August 25, 2013

Claims against Dalton officers cause concern

The video doesn’t show Dalton police officers in the best light.

Officer Jason Robinson had stopped a truck in which Rocky Face resident Michael Keith was a passenger after he saw Keith lean outside the truck and vomit.

Let that sink in for a moment. He didn’t stop the truck because the driver had violated any law but because a passenger had vomited.

What follows, caught on video, is that Robinson asks Keith for his ID. Keith says a vehicle passenger is not required by law to present his ID unless he is suspected of a crime. He asks if he is being detained and if so on what charge. But Robinson doesn’t seem to be clear about that.

At one point, he says “possibly underage consumption.”  But Keith, who admits he was drunk that night, notes that he’d just left a bar where they checked his ID.

Robinson radioed someone to ask for advice.

“What is the ... I know there’s something that says they must present their ID or their name when asked to,” Robinson is heard saying on the video.

There is a pause.

“He’s saying he’s not going to give me his name, he’s not going to give me any information. I mean, have I got anything to ... public intoxication? Well, it’s in an indecent manner, don’t you think? ... Whenever he stuck his head out the window and was puking all over the place. And basically I was stopping him to see if he was OK, but he wants to cause a stink and tell me he doesn’t have to present his ID and he doesn’t have to tell me his name.”

Robinson eventually arrests Keith for public intoxication, a charge later dropped by the district attorney’s office.

But Keith suggests his real offense was knowing his rights.

At the end of the video, Robinson is heard talking to the driver and saying he likely would have let Keith go if he had just cooperated.

“Had he been compliant, I would have said, ‘Thank you for being a responsible person,’” Robinson said.

Keith is now suing Robinson and two other officers who came to the scene as backup for violating his Fourth Amendment rights. His claims will be decided in a federal court in Rome. A judge will decide whether they violated Keith’s rights.

But clearly that stop could have been handled better. Citizens have a right to expect that law enforcement officers are professional and know the laws they are supposed to enforce. At a minimum, that means that when they stop a vehicle they are immediately able to cite a lawful and constitutional reason for that stop. And when they demand that someone produce their ID or answer a question or take any other action that they can immediately explain why they have a legal responsibility to comply with that order.

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