Motorcyclist Alex Randall when his face is not covered by a motorcycle helmet.
Motorcyclist Alex Randall when his face is not covered by a motorcycle helmet. Courtesy of Alex Randall

Last month, motorcyclist Alex Randall was pulled over by a Woodinville detective with the King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO). Randall recorded video of the interaction, in which the detective—later identified by KCSO as Richard Rowe—pulled a gun on Randall. The video drew quick rebukes online and from King County Sheriff John Urquhart. I spoke to Randall last week, shortly after he published the video online. Since then, it's been viewed 433,598 times.

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Why did you start recording and posting these motorcycle videos? 

I do IT stuff for a living but I've been looking for a creative outlet. I've put over 100,000 miles on motorcycles. It's really at the point in my life where I've driven more on a motorcycle than I have in a car. And I've started to appreciate more YouTube personalities, especially people that talk about issues that are important to me, like gender issues or BLM, and I like the content they create that goes into depth, and gets into the technical details. The point is not to be a YouTube star. The point is to make funny videos. Hopefully they're interesting. Hopefully they're educational and helpful.

The GoPro was kind of the first start to doing that. My wife bought me that for Christmas last year. Because I live in Shoreline, my commute is two ways, as little as 20 minutes or as much as 45, and then stuff I document on the weekends. It starts to consume data, so what I started doing was recording more selectively because for the most part nothing interesting happens, and if something interesting does happen, it happens on the highway. So with this incident I'm about to get onto I-5. I'm pulling up to that stoplight and that's very, very close to my home. So I pushed the button on my camera completely unrelated to the cop, I had no idea they were behind me. I pushed the button and I was glad that I did. 

Can you walk me through your thought process? On the video it looks like he comes up behind you and you can't see him approaching you.

So I'm standing there at the light. There's no sirens. This is not a patrol car. This is a Ford Fusion with chintzy Walmart lights in it. It's not a vehicle assigned to make traffic stops. So I see in the van discoloration or weird lighting. And I wonder if there's a cop behind me. So I squint in to see, I lean forward, I squint in to confirm, and then I look to confirm, because the lights don't look like they're huge. I look to confirm what it is, to see if I need to pull over or not. And that's when... I didn't expect there to be a man with a gun immediately. That has never happened. Never. Ever.

I was completely unprepared for seeing a man with a gun and my first thought is just, “Hands up, don't shoot. Just put my hands up.” I can't hear him because my helmet is on and my bike is vibrating. My bike is incredibly loud. So he's got the gun out and I just say, "Holy shit," because that's all I can think. And then as I'm slowly assessing the situation, he says something, but then he grabs me by the collar, which again, what are you doing, because now I have a man with a gun on me and he's grabbing me. He lets go, he keeps saying something, and all I can think is, “Why does this person think I'm a threat?” I say I'm not armed, I'm not a threat to you, there's no gun. And he's yelling at me, and I'm telling him I can't hear you. 

Did you realize that he was law enforcement at that point?

I didn't hear anything. I had no idea what he said until I got the video back. He does not identify himself as a police officer until after the gun is down. So in the video you can see he's yelling at me to give him my ID. I don't put my hands down. I watched the Philando Castile video. It doesn't matter if you're getting directions. So he then reaches into my pocket and pulls my wallet out of my pants, which again, I have never had a police officer lay a hand on me without reasons. But he pulls my wallet out, pulls my ID out, proceeds to throw my wallet on the front of my motorcycle, and only at that point does he start to lower his weapon and I again I ask him can I please remove my helmet, can I please stop my vehicle and then he kind of nods in affirmation. And again I tell him I can't hear you, and so he nods in affirmation, and he finally holsters his weapon, which is the point where I feel I can take my helmet off and have a conversation. And that's when I say, “Hey, I'm sorry, I'm not used to having a gun drawn on me.” And he basically yells at me and says well yeah, “I'm the police.” And again, he never at any point in the interaction gave me his name, a badge, anything. He later says, “I'm with the King County Sheriff's Department” as a way of explaining that he has justification to do whatever he did.

Did he end up giving you any kind of citation?

No.

In the video he can be heard saying you were going 100-plus miles per hour. Is that true?

