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After a night of karaoke with friends in Brookings, Oregon, in November 2018, Jennifer Gayman, 50, started to make her way home on her mobility scooter—a device she’s reliant on for transportation due to her multiple disabilities.
But two Brookings police officers stopped Gayman on her way there.
The cops accused her of using her scooter on a sidewalk, failing to walk it across a crosswalk, and not wearing a helmet—low-level offenses that triggered a dispute in which Gayman repeatedly brought up her rights as a disabled person. The cops then proceeded to cite her on multiple offenses, including “unsafe operation of a motor assisted scooter,” before telling her that she couldn’t ride her mobility device back to her residence without the proper protective headgear, according to a federal lawsuit she filed in 2020.
So, “faced with the choice of exercising her rights to drive home [on the scooter], and face unlawful retaliation by the officers, or attempt to walk home in freezing temperatures,” Gayman opted to use the scooter, according to her lawsuit.
That was apparently enough to spur a low-speed police chase that ended in Gayman’s garage. Cops restrained Gayman and charged her with fleeing police. She was later convicted and sentenced to five days in jail, according to the Oregonian.
Now, more than two and a half years after her initial arrest, the Oregon Court of Appeals said Gayman should have never been convicted with “fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer” in the first place. The appeals court reversed Gayman’s conviction in a ruling on Wednesday.
“An essential element of the offense of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer was that defendant had to be operating a motor vehicle,” the court wrote. “The state did not put on any evidence that defendant was operating a motor vehicle when she, a disabled person, operated her motor assisted scooter in a sidewalk and crosswalk and then left the scene, after being stopped and cited by police.”
It’s unclear whether the state intends to appeal; a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice didn’t immediately return VICE News’ request for comment. The Brookings Police Department also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gayman’s 2020 lawsuit notes that under requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “covered entities” like cities must accommodate people who use mobility devices. Certain local rules—like wearing a helmet—also don’t apply when people are utilizing them.
Gayman uses a mobility scooter because she can’t get a valid motor vehicle driver’s license; she has disabilities including Best’s disease with macular degeneration of both eyes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lumbar degeneration that causes pain, and peripheral neuropathy, which can cause numbness or weakness in her hands and feet.
When officers first stopped Gayman in November 2018, she was outraged, according to her lawsuit. She tried to explain her disability, that the mobility scooter was prescribed to her, and that she “was legally entitled to go anywhere on it that was open for pedestrian use pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act,” according to the suit. She also said that she was cold and needed to go home. At some points, Gayman cursed and yelled at the police. Then, when cops told her she couldn’t leave without a helmet, she drove off.
“In a brazen and clumsy display of authority, officers pursued Plaintiff on her mobility scooter at approximately 15 miles per hour for the next several minutes, called for backup, and turned on full lights and sirens,” Gayman’s lawsuit alleges.
“This pathetic and low-speed chase ended at Plaintiff’s home, where several officers took hold of and arrested Plaintiff.”