Officer Texting Before Hitting Wheelchair-Bound Man

Remember Gerry Mitchell—the wheelchair-bound AIDS survivor who was ticketed by Charlottesville Police after he was hit by an Albemarle Police cruiser in late 2007? (He was ticketed in the hospital, since he’d been hospitalized with his injuries.) Charges of jaywalking were dropped a couple of weeks later, and a few weeks after that, video of the incident was made public. Mitchell sued police for negligence, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in June of 2009, and that was the last news in the matter.

It turns out that the police officer behind the wheel was engaged in “excessive texting” immediately prior to hitting Mitchell, Courteney Stuart writes for The Hook. That information came out as a result of the civil suit. Officer Gregory C. Davis obfuscated this information back in August 2009, early in the lawsuit, disclosing only that “[o]n another occasion I was found to have used my cell phone excessively,” without calling up that occasion came immediately prior to his hitting Mitchell.

What hasn’t been established here is whether the officer was texting at the very moment that he hit Mitchell—that is, whether it’s actually the cause of the accident. Note, too, that § 46.2-1078.1 of the Virginia Code prohibits texting while driving, but it doesn’t apply here because a) wasn’t law until a year and a half after the incident and b) has an exemption for “the operator of any emergency vehicle.”

8 Responses to “Officer Texting Before Hitting Wheelchair-Bound Man”


  • I’m still waiting for justice to take its course regarding the shameful treatment of Gerry Mitchell.
    The Va anti- texting law is a joke. Even if it were enforced, a $20 fine for first offense is hardly a deterrent for behavior that has been compared to driving drunk.

  • I didn’t know about the emergency-vehicle exception. What possible justification can there be for that? I wish our lawmakers would grow a pair and slap some heavy fines on anyone holding a mobile device while operating a vehicle.

  • Texting while driving while listening to “My Humps.” Professional behavior indeed. Every time I walk through that intersection, which is often, I think about that incident and how unfair it was. Drivers who are *turning* with a green light need to know that a pedestrian in the crosswalk trumps their green light.

    The city has at least put up signs at some intersections stating that turning traffic must yield to pedestrians–and yet some drivers still do not get it. The fact that a cop would ticket a pedestrian for being where he had every right to be really frosts my cookies.

  • “Every time I walk through that intersection, which is often, I think about that incident and how unfair it was. Drivers who are *turning* with a green light need to know that a pedestrian in the crosswalk trumps their green light.”

    One of the many nagging issues I have with this incident is the right of way of a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Although the jaywalking ticket was dropped, it was dropped on a technicality because the pedestrian signal used a walk icon instead of the word “Walk” and VA code at the time specified “Walk”.

    But from the driver’s point of view, the pedestrian signal should be invisible, it is a pedestrian signal, not a motor vehicle signal. The reason the signal wasn’t on walk was because the pedestrian button did not trigger the signal. There are several possibles reasons (he didn’t push it, it was broken, it was obstructed, he pushed it too late), but it does not matter. The driver of the vehicle was making a left turn at an intersection. If there was no pedestrian signal at the intersection, the driver would be at fault. If the button had been pushed, the driver would be fault. But since the button wasn’t pushed, the driver is not at fault? But as I’ve argued above, the walk signal doesn’t give guidance to the driver. A “Don’t Walk” sign doesn’t give the driver a super right-of-way.

    It seems like a very generous reading of the law to favor the driver in this case.

    One cause of this is that the local practice is to set pedestrian signals at busy crosswalks such as this one and many others, such as University at 14th Street, to be “pedestrian activated only.” However, best practice guidance says that busy pedestrian intersection should not be “activated only” but instead should be triggered automatically. Following best practices would remove this legal grey area and give clearer direction to pedestrians.

  • I saw this story on the Newsplex and immediately switched over to this site to see the community discussion. I’m glad you’re continuing to follow this story, Waldo.

    One slight correction to above: in your second sentence (the one in parentheses) although Gerry may have been “ticked” at what happened to him, I’m going to guess that you meant to write “ticketed”.

  • Thank you for that correction, Sean.

  • I didn’t know about the emergency-vehicle exception. What possible justification can there be for that?

    There’s actually a pretty sensible, if non-obvious, justification. When the legislature was considering the bill prohibiting texting while driving, they realized that they’d have a tough time defining “texting” in any way that would be future-proofed. (Imagine a few years ago, if they’d defined it as entering text via T9, or communicating over a TDMA or CDMA network.) So they kept the definition really broad, but that brought up a problem—what to do with police officers who use dashboard-mounted computers to communicate with the dispatcher. Though different departments use different technology, a lot of the technology is basically texting. They’ve got to do that while driving, and I’m told that the interface is generally conducive to that. The solution to that was to simply exempt the operators of emergency vehicles.

  • Cops are always using cell phones while driving. No kidding, the next time one drives by you check it out. I bet he/she is talking on the cell phone.

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