Woman files complaint after harsh encounter with Union Pacific police on Cement Road (updated)

Woman files complaint after harsh encounter with Union Pacific police on Cement Road (updated)

Disaster Relief Trials -45

Diana Rempe at the 2012 Disaster
Relief Trials cargo bike challenge.
(Photos by J.Maus/BikePortland)

A Portland woman who concedes she was illegally biking on the private Cement Road to Swan Island with her 6-year-old daughter says she was “bullied” by a railroad police officer and has filed a formal complaint.

“As I explain in my complaint, I do not mean to suggest that I was in the right riding the Cement Road,” Diana Rempe of North Portland wrote in an email Wednesday to Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, Swan Island Transportation Management Association Director Sarah Angell and BikePortland. “I understand fully that it crosses Union Pacific property. However, I do believe strongly that there is no excuse for the intimidating bullying my 6 year old daughter and I experienced from Officer Bender of Union Pacific. I am a middle aged, white woman with a lot of privilege and that guy really scared me. I can only imagine how he might treat someone less system savvy than me.”

The Cement Road is a flat, direct connection between Swan Island and north Portland. It’s privately owned by UPRR and off-limits to public use; but it has been the subject of recent negotiations with the City of Portland because of its potential as a great biking route and possible key link in the North Portland Greenway. It’s also an ongoing source of tension between the railroad, which wants to protect itself from liability for any injuries, and local bike riders, especially the dozens who use it regularly to commute to jobs on Swan Island.

With Daimler Trucks North America, already the island’s biggest employer and one of the city’s top destinations for bike commuters, preparing to increase its workforce, the city hopes the Cement Road can someday become a safe, legal public access through the rail yard.

Here’s the full text of Rempe’s complaint:

It was dusk in January 23rd and I was riding my bike home with my 6 year old daughter. I ride a front-loading cargo bike, with her in the front. We had just left her dance class which takes place on North Randolph, just south of the Union Pacific railyard. I decided to ride home via the Cement Road as it was extremely windy and I wanted to avoid N. Interstate and Greeley, if possible. After riding through the railyard I had left the property and was next to the Fed Ex building just before Channel Road when a person in an SUV turned on their lights and pulled me over.

I stopped and Officer Bender told me I was not supposed to be on the railroad property. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I was surprised at his aggressive tone from the beginning. I immediately apologized and told him I understood, but I had seen others riding there and thought it was at least tacitly allowed. This seemed to make him very angry, because he immediately began berating me, saying something like “just because other people are breaking the law doesn’t mean you should.” He then demanded ID. I again apologized, saying that I didn’t think I had my wallet with me as I had run out the door a bit late to take her to dance class.

This appeared to really anger the officer. He began saying again and again, something like “you have no ID? so, when you and your child get hit by a car no one will be able to identify you.” His repetition of this phrase and his tone made me quite uncomfortable and I apologized again, explaining that it was an oversight. He continued to say it and seemingly became more irate.

The Ash Grove Cement Road

The Ash Grove Cement Road.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

I then began to give him my personal information, but after providing my name and birthdate he demanded my address. His demeanor made me very uncomfortable and I told him I did not feel comfortable giving him all of my private information. This seemed to REALLY make him angry and he began threatening me with handcuffs and arrest. By now my 6 year old daughter was terrified and I just kept trying to placate the officer. I gave him the information he wanted but he kept repeating that he would handcuff and arrest me.

I then asked for his card. He refused. I asked for his full name and badge number. He refused. I wrote down his name off his badge. I asked for his supervisor’s name. He said “Tom” but refused to give me Tom’s entire name. From his affect I could tell he was furious and I felt quite scared. I also was afraid that now that he had my personal information, he might use it to retaliate for any report I might make. After thinking about it that night, however, I decided to go ahead and file a report.

I am not in any way claiming that I did not know that the Cement Road was on Union Pacific property. As I immediately said to the officer, I knew I was on the property, but chose to ride the Cement Road anyway. I was (and am) completely responsible for disregarding the posted signs explaining that it is Union Pacific property.

However, this action does not explain or excuse the kind of treatment my daughter and I received from Officer Bender. We both felt threatened, bullied and afraid. I am not asking that the officer be sanctioned, so much as trained to work with the public in a respectful and non-threatening manner. I also hope that Union Pacific will ensure in any way possible that the officer does not retaliate against me and my family, as he is in possession of my name, address and birthdate. This may seem unlikely, but given the way he approached us and the way in which his temper escalated during our encounter, I remain concerned.

We’ve contacted Union Pacific to ask for their comment and will update this story if and when we hear back.

UPDATE 4:00 pm: UP spokeswoman Calli Hite responds with the following: “Union Pacific has received the complaint and is conducting an investigation. Our special agents are dedicated to public safety — and a primary component of this is deterring illegal trespassing on railroad property. For their safety, we remind bikers and pedestrians to not trespass on railroad property, and to only cross railroad tracks at public crossings.”

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