By Randy Grider
Allen Robinson may have won the latest battle, but the war is not over.
The Parkesburg, Pa., truck driver scored a victory in July when a federal judge ruled three Pennsylvania state troopers violated his First Amendment rights by arresting him while he was videotaping truck safety inspections.
U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III awarded Robinson $41,000 in the case. His ruling stated that the three troopers, Patrick V. Fetterman, John Rigney and Gregg Riek, violated Robinson’s rights to free speech and unreasonable seizure of his videotaping equipment.
Now Robinson hopes he can make changes in the way enforcement officers conduct roadside truck inspections.
“The fight is not over,” he says. “I want to make some changes in how roadside inspections are handled, specifically in regards to signage, requiring florescent clothing being worn by enforcement officers and having inspections required to be at least 100 feet off the roadway.”
Robinson’s story, which we chronicled in the November 2004 issue of Truckers News began in 2000 when he came upon a truck safety inspection as he was traveling in his personal vehicle along a stretch of rural Route 41 near his home. He said the area chosen for the inspection was at the top of a hill where the road merges from a three-lane back into a two-lane. No signage of an inspection in progress, numerous tractor-trailers pulled over on the shoulder of the road and bottlenecking traffic almost led to him being involved in an accident.
Robinson says the dangerous location of this roadside inspection was unnecessary. There’s a scale house 12 miles away in the township of New Garden that is not being used.
His local state representative, Art Hershey, suggested he document the unsafe practice by the enforcement officers. In June of 2000, Robinson filmed a roadside inspection. Despite filming on private property with the permission of the landowner, he was cited for harassment and found guilt by a local court.
Then in October 2002, Robinson was filming an inspection that he says had earlier almost caused his wife, a bus driver, to wreck. This time three officers demanded he shut off the camera. Robinson refused. He says he was tackled, arrested and charged for a second time with harassment. His camera was also confiscated.
Robinson again was found guilty by a county court. But this time he appealed to the state court (something he didn’t know procedurally how to do in the first case) and was found not guilty after the judge reviewed the film.
Robinson then filed his federal lawsuit. He said as the lawsuit neared the court date, PennDOT tried to settle the case. “I wanted a judge to decide it,” he says. “They were floored that I wouldn’t take the settlement.”
Robinson, who now makes local deliveries, says this case wasn’t about revenge. His intentions were to make a change for truck drivers and the motoring public as a whole. “In the trucking industry, truckers often get tickets, and they don’t have the time to fight it,” he says. “I wanted to see this to the end.”
He says it’s often hard to win cases on the local level, especially for the average citizen, unless you’ve got the resolve to go all the way. “This battle has restored some of my faith in the justice system at the higher level,” Robinson says.
At press time, Robinson was waiting to see if the defendants were going to appeal the ruling or if the judge reconsiders the amount of the judgment. But Robinson is turning his attention toward his original goal of revamping roadside truck inspections.
“I feel winning this case has given me a leg up and some leverage to make changes on the state and the national level,” Robinson says. “I want roadside inspections done in a safe manner.”
Robinson has already proven that he is willing to go the extra mile to prove his case. With a video camera and determination, I’m convinced this novice filmmaker is ready to finish what he started. “If I see another unsafe roadside inspection and I’ve got permission from a landowner to film it legally, I’ll do it again,” he says.
As they say in Hollywood, “Look for Robinson coming to a roadside inspection near you.”