Message from the court: Take responsibility
Since the signs went up in October, the new parking ban across the street from Summerville Elementary School and along Joyce Lane by Rollings Middle School of the Arts, has caused an uproar amongst parents and others who have business with the school. Some ignored the signs, parking anyway, earning themselves a ticket.
Some 17 were on the Summerville Municipal Court docket for Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 9 a.m.
Some had a conversation with the officer who issued the ticket and avoided court. Some did not show up earning themselves a court mandated “guilty” plea and the full fine of $237.50 and four points on their license. Four points will cause their insurance companies to be notified most likely causing their insurance rates to rise.
And some chose to argue their position with the court.
Dealing with the first of these “failure to obey traffic-control devices” tickets was Jackie Parker Hill. He told the court – Judge Stanley Tucker sitting – that he picked up his grandchildren twice a week and didn’t know about the no-parking signs. As the judge was trying to converse with Hill, Virginia Mcknight Sgromolo was addressing the court from the gallery in spite of being asked twice by a police officer to stop speaking until she was called before the bench. Finally a gruff barked order by the court officer to be quiet silenced her.
The Summerville Police, whose tickets were on the docket, requested a moment in chambers with the judge which was granted.
The judge then requested all present with tickets for parking in either of the two areas, to come before the bench. Four women and a man came up. The man told the judge he wanted a jury trial and he was excused until his trial date.
The four women – Nakeema Danielle Praileau, Sgromolo, Valerie Lynn Shaw-Moser and Dana Shanell Harris – were asked individually for their plea. Shaw-Moser pled “guilty” and was fined $133.75, with two points.
Harris pled “not guilty” and asked for a bench trial but before the judge could initiate that or explain the procedure, she continued telling him she had, in fact, parked there, but that she had “spoken with the principal who told me nothing was sent out [notifying parents of the changes to parking regs].”
The judge then informed her that she would need to opt for a jury trial later because her utterances were considered ex parte communications with the judge [outside of the trial and therefore, not allowed].
She did not want a jury trial but did hope to continue her argument, when he told her he was entering a Directed Verdict of “guilty.”
She was fined $133.75, with two points.
Next was Sgromolo, who had two tickets for parking at two different times, four days apart. The judge was generous with her, dismissing the second ticket.
Last was Praileau. She, too, pled “not guilty” requesting a bench trial. Following the judge’s instructions, she listened while the “prosecution” [police officers] testified as to the traffic study, notifications, signage, warnings and, finally tickets. They noted the thank you from SES Principal Lori Dibley for solving a safety issue the school has been concerned about.
Praileau was then offered the opportunity to cross examine the officers. Her ticket was issued for parking on Joyce Lane and she told the officers that the signs were too far apart to see.
The judge reminded her she was actually testifying [as opposed to cross examining] and she acknowledged that and continued.
“The signs are too far apart for me to see them at all,” she said. “In order to see the signs I would have to turn my head and my eyes would not be on the road.” Further, she added, the signs are not pointed the right way.
Cpl. Ricarda Fowler told the court that the traffic study began in August and that as of October 11 most of the signs were installed, newsletters, district phone dialer and parent link, notes to parents and a newspaper article had all been done to let those affected know of the parking changes.
“There was no enforcement, only verbal warnings,” said Fowler. By Nov. 1 all signage was up and the police department began to write tickets.
The judge found Praileau “guilty” with a fine of $133.75 and two points.
Overall, the judge’s message to holders of these tickets was that neither the police nor the school was responsible for letting any of them know of the change. That, in fact, they were the ones responsible for paying attention to the signs and not ignoring the new bans.
“If you went to Charleston and parked under a ‘no parking’ sign,” the judge asked, “would you expect the officer to tell you about it before he gave you a ticket? ‘No.’”
Fowler noted, outside of court, that SPD officers have been yelled at by many and threatened with calls to the superintendent of schools and the police chief for enforcing the parking restrictions.