Anita Shaffer needed to get out of the house. The 19-year-old Red Lion, Pennsylvania, woman decided that just driving around in her car on a Sunday evening wouldn’t hurt anyone.
She wasn’t going to see anyone. She wasn’t going to the mall or to the grocery store. Indeed, there was really no place to go at that hour. Just a young woman in a car, driving around for a spell. She wasn’t breathing on anyone. No one was breathing on her. And then she was pulled over by the state police.
According to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Shaffer has now become the poster child for just how far the stay-at-home order signed by Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf — and, by proxy, stay-at-home orders around the nation — can go.
According to The Patriot-News, the March 29 incident took place when troopers followed Shaffer from another town into Red Lion — 33 miles southeast of Harrisburg — and pulled her over there. Troopers said she had a taillight out and the tint on her windows was too dark.
She was asked if she was on drugs and then told to get out of the car, at which point she says a flashlight was shined in her face. (Keep in mind, this was all being done in the name of preventing coronavirus transmission.)
“He asked me if I was aware of the stay-at-home act,” she told the Patriot-News.
“I am aware of it but I didn’t know it pertained to just driving,” she responded.
She says she was told by the trooper that she wouldn’t be fined for the taillight,”but you should be at home during this act that’s in place right now and just get the taillight fixed.”
No need. When she got home, she said, she and her father discovered the taillight was working just fine. I don’t know the particulars of the case, but if it’s true that the taillight was working, I’m guessing the opacity on that window tint was also within state guidelines. Just a theory.
“Troopers have been encouraged to use contacts with the public as opportunities to reinforce the necessity to abide by stay-at-home orders,” state police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski told the Patriot-News, while making sure to add that troopers were looking for voluntary compliance to the stay-at-home order.
The citation, according to the Patriot-News, states that Shaffer “failed to abide by the order of the governor and secretary of health issued to control the spread of a communicable disease, requiring the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses as of 20:00 hours on March 19, 2020. To wit, defendant states that she was ‘going for a drive’ after this violation was in effect.”
Tell me about how voluntary this is again. Oh, and by the way, this is the first citation that was issued by the Pennsylvania State Police during the stay-at-home order. This is apparently the kind of behavior toopers feel urgently needs to be quashed.
“Troopers maintain discretion to warn or issue citations and the decision is specific to the facts and circumstances of a particular encounter,” Tarkowski told the Patriot-News.
Troopers have produced no proof whatsoever that Shaffer had intended to get out of her car — in fact, the only human contact she had during the drive was when she was pulled over — yet she still got a fine of at least $200. If this is what’s being defended as discretion during the stay-at-home order, I’m curious what indiscretion looks like to Tarkowski.
And, as WPMT-TV notes, the governor’s own website says the Pennsylvania State Police is supposed to be informing the public as opposed to enforcement. If this is the case where they wanted to issue a ticket, heaven help us.
Legislators are now asking the governor for some clarification on the matter.
“You erode public trust,” state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, who represents the county where Shaffer lives, told WPMT when asked about the citation. “These are really uncertain times for so many people.”
“This is kind of unsettling,” she added. “I’ve had people say, you know, I just want to go out on my motorcycle and go and take a ride, and ask, ‘am I allowed to do that?'”
Tarkowski was asked roughly that question by WPMT and the answer was yes, or maybe no.
“Sunday Drives are not essential travel. Does that mean that everyone who goes for a drive will get cited/warned? Obviously not,” Tarkowski told the Patriot-News.
“There are no roadblocks, checkpoints, etc. Decisions to warn/cite are made based on the totality of the unique circumstances of each encounter. But to reiterate, Stay at Home means stay at home.”
However, as proof that there are moments of wildest irony in these dark times, Tarkowski also said coronavirus was a threat “that we can’t enforce our way out of. It will take everyone in the community working together.”
If authorities are going to resort to enforcement, though, it’ll apparently start with cases like Anita Shaffer’s. Keep in mind, her citation was the first issued by the state police.
“I think this is a little bit over the top,” Neil Shaffer, Anita’s father, told the Patriot-News. “There’s a fine line here but at the same time, we still have some freedom, some rights and liberties and we’re allowed to operate our cars. We’re allowed to go for a walk. We’re allowed to go to the park and we’re even able to go to work” if you’re in government or an essential business, he added.
This is the invariable problem with government receiving a blank check for our trust during the coronavirus pandemic. At the point where $200 tickets are issued to 19-year-olds who just want to go for drives, that trust isn’t being earned. Nothing will make us question stay-at-home orders more than heavy-handed enforcement such as this.
Anita Shaffer, by the way, has pleaded not guilty and plans to take it before a judge. We can only hope she — and common sense — prevails.
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