Dash cam video shows a Pennsylvania cop pulling over a judge — allegedly for tailgating — then releasing him after the judge, apparently angry about being stopped, suggests he check the registration of his vehicle.
President Judge Dennis E. Reinaker acknowledged he was stopped in April by East Lampeter Township police officer Chad Snader but denied using his judicial position to sway the outcome of the traffic stop in a written statement.
"I neither expect nor deserve any special treatment and made no such requests on this occasion," Reinaker wrote.
East Lampeter Township Police Chief Stephen Zerbe said Rainaker was stopped for tailgating the officer.
"The driver got out and was irritated," Zerbe told Lancaster Online, explaining he had not seen the footage but was familiar with the incident.
"[The driver] . . . wanted to bring to the officer's attention who he had stopped," he added.
The Pennsylvania Judicial Code of Conduct prohibits judges from attempting to benefit by using their office.
Video obtained by Lancaster Online shows the view from Snader's unmarked police car on April 26.
After pulling into a turning late to allow Reinaker to pass, Snader initiates a traffic stop.
"What do you think you're doing pulling me over?" Judge Reinaker asks Snader.
"For blowing my horn?"
Officer Snader instructs Judge Reinaker to return to his vehicle.
That's when Judge Reinaker makes a remark before turning back and returning to his SUV. "You better check the registration on this plate soon, mister," Reinaker tells the police officer while pointing his finger to the back of his own SUV.
Snader returns to the vehicle then less than a minute later and approaches Reinaker's window.
"Have a good day, judge," he says without explaining to the judge why he was stopped.
Officer Snader has reportedly not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Judge Reinaker issued the following explanation in a written statement:
"I respect and greatly appreciate the hard work of our law enforcement officers in Lancaster County. Any parking or traffic citations I have ever received were paid without objection. I neither expect nor deserve any special treatment and made no such request on this occasion. However, I am not immune to an instance of mild frustration during a morning commute. In this case, it was not clear to me why I was pulled over. I obeyed the officer’s directives and intended no disrespect.
Judge Reinaker further explained that the reason he instructed officer Snader to check his registration was because he knew he'd be checking and wanted to get on his way as soon as possible.
"If my intent was to tell him who I was, I could certainly have done so," he said.
Sam Stretton, an attorney in Chester County with over 30 years practicing judicial ethics law, said Judge Reinaker's statement seems to imply he should receive special treatment as a result of his judicial position.
"That would be improper use of the office, even though he didn't say he's a judge, because he implied," Stretton said.
In his defense, it is feasible Judge Reinaker was referring to the parameters used by officer Snader to stop him in the first place.
He could have been telling Reinaker to check his plates because the legal standard needed to conduct a stop may not have been met and cop would realize a judge knows that.
After all, it's officer Snader's job to offer an explanation and he did not.
The first remarks Judge Reinaker made were about the reasoning behind his stop.
"What do you think you're doing pulling me over?" he asks.
"For blowing my horn?"
So there's reason to believe he could have been questioning why he was even stopped in the first place, which he is entitled to as a citizen.
On the flip side of the coin, under the Pennsylvania Judicial Code of Conduct — "Avoiding Abuse of Prestige of Judicial Office" — it says "a judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so."
"It is improper for a judge to use or attempt to use his or her position to gain personal advantage or preferential treatment of any kind. For example, it would be improper for a judge to allude to his or her judicial status to gain favorable treatment in encounters with traffic officials," a comment adding further explanation to the rule says.
While some are criticizing Judge Reinaker for possible code of judicial conduct, we think it's entirely possible the judge's remarks pertained to constitutional issues behind the stop.
Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.