Alternating current

The Chamblee police department is not very happy with me right now.  Their officers made the decision to produce an arrest warrant for Kaveh Kamooneh, the guy who helped himself to an electric outlet at a public school to juice up his electric car.  Tuesday, the Chamblee PD did the right thing and agreed to an interview about the case.  A day later, the chief had apparently shut down subsequent interviews — and spent some quality time on the phone with my boss, griping about my coverage of the story.

Kaveh Kamooneh and his electric car

Kaveh Kamooneh and his electric car

The story itself dropped in my lap courtesy of the lovely Lea-Anne Jackson, the WXIA promotions chica whom I first knew in the early ’90s as a WAGA intern.  Kamooneh is her friend and neighbor.  It was one of those stories which, when pitched in the editorial meeting, drew a collective gasp from coworkers — one of my favorite noises in the world.  (My least favorite noise is the rippling murmer of “oh yeah, I heard about that too” or “we did that last night” following what you thought was a unique story pitch.)

As I stood in Kamooneh’s driveway interviewing him in front of his Nissan Leaf, I got a call-back from Sgt. Ernesto Ford of Chamblee PD.  Ford is a classic professional cop.  He made himself readily available and gave no-bullshit answers to the reasonable questions he’d undoubtedly expected on this case.  His bottom line:  The guy was a thief, and the department did the right thing getting him thrown in jail.

Ford made some points that did not get into my story, causing the blowback from his boss to my boss.

Sgt. Ernesto Ford

Sgt. Ernesto Ford

1.  Ford said Kamooneh was “uncooperative” during his initial encounter with the officer who observed Kamooneh’s Nissan Leaf plugged into the school outlet.

Kamooneh had volunteered to me that he had questioned the cop that he spotted inside his unlocked and empty car, rifling through his glove compartment.  When the cop suggested a theft charge was pending, Kamooneh told me that he strongly questioned the appropriateness of such a charge.  Kamooneh says he also demanded the cop’s name and badge number, and claimed the cop refused to cleanly explain why he entered Kamooneh’s vehicle (Kamooneh says he was fifty feet away at the tennis court when the cop drove up).

So in other words, Kamooneh sassed the cop.  Ford initially raised this as an aggravating circumstance that contributed to the decision to arrest him.  But on further questioning, Ford backed away.  The “theft” stood on its own, he said.

So I left this out of my 90 second story.  I left out Kamooneh’s allegation of police misbehavior, and the cop’s allegation that Kamooneh’s was “uncooperative.”  Such allegations often fly, on both sides, when there’s a criminal investigation.  It often makes sense for a guy like me to let them editorially cancel each other out– especially when they cloud the examination of the issue of the theft charge.

2.  Ford said Kamooneh had been previously warned by school personnel to stay off the tennis court.

When Ford mentioned this in our interview, my follow-up question was pretty simple:  How is that relevant to your decision to seek an arrest warrant and put the guy in jail for swiping a few pennies worth of electricity?  Ford’s answer was an admission that it ultimately didn’t matter.  The theft allegation stood on its own.

So I also excluded this tidbit from my 90 second story.  (Kamooneh subsequently said this “warning” was a complete fabrication.)

Apparently, Chamblee PD felt a bit of heat from its treatment of Kamooneh, who spent 15 hours in jail for stealing what Georgia Power estimated to be four cents worth of electricity.  The story became a bit of a sensation.  11Alive’s web story had 340 comments on it as of December 9.

Many of those commenting argued that a theft is a theft.  Sgt. Ford made that argument eloquently, and my story allowed him to do it — while answering reasonable questions that any person might want answered about such a case.

So my message to Chamblee PD would be:  Love you guys.  Love me some hardworking, underpaid and oft-challenged law enforcement personnel.  I’ve spent a career covering their heroics and occasional missteps.  Maybe you’ve had second thoughts about your treatment of this case; if so, say so.  But don’t blame Sgt. Ford for conducting an honest interview.  And don’t blame me for covering the story, and excluding the stuff that your own guy said was not particularly relevant to the arrest.

And when Colbert hits you up for an interview, say yes.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

12 thoughts on “Alternating current

  1. Chris Moore

    Doug, you did a hatchet job on a good man. Your story left out a lot of relevant facts and then it went viral. Now you have put the department’s response on the page, so now that the relevant facts are there, the story has died, but the damage is done.
    The two accusations don’t “cancel each other out.” There is a “vehicle” exception to a search warrant requirement. If probable cause is present that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime, a search warrant is not required. This is basic criminal procedure. So the officer’s entry into the car, which he documented in his own report, was valid to determine who owned the car. This isn’t misbehavior and you knew it. As far as the warning not to return was concerned, this was well documented in the report that you had in your hand before the story aired. That wasn’t some “fabrication” made up after the fact. The school personnel who told Sgt. Ford that information were identified by name.
    You also left out the fact that Kamooneh admittedly had plugged in there before. That tidbit was included when ABC followed up your story. Did Kamooneh include all the other days he charged there in his 20 minute estimate? If not is he a credible source?

    Reply
  2. Eight

    “So in other words, Kamooneh sassed the cop.”
    So the real charge is “contempt of cop.”
    Cops don’t like sass and they can abuse their power however they desire. And no one will stop them.
    And they don’t like cell phone video cameras either.

