Beaufort News

Ridgeland traffic camera suit contends iTrafffic has too much influence over police operations

An attorney handling a suit against Ridgeland over its traffic cameras alleges that the company that helped launch the system has too much influence over police operations, according to court records.

In a motion filed last month, attorney Pete Strom of Columbia asked a federal judge to allow a revision in the lawsuit Strom filed in December against the town's mayor and police chief and iTraffic, the company that helped install and oversee the camera system on Interstate 95.

Strom's motion contains more than 25 new allegations against Ridgeland and iTraffic, including one claiming the company "dictates the number of hours (Ridgeland police officers) are to be in the traffic unit, monitors the officers' time cards, and even makes decisions regarding when to deploy officers based solely upon financial considerations."

Strom points to several emails between iTraffic and Ridgeland officials that demonstrate the system was deployed solely for profit and not for increasing safety, as Ridgeland and iTraffic officials have insisted.

In one email, Jason Cox, an iTraffic official, informs a police officer manning the cameras that he will not be able to work that day because "our violation volumes do not make it economically viable to deploy today."

In another email, Cox writes Nicky Maxey, the company's CEO, and Bill Danzell, the company's chairman, seeking permission to deploy the cameras around the clock during a weekend in January.

"The numbers show that we will get a 50 percent increase if we move the weekday deployment to the weekend," Cox writes. "What's more, the data shows that we have higher speeds for evening and early morning deployments."

Strom obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, according to court records.

In a response filed last week, iTraffic attorney Morgan Templeton of Charleston called Strom's latest allegations "pure speculation."

"None of the emails or letters use the word 'profit' or 'suggest' revenue is the focus of the effort," Templeton wrote. "Rather, all emails and letters indicate increasing the likelihood of capturing speeders. The allegations only show iTraffic's interest in maximizing the use of its equipment and suggestions to assure the best use."

The company struck a five-year deal with Ridgeland in May 2010, in which iTraffic agreed to cover all overhead costs of installing and operating the system, including hiring two police officers and one administrator. In return, Ridgeland agreed to split the ticket revenue with iTraffic to help recoup startup costs.

U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt has yet to rule on the motion, according to court records.

This is the second time Strom has sought to amend his original lawsuit since filing it in December on behalf of two drivers from Florida and one from South Carolina. Five additional plaintiffs, from South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey and Virginia, have since been added to the lawsuit.

In February, Strom sought to add allegations of racketeering and wire and mail-fraud to the class-action lawsuit. He claimed the town's practice of mailing tickets to violators -- many of whom live outsideRidgeland -- constitutes mail fraud and wire fraud because each ticket is "riddled with false statements made by ... (Police Chief Richard) Woods and the town of Ridgeland police department."

In a response to Strom's latest revision, Ridgeland attorney Timothy Domin argued that the amended complaint failed to address "fundamental problems" with the lawsuit raised in the town's prior motions for dismissal. Domin has challenged Strom's assertion that mailing tickets constitutes an illegal arrest, and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because issuing the tickets is not an arrest, as defined by the Fourth Amendment.