Tuesday , February 28, 2012 - 2:04 PM
OREM — A man was fined $500 and ordered to take a class in “thinking errors” for making a traffic stop to question a foreign college student about his driving and immigration status.
Residents of the Orem neighborhood say Mark Vreeland was fed up with motorists who speed through the area and run stop signs.
“He put a sign at the corner saying, ‘Slow down, full stop ahead,’ — his own stop sign,” John Vancott said Tuesday. “He’s a character. He’s very politically opinionated, but I never saw him act like a police officer.”
Vreeland, 59, was sentenced in Orem Justice Court on Monday after pleading no contest to impersonating a police officer. He was put on probation for a year and told to get help on making better decisions.
Prosecutors said Vreeland took things too far last June when he chased a foreign student at Brigham Young University who allegedly ran the neighborhood’s four-way stop.
Vreeland got out of his car wearing a cap identifying himself as a police and immigration officer. The Brazilian student said he was ordered to stand at a curb with his hands up as Vreeland grilled him about his immigration status.
Alcides Souza says the encounter left him fearful and “looking over my shoulder.”
Vreeland calls himself a community activist, but some neighbors aren’t impressed. One couple said Vreeland falsely accused them of child abuse and drug use and left a threatening note at their door.
Other residents worried about children walking home from school and were more understanding.
“People speed on our street,” Nina Bateman said Tuesday. “They do the ‘California stop,’ where their nose is hanging out in the intersection. It’s bad. I kind of don’t mind him policing that.”
Authorities say Vreeland also accused the college student of conducting a drug deal earlier when he picked up another Brazilian student at a house where a Cadillac Escalade was parked.
Vreeland frequently called police with tips about traffic violations and suspected drug dealing, said his defense lawyer, Grant Nagamatsu.
“The welfare of this neighborhood and Orem is important to him,” Nagamatsu said.
Orem Justice Court Judge Reed Parkin gave Vreeland the option of 32 hours of work diversion to avoid four days in jail.
Vreeland apparently took the alternative — he was not listed by Utah County jail as an inmate on Tuesday.
The judge also said Vreeland can cut his $500 fine in half with 25 hours of community service through United Way.
Prosecutors called the neighborhood enforcer a bully and sought 20 days in jail for him. They also accused him of racial profiling.
“He wants to make the (traffic) stop,” Orem prosecutor Robert Church said. “He wants to be the cop.”
For his part, Vreeland said he took matters in his own hands because police are slow to respond to his reports of neighborhood traffic violations.
He felt so scared while stopping the student he thought about brandishing his gun, but left it in his car.
“It was one of the few times in my life I put my hand on the .38 special between the front seats of my car,” Vreeland told the judge.
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