from True Stories of Law & Order: SVU
Season 3) A woman is found raped and murdered in her car. The investigation
points to a police officer who is accused of raping the woman during
a traffic stop.
In 1986, California Highway Patrol officer Craig Peyer was convicted
of murdering college student Cara Knott during a phony traffic stop.
Peyer had a history of stopping and harrassing female motorists.
Cheryl Johnson looked in her rearview mirror and saw every driver’s
nightmare: Flashing red lights and that pitiless silhouette behind
the wheel of a patrol car. The pretty, blonde-haired nurse had no
idea why she was being pulled over, but she dutifully slowed down
her car and came to a stop on the shoulder of the freeway. The cop
turned on his car’s speaker and told her to back the car up
to the Mercy Road exit and pull off the freeway. This seemed pretty
odd to Johnson, but she knew that California Highway Patrolmen are
deadly serious about their job, so she put the car in reverse and
did as she was told.
area of I-15’s Mercy Road exit was a no-man’s land,
a dead end road beyond which was a bridge spanning a dried-out creek
bed, overgrown weeds, and trash. At night, the entire area was pitch
black. When they were safely off the freeway, the officer told her
to get out and approach his car. He motioned for her to get into
the passenger seat, which she did. The cop, Johnson noticed, was
spit-and-polish. For someone who spends the entire day sitting in
his car and driving around, the CHP officer kept his car immaculate.
a somewhat stocky guy, his hair parted neatly and not one of them
out of place. He wasn’t necessarily good-looking, but he had
a nice face. Up close, he seemed like a pleasant enough guy. He
began lecturing her about the importance of safe driving and pointed
out that one of her headlights was loose. He didn’t enjoy
writing up tickets, but he had seen some pretty bad accidents and
a lot of blood in his time—one of the worst crashes resulting
from faulty headlights.
the cop changed the subject to more personal matters. As he turned
off his police radio, he started asking Cheryl Johnson about her
personal life. Where did she grow up? Did she have a boyfriend?
What did she do for a living? Cheryl answered his questions. Although
she made small talk with him and didn’t feel overtly threatened—the
cop’s questions stopped just short of inappropriate—she
was getting the willies. To be sitting here with a CHP officer,
the very symbol of order and structure, in a context that simply
didn’t make sense—it was just way too much of a dichotomy,
it was surreal.
he started talking about how dangerous the area they were now sitting
in was. “Somebody could get raped or murdered here, and nobody
would ever know,” the police officer said. “At least
I’m with you.”1 Is he trying to tell me something? Johnson
wondered. Is he really concerned about my safety or this some sort
of veiled threat? And if it’s a real warning, why did he make
me to come down here in the first place?
Finally, after ninety minutes of chatting with the CHP officer,
Cheryl finally got the courage to make it clear that she needed
to leave. She got out of the patrol car and into hers. “What
was that all about?” Johnson thought as she pulled her car
off the Mercy Road exit and hit the freeway.
would turn out, Johnson was only one of many women pulled over by
CHP officer Craig Peyer. A by-the-book cop in every way but one,
Peyer had a penchant for pulling women over at the Mercy Avenue
exit under the ruse of offering them a lesson on highway safety.
His real intent was to . . . talk. That’s all. When he saw
a good-looking woman drive past, he’d floor his car and pull
course, when someone flies past at seventy miles per hour, mistakes
can be made. One time, when he stopped a brunette that had caught
his eye, she turned out to be a long-haired he. On
another occasion, Peyer made the right choice—the woman was
indeed good-looking—but her husband was lying in the fully
reclined passenger seat taking a nap. When Officer Peyer saw the
man, he curtly gave them a speeding ticket and took off down the
highway stops were so out of the ordinary that the CHP occasionally
received a phone call from an irate driver who didn’t think
too much of Peyer’s little highway safety seminars. Apparently,
though, the cop’s bosses were old-school: These people may
not like it now, but they’ll thank us later. They even praised
the officer for his diligence and enjoined him to keep up the good
Craig Peyer’s strange habit, and the CHP’s incurious
attitude about it, would come to a head one cold night in December
© 2007 Kevin Dwyer and Juré Fiorillo