Ryan Moats Traffic Stop Controversy

Note: As with any of my opinions on police encounters, they are based on my personal experience and the limited information provided to the media.

Fellow blogger EPH recently asked me my opinion of the Ryan Moats traffic stop controversy that occurred last month in Plano, TX. I have to confess that I was juggling quite a few responsibilities late last month, and had only read an initial article on the incident (did not watch the video until this week) before the officer resigned and the story disappeared from the media.

For those not familiar with the Ryan Moats incident, here is a summary:

Ryan Moats, an American professional football player with the Houston Texans, was driving a sport utility vehicle and was allegedly observed stopping and then rolling through a traffic control signal on red by Dallas Police officer Robert Powell. The officer made the traffic stop in front of Baylor Medical Center and two of the vehicle’s passengers immediately exited and tried to walk toward the hospital.

The officer evidently had his gun drawn and ordered everyone to remain in the vehicle. The two passengers paused for a few seconds and then ran inside the medical center.

The officer then requested information from the Moats. Moats was visibly upset and tried to explain that his mother-in-law was dying inside the Center. During the stop, security from the hospital as well as medical professionals came out and verified the driver’s story about his dying relative.

The officer evidently held Moats for approximately 13 minutes before issuing him a traffic citation for the red light infraction. When Moats did finally make it to his mother-in-law’s hospital bed, she had died.

During the encounter, the officer stated that he drew his weapon, but did not point it anyone, while members of the Moats family said that the officer had pointed his handgun at Moats’ wife. The video does not capture Powell with his sidearm drawn.

After viewing the officer’s dashboard camera tape of the incident, the Dallas P.D.’s chief sided with Moats and his family and described the officer’s behavior as embarrassing.

You can view the video of the encounter here.

Just a few thoughts:

--It will not take long during an officer’s career before he/she encounters something similar on a traffic stop. Officers will get legitimate and made-up excuses as to why a driver ran a red light or was speeding that range from my girlfriend is not feeling well and I am taking her to the hospital to my dog is in the backseat in labor and I am rushing to the vet to I was being chased by possible militia members who were driving trucks with Missouri plates and Ron Paul bumper stickers (sorry I couldn’t resist).

The officer must quickly sort out the bs from the facts. I do not see anything wrong with ordering people back to a vehicle until it can be reasonably determined that they are being truthful.

--An officer drawing a weapon when persons start jumping out of a vehicle that he/she has stopped is ok by me as well. If an officer has ever been in a situation where persons start fleeing from a car, he/she has no way to determine if they just murdered someone or are running to the hospital to be with a dying relative.

--Just because a car pulls-up to a hospital at night does not mean the occupants are not dangerous. Gangster-types in my patrol area would typically drop-off wounded buddies outside the ER and then quickly leave the scene—since they were involved in whatever happened but did not want to be questioned by authorities.

--I read that the delay in this incident was supposedly caused by the officer running a record check on Moats. With improved technology, I certainly hope that computer record checks are faster in 2009. Unfortunately, where I worked, 13 minutes was not an unusual to wait for a record check on a busy shift—but that was years ago.

--I think what drew the ire of Dallas PD’s command staff was that the incident occurred outside a hospital, yet the officer never attempted to confirm the citizen’s story—and then after 13 minutes, it was too late for Mr. Moats.

--In my opinion, I think the long wait could be attributed to that the officer felt that his authority was not respected by the vehicle occupants. I think the officer shows evidence of this in his closing comments before explaining the citation. He lectures Moats regarding how he and his family should have acted and that if it had happened another way, officers would have simply let the driver go with a warning.

If he felt a ticket was necessary, he could have issued it and saved the lecture until after Moats had attended to his family.

In summary, initially ordering the occupants back to the vehicle, drawing his weapon, and requesting that the driver provide specific information pertaining to the vehicle was reasonable. Choosing not to verify the driver’s story or listening to hospital officials, holding the driver for what seems to be an extended period, and then lecturing him on the proper behaviors during a traffic stop, I would characterize as poor decision-making.

In closing, a similar incident happened to a relative a few years ago. He works in a small city as an OBGYN and is regularly called to the hospital at all hours to deliver babies. One early morning, he was called to the hospital to assist a woman in labor experiencing life-threatening complications. While speeding with his flashers on, he was stopped by a police officer.

Immediately, the doctor informed the officer of the emergency, and the officer responded that he still needed to see his license and registration papers.

The Dr. provided the information and said: “With all due respect officer, you can either follow me another few blocks to the hospital or explain to the mother-to-be why you let her infant die.”

The officer frowned and then motioned for him to go—following him to the hospital. The patrolman let Dr. do his work, but left word at the nurses’ station for to be notified when the physician was done (he had kept the license). The officer then returned to the hospital and had Dr. sign a speeding ticket.

Again, not the way I would have handled the situation, but at least the officer realized that his traffic enforcement was only a minor piece of a larger puzzle that morning and allowed Dr. to attend to the emergency and deliver a breathing baby.


Expat From Hell said...

Excellent thoughts. You did not disappoint, my friend. Your perspective from real life experiences was what I felt the media (and too many sympathizers on both sides) missed. Thank you again.


Christopher said...

You nailed it.

fayezie said...


what WOULD you have done in the situation of the OB?

reminds me of a story from a few years ago, a man was driving his laboring wife to the ER, and got pulled over, because naturally the guy was speeding... well, ha ha, little did that officer know when he set out on patrol that he'd end up delivering a baby in the parking lot of Piggly Wiggly!

No doubt, that story was on the local news for weeks... "the piggly-wiggly baby"...

i bet that probably happens more often than the rest of us realize! I wonder if officers get rudimentary training in delivering babies? just in case?

Slamdunk said...

Ha--anyone that I stopped who was enroute to the hospital got an escort not a citation.

Not sure about the baby delivery tips. We recieved about 60 seconds of training.

Funny stuff about the Piggly Wiggle baby though.