No. I was probably going 15 over, maybe. To me the idea of going 10 or 15 over is not reckless at all or dangerous at all. The road was very clear. There was no one in front of me. But I remember, in trying to piece together why he did what he did. The way I was driving, nothing was unique about it. I don't remember doing anything special. So I took a turn from 15th, I took a turn onto 145th, because it's very close to my home. I take that right, and there is often a bus stop that's right after that intersection, and there's often a bus. It's two-lane going each direction. There's often a bus in the right lane. So what I probably did is I probably made that right and I probably just made a quick lane change, which is not illegal. I'm sure this guy has never ridden a motorcycle before. That's probably what happened. Again, I don't know. People just say the words "100 miles per hour." He didn't have a laser detector. He has literally no evidence of me doing anything, he's just making a claim off the top of his head. So that's what I mean when I say it's an exaggeration. You could say, "Oh, you were going a million miles an hour down there." That's in my estimation what happened and why he was pissed off at me. And later on, in the part of the video I cut, he kind of does explain: “This is my pet peeve. Motorcycles driving in a way that I don't like. This is my pet peeve.” And so that was a clear indication that he was pulling me over, not based on any type of probable cause justification, but to scare me. And that's why I didn't get a citation. He probably had no evidence to cite me so he was like, what else can I do? I can scare this guy. I can make him late to work. I can probably give him a bad day.

Were you scared?

Very. It was terrifying. A lot of people have said that I handled it well, but I mean, priority one was don't get shot. That's all I could think. When that gun was on me, I was just staring at the gun. And as he was talking, I was trying to read his lips. And then just right back at the gun, and then his lips. I did not stop staring at the barrel of the gun because I was trying to figure out: Is he getting closer to shooting me? Is he putting his finger on the trigger guard? Like, I own a firearm. The first thing you learn is never point your gun at anybody you're not willing to hurt and kill. And it's like, that's my assumption. He is at a 9 on the extreme scale, and I need to find a way to not get shot. So that's what I'm dealing wtih. I need to try to deescalate the situation by saying can I take my helmet off, can I stop my vehicle, I’m not armed. It was terrifying. 

This happened on the 16th and you published the video last week. Tell me your thought process on deciding to publish it.

It happened and I brought it into work. Initially I think I was still in shock with it. It wasn't until my coworkers were like, "This is a serious problem." I have a friend who has a mother who retired from the Portland police department, and I asked her to look at the video, tell me what she thought about it. Once she told me—again, she was the one who told me, "You need to file a police report. I think you got mugged. I do not believe that this person is a member of law enforcement. There's no way that that's true." That's what kind of gauged my reaction. I got the name of a couple different attorneys. And once I kind of talked to [them] about my options, which took about two weeks, because I didn't have them on retainer or anything, I asked my wife. I basically said, “Hey, if something happens and this comes back to bite me, like let's say they see me going 15 over in the video, 'we're going to give you a 15 mile over and take you to court,' are you okay with that?” And we talked and well, if I don't put the video out there, then nothing happens, and this person just keeps going. And if I do, then I probably get a lot of flak and I probably get a lot of people who don't understand it. The worst case scenario would be if literally nothing happened.

What’s the reaction been like?

The funny part is that the people who are giving me the most supportive messages are law enforcement. Those are the people who really seem to be pissed off about this. Because within two hours of posting that video, John Urquhart is on the phone with me, which I totally didn't expect. And he was calling me on my phone and apologizing to me. And not like the way that I expected which is like, “Hey, sounds like something bad happened. Sorry that you had an incident. We'll figure something out and get back to you.” He pretty much unequivocally was like, “This guy is totally in the wrong, and I don't know why this happened, and I'm really sorry.” I did not expect such a strong response. Nobody from any law enforcement gave me any guff, and that made me feel the best. There are plenty of people out there who may have a different feeling about what the water line is when you should use lethal force with somebody, and it's a lot lower than my water line. But not the people who are doing the job, for the most part. And I think that matters.

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What are your next steps?

Following up with the internal affairs unit. And then after things die down I'm going to reach out to the ombudsman. My concerns are, I mean, I look further than this, right? I'm concerned about the fact that he treated this interaction so casually. I find it unbelievable that this is the first time he's done it. I do not believe for a second that this is not something he has done multiple times with immunity and this is the time he got caught on video. And if he has done it multiple times before, he probably knows people who think this is an okay behavior. And have maybe done this themselves. So John Urquhart said that he was going to start showing this video to all of his trainees as a "what not to do." That's what he told me. But the literal best case I can imagine is if they built a training program around "don't do this." Because that, at minimum, they don't have the plausible deniability that "I didn't know that that wasn't okay." So that's what I really hope happens. I want people who are doing this that are not this guy to be afraid to do it again. And I want anybody else coming up to know they're not doing the correct thing and that it's not OK. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.