A video surfaced this weekend showing fast-talking, southern Georgia cop arresting a college student, just for being the passenger in a car with a broken tail light, after refusing to participate in the cop’s sham “investigation” of a minor traffic infraction.
It would spiral of control in under three minutes.
The cop started the traffic stop by saying, “You’d better step out of the vehicle, ma’am,” to ‘Kaylin’, the properly seat-belted driver – whose name we learned from the video you can see below.
The Valdosta Police Department Officer pulled over an SUV on a dark road, because it had a broken tail light back in June 2015, in what must’ve been near city limits for the southern Georgia college town of 50,000 residents.
Kaylin’s passenger exited the vehicle to continue recording the stop, but probably never imagined that she’d be arrested for recording the whole scene on her cellphone.
Because she was recording for publication onto YouTube it is entirely possible that the arrest is a 1st Amendment violation too.
At first glance, even with the dubious order to exit the vehicle, there does appear to be a reasonable discussion between citizen and officer.
But the Georgia cop demanded to, “Grab me everyone’s ID,” about 1 minute and twenty seconds into the recording for no articulable reason. For international readers, ID is short for identification.
“What do you need my ID for?” asked the girl recording the traffic stop.
“I’m need everyone’s ID,” replied the officer who appears to be in his early 30s, and not a wet behind the ears rookie.
“There’s no need for you.”
“This is, this is the problem,” said the officer as he began to temporize, “I conducted a traffic stop, the reason I was talking to you was your defective tail light, you’ve got it all taped up over there.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” replied the Kaylin, honestly and without malice or outward fear.
“So you acknowledge there’s a problem,” began the officer into a quick patter.
At this point, his own words pretty clearly limit the officer’s own probable cause for an “investigation” to citing a broken tail light.
“Ok, here’s a problem, you’re in this vehicle, this vehicle is part of my investigation”
“What are you investigating?” said Kaylin the driver, and her passenger firmly exclaimed without yelling afterwards, “What is your reasonable suspicion?
“What it is,” the Georgia cop stuttered, “What it is, is this is now an investigation. The fact that I pulled you over it is now an investigation.”
“Ok, I need everyone’s ID in that van, now,” replied the cop firmly in a Waffle House syrup coated southern accent, clearly annoyed that these college students were not going to surrender their 4th Amendment rights so easily.
“But, I don’t understand what happened,” asked the driver
“I told you, I stopped you for this defective tail light.”
“Right, you said you were investigating, what were you investigating?” asked the driver, hitting the nail right on the head like an experienced criminal defense lawyer might.
Under the landmark Supreme Court decision about the 4th Amedment in Terry Vs. Ohio, officers may only ask for identification if they can reasonably articulate suspicion of a crime, but that’s not all.
“The fact that I made a traffic stop, this is my investigation. Ok” deadpanned the cop, “So, ma’am i need your ID.”
“There’s no need for you to have my ID, sir,” said the teenage girl politely, while continuing to record the scene,”I’m so sorry.”
“Ok, that’s fine, you can put the phone down, you’re under arrest for interference with an investigation.”
“Are you serious, sir?” asked the shocked citizen who continued to calmly record her own arrest.
“There’s no need for you to have my ID,” she repeated.
And she was right.
The Valdosta officer proceeded to place her under arrest, which any court would seriously consider as a false arrest in betrayal of the 4th Amendment and even the 5th Amendment right to remain silent.
“Here Kaylin! Get my phone and record this.”
The video stops there.
In so doing, he trashed the 4th Amendment and a landmark Georgia Supreme court decision Williams vs. State of Georgia, from only a month earlier which delineated the line between implied consent and actual consent too.
But he proved one thing for certain.
A bunch of young college students knew the Constitution better than he did.
The Valdosta officer was probably allowed to request the driver to exit the car, under Georgia’s odd laws, which deem traffic infractions criminal. However, the officer clearly only had probable cause to issue a broken tail light citation, and didn’t articulate any other reason for an investigation.
In the wake of Williams vs. Georgia, decided by Georgia’s Supreme Court just a month before this incident was recorded, the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs created and distributed this handy two page guide to the 4th Amendment for Law Enforcement Officersto better understand the intersection of state law with the constitution.
Clearly, Valdosta Police missed the memo.
Right off the bat, the driver had clearly and respectfully articulated that she was concerned about the lack of light where he wished to conduct the traffic stop.
It’s a pretty reasonable concern for a young lady, or group of young ladies, considering the totality of the circumstances, and when you consider the irony of searching for a properly lit spot when missing a tail light.
However, this arrest is more reminiscent of a popular punchline bandied about the bars of Buckhead in Atlanta: “I went to Georgia on vacation, and left on probation.”
Perhaps it’s time for the Valdosta Police Department to get the memo that photography is not a crime like interfering with an investigation, and that these Georgia police need to respect the 4th Amendment rights of their fellow citizens.