Punishing the Good Samaritan (Updated)

I have the absolute highest respect for our public safety officials, including our police officers, when they aren’t abusing their power. In my experience, most people who choose a life of service in the military, police, or fire services are fine, dedicated professionals.

There are, however, plenty of exceptions. I’ve run into a couple ‘power trip’ cops now and then—yelling at citizens for no reason, lying in wait to catch people committing minor, inconsequential traffic violations, etc. Unfortunately, it would seem that one of Fairfax County’s finest thought it was an appropriate decision to yell at and ticket a man for stopping traffic on a major thoroughfare to keep people from plowing at 55 miles-per-hour into a group of geese that were crossing the road. The officer cited the Good Samaritan who likely helped save some geese and prevent accidents (geese are bigger and more damaging than they look) for, I kid you not, jaywalking. According to one police officer, Mr. Jozsef Vamosi should simply have called police instead of taking matters into his own hands.

Of course, by the time police likely would have arrived, the geese would have been dead and somebody’s car would have been seriously damaged. One can argue that Vamosi shouldn’t have risked his safety to stop traffic for a minute to permit the geese to cross safely, but he certainly committed no crime. Virginia law prohibits people from ‘carelessly or maliciously’ stopping traffic. Vamosi’s actions were not careless or malicious. Indeed, a police officer on the scene likely would have done the exact same thing Vamosi did.

People have the right to perform public safety tasks until officials arrive. You can fight a fire with your extinguisher until firefighters arrive; you can perform chest compressions on a cardiac arrest victim until EMTs arrive; and you can hold a burglar at gun-point—or stop traffic to prevent a possibly serious accident—until police arrive. Maybe you or I, as non-professionals, won’t always make the right decisions in these situations, but we cannot be faulted for making an honest attempt to do the right thing.

Updated 8/4/2009: Vamosi, assuming he stays out of trouble for six months, will have these ludicrous charges dropped. His day in court was yesterday.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.