As he pulled over after being stopped on a pizza delivery, 25-year-old Chris Jeffries grabbed his cellphone and recorded his interaction with Bladensburg, Maryland’s police officer Munir Ayoub who apparently pulled him over for an improper lane change. Since when do improper lane changes warrant a use of a fire arm? Out of fear for his safety, Jeffries asked Ayoub to put his gun away.
Their encounter is caught on Jeffries’s phone where you can hear the young man asking the officer, sworn to protect and serve, to remove his gun. Immediately the officer is hostile, yelling, and behaving as if a Black man sitting in his car threatens the officer’s “well-being.”
Jeffries actually questions Ayoub with, “Sir, are you about to kill me right now?”
The video is a little more than two minutes long, and though Jeffries survives the traffic stop, it haunts anyone with the reminder of how tragic it could have been. Before arresting Jeffries — taking him to jail on charges of fleeing and eluding an officer, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest, Jeffries charges that Ayoub subsequently dragged him from the car and beat him. The beating is not captured on film.
“It’s a different fear than a roller coaster or the dark. This was it. This man has a gun on you. My only thought was that he was going to kill me. … It wasn’t even fear, it was a realization that all he had to do was pull a trigger, and that was from the beginning of the traffic stop,” Jeffries explained in an interview with Huffington Post.
“I think the best word to describe the feeling of him walking up with a gun pointed on me was feeling like this was the end and thinking: ‘Is this how I was going to die?'” Jeffries said.
Officers approaching a traffic stop with a gun is clearly excessive use of force. And yet there still seems to warrant some kind of question as to what Jeffries, driving his BMW sedan on Baltimore Avenue, could have done to Ayoub to bring about such animosity.
According to Jeffries’ laywer, J. Wyndal Gordon, the young man was using his GPS when he realized he missed a turn. When Jeffries realized this, he signaled from the left lane to make a hard right across one lane of traffic. There were no other cars near Jeffries, Gordon said. Gordon also viewed a copy of the police report, and Ayoub cited an “improper lane change” as the cause for initiating the traffic stop.
Bladensburg Police Department released a statement on Tuesday that said Ayoub followed Jeffries for a half-mile before he stopped. It also described Jeffries’ driving as “erratic,” and said he was “defiant to lawful orders” to roll down his window and present his license and registration.
The department failed to mention of Ayoub’s weapon being drawn.
Gordon defended that Jeffries didn’t know he was being followed by police at first, and may have driven a quarter-mile before pulling over on a well-lit road.
In the video, Ayoub tells Jeffries that if he doesn’t stop recording with his cell phone, the situation would go from “bad to real bad,” and that he would be removed from the car. The window is partially drawn enough for Ayoub to be heard yelling at Jeffries who tries to hand his license and registration to the irate officer. Ayoub commands the window to be rolled down all the way or else he’ll pull Jeffries from the car (There is no law that requires someone to roll their window all the way down for an officer). The officer yanks on the locked door handle. The recording shows Jeffries explaining to Ayoub that he is afraid and would like another officer on the scene. A short while later Jeffries is removed from his car and beaten.
Gordon is adamantly seeking justice for Jeffries.
“These issues happen nationwide. There’s been a discussion of implicit bias and this is another example that was expressed explicitly,” Gordon said. “His gun was drawn immediately. He was ready to kill someone that night. [Without] the camera on him, there’s no knowing what would have happened to Christopher that night.”
Gordon said he wants to reform police protocol for routine traffic stops, in order to reduce unnecessary escalation on the part of officers. Jeffries, a former football player at Missouri Southern State University and 4.0 student, said the incident is not just about Ayoub’s conduct.
“Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, the list goes on, these are the nationally recognized executions. This stuff happens,” Jeffries said. “There needs to be a line drawn between an officer sworn to protect us and those who have a badge and feel they can take our lives. … You can’t create a narrative about my personality or my character. I don’t have any priors, I was working a second job, I was a 4.0 student.”
Before the video cuts out, another officer arrives on the scene and hears Jeffries explain that he is afraid and instead of assessing the situation calmly, begins to tell Jeffries to remove himself from the car. The young man’s voice shakes as he repeatedly asks, “What am I doing wrong?”
“One semester I’m a Dean’s List student and captain of a sports team, and months later I have a gun in my face by someone sworn to protect me,” Jeffries said.