Cop Rains Threats and Profanity on Driver Who Had the Gall to Honk at Him for Failing to Budge at a Green Light

Artist conception (cop and car by Karen Arnold, via
The St. Louis police department has launched an internal-affairs probe into an encounter between an officer and a gentleman that went from beep-beep to bleep-bleep. Thank goodness for video!

As if the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department didn’t already suffer from an egregious-enough image problem, we have a report from the city’s weekly Riverfront Times about a cop who unleashed a profanity-laced tirade upon a law-abiding (albeit horn-honking) citizen.

Bonus: Video of the encounter has achieved quasi-viral status on YouTube.

In a pair of stories published on Wednesday, Daniel HillRiverfront Times‘ music editor, laid out the scenario that took place this past Friday, November 3.

It seems Scott Smith and two colleagues had finished lunch and were returning to work via a heavily traveled thoroughfare when the unmarked car ahead of them failed to respond after a stoplight turned green.

Smith did what motorists tend to do when faced with such situations. (Beep-beep! Beeeeeeeep!)

The other driver, behaving erratically and/or enraged, took his sweet time proceeding through the intersection, then moved into the far-left lane, permitting Smith to pass.

Whereupon the driver pulled back in behind Smith and turned on his flashing lights.

Smith recorded the exchange that ensued.

Transcribes Hill:

It is clear from the audio that the officer is upset.

“Seriously?” Smith inquires as the officer approaches his car.

“Seriously,” the officer replies angrily. “Is your horn stuck?”

“Is your brake stuck?” Smith shoots back.

“Is your fucking horn stuck, smartass?” the officer repeats forcefully. The officer then demands to see Smith’s driver’s license.

“For what, honking?” Smith asks.

“I tell you what, you’re gonna either show me your driver’s license or you’re gonna wind up getting a ticket, I’ll tow your car and lock you up,” the officer says.

When Smith presses, asking what he has been pulled over for, the officer simply says, “You’re being stopped for a traffic violation.”

Smith protests, calling the situation “fucking ridiculous.” The officer, who was the first of the two of them to use profanity, takes issue with the statement.

“I’m sorry, what’d you just say?” he demands.

“I said this is fucking ridiculous,” Smith repeats.

“Well you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be a fucking asshole,” the officer responds.

Smith points out that the officer was just sitting at a green light, and Smith was simply trying to get back to work.

“I hope you’re not in a hurry, because you’re gonna be delayed for a little while, fucking jackoff,” is the officer’s response.

Smith told Hill he paused the recording when the cop returned to his own vehicle, then reappeared to demand Smith’s proof of insurance, which he had to access via his phone.

But according to Smith’s account, the situation escalated to the point where two more St. Louis police cars arrived. A full 45 minutes later, Smith said, he and his work buddies were finally sent on their way, the officer having promised to mail him a traffic ticket because none of the cop cars was equipped with a functioning printer.

When Hill reached out to the police department for comment, a spokeswoman suggested that Smith contact the internal-affairs division.

He did.

In a follow-up story published later the same day, Hill reported that Internal Affairs had launched an investigation — presumably into why a police officer caught zoning out at the wheel would spew profanity at an alert driver who deigned to summon him back to where the rubber meets the road.

By that time, however, Hill had learned that the officer who called Smith a “fucking jackoff” and threatened to “tow [his] car and lock [him] up,” is Detective Steve Burle, an investigator for a five-member unit that investigates every case in which an officer uses deadly force.

Oh, and also that Burle himself has twice been sued for (can you guess?) excessive use of force.

While you’re reconciling how all of this might shed light on the culture of a police department that recently made national news after one of its now-former officers eluded a murder conviction for shooting to death a fleeing suspect, you can click the following links to read Hill’s accounts in their entirety:

“St. Louis Man Ticketed After Honking at Cop Stopped at a Green Light”

“Cop in Viral Horn-Honk Video IDed as Member of Force Investigation Unit”


Full disclosure: I was editor-in-chief at Riverfront Times from 2003 until mid-2013. I know Daniel Hill well — in fact, I hired him not long before I left the paper. RFT, which has since changed ownership, was and remains a terrific publication.

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About Tom Finkel

Skeptical about nearly everything but my rights and responsibilities. Former editor-in-chief at Village Voice, Riverfront Times, & City Pages. Before that, Miami New Times. Interested human being.