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April 12, 2014

Mono County Law Enforcement

You may recall that I mentioned the "driver's license checkpoint" in Bridgeport, California, (Mono County) on the way to Burning Man last year. I saw three or four vehicles pulled over for additional investigation (or whatever they call it) in the 15 or 20 minutes I spent in that town (I bought gas within view of the checkpoint) which is a lot more than I can recall seeing at any similar checkpoint in California. It may have been a statistical aberration, but every one of those vehicles that got pulled over while I was there was a screamingly obvious Burner-mobile, a big RV or trailer with maybe a big Burning Man symbol taped on the back or a side. Later I seem to recall some discussion among Burners on the subject who also thought that particular checkpoint seemed a little odd to them.

The biggest news story to come out of that was the arrest of a San Diego pediatrician and his traveling companion for possessing "ecstasy, shrooms and the club drug known as 'Molly.'"

Locally, this is how that story was reported. It lists all the arrests from traffic stops over a period of a few days before Burning Man. There were seventeen total. It says the pediatrician mentioned above also had GHB. Don't know how that got dropped from later stories. It also says NO ONE was cited for DUI, which means that the totally squirrelly RV driver that I followed into Bridgeport and who was pulled over for additional investigation was just a damn squirrelly driver, not stoned or drunk.

Here's a news article on the subject that includes several comments from the locals on the issue of checkpoints.

With the bigger issues of law enforcement on the playa itself and by Pershing County Sheriff's Deputies, I forgot about the Mono County story.

Well, it seems the office of Sheriff is on the ballot in the upcoming election. In a local news article about the two candidates, incumbent Sheriff Obenberger and retired LAPD Supervisor Braun, there is this: "Given the controversy in recent months over traffic enforcement during the Burning Man festival, and a perception of more rigorous (some might say more aggressive) policing under Obenberger (criminal arrests were up 89% in 2013 over 2012), the race sets up perhaps as a referendum on the type of policing local citizens want."

Really? I was surprised to hear that the handling of Burners would cause anything more than a tiny ripple in Mono County politics. But the county includes Mammoth and other touristy areas, and the banner that appeared on the playa encouraging all Burners to avoid Mono County in the future may have seemed like a threat to pocketbooks in that county.

If they would take a look at a map they wouldn't worry so much. Anyone coming from southern California has few choices in routes. We could go way west so that we could get on I-80 to Reno, skipping Mono County. Or we could go over into Nevada and take route 95, but some years ago (before my time) there was a problem with the law enforcement personnel of some Indian tribe along that route pulling over Burner vehicles and searching them without any regard for Constitutional restrictions. I think Burning Man used to have a warning up on their website advising Burners to avoid that route. I guess I could try to boycott Mono County by waiting to buy gas until after I enter Nevada.

On the FAQ page on Sheriff Obenberger's re-election campaign website question #7 is " Can you explain what happened between the Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors back in December and what it was about?" The answer describes some small bit of heat between the County Supervisors and the Sheriff. I had to go dig up the minutes of a couple of board meetings to try to find out what that was and, as usual with official minutes, they don't include a lot of juice.

December 3, 2013: there was an item about participating in a grant as part of a drug abuse enforcement program (approved 5-0). Supervisor Stump "Brought up law enforcement issue over Burning Man weekend." The District Attorney gave a legal answer. Supervisor Johnston warmed to the subject:

  • Wants an agenda item to discuss the stopping of motorists, saturation patrols.
  • These stops are subjective and potentially prejudicial; we need to have a discussion about this.
  • Personally it’s a breach of his freedom to be stopped in this way.

Supervisor Fesko backed up Supervisor Johnston. Then Sheriff Obenberger defended the operation saying it was all legal and proper. On his campaign website the Sheriff writes:

After leaving the Board room that day I felt it proper and necessary to advise the Board what their role is relating to law enforcement policy in the County and the Sheriff's Office. I drafted a letter how the Sheriff's Office is a constitutional office and that the Sheriff alone has the authority to set policy relating to law enforcement services in the county.

Sort of a "respect mah authoritay!"

A week later on December 10, 2013, the Sheriff read a letter to the Board of Supervisors and it sounds like the Supervisors heard the message. The minutes tell us that Supervisor Johnston "wasn’t questioning techniques, he stated he doesn’t like being stopped at sobriety checkpoints, a lot of people don’t. That’s his opinion. Asked Sheriff not to take offense. Sheriff has a lot of good things going on in his department."

Filed under Burning Man,California,Travel | permalink | April 12, 2014 at 07:51 AM


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