A disabled Florida veteran said he was illegally detained and searched after police yanked him out of his car during a traffic stop, and he believes it happened because of his race.
The lead officer involved was previously accused of stalking and harassing other citizens and has a history of aggressive behavior, according to First Coast News.
Braxton Smith, a Black U.S. Navy veteran, is calling for all of the officers involved to be held accountable. He has filed a formal complaint with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, reports show.
“It made me feel humiliated, someone like myself, I’m a veteran, I went to college, and I’ve done things to shield myself from this type of stigma, but it’s still managed to follow me,” Smith told News4JAX.
Smith said he was smoking a cigarette outside a gas station the day before Thanksgiving and saw Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Task Force members circling the convenience store. As soon as he exited the gas station, police flashed their lights to pull the man over.
However, Smith didn’t come to an immediate stop. Instead, he slowed down, hoping to find a well-lit area that wasn’t in the middle of the road out of fear, he said.
Smith recorded some of the interaction on his cellphone, and the sheriff’s office released body-camera footage of the incident. First Coast News identified the officer behind the camera as Justin Peppers.
“I’m a Black man in America. I’m terrified of the police,” Smith says.
“Mr. Black man, I’m asking you a question. How many different sirens did I turn on? How many times did I lay on my horn?” Peppers says.
Peppers said Smith drove 300 yards slowly before he pulled over. He eventually stopped his car in a business parking lot, reports show. He complied with the officers’ commands, putting his hand out the window.
In the video, Peppers walks to the car, grabs Smith’s left wrist over the right arm, opens the car, and he and another officer first try to pull Smith out of the car with his seatbelt still buckled. They eventually get him out, and one of the officers pushes Smith down to the ground with his knee before he is handcuffed and placed in a patrol car.
“Look at what you just did to me. You just snatched me out my car. I rolled the window down and gave you my license, my registration. You didn’t read me my rights. You snatched me out of the car,” Smith says.
“You’re damn right I did. Why did I do that?” the officer replies.
“I don’t have the slightest idea,” Braxton says.
Smith told reporters he had an injured back from several deployments while serving in the Navy. He had to go to the hospital and get a pain injection after the rough encounter with police.
Peppers spent a large portion of the nearly 30 minutes he detained Smith pressing him about why he didn’t stop.
“You’re trying to find a safe spot for you or me?” the officer asks
“For both of us,” Smith replies.
“You don’t get to do that,” the officer says.
The officers accused Smith of smoking hemp and scanned his clothes and car for drugs or anything illegal. They also said the man’s vehicle smelled like marijuana and asked if he had a medical marijuana card. The officers ran his name in their system to see if he was a “convicted felon.” However, the veteran said they had no reason to stop him.
“Right now, you might be going to jail,” the officer said.
“For what?” Smith asks.
“We’ll talk about that in a second,” the officer replies.
However, he never gives Smith a citation.
At one point, officers find a firearm in his trunk, and they debate whether or not he was reaching for it or trying to hide it while they trailed him on the street. However, Smith explains that he legally possesses the holstered gun. When the officers find nothing, they eventually let Smith go.
“I’m not going to take you in for felony fleeing and eluding,” Peppers concludes. “My ticket-writing program is not working right now, and we’ve got reports of gunshots down the street. So that’s the reason why we are letting you go.”
According to First Coast News, a couple filed a restraining order against Peppers accusing him of harassment and stalking after he repeatedly served them tickets for an illegal tint. However, a local judge later dissolved the order.
During one of the traffic stops, Peppers reportedly detained a passerby who refused to back up her vehicle and reroute. Peppers pulled the woman from her car, handcuffed her and detained her for an hour.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office told News4JAX that it “has been made aware” of the traffic stop “by way of a formal complaint by Mr. Smith.”
“The incident is currently being administratively reviewed, and once that has been completed, the outcome would be made a public record,” the sheriff’s office said.