DOWNTOWN POLICE Officer Chadd Stensgaard was fined $35 last week for parking his patrol car illegally outside a Japanese restaurant back in March, and the city's first response to the embarrassment has been to work on rewriting the law so it doesn't happen again.
Last Wednesday, July 23, Stensgaard was found guilty by Multnomah County Traffic Court Judge Terry Hannon of parking his patrol car illegally outside the SanSai Japanese Grill on NW 21st, while on duty March 7 ["Turning the Tables," News, April 17].
Eric Bryant, a private citizen who happens to have recently became a lawyer, brought the case against Stensgaard in a traffic court packed with TV cameras, photo and print journalists, and of course, cops.
Assistant Police Chief Lynnae Berg, Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese, Public Information Officer Sergeant Brian Schmautz, and a dozen regular patrol officers crammed into the back of the courtroom, in uniform, to see justice done.
Reese testified that he felt Stensgaard had done the reasonable thing by stopping to get some dinner in a no-parking zone.
"We are expected to respond to emergency calls," he said, and need to be near the vehicle.
Lawyers for Stensgaard—paid for by the police union—argued he was justified in parking outside the restaurant because his patrol car contained guns and expensive equipment that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. But Judge Hannon ruled that while he felt the officer had acted reasonably, the parking laws apply to everyone—including cops.
Bryant's attorney asked Stensgaard why he couldn't have gone to a McDonald's or a Starbucks nearby, somewhere where he could have parked legally.
"I don't eat fast food," Stensgaard responded. "And I don't drink coffee."
After the judge ruled, Bryant spoke to the Mercury. "I'm just pleased that the judge held that parking laws apply to police officers as well as to ordinary citizens," he said.
Since then, the city attorney's office has reportedly been working on overhauling the law, so that officers can legally park in certain no-parking zones. (City Attorney David Woboril did not return the Mercury's call for comment by press time.)
Though Woboril told the Tribune that Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) would survey no-parking zones, a PDOT spokesperson says PDOT isn't working on the issue. "Maybe the police department is," says PDOT's Maureen Yandle.
The city does not plan to appeal Stensgaard's fine.