Dashcam Recording Instantly Undercuts Officers' Concocted Reason For A Traffic Stop

from the in-car-petard dept

Dashcams — unlike body cameras — have been around for years. So while it might be understandable an officer could forget his actions are being documented by his new-ish body camera– say, when he heads into an alley to plant evidence — it’s difficult to draw the same conclusion when an officer apparently forgets his dashcam is recording his bogus traffic stop.

In a criminal case resulting in suppressed evidence, Officer William Davis of the Dayton (OH) Police seems to have done exactly that. His bogus traffic stop resulted in the discovery of marijuana and a firearm, but none of that matters now. What was captured by his cruiser’s dashcam undercut his assertions and sworn testimony. That has lead to an Ohio appeals court’s memorable decision, in which it’s declared the lower court was correct to rely on dashcam footage — rather than the officer’s testimony — when the two narratives diverged. (via FourthAmendment.com)

On a dark, rainy night Officer Davis and Officer Bryan Camden were speeding down a street when a vehicle pulled out in front of them. (Literally speeding: speed limit was 35 mph. Despite the adverse driving conditions, the cruiser was travelling at 43 mph.) Apparently miffed he had to ease back to the posted speed limit, Officer Davis (with Camden’s help) began to compose an alternate reality in which a traffic violation had occurred. The problem for the state — which hoped to retain the evidence obtained during the resulting traffic stop — is the entire thing was caught on camera. This included the officers’ retcon of events in progress. From the decision [PDF]:

As the cruiser approached the intersection of Hoover and Elmhurst, Wilson’s vehicle (a 2015 Chevy Traverse SUV) turned right from Elmhurst onto Hoover in front of the cruiser. Officer Davis testified that only two or three car lengths separated the vehicles when Wilson pulled out and that he (Davis) “had to hit the [brakes] to avoid running into the rear of [Wilson’s] vehicle;” the trial court found this testimony to be not credible. Instead, after a review of the cruiser video, the trial court found that Wilson pulled onto Hoover “no less than 306 feet – or more than eighteen (18) car lengths – in front of the cruiser.” The trial court further stated that “[a] slamming on of the cruiser’s brakes would necessarily have precipitated a sudden dip of the cruiser’s nose – a dip completely absent on the video.” Rather, the trial court found that the cruiser “gently decelerated” from a speed of 43 miles per hour to the posted speed limit.

No traffic violation occurred and yet the officers seemed determined to stop the vehicle that had mildly offended them with its entry into traffic.

The officers remarked to each other about the out-of-state license plates on Wilson’s vehicle (a rental) and discussed towing Wilson’s vehicle. When the traffic light turned green, both vehicles moved forward to turn left onto North Gettysburg. At this juncture (over one and a half minutes after Wilson pulled onto Hoover), the officers engaged in the following exchange, which the trial court concluded was “staged”:

Davis: “He pulled out there, pulled right in front of me!”

Camden: “He pulled out in front of us.”

Davis: “Had to hit the brakes to avoid * * *.”

Camden: “Yeah, they had a – a failure to yield.”

Courts usually look the other way when dealing with pretextual stops. That has scaled back a bit in the wake of the Rodriguez decision, but still remains in play if a court can find some way to believe an officer might have believed a traffic violation had occurred. These officers might have received the same deference if only their cruiser’s camera hadn’t made it crystal clear the violation was completely concocted by two officers looking for a reason to pull someone over.

A stop and a search ensued, resulting in citations for failure to yield and marijuana possession, as well as an arrest for improper handling of a firearm in a vehicle. Officer Davis claimed this was a by-the-book search and arrest. But to do so, he had to continue misrepresenting the events while under oath.

Davis testified that he provided Miranda warnings to Wilson and that Wilson answered a few questions and then requested an attorney. For reasons that Davis could not explain at the suppression hearing, the Miranda warnings and statements by Wilson following those warnings were not recorded on the cruiser video.

The appeals court then quotes the lower court, stating that if any traffic violation occurred here, it was committed by the police officers, rather than the person they pulled over.

[T]he Court finds as a matter of fact and law that Defendant did not fail to yield to the cruiser because the cruiser was not proceeding in a lawful manner. Rather, the cruiser was itself speeding on a dark, rainy night at low visibility further compromised by road glare. By proceeding in such a reckless manner – and in violation of both state and local law – Ofc. Davis forfeited the preferential status afforded a lawful driver under the right-of-way statute.

With no good faith in evidence anywhere, the good faith exception is denied. The appeals court also dismisses the state’s claim the lower court overstepped its bounds by doing its own calculations on the distance between the vehicles involved. Nor did the trial court err on its finding there was no articulable suspicion a moving violation had occurred, thus no reason for the officers to perform a stop.

On this record and with deference to the trial court’s factual findings, we cannot find error in the trial court’s legal conclusion that the officers lacked a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, namely a violation of R.C. 4511.43(A), to justify the traffic stop. The trial court specifically found that the officers were exceeding the speed limit when Wilson turned onto Hoover Avenue and that the cruiser merely “gently decelerated” to the posted speed limit after Wilson turned onto the road; there was adequate distance (regardless of the specific number of feet or car lengths) between the cruiser and Wilson. Given the trial court’s findings, which are substantially supported by the record, the officers had no reasonable suspicion that Wilson’s actions created an “immediate hazard” and that he failed to yield when he turned onto Hoover. In the absence of a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the trial court did not err in suppressing any evidence found as a result of the unlawful stop.

With the evidence gone, the charges should soon be dismissed. This will negate two felonies and a misdemeanor, thanks to an officer who apparently forgot his dashcam was on. There’s nothing quite like being burnt by your own recording. The easiest fix — but least likely to occur — is to perform your public servant duties in accordance to the law and with an eye on respecting the rights of those you serve. Unfortunately, this seems to be a last resort — something only to be done after tampering with recordings or routine “failure” to active recording devices has run its course.

