The Frisco traffic officer was camped in an unmarked Chevy, trying to catch drivers going above the speed limit, when he noticed something suspicious. Some of the motorists could see him. They waved. He had a feeling that a man named Ron Martin might have had something to do with it. Also aiding his suspicions: Another officer had given him a heads-up via radio that he'd seen Martin out that day.
Martin is well known among the Frisco traffic cops. He has a history of "holding signs in the center median of traffic," as officer Thomas Mrozinski explained in a police report. His signs carry a simple message: "Police Ahead."
Mrozinski drove eastbound down Eldorado Parkway, Frisco's main artery. Sure enough there was Martin, standing in the median of the busy road. He hoisted a "Police Ahead" sign above his shoulder. "The sign appeared to be self-constructed with a yellow background and lettering in black attached to a wooden stick," Mrozinski writes in his police report.
Mrozinski parked his Chevy by the median and approached Martin. In a video that Martin captured of his arrest, the officer demands that Martin drop the sign, telling him it's a "violation of city ordinance." After Martin lets go, the officer puts him in handcuffs. Martin is due in court Wednesday, facing misdemeanor charges.
Martin is a Frisco homeowner with a family. He paints signs for a living. He says he just wants to help make the roads safer, and he argues that his homemade signs are more effective at doing that than speed traps.
What bothered him on the day of his arrest, he claims, is he saw a motorcycle officer hiding in a dangerous spot, facing oncoming traffic in the entrance of Frisco's Warren Sports Complex. "If anyone made a right turn there, they would have had to swerve and hit the median or hit the officer himself," Martin tells Unfair Park. A police spokesman declined to speak about Martin's case.
The arrest report makes clear that the Frisco police are not fans of Martin's approach to traffic enforcement. Mrozinski reports having "knowledge" that Martin once spent several hours standing in a median holding a "Police Ahead" sign on a different day, "trying to interfere with their enforcement duties."
But Martin may have the right to mess with the city's speed traps. Most states, Texas included, don't have laws that specifically prohibit people from giving other motorists the heads-up that a cop with a radar gun is hiding behind the bushes. When police try to prosecute those cases, they often just find another excuse to cite the offender. In July 2012, for instance, a woman in Houston held a sign that more blatantly just said "Speed Trap!" Police reportedly told her she was being arrested for obstructing justice and kept her in jail for 12 hours. After getting out, she found she still faced criminal charges, but not the original charge of obstructing justice. Instead, it was a lesser "walking in the roadway where there is a sidewalk present" that earned her a misdemeanor.
In 2011, a lawsuit filed in Florida challenged thousands of tickets that drivers received for flashing their headlights at oncoming cars, a more practical and common speed-trap warning. A Florida judge sided with drivers, ruling that whatever you do with your headlights is a constitutional right, even if it does threaten a traffic cop's ticket quota.
In Martin's case, the officers charged him with violating Frisco's human sign ordinance, a Class C misdemeanor. The police report doesn't explain how he violated that specific law, and it doesn't seem to apply in this case. Frisco's city code defines human signs as humans who are in costume or otherwise holding or wearing signs for advertising purposes. And though he is a professional sign painter, Martin maintains that he wasn't advertising anything that day in the Eldorado median, just protesting.
The sign is city property now, marked as "evidence." Martin says that he just painted over an existing real estate sign to make it. So if the city is really determined to go forward and prosecute the case tomorrow, they will probably be able to find an advertisement somewhere in there if they look hard enough.