Company cops with badges slapping a hefty ticket on a working man? Rogue, thy name is the Union Pacific Railroad Police.
According to records in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Union Pacific railroad officer P.T. Bender stopped 54-year-old Harry Wise from carrying his bicycle across the Brooklyn rail yard in Southeast Portland on June 19. Ignoring Wise's protest that the signs around the yard were illegible, Bender handed the warehouse laborer a citation for trespassing, according to the police report.
When Wise showed up at court on Aug. 4—without a lawyer—he found himself on the docket for first-degree criminal trespass, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $6,250.
If Wise had picked any other property for his shortcut that day, the charge would have been second-degree trespass, the equivalent of a speeding ticket, says Barry Engle, a Portland criminal defense lawyer who is not involved in the case.
But railroads enjoy special legal privileges dating back to the 19th century. For one, railroad companies are authorized to hire their own police officers. And trespassing on any yard, bridge, line or tunnel belonging to the railroads is automatically considered first-degree criminal trespass, Engle says.
Neither law enforcement nor transportation agencies at the state level have jurisdiction over UP cops, and the company is notoriously tight-lipped about internal matters. Joe Arbona, spokesman for Union Pacific, says the company has "zero tolerance for trespassing," but would not disclose how often its officers cite trespassers. Court records show 142 people were cited for criminal trespass by Union Pacific cops last year, a marked increase from the 38 tickets handed out in 2000. (Wise, for his part, declined to talk to WW.)
Trespassing is a crime, but it seems unjust (not to mention Roguish) for a company to enforce a rule aimed at saboteurs and terrorists on a man who cut across the tracks because he was running late for work. The case is pending trial.