WEST LOOP — A Chicago bicyclist who was handcuffed after he knocked on the door of an SUV driven by an off-duty police officer was fined Thursday after a judge upheld a disorderly conduct charge.
On Oct. 14, James Liu, an attorney who lives in Logan Square, was handcuffed by the driver of that SUV, who turned out to be an off-duty police officer and subsequently cited for disorderly conduct on North Desplaines Street after he hit the silver SUV with his hand, he told DNAinfo Chicago last month.
At the hearing Thursday, Liu argued that the move was meant as a firm warning to the driver to watch out for cyclists as the SUV drifted in and out of the bike lane, but administrative hearing Judge George Berbas upheld the disorderly conduct citation, finding Liu liable of the charge. Liu was ordered to pay $290 in fines and court costs.
Paul Woods, the off-duty police officer who was driving his personal SUV, testified that he was on the way to work when Liu pounded on his car twice and subsequently flipped his middle finger at the officer. Woods said that he was stopped in traffic when Liu pounded on the car, was not encroaching on any bike lane and was shocked by the incident.
Stephanie Lulay discusses the incident:
In his findings, the judge determined that Liu's actions that day qualified as disorderly conduct, which is described in the city's municipal code as "any unreasonable or offensive act, utterance, gesture or display which, under the circumstances, creates a clear and present danger of a breach of peace or imminent threat of violence."
The judge said that Liu's actions were likely an incident of road rage or "overreaction to a traffic situation."
"If a Chicago police officer is in uniform on his way to work, he really just wants to get to work, check in and do his job," Berbas said. "I don't think that while in his personal vehicle he's going to be looking to instigate or start anything."
Liu, whose legal name is Zhijun Liu, plans to appeal the judge's ruling and file a civil lawsuit against the officer, contending that his civil rights were violated during the incident.
"I didn't do anything wrong here. I was just trying to keep myself safe," he said.
Despite repeated requests, police have not commented on the case.
Cyclist James Liu, shown handcuffed and sitting, was arrested for disorderly conduct in the West Loop in October after he hit an SUV swerving into the bike lane with his hand. The SUV's driver was an off-duty cop. [Ben Raines]
Morning commute dispute
At about 8:15 a.m. on Oct. 14, Liu was biking to work, traveling south in the Desplaines bike lane in the West Loop. On Desplaines south of North Milwaukee Avenue, the silver SUV swerved to the right, covering part of the bike lane, according to Liu.
In an effort to alert the driver that he was on his bike and using the lane, Liu said that he struck the car twice with his hand.
"I tapped hard on the body panel twice," Liu said.
The driver then pulled up next to Liu and allegedly yelled out the window that he was "a f------ cop," according to Liu.
No one testified on Liu's behalf. But Rachel Havrelock, who was driving south on North Desplaines at the time of the incident, told DNAinfo last month that the SUV was weaving in and out of lanes, and at points was "really, really close" to a cyclist.
The SUV was "moving quickly and recklessly. I said out loud, 'Wow, that's dangerous,'" Havrelock said.
After the exchange, the SUV and Liu, on bike, continued down Desplaines, which includes sections of unprotected bike lanes and barrier-protected bike lanes. As he approached Washington Boulevard, Liu traveled across lanes so he could turn left onto Washington near the Catalyst Apartments building. But before he could turn left, the SUV switched lanes, cutting Liu off. Then, the off-duty officer got out of the SUV, Liu said.
The officer, who was in uniform, directed Liu to put his hands on the SUV, then handcuffed him, the cyclist said.
Ben Raines, a cyclist who was traveling the same route as Liu, pulled his bike over when he saw Liu was handcuffed. The SUV was not damaged, he said.
Liu, an attorney who works in the Loop, said that he asked the officer what he was being arrested or detained for. The officer did not respond, Liu said.
"After several times of demanding to know what I was under arrest for, he responded, 'Reckless conduct,' " Liu said.
Biker James Liu, shown handcuffed and sitting on the ground, was arrested for disorderly conduct in the West Loop in October after he hit an SUV swerving into the bike lane with his hand. The SUV's driver, an off-duty cop, is standing behind Liu. DNAinfo Chicago obscured the vehicle's license plate. [Ben Raines]
At that point, the officer called 911, asking that a marked car pick Liu up. A law enforcement source confirmed the officer called 911 requesting a marked police car respond to the scene.
Liu was brought to an area police station, searched and given a citation for disorderly conduct with instructions to appear in front of a hearing judge on the charge.
Raines first reported his account of the ensuing incident on Chainlink.org, a community forum for Chicago bikers.
The incident ignited a lively discussion in the city, prompting cyclists, drivers and neutral observers to weigh in on how drivers and riders can safely share roads.
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