Texas Bill Aims to Change Sidewalk Law, Sparked by Arrest of Plano Teen During Winter Storm

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The controversial encounter a teenager had with Plano police during the February winter storm has inspired a bill in the Texas State Legislature.

If passed, House Bill 3925 would change the protocols for anyone unable to safely walk on a public sidewalk, which was part of the reason police say they stopped Rodney Reese that night.

A state lawmaker hopes to avoid another encounter like the one that ended with Reese arrested and jailed overnight.

The 18-year-old’s mother says she welcomes any changes that will protect others from their experience.

“Man, woman, boy, girl, Black, white, yellow, green, it’s not something that should happen to anyone,” said Rachel Brown during an interview Thursday.

During the winter storm that brought snow, ice and frigid temperatures across North Texas, police were called to a report of a Black man stumbling in the middle of the road, wearing a t-shirt in North Plano.

Reese says he had just worked a long day at his grocery store job and was walking on the road because the sidewalk was too icy.

Body camera video, released by PPD, shows officers approach Reese and immediately notice he slipped on ice as he walked by officers.

A female officer asks if he’s ok, if he’s cold and if he needs a ride.

Reese repeatedly tells officers he is fine and doesn’t need help.

Police continue to insist, asking him to stop, tell them his name and where he is going.

The teen refuses saying he’s ok and is going home, apologizing for walking on the road.

Police try to make Reese stop in a dimly lit alleyway saying they’re conducting an investigation.

When he refuses, a struggle ensues, and Reese is arrested and spends the night in jail.

Police charged Reese with pedestrian walking in the roadway, but the chief of police later dropped the charge.

During a press conference following the incident, Reese says he felt he did nothing wrong and didn’t stop because he doesn’t trust police.

“Who can blame him? We just came off a summer where we saw George Floyd murdered. We’ve seen other people of color killed in their own homes,” said Rep. Nicole Collier, Dist. 95 Fort Worth. “This was a young man who just got off of work and is walking down the street minding his own business.”

Collier and Republican State Rep. Brisco Cain, Dist. 128, introduced a bipartisan bill that aims at removing requirements for what side of the road and in what direction of traffic one must use if a sidewalk is not accessible.

Collier says it would help stop ‘racial pre-textual stops’ by police, particularly involving people of color.

“Law enforcement uses this law, which is a minor infraction as a pretext to stop him and they use that as a reason to inquire and to investigate, and typically instigate,” she said. “I think [changes to the law would] cut down on them because this would not be one of the tools they use to stop people who are minding their own business and not harming anyone else.”

The spokesperson for the police department tells NBC 5 the department cannot speak about this incident given potential litigation.

The family’s attorney Lee Merritt says they believe Reese’s federal civil rights were violated and are seeking federal civil rights action on his behalf.

Merritt points out there are ongoing conversations with the city of Plano.

The teen's family and attorney are also fighting to expunge his record, which had no previous arrests.

If passed, the bill would bear Reese’s name, according to Brown and Merritt.

“This terrible incident that they had to go through will result in additional protections for citizens of Texas,” said Merritt.

Rep. Collier stresses, walking on sidewalks would still be state law.

The changes would no longer require one to walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic if the sidewalks is not accessible.

The bill received unanimous, bipartisan support in the House transportation committee.

It is expected to go to the House floor for a vote, though Collier cautions they have an ‘uphill battle’ ahead as they fight to get it to the governor’s office.

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