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My Beat

She Was in Trouble When Cops Arrived

January 19, 1988|Patt Morrison | Patt Morrison is a Times staff writer

You get in trouble, you call a cop.

Your mom tells you that from the time you're old enough to waddle out into the street.

Ria Snoek's mom told her that. So did her dad.

They came here from Holland, and "they raised me to have a lot of respect for authority."

But the night Ria Snoek's car broke down in a scary part of town, the one time she needed just one cop, she couldn't find one.

Fifteen minutes later, the cops found her.

They found her, pinned her hands behind her back and searched her, she says. And then, she recalls, they let her go and drove off without an explanation. Police say they tried to explain but she was upset and may not have heard them.

"My real fear was that someone on the street would hurt me, and I'd be left there to die--not that the police would abuse me . . . ," Snoek said. "Physically, they didn't harm me, but I was humiliated."

Snoek is 23, a USC film school graduate. She lives with her parents in Rowland Heights, and she manages a video store.

After an evening out with friends, she was driving toward Los Feliz to house-sit for other friends when her car died.

She waited; perhaps she could flag a passing police officer. All she saw was a passing kid--a Salvadoran teen-ager, it turned out--and she called to him.

There's a pay phone at a liquor store, the kid said in halting English. She didn't want to walk there alone; he volunteered to go along. They walked fast--the short Latino kid, the 6-foot-tall woman.

"My car broke down," she pleaded to the police dispatcher. "I need a policeman to come out here and be with me" until the tow truck arrives. "I'm afraid of being alone."

They couldn't send a cop, the dispatcher said, but they could connect her with a tow company. A truck could be there in 15 minutes, the tow dispatcher said. Is there anywhere safe you can wait?

There was the liquor store, but it was closing. She asked the kid to wait with her.

A police car coursed by, and then turned back, toward Snoek.

"Thank God you're here . . . ," she began. But a policewoman flashed a light in her face and yelled, "Get your hands out of your pockets!" Snoek said, and then, "Put your hands in the air!"

Snoek did. So did the kid.

Snoek's hands were pinned behind her back. Other cars rolled up, other officers stepped out.

How ironic, she thought: "I just wanted one cop. They couldn't afford one cop . . . and all of a sudden it's overkill."

The policewoman searched her. It was like all those movies the cinema student had watched. I manage a video store, she thought. I'm a college graduate. And I'm standing here in the wash of police car headlights. She began sobbing. Calm down, the policewoman told her.

And then "it just kind of ended. They didn't say, 'Omigod, we made a mistake, we're sorry.' . . . It was just over."

At the same moment, the tow truck arrived. Finally, at 1:30 a.m., Snoek called home. "I said, 'Dad, I'm OK, but I have a story to tell you.' "

Her father took a father's role and angrily called police. The police then called to explain.

It seems that someone (an off-duty officer, police said later) had reported a tall woman and a shorter man lingering outside a liquor store, the sergeant told them. There might have been a burglary in progress. They might have been armed. The officers had to protect themselves.

"I said, 'But I called for help and couldn't get any help but they came out and practically abused me.' "

A police spokeswoman told a reporter later that officers had tried to explain their actions to Snoek at the time, but the young woman was very upset and perhaps she didn't hear.

It is true that nobody was hurt. It is also true that in a town as big and bad as this one, no one can be relied on to be what they seem. Wary cops are live cops.

But to one ordinary person in ordinary straits, the old verities did not hold.

She got in trouble, she called a cop. And this once, "I couldn't count on the people I pay taxes for. It really knocked down my trust a lot."

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