On Dec. 20, Lurdes Rosales, the vice principal at Lodi Middle School, did something unprecedented in the history of the Lodi Unified School District: She placed a teacher under citizen’s arrest.
Rosales conducted the citizen’s arrest following an incident in which she claims John Lapachet, a physical education instructor at the school, blew a whistle in her ear and jostled her in front of students.
Rosales, who has been compared by her peers to Rosa Parks, chose to follow through with a citizen’s arrest after she consulted with a police officer about her options regarding the situation.
Lodi Education Association president Jeff Johnston said the district is waiting to proceed with the investigation until school is back in session on Jan. 9.
“I think we’re just letting it sit, and we will see where we are when we get back,” Johnston said.
Whether or not Lapachet will appear in court as a result of his citation is still pending.
But what exactly is a citizen’s arrest? Can anyone do it?
You bet, but there are rules.
In fact, you’d be surprised how common a citizen’s arrest actually is, said Sgt. Mike Oden of the Lodi Police Department.
A citizen’s arrest is an arrest made by someone who is not a sworn law-enforcement official. While infractions and misdemeanors must be committed in a police officer’s presence, Oden said anyone from a passer-by to a store owner who sees a crime happen in front of them has the legal right to detain the person until the police arrive.
Felonies (e.g., murder) are the only crimes police officers do not have to be present for to detain and/or arrest someone.
The most common misdemeanors and infractions that citizens arrest others for? Battery and petty theft, according to Oden.
For example, if a store’s employee sees a shopper try to steal an item from the store he or she works at, the employee can detain the individual until authorities arrive.
In Lodi, the citizen’s arrest is one of the main ways police detain shoplifters and those who have injured others in fights, Oden said.
“While it is not a daily occurrence, it does happen fairly often,” he said. “Should a victim tell us a crime happened, but we didn’t see it, we offer them the option to do a citizen’s arrest.”
In order to properly execute a citizen’s arrest, the victim of the alleged crime must sign a citation provided by the police officer on-scene before they can approach the other individual and formally state that they are putting them under arrest for their offense.
Oden said the suspect is then handcuffed by the officer and brought to the police station, where he or she is generally given a citation and released.
One of the most noted incidents in recent years was a citizen’s arrest performed by council member and former police chief Larry Hansen, who on Oct. 17, 2003, followed a 17-year-old erratic driver around town before he was able to detain him and call police.
The driver detained by Hansen eventually pleaded guilty to his charges, though it is unknown exactly what punishment the teen received.
“We need people to be involved, and that can be hard sometimes,” Hansen said of Lodi residents performing citizen’s arrests. “There can be a kind of inherent fear in a lot of citizens. They may be afraid of retaliation. But then there are others who say, ‘Hey, absolutely. Get that guy.’”
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.