“Jailed for Stealing a Charge”: EV News, Media and a Grip on Reality

nissan leaf charging arrest

You’re not going to see me going off on news items too often, but this has sincerely pissed me off.  Apparently the EV and Alternative Energy community feels they can play by the same shoddy rules as the Mainstream Media, and I think it’s a big mistake.

No doubt, if you’ve loitering around EV circles, or even the so-called “mainstream press”, you’ve seen this story (originally from 11Alive News in Atlanta).  If you take a few minutes and actually try to learn what happened, you may even read to the bottom of that story where 11Alive has updated the piece with a statement from the Chief of Police from Chamblee City Manager and Police Chief Marc Johnson, presumably telling a little more clearly what actually happened.  Here’s that statement:

We received a 911 call advising that someone was plugged into the power outlet behind the middle school. The responding officer located the vehicle in the rear of the building at the kitchen loading dock up against the wall with a cord run to an outlet. The officer spent some time trying to determine whose vehicle it was. It was unlocked and he eventually began looking through the interior after verifying it did not belong to the school system.

The officer, his marked patrol vehicle and the electric vehicle were all in clear view of the tennis courts. Eventually, a man on the courts told the officer that the man playing tennis with him owned the vehicle. The officer went to the courts and interviewed the vehicle owner. The officer’s initial incident report gives a good indication of how difficult and argumentative the individual was to deal with. He made no attempt to apologize or simply say oops and he wouldn’t do it again. Instead he continued being argumentative, acknowledged he did not have permission and then accused the officer of having damaged his car door. The officer told him that was not true and that the vehicle and existing damage was already on his vehicles video camera from when he drove up.

Given the uncooperative attitude and accusations of damage to his vehicle, the officer chose to document the incident on an incident report. The report was listed as misdemeanor theft by taking. The officer had no way of knowing how much power had been consumed, how much it cost nor how long it had been charging.

The report made its way to Sgt Ford’s desk for a follow up investigation. He contacted the middle school and inquired of several administrative personnel whether the individual had permission to use power. He was advised no. Sgt. Ford showed a photo to the school resource officer who recognized Mr. Kamooneh. Sgt Ford was further advised that Mr. Kamooneh had previously been advised he was not allowed on the school tennis courts without permission from the school . This was apparently due to his interfering with the use of the tennis courts previously during school hours.

Based upon the totality of these circumstances and without any expert advice on the amount of electricity that may have been used, Sgt Ford signed a theft warrant. The warrant was turned over to the DeKalb Sheriffs Dept for service because the individual lived in Decatur, not Chamblee. This is why he was arrested at a later time.

I am sure that Sgt. Ford was feeling defensive when he said a theft is a theft and he would do it again. Ultimately, Sgt. Ford did make the decision to pursue the theft charges, but the decision was based on Mr. Kamooneh having been advised that he was not allowed on the property without permission. Had he complied with that notice none of this would have occurred. Mr. Kamooneh’s son is not a student at the middle school and he was not the one playing tennis. Mr. Kamooneh was taking lessons himself.

 Here’s a bullet list from the Tesla’s Owners Group, that I can’t seem to find the source of, but apparently distilled from that report:

• Mr. Kamooneh had been previously advised by school personnel that he was not allowed on the tennis courts at any time without permission.
• In spite of that notice, Mr. Kamooneh was on the tennis courts that Saturday afternoon taking lessons.
• He was not there watching his son play tennis
• His son IS NOT a student at the school
• He lives in Decatur, not Chamblee
• He was extremely uncooperative and argumentative with the officer that responded to the call
• He accused the officer of damaging his car – the pre-existing damage is on the officer’s video when he first drives up
• Had he just said oops, been cooperative and not claimed damage there would never have been a report
• Sgt. Ford’s decision to pursue charges was ultimately driven by the previous notice to Mr. Kamooneh
• If Mr. Kamooneh had heeded the previous notice not to be on the tennis courts without permission the incident would not have occurred
• Sgt. Ford was probably feeling defensive when saying a theft is a theft – he was looking at it as he did nothing wrong

Here’s the police report: 131211053849_kamooneh report

Decide for yourselves.  But one thing’s pretty clear.  This story isn’t about “opportunity” or “guerilla” charging, as it’s fondly called.  The fact that this guy drove up to a school and plugged his car into an available outlet is almost a side-note.  A 911 call comes in to police that a suspicious vehicle is on school grounds, using an electrical outlet?  The guy who owns the car has a previous complaint.  He is apparently less than cooperative, even aggressive.  Do we really want to make the police the villain here?  Do we really want to talk about the guy charging his car?

That doesn’t mean that “story” wouldn’t be jumped on by everybody who calls themselves a journalist, including ABC News, who picked up and parroted the story here, without so much as a credit line, and appearing in the Business section.  Even some media that I very much respect picked it up and jumped on the “Man Arrested for Stealing 5¢” line, like Autoblog Green.  I even saw the story picked up in the Electric Auto Association member’s newsletter, without apology of clarification.

This, in my humble opinion, is just as much bullshit as the coverage of the Tesla fires.  Without even trying to follow up with some modicum of verification, media outlets picked up a sensational story, parroted it as fact, and posted it on the front page.  Sure, you can argue this is in defense of EV owners unfairly persecuted, you can argue that here’s an example of the General Public’s ignorance of the cost of a charge, you can take the conversation to any of the (absolutely ridiculous) lengths that every EV discussion group I’ve visited seems to want to take this.  You can even start in on the Police State mentality in Southern states, especially since this guy was a “person of color”.

I had hoped for better, from my side of the EV fence.

There are two things painfully clear about this story.  First, we will probably not ever really know what happened there, between these two guys – a cop, presumably trying to do his job, a tax-paying citizen who presumably felt entitled to be where he was, doing what he was doing.  The cop may have been a bully and the citizen may have been a liar.  That’s why we have a legal system, and hopefully that will work effectively and fairly, even in Georgia.

The second thing is, in my mind, far more important.  Once you start throwing out your concern for telling the whole story – the truth – you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

As EV supporters and enthusiasts, there’s only one point in this story that bears repeating: If you’re looking for a charge, ask permission and show some respect for property.  Oh yeah, and how about “Don’t be an asshole”?  Claiming insult and injury that’s inflated or even downright wrong isn’t going to do anyone any good, and ultimately will simply be used by opponents against us – “See what those EV crackpots claimed?”  It underscores an “Us vs Them” mentality.  Moreover, the next time the press makes unfair or inaccurate claims about EV, where do we sit?  Square in the middle of a glass house of our own making, that’s where.

How about trying to educated and inform…  how’s that for an idea?

As EVs become more mainstream, people who drive them won’t be hardcore EV enthusiasts.  Those, even now, are early adopters but we’re seeing more and more people who simply are attracted to the idea of driving an EV, rather than any sort of EV evangelism.  It’s up to us, the EV evangelists to show the way, set an example, and, well, simply, act as leaders the movement.

OK, sitting down now.


2 responses to ““Jailed for Stealing a Charge”: EV News, Media and a Grip on Reality

  1. This is the best reporting on this incident I have seen. Well done!

    I saw the police report within hours (maybe minutes) of it being posted, then waited and waited for news channels, both mainstream and EV, to pick it up and post updates. Some picked it up, but many didn’t. There are still many misinformed people out there (possibly all of us, as you mentioned).

  2. I think the police response was delayed by several hours. The initial reports were pretty favorable to the dad, but the police report is pretty damning.

    The automotive media certainly jumped all over it, though .. novelty sells.

    Unfortunate that the story is about a dude using 5 cents (or more? 10 cents?) of energy, and not about a dude trespassing.


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