By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer
While driving northbound on I-35 Friday afternoon, Plano freshman Lauren Watts was pulled over in Hill County by a man she said she believed was impersonating a police officer. The Hill County Sheriff’s Office said it is currently investigating the incident.
Watts said she was driving through traffic when a black Chevy Tahoe outfitted with police lights on the interior pulled behind her and flashed its lights. Watts said she pulled over but began to feel uneasy when she noticed several irregular things about the car and its driver.
“The car was unmarked, which was a red flag because normally unmarked cars have decals that are black and you can kind of see them, but this was just a normal Chevy Tahoe,” Watts said. “He gets out of the car, and one of the first things I noticed was the way he was dressed. He was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, a black fisherman’s shirt and black pants. He had no bulletproof vest on. He did have a utility belt, but no gun, and a badge, but it had no badge number. It was like a clay circle badge that you would get at a costume store.”
Watts said the man knocked on her window and asked for her license and registration and refused to give Watts his badge number when she asked for one. Watts said she began to feel scared when the man began asking her to get out of her car for “resisting and not following his instructions.”
Watts said the man walked back to his car after she asked for another officer to show up in a marked vehicle to assist with the situation. After he went to his car, Watts said she called her brother, who told her to call 911 and ask if there were any officers in the area. Watts called 911, and she said the dispatcher told her not only that there were no officers in the area but also that the department’s only unmarked vehicle was sitting in the police department’s parking lot.
Watts said the man came back and tried to open her car door. Watts said she told him that she would not step out of her car unless the man could prove he was a police officer and that she had called 911. She said he then went back to his car again, and she got a photo of part of his license plate before he drove off through the grassy median onto the service road.
Watts said the main thought going through her mind after this incident was that it could happen to anyone.
“I’ve always been one of those people that thought, ‘That would never happen to me,’” Watts said. “The biggest thing for everyone is they need to stop thinking they’re invincible, because I am one of those people who thinks that nothing bad will ever happen to me. But things like that do happen.”
Watts said the sheriff of Hill County called her after the incident and told her she did everything right. She said the sheriff said it is completely legal for someone to stay in their car and ask for a badge number if they feel unsafe. Watts said the sheriff also told her if you are being pulled over on the highway, you can turn on your hazards, acknowledge the officer and exit the highway to pull over at a safer location.
Scott Robinson, chief deputy for Hill County Sheriff’s Office, said anyone who believes they are in a similar situation should ask for a badge number or a department-issued ID, which all officers should have on their person.
“This young lady was very smart in the fact that she asked for identification; she handled it very well,” Robinson said. “My advice to anybody that gets pulled over by an unmarked police car — especially if they are not in a distinct uniform with a badge prominently displayed — we could encourage them to pull over to a well-lit or a populated area if that’s possible. Put on your turn indicator. Go the speed limit or slow so they know what your intentions are. If they have a phone, call 911 and ask the dispatcher if they have an officer trying to conduct a traffic stop. They should be able to hopefully confirm that they do in fact have someone trying to stop.”