The couple were minutes from home Friday night after a 3,600-mile trip in their motor home when a DOT trucking enforcement officer pulled up behind them.
They said the DOT officer interrogated them. Then he ordered them to stand in front of their recreational vehicle’s headlights while he checked inside, searching for marijuana or wads of cash. The officer never asked for their driver’s licenses or proof of registration, they said.
“It was so strange. I literally felt afraid for my life,” Jane Schneider, 59, said Monday. “I felt I could have bodily harm. … He was very menacing and threatening to us.”
Dena Gray-Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Iowa DOT, said in a statement Monday that “the Iowa DOT’s Office of Motor Vehicle Enforcement takes complaints such as these seriously. That office is in the process of reviewing the matter and will proceed accordingly from the information obtained. The department does not believe it would be appropriate to comment further until that has been done.”
The DOT has a team of officers who enforce compliance statewide with commercial trucking laws.
The Schneiders posted a description of their experience Sunday night on an Internet blog – iowa defense.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/2894 – where it has been generating comments.
Carl Schneider, 66, a well-known Fort Madison resident who formerly operated the Blue Grass Dairy, said Monday that he and his wife remained puzzled. Both said they have had trouble sleeping since the traffic stop.
One of their complaints is that the officer who stopped them repeatedly demonstrated a lack of knowledge about firearms laws, even though they were legally transporting a .40-caliber handgun with a concealed-weapon permit from the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.
Carl Schneider said he was particularly upset that the officer implied he could simply call the sheriff and have the permit revoked, “which is absolutely not the case.”
At one point during the traffic stop, the DOT officer was joined by a second, unidentified officer who was more professional, the couple added.
The traffic stop happened about 8 p.m. Friday on U.S. Highway 61 in Lee County. The Schneiders said they were returning from a two-week vacation to Texas and New Mexico.
The Schneiders said the officer at first asked questions about the unusual shape of their trailer, which was designed to transport a gyrocopter. A gyrocopter looks like a small helicopter, but the rotors self-propel because of the way the air flows through.
One officer also suggested he thought they were carnival workers, they said.
The Schneiders said what was particularly unusual was that the officer who stopped them never asked the couple for their driver’s licenses, vehicle registration or proof of insurance, which are routinely requested.
Carl Schneider said the first officer found nothing improper inside the motor home.
But Schneider said the officer then berated him, saying the handgun wasn’t where Schneider had said he thought it would be. He said the officer was also upset that Schneider had not immediately informed him about the weapon when the traffic stop began.
“My wife was afraid that if I continued to disagree with this officer, the situation would again turn ugly, so she interrupted and we made our goodbyes and headed our way,” Carl Schneider said.
But the officers didn’t leave, he added, until the first officer “had made us feel as if he was somehow doing me a favor by letting us go.”