Cop allegedly objects to proof of insurance on phone, gets law wrong

In more than half the states, drivers are allowed to show proof of car insurance electronically. One driver, allegedly pulled over for playing "F--- Tha Police," says the cop who stopped him didn't know the law.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Was Officer Harold Garzon ignorant of the cell phone law? Or was he just annoyed? Local 10 TV screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

These are difficult times in the relationship between the police and some citizens.

These are also difficult times in the relationship between the police, some citizens and their gadgets.

While Iowa wrestles with the idea of driver's licenses being housed on cell phones, it's assumed in some states that having proof of insurance on your phone is perfectly legal.

This is being put to the test by an incident in Hialeah, Fla. Cesar Baldelomar, 26, says he was driving down the street Thanksgiving morning when Hialeah police officer Harold Garzon pulled him over because he didn't like the music coming out of Baldelomar's

. It was rap group N.W.A.'s "F*** Tha Police," from the 1988 album "Straight Outta Compton."

As Baldelomar told the Miami New Times earlier this week, Garzon allegedly told him it was illegal to play loud music within 25 feet of another person. This seemed fascinating to Baldelomar. He knew this isn't the case. What the officer didn't know was that Baldelomar, a Harvard graduate, has studied law at Florida International University.

Baldelomar told the New Times: "In 2012, the state supreme court struck down any law banning loud music. I knew that because it was a case I had actually studied in law school."

Still, the officer allegedly demanded to see his proof of insurance, which Baldelomar keeps on his cell phone. He says Garzon took one look and said: "It's got to be paper."

This, again, is a deficient view of the law and electronics. At the end of 2013, Florida, like 29 other states, decided to legalize proof of insurance on electronic gadgets.

Baldelomar insists that Garzon gave him a ticket for failure to provide proof of insurance anyway. He also says he got tickets for not wearing a seat belt (a charge he denies) and for having out-of-state license plates. (He says he's legally a resident of Massachusetts.) He says he didn't get a ticket for the alleged noise violation, however.

But what of Garzon's or the Hialeah police department's side of things? Sadly, attempts to reach the police department have so far proved unsuccessful. There remain, therefore, a few nuances still up in the air.

I asked Baldelomar whether he was deliberately playing the music to provoke the cop. He told me: "The song played on Pandora. I love the song and am unapologetic about playing it."

He told me he's currently on leave from law school but plans to return. "I want to go to a top law school to study constitutional law and protect others' civil rights."

About those rights. It isn't true that police officers always have to act according to the law. In the case of Heien vs. North Carolina (PDF), the Supreme Court held that a "mistaken understanding of the law" could be a reasonable defense for a police officer's decision to stop a driver.

That case dealt with a suspected cocaine trafficker who, police thought, looked "nervous." He was stopped for having only one brake light. That wasn't actually an offense.

If the facts are as Baldelomar describes them, could Garzon's alleged actions still be deemed reasonable?

Baldelomar insists that he refused to sign the tickets and will now execute an official complaint against Garzon. "I am in the process of contacting an attorney," he told me.

It may well be that some police officers are unaware of every new law involving gadgets. It also seems true that some officers object to gadgets being used at all -- to, for example, film them, even though doing so is perfectly legal.

Had Garzon been wearing a body camera, something with which more and more police departments are experimenting, what would have been revealed? Something different from Baldelomar's story?

Baldelomar told me that he began to film Garzon on his phone. But then "I feared being arrested the entire time, so I refrained from continuing to film him. I thought he would want to check my phone."

He added that the police department hasn't been in touch with him since he publicized his side of the story.

Some will wonder whether Baldelomar's playing of that particular song was deliberately provocative. Others might scoff that provocation is irrelevant. They will look at Garzon's alleged behavior and wonder whether he was simply trying to find excuses to ticket Baldelomar for annoying him.

Perhaps, in the end, this is just one more example of the notion that, if you're stopped by the police, you should always pull out your phone and film the proceedings. Just, you know, in case.