MURRAY, Utah - Murray Police and a Salt Lake City attorney said Tuesday that police mistakenly pull people over at gun point from time to time, after a woman reported that police mistook her for driving a stolen car and initiated a terrifying traffic stop.
The woman said she planned to file a complaint with Murray Police after she felt they didn't properly handle the outcome or explain the situation in a satisfactory way.
Officers initiate what's called felony, high-risk traffic stops when they deal with potentially dangerous people.
"The individual in there is possibly a high risk, possibly involved in a felony," Officer Kenny Bass with Murray Police explained.
The officers follow protocol to a T as they carry out these high-risk stops.
Bass said that includes calling several officers to the scene for backup, drawing their guns, and giving specific directions to the driver of the car to slowly and safely guide the driver out of the car and toward police.
But what if the police's potential suspect turns out to be an average citizen by mistake?
That's what happened to Crystal Rodriguez on November 5th, after Murray Police followed her into Salt Lake City and initiated a felony traffic stop.
"I saw the guns, I saw them pointing at me," Rodriguez recounted.
She said the situation freaked her out, and she did her best to follow the directions.
"I was scared," she said. "I was like, 'What’s going to happen?'"
The traffic stop quickly ended when the officer realized he misread Rodriguez's license plate, according to the police report. He said in the report that initially he thought the plate belonged to a stolen car.
"I'm sure it's a difficult situation for her to be in," Ofc. Bass said, of Rodriguez.
He said they discussed the situation with Rodriguez and explained what happened and why, and offered an apology.
But, this does happen to unsuspecting citizens who are caught off guard.
"And probably, unfortunately, will continue to happen," Ofc. Bass said.
As officers patrol the streets, they may see a car or suspect that fits a certain description, or perhaps like in Rodriguez's case, they run a license plate that comes back as stolen.
"The officers go with the information that they have, and follow through with our policies and typical procedures," Ofc. Bass said. That may include a felony, high-risk traffic stop.
And sometimes, like with Rodriguez, there's a mistake and an average citizen ends up in the mix.
"It's not uncommon that people will call me and say, 'Hey, I was arrested,'" said Salt Lake City attorney Greg Skordas.
He said some of the calls he's gotten have gone even further than police taking the person into custody.
"Some people have even been taken to jail, and that's horrible," he said. "That's horribly unfortunate."
Skordas said that usually happens if someone's name matches the name of the real person police are trying to track down and arrest.
He and police said it's within the bounds of the law if the officer acts in good faith, and with probable cause.
If this mistake happens, Skordas said the best course of action is to comply with police.
"The best thing you can do is be calm, keep your hands visible to the police officer, not do or say anything that's going to draw special attention to yourself and realize that the officer is just doing their job," he said. "Ultimately the facts will sort themselves out."
The facts did sort themselves out in Rodriguez's case. She complied and police let her go once they realized their error.