Michael Keith was drunk. That much he admits.
The Rocky Face resident knew he was drunk, too. He knew it when he climbed inside the silver Ford F-150 late on Nov. 5, 2011, and sat in the passenger seat so a friend could drive him home. Then he did something that set off a chain of events that eventually landed him in jail.
He leaned outside the truck and vomited on the road — right on the pavement on U.S. Highway 41 just a short distance from the Dalton bar he’d just left. A Dalton Police Department officer spotted him and turned on his blue lights, then pulled the truck over.
“You gonna be OK, buddy?” Officer Jason Robinson asked Keith as the driver rolled down her window.
“I’m fine,” Keith is heard replying on a police department’s patrol car camera recording of the incident. “Just let her drive me home.”
What happened next is the basis of a lawsuit Keith filed in federal court in Rome alleging Robinson and other officers who responded violated his Fourth Amendment rights by demanding his identification when he says he had broken no laws. Keith was arrested for public intoxication, though the charge was later dropped.
In the lawsuit, Keith asks the court to declare “that a traffic stop may only be initiated when an officer observes a driver in violation of the law” and that individuals “may not lawfully be detained without probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion.” He’s also asking for a ruling that he is “under no obligation to provide identification to anyone while he is the passenger in a vehicle and is not suspected of being in violation of law.”
‘You don’t need my name’
The lawsuit was filed last fall. Norman Marshall Sawyer Jr., an Alpharetta-based attorney representing officers Robinson, Jennifer Jeffries and Tyler McBrayer, declined to comment. The three officers declined to comment, police department spokesman Bruce Frazier said. Frazier also declined to comment directly on the case.
Court records show Sawyer sought several times to have the case dismissed on numerous legal grounds, including the fact that the officers have immunity because of their jobs. Keith, a computer programmer who is representing himself after he said he talked to several attorneys who did not want to sue the officers, is asking for summary judgment, an immediate ruling in his favor. Both parties are awaiting a decision on that request, which is expected by early September.
During the traffic stop, after Keith tells Robinson to just let his driver take him home, Robinson asks for Keith’s identification. Keith refuses. Robinson asks him again. Keith says he doesn’t have to present it. The argument continues for several minutes with the officer also asking for Keith just to provide his name.
“You don’t need my name,” Keith says, arguing that because he is only a passenger during the traffic stop and isn’t suspected of committing a crime, he doesn’t have to submit to demands for identification.
“How old are you? Because you’re obviously intoxicated. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving, you’re drinking, I need to verify your age,” Robinson tells Keith, who is in his 30s.
Keith asks if they’re being detained and on what charge. Robinson says “possibly underage consumption.” Keith proceeds to argue that he just left a bar that obviously has to check his ID to serve him.
The arguments continue, and Robinson calls for backup. Keith is suing backup officers Jeffries and McBrayer — who like Robinson have been with the police department for seven years — because he said they had a duty to stop Robinson from violating Keith’s rights but did nothing. Frazier said that of the three officers, only McBrayer has ever had a citizen-filed complaint against him. That was in 2011. An internal review found the complaint for rudeness was unsubstantiated.
During the stop, Keith continually maintains that as a passenger he doesn’t have to give up his ID.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re driving, OK? I’m investigating,” Robinson says. He tells Keith he’s “publicly intoxicated.”
“Publicly?” Keith replies. “I’m inside my car.”