Speed traps, longhairs and water boarding

Speed trap is one of those terms that has a very bad connotation to drivers, especially if you’ve ever received a speeding citation in a small, seemingly one-horse town.

Horror stories emanate from such experiences and most grow with the telling.

For at least a quarter century, the little Fort Bend County community of Kendleton produced literally hundreds of stories. That city’s police force (varying from 1-4 members depending on the municipal budget) reputedly wrote tickets freely to motorists passing through on U.S. Highway 59 southwest of Houston.

Some bad publicity and no small amount of official scrutiny slowed the speeding ticket onslaught in that town.

In the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, another U.S. 59 area, San Jacinto County, became the focus of an investigation of the arrests of motorists. According to news reports and to later court testimony, San Jacinto County sheriff’s officers were making arrests of “long-haired” men and the occupants of their vehicles. The officers looked for “longhairs” driving cars with bumper stickers for Houston radio station K-101. The arrests were made on various pretenses, usually some traffic violation, but the vehicles were searched and if any amount of drugs or drug paraphernalia were found, then officers confiscated cash and other valuables and more often than not released the arrested parties.

San Jacinto Count y Sheriff James C. “Humpy” Parker and four of his officers were arrested and tried in 1983 for offenses related to those “traffic stops.” The sheriff and his men were convicted of, among other charges, using a torture similar to waterboarding to get confessions. They would put a damp wash cloth or towel over a “suspect’s” face and pour water onto it.

Parker pleaded guilty and served 10 years in prison. He died of cancer in 1999.

Apparently news doesn’t travel very fast up U.S. 59, because over the last couple of years another county and town further north has come under scr utiny. In Tenaha, U.S. Highways 59, 84 and 96 converge producing a lot of through traffic. Police in Tenaha, in northeast Shelby County, have allegedly used laws to confiscate cash and property from accused traffic law violators. That cash and property has been put into the coffers of that city as well as, it was alleged, in the county district attorney’s budget. She and the Tenaha mayor, an octogenarian who has served for decades, vow they’ve broken no laws.

While a number of towns have speed trap reputations, there apparently hasn’t been widespread illegalities connected to them. That doesn’t prevent offended drivers from taking a measure of revenge on places perceived as speed traps. On U.S. 190 and State Highway 36, between Cameron and Temple, lies the small town of Rogers. A landowner on the southeast side of town has erected a yellow sign with red letters that says, “Welcome to Rogers, Speed Trap Capitol of Texas.”

Among lots of stories about “out-of-hand” traffic ticketing, one resident said he’d received a citation for driving 58 miles per hour in his own driveway.

It ’s nice t hat Texa s ha sn’t received such a dubious honor for a change.

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2009-12-10 digital edition

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