Stranger Than Fiction – The Notorious Lilly Picker Frame Up
On May 14, 2011 around 5:20 I arrived at the Cahaba River Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County, Alabama to spend the remainder of the day fishing from the banks, as I do quite frequently in the spring.
When I arrived I stopped at one access point right after the boat launch and fished for 30 minutes or so and then drove to the main beach area. At the main beach area I noticed a Game Warden with his truck parked and he was talking to two women in a Mustang. One (maybe both) woman had SLR cameras, as do many people who frequent this area in the spring to view and photograph the lilies. In addition, there was a group of 6-7 Asian people sitting among the lilies and what appeared to me, sifting something and putting them in pans. This, I later learned from the Game Warden, was them illegally removing mussels from the river. As this had crossed my mind, among other things, I thought it odd that the officer did not ask them to stop. I fished the main beach for a few minutes when another family showed up with several young children to fish. I took my gear and walked about 50-60 yards downriver and fished for a while. It was then that I noticed all of the Asian folks were now out of the water and I could see the officer’s blue lights flashing. When I walked back to my car at the main beach area, the Game Warden, both of the women, all of the Asians, and several other people were gathered around watching the officer write them a ticket. The other people were observing because the officer had blocked the road with his truck and they could not exit the park. I can only assume to keep them from all jumping in their cars and fleeing. What it really looked like to me was the officer showing off for the two women and generally making a spectacle out of his arrest.
I then got in my car and drove to another access point downriver and fished again. A few minutes later, I drove to the end of the road where the river meets Caffee Creek and fished the bank until almost dark.
As I was leaving around 7:30, the Game Warden was coming the other way. I stopped and greeted him and he asked me for my driver’s license. He then told me he had good news and bad news and that he had seen me earlier picking lilies from the river, and furthermore, his “undercover girl” had pictures to prove it. He never did tell me what the good news was. I then asked him to produce the pictures and he said he’d have to get her back down there. I then exited my car, and told the officer repeatedly that he had the wrong person, that I visited the area to fish frequently, and that I was well aware of the laws concerning removing endangered species from the area. I offered to let the officer search me and my vehicle for lilies, which he showed no interest in whatsoever, nor did he ever ask for my fishing license. The officer continued to write the ticket, all the time quizzing me, asking if I had been in the water (which was obviously not the case, since I was bone dry!), had I had my shirt off, was I at a certain area that he was pointing to upriver a little while back? I answered every one of his questions, reiterating over and over that I had stopped at numerous spots to fish, that I did not pick lilies and that he needed to return my license and release me from custody. I then asked his name and he told me he was Curtis Jones and I wrote down the tag number from his state truck, S-2494B. At one point when I announced my innocence, he told me I’d have to take that up with the judge and that they would produce the pictures. Again, I asked him (at least a dozen times) to produce the pictures, and why had the girl left if she had them. I also asked him why he didn’t arrest me when he witnessed me picking the lilies. He told me that he didn’t need the pictures, that all he had to do was see me and I was guilty, which was a contradiction from using the pictures as evidence. It was just too much for me to believe. I was completely aghast that this was even happening!
After he finished writing the ticket, he asked me to sign it and I refused. He told me he’d have to take me to jail, and I said OK, take me to jail. I then moved my car further to the side of the road, put what gear I could in the trunk, removed my iPhone, iPod, Checkbook, and put my pocketknife in the car, telling the officer of my intent. He then told me to turn around, bend over, and extend my arms in the air so he could handcuff me. It became apparent right off that the officer was inept at this task, and the first cuff was pinching my right wrist to the point of cutting off circulation. I told him that he was hurting me and he cuffed the already constricted right hand to my left hand, which was also way too tight. After repeatedly telling the officer that he was hurting me and that I was hardly a risk to flee, he tried several times, unsuccessfully, to remove the cuffs. Finally removing them on his third or fourth try, all the time complaining that I had big wrists. Later that evening when I arrived home, I noticed a bright red whelp on my wrist.
At some point during all of this, he radioed in for a Sheriff’s car to come to the scene, and I think it was Shelby County that he called, but I’m not sure. I did hear the dispatcher on the other end verify my driver’s license information and address. At some point, they radioed him back and asked if he still needed assistance, he told them no and not to come.
All this time I was growing increasingly distraught and emotionally traumatized and when he told the deputy not to come, I became incredibly worried that something bad was about to happen. By this time, it was dark and the officer had a very bright cab light from the truck shining in my face, and he was sitting in his truck with the door opened. The only way I could make him out is if I blocked the bright light with my hand, and then I couldn’t see him well. As he was obviously armed and I wasn’t, all kinds of scary thoughts were going through my head and I was becoming more and more frightened and traumatized. On two different occasions, a car pulled up with two young people, I think they were both girls, and he turned them away. He continued to tell me that we were waiting on the “undercover girl” to return with the pictures and that he also had another game warden coming. When I asked him if she also worked for the State, he told me it was none of my business. I continued to tell him that he needed to either take me to jail or release me, and he continued to tell me that we were waiting, and that I didn’t want to go to jail because that would take a lot longer. He also repeatedly answered my demands to be released with a new story. This story was that he had intended to write me a “warning” all along, and since I got upset, he had no choice but to go ahead and write me up and all I had to do was sign the ticket and be on my way.
Finally, the two women in the mustang drove up and got out of the car. The driver produced an SLR camera, and said to wait; she had 4 or 5 pictures of me and had to find the best one. She picked one out and showed it to the officer and the other woman, and then finally to me. She never produced the other four pictures of me she claimed to have. The person in the picture not only was not me, but he couldn’t have looked more different. The picture she showed me was of a man sitting in the river, with his shirt off, and was way larger than me. On top of that, the man was not picking lilies! The officer then handed me my license and apologized and told me I could leave. I asked the woman with the camera if she worked for the State, and she said no, but her Daddy was also a Game Warden. I then told them that they should get a life, that they were completely out of line and in fact were breaking the law by posing as undercover agents and framing up and harassing law abiding citizens. The woman became visibly angry and verbally abusive to me and told me to shut up. By this time, I was probably on the verge of having a stroke. My heart was racing, my adrenaline was at an all time high, and all I could think of was to get out of there as fast as I could. Although I didn’t get the woman’s name or tag number, I have no doubt that I could easily identify her and her car.
As I was leaving, another Game Warden’s truck was coming down the road toward me incredibly fast, with big huge spotlights on, blinding my vision. I pulled over, and he asked me if the other Game Warden was down there and had he let me go. I told him yes; that they should probably do a better job of screening their employees and that the officer had framed me up for something I didn’t do. I could tell that this officer was somewhat sympathetic to my obvious state of shock. Again, all I could think of was to get out of there as fast as I could.
When I got cell service again around highway 5 in West Blocton, I phoned my wife. It was 8:40 PM, almost two hours from the time the officer held me against my will and had me under arrest.
As crazy as this all sounds, it is a true story. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.