    Reply
  3. Tom

    I believe that Chris is mistaken. Police are allowed to search a car for “evidence” of a crime and then only when evidence of the crime is in plain sight “in the vehicle”. Not for the purpose of identification. It would have been simple for the officer to find the owner of the car through checking the license plate. It’s obvious the officer was on a fishing trip. I don’t believe there is a judge in Georgia that would allow a police officer to search a car for the fact that it was plugged into an outlet. As far as evidence of a crime, I don’t believe the officer was even sure that a crime was being committed.

    Reply
  4. live apt fire Post author

    The portion of my conversation with Sgt. Ford regarding Kamooneh’s behavior was recorded. Here’s the transcript.

    DR: Would it have made sense to simply ask him to unplug the car instead of prosecuting him?
    Sgt. Ford: It probably would have. But he was not cooperative from the beginning. Had he been cooperative, it may have gone a different route, yes.
    DR: OK. And I guess — y’know –does that make sense? If you’re asking or questioning a police officer who is trying to make a big deal out of something that that doesn’t seem like a crime at all, is it fair to penalize somebody for questioning a police officer like that?
    Sgt. Ford: I don’t think that’s what this is about. This is about someone that is taking something that is not theirs without permission. And that’s what the warrant is. The warrant was issued for stealing electricity from the county without that permission.

    Sgt. Ford’s investigative notes say “according to [school resource officer] Rockymore and [plant engineer] Edgar Neely, Kamooneh had been warned in the past about being on school property (specifically the tennis courts) without permission.” That’s the documentation Chris Moore is referring to in his comment. The same notes document the fact that Kamooneh didn’t have permission from school officials to use the electricity, which Kamooneh doesn’t dispute.

    You can read the notes here.

    Reply
    1. Kaveh Kamooneh

      Since the Police Department’s statement about this incident has got much air time without a complete challenge, I think it’s not too inappropriate to hear the other side from me, Kaveh Kamooneh.

      First, let us establish that Sgt Ford was not present at the scene . There were only four people present: myself, Cecil King, the officer, the tennis instructor and my son ( the latter two were on the tennis court). The only evidence Sgt Ford can have of me being un-cooperative and argumentative must come from Cecil King, the officer on the scene.

      Insofar as un-cooperative is concerned, the only thing officer King requested was my drivers’ license which I went and got him from the tennis bag on the court. As he was leaving, I volunteered my cell phone number for him so he could contact me. I am not sure how I could have cooperated any further.

      Was I argumentative? I was startled when I came upon my car and saw officer King’s body mostly in my car. In that circumstance my first response was obviously not to apologize, especially since I didn’t think, nor do I still think, I was doing anything wrong to apologize for. My first response naturally was to ask the officer why he was in my car. If that’s what the officer reported as me being argumentative, then he’s right. When he said I am subject to arrest for theft of public resources, I did mention that his idling car was also taking public resources and that others had filled their bottles from the water spigot. I repeated my request for an explanation of why he was in my car several times I requested to see his badge–officer King did not comply. That is the extent of the argumentativeness at the scene.

      By the way, when I got to the car the cord was already unplugged, so there was no opportunity for me to unplug it.

      As far as prior interactions with the school officials and Chamblee Police officers: I have never talked to anyone from Chamblee Middle School. Prior to this incident, I had never talked to any Chamblee Police officers. Nor has anyone from either institution ever talked to me about anything. All such allegations are false. I am not sure if these claims are completely fabricated, as Doug Richards attributes to me here, or whether these official have talked to someone else and they mistakenly think they have talked to me. I never said I think they are fabricated. I said to Doug that I vehemently deny them. As these claims are false and harmful to my reputation, I recommend that the Police department publicly and appropriately retract them, so that this case does not get escalated.

      Finally, the chief of police’s own statement says that the car was in plain view of tennis court. Similarly the tennis court is also in plain view of the car. Officer King made no effort to ask us if the Nissan Leaf was ours before he entered into it. In addition, the license plate of the car was in plain view (the car is registered to me in Dekalb Co), and when I arrived at the scene Officer King had my personal checkbook with my name & address on it out on top of the car. What more was he looking for inside the car?

      Reply
      1. live apt fire Post author

        To clarify, again — I didn’t describe anything as a ‘fabrication’ in this post or in any of my stories on this issue. Chris Moore used that word in his comment.

        Reply
  5. Unit 744

    Here is the issue I have, the officer unlawfully entered the defendants vehicle. Georgia law makes it a felony to unlawfully enter the vehicle of another. He didn’t need to be in the mans car to get the VIN and run it on GCIC or read the tag number. Sounds like the Sgt did not like being questioned about why he was essentially breaking into a vehicle and imposed this bogus theft charge as a rebuttal. I would go swear out a felony entering an auto warrant on Sgt. Ford.

    Reply
    1. live apt fire Post author

      Just to clarify, Sgt. Ford wasn’t the responding officer, so he didn’t have the initial encounter with Kamooneh and did not enter the car. Another Chamblee PD officer did that. Sgt. Ford conducted the follow-up investigation and filed the sworn affidavit resulting in the arrest warrant.

      Reply
  6. Tommy Flanagan

    Maybe it’s just me, but this sure smells like stealing. I keep looking around for a sorry but don’t see one.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    It appears that LAF believes that someone is entitled to recharge their expensive golf-cart with free fuel while they watch their child receive expensive private tennis lessons using free public tennis facilities without permission.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Nissan LEAF Owner Arrested For Electricity Tells His Side Of The Story – And Where We Go From Here As A Community

  9. Pingback: Electric Car Owner Steals 4 Cents Worth Of Electricity & Is Jailed For 15 Hours, But That's Not The Full Story | CleanTechnica

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