated Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 2:31 a.m.
BRADENTON — Justin Terrell Claudio was just walking down the street Tuesday when a Bradenton police officer drove up.
The officer tried to question Claudio, according to a report, because the 18-year-old was walking the wrong way down the street.
A chase resulted when Claudio ran, and the situation ended with Claudio getting arrested and the officer cutting his hand while climbing a fence in pursuit.
The case has raised questions among some in the Manatee legal community who wonder why police are stopping people for something as minor as simply walking the wrong way on a residential street.
They say the police crossed a line, harassing a teenager who had not committed a crime. Wrong-way walking is a civil infraction in Florida that would have gotten Claudio a ticket, if anything.
Several defense attorneys said they doubt many people know the rare law that requires pedestrians to face oncoming traffic while walking where no sidewalks are present.
"Every day our county is looking more and more like a police state," defense attorney Charles M. Britt III said. Claudio "made them mad. They had no other justification to arrest him. This was contempt of cop."
Even Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said he did not know wrong-way walking was a violation.
Still, he defended the traffic stop on a pedestrian, saying an officer can approach a person on the street anytime for any reason.
Radzilowski made a point, however, to say that his officers are not aggressively confronting people who are walking on the wrong side of the road.
"I can assure the public we are not out there stopping people unless there is an underlying reason for the officer to approach," Radzilowski said. "We use every law at our disposal to make our neighborhoods safe."
Radzilowski called the arrest "good police work," saying that officers knew Claudio had been arrested before on drug charges in the same neighborhood.
Police did not find any drugs or weapons on Claudio, and there was no indication he was doing anything wrong before the confrontation other than wrong-way walking. Another man who was with Claudio was walking on the opposite side; he was not detained.
Britt and other attorneys questioned the use of police resources in chasing down wrong-way walkers when there was no evidence any crime had been, or was about to be, committed.
"It's antics like these that cause the general public to distrust law enforcement," said defense attorney Christopher Pratt. "This is ridiculous."
Pedestrians are required, when practical, to walk facing into traffic if there are no sidewalks, according to state law. The law is meant to protect the safety of the walking public by having a pedestrian face oncoming traffic.
Claudio was given a $48.50 ticket last week for the same violation in the same neighborhood, just blocks from his house. The officer who wrote that ticket was one of the officers involved in the foot chase early Tuesday. Claudio has not paid the fine.
Claudio was walking north in the 2000 block of 13th Street West, where there are no sidewalks. Walkers and bicyclists are common on this stretch of road, just off a bustling commercial strip on 14th Street West.
Claudio, a teenager who police arrested on cocaine possession charges in the same block months earlier, reportedly ran from Officer Anthony Ramdath. The officer sprinted after Claudio, demanding that he stop. Ramdath injured his palm trying to jump over a metal fence during the chase shortly after 1 a.m.
Police arrested Claudio on misdemeanor charges of obstruction and culpable negligence. Running away from officers, police said, exposed Ramdath to injury. Ramdath, police said, would not have hurt his hand, which did not require medical attention, if Claudio had not run.
It was not known Tuesday why Claudio ran. In April, Claudio's driver's license was suspended for two years for a felony-level drug conviction. Claudio is a high school drop-out and unemployed, his mother said. She questioned the police stop, but also said she wants her son to turn his life around.
Bradenton police took heat last November after an officer stopped a man for jaywalking on 14th Street West one night. The man refused to sign a ticket and was jailed for more than a month.
Claudio is not the first person Ramdath, a Bradenton police officer since 2005, has stopped for a pedestrian violation. In February, Ramdath stopped a walker named Jason Daniel Pires, 33, who police said was leaving a "known drug house" in the 2000 block of 12th Street West. Pires was arrested on a possession charge. He said he did not consent to a search.
His attorney, Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, challenged the police stop, saying police had no lawful ground to detain Pires.
But Circuit Judge Debra Johnes Riva ruled the stop was lawful, and Pires pleaded no contest in April to a possession charge and was sentenced to a year of probation.
"If you are dealing drugs, you should walk on the right side of the road," Radzilowski said.