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 has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.