Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Donna Jane Watts was on routine patrol early one morning when a Miami police car whizzed past at speeds that would eventually top 120 mph. Even with her blue lights flashing and siren blaring, it took Watts more than seven minutes to pull the speeder over.
Not certain who was behind the wheel, she approached the
car warily, with gun drawn, according to video from her cruiser's
dashboard camera. "Put your hands out of the window! Right now!" she
yelled. It turned out the driver was Miami Police Department officer
Fausto Lopez, in full uniform. Watts holstered her gun but still
handcuffed him and took his weapon.
"I apologize," Lopez said, explaining that he was late for an off-duty job.
"You were running 120 miles an hour!" Watts barked back.
October 2011 confrontation made national headlines and eventually got
Lopez fired. But Watts' actions involving a fellow officer didn't sit
well with many in law enforcement, and not long after she made that
traffic stop, she says, the harassment began. Random telephone calls on
her cell phone. Some were threats and some were prank calls, including
orders for pizza. Unfamiliar vehicles and police cars sat idling in her
cul-de-sac. She was afraid to open her mailbox.
her private driver's license information was being accessed by fellow
officers, so she made a public records request with the Department of
Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. It turned out she was right: over a
three-month period, at least 88 law enforcement officers from 25
different agencies accessed Watts' driver's license information more
than 200 times, according to her lawyer.
Law enforcement officers
have long been known to band together and protect each other, but Watts
said in her lawsuit that these actions went too far.
suing those police agencies and the individual officers under the
federal Driver Privacy Protection Act, a 1994 law that provides for a
penalty of $2,500 for each violation