Telegraph Road's 'Gardner White cop' and 'speed trap' earn infamy

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Taylor — Jamal Fatteh was driving southbound on Telegraph Road three years ago when he said he sped up to change lanes — and was nabbed by the infamous "Gardner White cop."

"I wasn't doing more than five miles over the speed limit for just a few seconds when I switched lanes, and he pulls me over," said Fatteh, 44, of Dearborn Heights.

A Taylor police officer conducts a traffic stop on Hayes, west off Telegraph and south of Ecorse, Tuesday afternoon.

"I get it if someone is driving 15-20 over," said Fatteh, who works at a Citgo gas station on Telegraph, about a mile north of the spot where a Taylor cop ticketed him for exceeding the 45 mph limit. "But that cop stops everyone."

If online posts and watercooler chatter are any indicator, the “Gardner White cop” is one of the most notorious police officers in Metro Detroit, although Taylor's police chief says there are several cops armed with radar guns who sit in the Gardner White Furniture store parking lot on Telegraph near Interstate 94.

The spot for years has been flagged by word of mouth and on social media as a “speed trap" where cops pick off motorists to increase revenue, although Taylor police Chief John Blair insists: "Money means nothing to me. My job is to make people safe."

"I understand about budgets and things like that, but that's not my concern," Blair said. "My department doesn't get any of that (ticket) money. Our goal is to write zero tickets, but that's not realistic."

Taylor City Councilman Herman "Butch" Ramik, a former police officer, disagreed, saying city cops are under pressure to increase revenue.

"Writing tickets has become a way to make money off the taxpayers," he said.

Blair said before he became chief, the department “caved to public pressure” several years ago and stopped deploying officers to the Gardner White parking lot — only to have a homicide occur at a nearby shop.

“There’s not an officer in this department who doesn’t think that could’ve been prevented if we’d had someone in that lot,” Blair said of the Nov. 12, 2013, killing of Chelsea Small, a 30-year-old mother of two who was shot by a robber in the Advance America check-cashing shop on Telegraph.

"It was a brutal murder," Blair said. "We're still looking for the killer."

Ramik agrees the Small killing would likely have been prevented had an officer been stationed nearby, but he said police are writing tickets for the wrong reason.

"Traffic details can be a great deterrent to crime," Ramik said. "I support officers writing tickets 100% — as long as it's being done for safety, and not revenue enhancement. Unfortunately, that's what it's become: a money-maker."

Ramik said Taylor took in $6.2 million last year in ticket revenue. He said city officials and police have figured out how the city can keep more of the money generated from traffic details.

"They found out with the speeding tickets they were writing, they had to share that money with the courts," Ramik said. "So in order to keep the money, they started writing tickets for double parking. That means all the money stays in the city. And the drivers don't mind, because there are no points (on their licenses)."

The amount of revenue a municipality is allowed to keep from traffic tickets depends on the violation. Based on the Michigan Vehicle Code, there are three types of revenue garnered from traffic tickets: fines, court costs and statutory assessments.

Depending on whether a ticket is written for violating state statutes or local ordinances, a portion of revenue is earmarked for the state’s library fund, or the justice system fund, which pays for police training.

Parking tickets are exempt from the state revenue-sharing rules.

In 2008, Taylor cops wrote 49,370 moving violations and 4,096 parking tickets, according to state court data. In 2018, moving violations in the city had plummeted 73% to 13,288 — and last year, officers wrote more than 10 times as many parking tickets, 43,986, than in 2008.

A Taylor police officer patrols along the west side of Telegraph between Ecorse Rd. and Hayes, Tuesday afternoon, December 3, 2019.

Blair said his officers have the discretion to "give people a break" and write parking tickets in lieu of moving violations.

"The original offense has to be written on the ticket, because we don't want the appearance of impropriety," the chief said. "So if they're speeding, it'll list the speed they were going right on the ticket.

"But offering the lesser offense, in my opinion, is the same as prosecutors letting someone plead to a lesser offense," Blair said. "This doesn't just happen in Taylor; my daughter was stopped in Ohio for speeding, and they offered her a ticket for a lesser offense."

The internet is peppered with complaints about the "Gardner White cop." In a 2018 Reddit thread, someone with the username "sempronialou" wrote: "I have been pulled over by the Gardner White cop and so have a court room full of people ... all of us were pulled over by that Gardner White cop."

A phone call to the furniture store Friday was not returned.

Ramik said he often gets complaints about the "Gardner White cop."

"A lot of citizens call me," he said. "I tell them to come into the council meetings to make their voices heard. I know some people deserve to get tickets, but the days of warning people are long past."

Blair said that's not true.

"I understand the revenue side; I get it," Blair said. "I know it’s not a pleasant side of it, but that's beyond my means. We're not interested in making money, and our officers give plenty of warnings."

Fatteh said he has figured out a foolproof way to avoid being pulled over again by the "Gardner White cop."

"I just don't drive that way on Telegraph anymore," he said.