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Comments on “Dashcam Recording Instantly Undercuts Officers' Concocted Reason For A Traffic Stop”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Eh, I’m sure they’ll get around to it.



I mean they have a bunch of more serious things to deal with(like making sure the coffee machine is well stocked and the printers have enough paper and ink to work, among many other more important tasks), so you can’t really blame them if it takes them a while to deal with some triviality like an officer speeding and then lying in court.

David says:

Re: Re:

Overall, it’s pretty successful. Qualified immunity depends on believing you are right, and the inner narrative of police forces has diverged so much from reality that substantial amounts of intelligence would render large amounts of police unoperable by making it implausible that a significant ratio of officers believe in the crap they are spewing.

Wherever you draw the line of plausible sanity, there will be outliers breaching it. Their exceptional status cements the overall firmness of this rule rather than disproving it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The officers committed perjury and fraud, are they going to face any consequences for their actions?

Very funny.

The officers wouldn’t even “face any consequences” if they had ordered the driver to kneel down on the pavement, and then executed that driver with a point-blank pistol shot in the back of the head.

Law enforcement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Of course not. ALL Police LIE! They make up anything they want to get you to do what they want. Any so-called good police will stand there watching what’s going on and say nothing and stop nothing, which in effects makes them just as bad.

Everyone should have their own Dashcams!!! Always record the police. You have every right to. It’s a first amendment protected activity. They can’t legally stop you no matter what lies and threats they tell you.

Mr Big Content says:

Before Throwing Out Teh Baby With The Bathwater, We Should Check Their Not Cameras Made By Liberals

Not that Im suggesting anybody would make cameras that would deliberately capture FAKE NEWS, but I think we should look into the bona fidos of the people supplying these cameras. Are they left-wing Hippies whore are soft on crime? Are they from China?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The key draw here for Techdirt is drug addict escaped.

I once would have agreed with you on those cases till I thought about it: If there were no charges then nobody would have brought this case up. It’s unfortunate but if you get harassed by the cops you most likely will try to forget it or at best make a complain that gets nowhere. So every drug-user case that is thrown out in court for this “technical” reasons shows that cops are behaving badly and you can sure that many “normal” people are affected.
It’s unfortunate but since the police doesn’t take complains and its own violations of the law siriously this is the only way there is.

Anonymous Coward says:

A similar thing happened to me in NJ years ago

It was a weekend afternoon, perhaps 3 or 4 PM, in the summer. Bright, clear, beautiful day. I was pulling out of a parking lot adjacent to the Delaware River, a bit north of Trenton. That exit has a good sightline to the right, but a limited one to the left due to a hump in the road about 200 yards away. This wasn’t my first time there, so I knew this, and looked left, looked right, looked left, pulled out.

And was nearly broadsided by a police cruiser. The speed limit there is 35, and the cruiser had to be doing at least 65, probably more, to cover the distance from the other side of the hump to me in the time it took me to step on the accelerator. I saw it coming at the last minute and stomped on the brakes. The cruiser whizzed by right in front of me and I sat there for a moment, taking a few deep breaths, letting my heart rate come back down.

The driver of the cruiser then slammed on the brakes, squealed the tires, hit the lights, hit the siren, whipped the car around, drove back and blocked my path. He got out and started screaming at me about nearly wrecking his car, demanded my license/registration, etc. He ran those, then came back and then screamed and screamed at me for another 5-10 minutes for finally letting me go.

All witnessed by my girlfriend, sitting in the front seat next to me.

Of course this was circa 1993 or 1994, so no dashcam or any other recording. But I’ve never forgotten it. It was a clear case of abuse by a psychopath who had and has absolutely no business being a police officer. I suppose I’m lucky that he didn’t just shoot me (and her) and fabricate a story to cover it up.

OldLawProf (profile) says:

Making up probable cause ON CAMERA.

There is a COPS episode in which 2 LAPD detectives standing across the street and a hundred feet away go through this ACT for the cameras.
Officer A “I smell smoke. Like marijuana.”
Officer B “Yes, coming from [the house we want to search] there (pointing). The evidence will go up in smoke if we don’t act.”
Officer A “Yes, it is an “exigent” circumstance.” Officer head for house.

The Department did not have this edited this out. The Assistant Chief reviewing the film did NOT see anything illegal. But you will.

ROGS (user link) says:

Great actors

I was once a peace activist, a budding journalist, and a human rights/Gaza/judicial/family court reform activist; and one of the things I wrote about was the need for cop-cams in America.

Then, I got gang stalked by multiple NGO’s, police forces ranging from local LEO’s and more, aka “community policing.”

The bizarre things they say and do online and off to discredit their victims defies the logical imagination, including bizarre language straight out of info/disinfo manuals written by the CIA/JTRIG/MI5.

Anyone can become a target, and it has increased exponentially since 9-11 and the endless data theft and entrapment schemes of the NSA-FiveEyes nations.

Much of what we hear about the FBI’s “disruption campaigns” is similar.

The internet has only increased the ability of that one “rogue” cop to do bad things, and we haven’t even begun to see how bad these things are..

Now the NSA is spying on American’s openly and many of those they have targeted since William Binney’s tenure there as a

First, they came for guy who uses bad and scary “words”-then….Here is my story:


Derek Kerton (profile) says:

The Fix is In

Tim, you wrote “The easiest fix is to perform your public servant duties in accordance to the law…”

Come on. The take-away here for “law enforcement” officers is that the “easiest fix” is to lose, scrub, delete, or alter the video.

Altering your character and your habits – that’s hard. Deleting some video? We know this happens all the time.

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