The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Questions about Tidwell matter

The incident begins at New York Avenue (bottom
edge of map) and ends on Plainfield Avenue (at top).
There is more than a little bit troubling about the news of the arrest of Plainfield Fire Chief Frank Tidwell by South Plainfield police about 1:00 AM Wednesday on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

Beginning with why it broke on the Courier's website only a few hours later, before any details on the charge or circumstances were in.

Let me state up front that I am not a disinterested observer.

Frank Tidwell is a friend and was a co-worker when I worked for the city; he and I have also worked together on community-oriented projects in the past. I hold him in the highest regard as a professional and a person with great integrity. I certainly hope he has a good lawyer, because something about this incident smells fishy.

I have had my suspicions about the borough's police ever since a friend of mine was followed into the driveway of her Plainfield home by a South Plainfield police officer and harassed. Her crime? 'Driving while Black'. A spunky fighter, she pursued the matter until she got justice, but it left an indelible image of the South Plainfield police in my mind.

So, the first question as I scanned the online story was 'where's the story'? The initial item was so brief, I wondered how it got put online to begin with. Was the Courier picking it up from listening to the police scanner? Did someone at South Plainfield police headquarters think it was hot news? or have an axe to grind?

I figured that the Courier's ace reporter Mark Spivey would have a more detailed story up later, which indeed he did (see here). But that did nothing to assuage my feelings something was missing or amiss here.

The first thing that caught my eye was the blood alcohol level, stated in the story as '0.09' percent. This is a smidge over the legal limit of 0.08. Over yes, but hardly the stuff of dramatic 'stop the presses' headline treatment. Was it because Tidwell is a high-profile public employee? Though a DWI is a traffic offense and not a criminal charge per se, the charge has led to public embarrassment and job loss on occasion, as close observers of the newspapers will know.

As anyone
who has hung around cops will tell you, if you're going to get busted for one thing (say DWI), the officer is going to make sure that any supporting issues that could explain 'probable cause' for the officer's action are included in the charges. Did the driver cross a yellow line? Or ignore a turning lane indication? Was the driver talking on a cellphone? Or speeding, etc.?

So, it was with interest that I tried to piece together just exactly what stretch of road(s) this all happened on.

According to Spivey's details from the police report, the officer seems to have started following Tidwell's vehicle as it traveled north on Hamilton Boulevard near New York Avenue, terminating with the arrest on Plainfield Avenue near the borough's police headquarters.

New York Avenue comes into Hamilton Boulevard along with Camden Avenue at a point where the Boulevard makes a very sharp right hand turn. There used to be a carpet remnant store facing into the turn which I always thought must be subject to being hit by cars that misjudge their speed and overshoot the turn. At any rate, I'm willing to bet that ninety percent of the vehicles making that turn touch or cross the yellow line -- stone sober as well as drunk.

Then there is the intersection at New Market Road where Tidwell allegedly drove straight through in a left-turn lane. Frequent travelers through South Plainfield will recall that this intersection was widened and enlarged recently, with the addition of the left-turn lane at the light and a short extension of New Market Road that curves around to end  at Spicer Avenue. Late at night, with little or no traffic, I'm willing to bet this is lane is also frequently violated by those driving straight through. Another technical foul.

I certainly hope that Chief Tidwell has a good lawyer who will pick apart every detail of the charges and that the case will be decided on the most germane points, as a traffic offense only, and that the Chief can get on with the execution of his responsibilities for the City.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

I have to agree with you on this. The South Plainfield police do tend to stop blacks more than whites. That's just a casual observation, but when I worked in South Plainfield I don't ever think I saw a white person pulled over, and I saw many cars stopped by S. Plainfield police. Sometimes the Courier can be a sensationalist rag and I think this is one of those time. I'm white and don't know Mr. Tidwell personally, but this sounds like a non-story to me.

Anonymous said...

Dan i have a real issue with the entire incident and as i don't agree with on lot of your stores you are right on point this time and all i have to say is setup or just another case of racial profiling at its best.

Anonymous said...

TIDWELL should be setting an example for this community. This means that you dont drink and drive! He should not be using a taxpayers car and gas for his personal use. He is making a salary 3 times of what the average Plainfielder makes,and should have a car of his own to go bar hopping with.

john said...

once again the plainfield faviote feels like they dont have be held to a higher standard what if he had cause some one to be hurt would you be saying foul he is know different then you or i he sould not be driving drinking at all thats the bottom line so stop trying to make a set of seperate rule for frank tidwell he must be held accountable

Anonymous said...

Dan... It seams that the Mayor SRB drives her people in city hall to drink. If they would stay in Plainfield and drink then her bodyguards could give them a ride home if they needed it.

Anonymous said...

Dan, If our average Plainfield city employee was cought drinking DUI in a city auto would the be fired on the spot? Should the Council set up rules for the future use of city autos?

Anonymous said...

Don't discount that the chief may have been set up by "crabs in the basket" Anytime someone is doing very well, there will be those who will try to bring them back down to where they are just because they can't do it.

Anonymous said...

Bob, I can assure you that I and my editors would have approached this story in precisely the same manner if the same thing happened in Bridgewater, Flemington, Piscataway or otherwise. I'm sorry you felt it was sensationalistic for us to cover it, but we disagree. -Mark

Anonymous said...

Under no circumstances is it acceptable to drink and drive.Doing same in a city vehicle while on call makes this an offence which should lead to retierment
or termination.Let's not make the P.D.the issue rhere.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe this was the first time Mr. Tidewell was pulled over in South Plainfield for this same offence. I do not care if he drinks and drives but I am annoyed that he does it in a City of Plainfield vehicle. If he hurt himself or worse killed an innocent person(s) we the citizens of Plainfield would all be paying the price. What would you say Dan if he was driving a fire truck?

jane said...

if they didn't get rid of the police chief with the prostitutes in the police car, then why should the fire chief be held to a different standard? depending on how it is handled will let us know if this matter is as simple as black and white.

Anonymous said...

Jane, it was the Police Director, Martin Hellwig, that used a police computer, a police vehicle, while on company time to meet a male prostitute, not the Police Chief, who is a respectable man and a victim of a political power struggle over the Police Dept.