Crime & Courts

Guilty verdict for Wichita TV personality who honked his horn next to a motorcycle cop

You know how sometimes you’re sitting in traffic and the person in front of you doesn’t move when the light turns green, so you tap your horn to get their attention?

Well that’s what Wichita TV personality R.J. Dickens says he did. And it landed him in hot water with police, prosecutors and the municipal court.

Dickens was convicted Thursday of “illegal use of horn.”

The judge ordered him to pay a $25 fine — and $313 in fees.

Dickens, the longtime news director at KCTU Channel 5, is probably best known to Wichitans as the former host of River City Forum and other shows on the station. Lately, he’s been more involved in production with his political action committee, the “It’s Time to Fix Stupid PAC. “

Dickens’ traffic saga began Nov. 28 when he was stopped at a light at Central and Washington. When the light turned green, the car at the front of the line didn’t move fast enough to suit him, so Dickens gave a quick beep with his horn.

Unfortunately for him, motorcycle traffic Officer Daniel Kaiser was also in that same line of traffic, in the lane right next to Dickens and just ahead of his front fender.

Body camera video played at the trial showed Kaiser immediately pulling Dickens over into a nearby parking lot and yelling at him “What in the world were you honking at?”

Dickens’ response was inaudible, but the officer testified that he said he was sorry and that he has an anxiety disorder.

The video shows the officer going on to declare “That’s unlawful use of horn,” and chewing out Dickens for being rude, saying that he’s “tired of people like that” and “we’re supposed to be courteous when we drive, not aggressive.”

Dickens testified he thought the line of cars had been sitting for about 15 seconds so he gave a brief honk on his horn to get the cars ahead of him moving.

He said he didn’t explain that to the officer because “his demeanor was a little threatening and I was already a little agitated.”

Judge Aaron Zarchan said he disagreed with the officer’s contention that Dickens could only use his horn in an emergency. Zarchan said it would be reasonable to honk if another driver wasn’t paying attention to the traffic light.

But Zarchan went back and timed the video and found that only six seconds had elapsed between the light changing to green and Dickens’ horn honking.

“I don’t think you’re out there terrorizing neighborhoods with your horn,” Zarchan said. But he ruled six seconds “was not a reasonable amount of time for the cars to proceed.”

Dickens said outside court that he had complained to police about the conduct of the stop and they had agreed to ask the city attorney’s office to let it drop, but the city attorney’s office went forward anyway.

All that was excluded from trial testimony because the city prosecutor, Armand Shukaev, objected it was irrelevant and the judge agreed.

Thursday’s trial won’t be the end of it.

Immediately after the verdict, Dickens went to the city clerk’s office and signed up to speak at the June 18 City Council meeting about the “bullying tactics of the prosecution.”

Dickens’ political PAC holds a “Stupid Tuesday” primary vote online during election season and then targets the winners with ads mocking them.

And Dickens drew national attention three years ago when he petitioned the White House to repeal Kansas’ statehood and appoint a territorial governor.

In that petition, he claimed the state had failed its responsibility to provide for fair elections, citing anomalies in vote counts alleged by Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.