A sheriff’s deputy in Bradley County used obscenities in presence of a minor at a traffic stop conducted without the giving of a Miranda warning and squeezing a girl’s private parts “hard” in a search.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
The stop on April 8 in southeast Tennessee ensnared four people who were subjected to a 45-minute search and interrogation on an allegation by a deputy that she “smelled marijuana,” evidently on clothing worn by one of the people in an O’Reilly’s auto parts store, which smell evidently gave rise to probable cause for the arrest.
Sheriff Eric Watson was defeated in an election Tuesday by a subordinate, Steve Lawson in a campaign in which an abusive force culture played a part. Sheriff Watson’s administration has been tousled with corruption investigations and lawsuits.
Prospects for reform are weak. While Mr. Lawson doesn’t have that baggage, he is a local functionary of the decades-old state-adopted federal drug war operating in the county northeast of Chattanooga. The traffic stop served that long-time form of imposition upon the lives of county residents, so it matters little which man won the election, as both men agree that possession of certain plant life such as marijuana is a crime.
Drug war in action
Behind the wheel of the pickup truck April 8 were Austin “Tra” Dodd; Raquon Dodd, 19, next to Austin in the front; Valdasha Whaley, 17, a high school student; and Jashon Hill, 19, a Tennessee State University student.
Six deputies were involved in the arrest at the Harry’s Citgo gas station. Meanwhile, Deputy Dale Liner stopped Jamichael Parks, a relative of the Dodds, from making a phone video record of the encounter. He handcuffed Mr. Parks, 33, spoke abusively to him for 45 minutes without even a hint of a criminal act having been committed, and attempted to delete a 30-second segment of video.
Deputies spoke saltily to the young people. Sit down on your “motherfucking ass,” a deputy said to a person in the car, according to Miss Whaley.
Another deputy told Miss Whaley to sit on her “ass” or face jail.
“We had left the Captain D’s and we went to the O’Reilly’s,” Miss Whaley says, “and my cousin, Austin Dodd, had went into the store, and the male officer had told him he smelled like marijuana, and whatever, and they had an exchange of words. *** When he got back into the car, that’s when he told us whatever she had said. He said [she said], ‘I’m not worried about you; I have a headlight to fix.’ All this and that.
“So when we left the store, the other sheriff was coming our way, but he had already turned around before we even passed him, and that’s when he got behind us.
“Then we pulled us over, and that’s when we went into the gas station. As soon as we pulled over he came up to the car,before we even rolled the windows down.He was just, like, ‘I smell marijuana.’ He didn’t read us our rights or anything. He was like, ‘Well, I gotta search the car.’
“He didn’t ask, he just said he had to search the car.”
‘Hitting my, —- hard’
“So, after that, that’s when he pulled Austin out of the car, and they put them on the car, and they was searching him. I was the second person to get out of the car. And I had to wait until the lady officer came from the O’Reilly’s. When she came, that’s when she searched me. She searched me hard.
She kept hitting my, my wrong area hard, and kept saying there was something in there, and I had everything on me when I did it. She kept saying, she kept asking me, ‘Who threw it on you? Who threw it on you?” repeatedly, and I was just like, ‘What are you talking about? Nobody threw anything on me.’
“She was trying to say, ‘Who threw drugs on you?’ which nobody had any drugs or threw anything on anyone.
“So, after that, when all the police came back to the back, she kept trying to tell them it was me, that I had stuff on me when it wasn’t. *** That short male officer told me to get my A-word back on the car or I wsas going o jail with him. And he also told my brother’s best friend [Tennessee State University student Jashon Hill] to get his m——effing on the car or he was taking his A-word to jail.”
Asked what was wrong about this traffic stop, she says, “Everything was wrong with it. They didn’t do anything right. They didn’t read us our rights. They pulled us over for no apparent reason. Then they were talking rude to us, and we didn’t even do anything.”
When asked about Miranda warnings, she did not agree that she had effectively Mirandized herself, refusing to open her mouth with the first detail that could be used to incriminate her in court.
“We didn’t say anything at all, because they had came up with that little attitude, like,” she says. She is not sure with which deputy she spokes among the five or six deputies on the scene.
Earlier encounters with police or sheriff’s deputies before? “None at all. I was terrified.”
“We were not arrested; we were detained.”
However, at law, when one is not free to leave, one is not merely detained, but one is under arrest, and anything one says or produces will be used against a person in court as self-incriminating. For fourth amendment purposes, arrest = seizure = stop.