Jailed outside the Jail: OC’s Checkpoint Charlie

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Last week my wife had the unpleasant task of visiting someone in jail. A cousin has been in trouble with drugs and related matters for some time. My wife is trying to help get her into some type of program so she can get her life back together. So on a sunny Saturday morning she finds herself parking across from the Orange County Jail and begins the lengthy process of getting checked in and waiting her turn.

This visit went as well as could be expected and it was time to come home. There were other things to do on this day. She pulled out of her parking space and proceeded to the cashier to pay her fee and be on her way. The acceptable forms of payment are cash or credit/ATM cards. My wife was carrying the latter. She inserted her ticket in the slot and was told the cost would be $2.50. She used her debit card but it didn’t seem to be working. After a few attempts she asked for assistance. Iris, apparently the Supervisor, told her that method wasn’t working. In other words their system was down. My wife would simply have to pay in cash. This is where trouble began. She wasn’t carrying cash as she knew her card was acceptable (as it had been on her previous visits).

My wife offered to return with the money after leaving behind her personal information. That was rejected. How about leaving information and being billed? No. Well, your system is down and this is only about $2.50 we will just have to let it go. That wasn’t going to happen. Although there are other exits my wife now had a line forming behind her. Geraldo, a charming employee walked down the line of cars letting them know it’s the lady at the front who, “doesn’t want to pay” that is causing the hold up. One might expect this to be resolved quickly but an hour and a half later she was still sitting at Orange County’s equivalent of Checkpoint Charlie.

Iris threatened to call the Police. My wife informed her that she already had. The first call went without a response. Then my wife agreed to sign a form with all of her identification information as well as license number being written down. She signed an informal agreement to pay. Finally, it was time to be on her way. Or so you would think. Iris told her it would be a few minutes for her to finish the paperwork. My wife again demanded to be allowed to leave, “I have done everything you have asked, your system is broken and this is not my fault!” Iris told her that she had held up the line because she didn’t want to pay. Enough was enough; my wife dialed 911 and got Santa Ana Police on the phone (whose department is across the street from the garage). Three units showed up to see what the problem was. One Officer told my wife; “well you should have an alternate form of payment with you.” She educated him. The other two Officers were capable of understanding the situation and asked Iris, “why is this woman still here?” “She doesn’t want to pay.” The story was explained in detail and they told this “manager” that she needed to let this woman leave.

Meanwhile I had managed to make it to an ATM and show up at the exit. I had our almost two year old in his car seat and didn’t want to get out of the car. I tapped my horn which got the three Officers to turn around. I waved at them to come over. The Officer who had lectured my wife was now lecturing me as to why I honked and hadn’t called him sir. Really, who is getting paid here? I informed him that a.) I didn’t think he could hear me from that far away and b.) I wanted to know why my wife was still being unlawfully detained. He was still rubbed the wrong way by my apparent lack of appropriate sycophancy at his authority but then accepted the twenty dollar bill I handed him which ought to have resolved this matter once and for all. He walked the money back to where my wife was waiting. Iris finally returned with the same signed paper and my wife handed her the money. Now there were no more excuses, it was time to let her leave. The Officer I had spoken with got in his patrol car and left (presumably to make the streets of Santa Ana safer) and the other two officers approached me. They actually were quite kind to my wife and told me they were sympathetic to the situation. This private company, Parking Concepts, apparently has had complaints before. The Officers also told me that they had to deal with parking there as well.

I still waited almost five more minutes for them to open the gate and release my wife from their custody. Apparently they wanted to charge her for all of the extra time they held her there in addition to the $2.50 that led to the conflagration. The young lady at the cashier window told her that if she didn’t pay the difference it was going to come out of her pay. My wife told her that was the fault of her employer; the good folks at Parking Concepts. The gate opened and she emerged newly free from being jailed outside the jail.

About Ted Tipton