A controversial Pittsburgh-area traffic stop has sparked outrage after a Black man was detained for nearly 45 minutes for allegedly not activating his turn signal.
His ordeal didn’t end until an activist alerted a lawyer who stepped in, causing police to set him free.
Traune West, was driving his car in Homewood, Pennsylvania, about 36 miles from downtown Pittsburgh around 2 p.m. on Jan. 16. As West was nearing an intersection to make a turn, a police cruiser activated its lights.
“I turned my turn signal on, made the left, and he turn his lights on and told me the reason why he stopped me is that I didn’t turn my signal on,” West told KDKA.
Photos and video of the traffic stop went viral on social media, showing West detained in handcuffs. Up to six Pittsburgh police officers converged at the traffic stop location to search West’s vehicle.
A photo depicts a small bud of marijuana about the size of a pea that reportedly was found near the gas pedal prompting an intensive search of his sedan.
“He could have brought that in on the bottom of a shoe. There’s definitely not enough to smoke,” Karen Miller commented on Facebook.
Amber Sloan recorded nearly 15 minutes of the traffic stop on her cellphone as other bystanders converged to the traffic stop location. One woman can be heard yelling, “What did they say they pulled you over for?”
As police continued to search West’s vehicle, Pittsburgh attorney Kate Lovelace, who is white, walks into Sloan’s camera vantage point to speak with West and police. Lovelace has more than 20 years’ experience working with and representing underserved communities, according to her LinkedIn.
Sloan can be heard yelling at Lovelace, “Use your privilege, baby, use your privilege.”
“I said I’m here to represent him,” Lovelace told police.
The officer asked, “What’s his name?”
Lovelace replied by asking West, “What’s your name?”
West said his name aloud and Lovelace asked him if he wanted her to be his lawyer and he said “yes,” Lovelace told KDKA.
Minutes later, police released West from his handcuffs and the vehicle search concluded.
“They absolutely would have arrested him based on that search,” Lovelace said in a comment on the viral video.
Lovelace admitted she didn’t know West prior to the traffic stop. She said local activists alerted her of West’s situation prompting her to rush to the stop location.
West told KDKA, once Lovelace arrived, “everything changed. When she came, she saved the day.”
“They tried to railroad the hell out of that man. Since when do you get cause to search a car because of a turn signal?” Lou Ransom Jr. asked in a Facebook post.
Lovelace wrote on her Twitter page, “1 black man and 6 white police for a turn signal violation. Homewood. I show up to a massive search of his car. And suddenly it’s “oh. You’re cooperative. We’ll let you off with a warning.” Okay, plantation. I see you.”
Cara Cruz, a spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Police Department told Atlanta Black Star, “officers were in the area of Frankstown Avenue and Brushton Avenue on January 16, as part of a larger investigation pertaining to the area, which we are not at liberty to discuss as it is an ongoing investigation.”
Police went on to say West consented to a vehicle search. They also confirmed West was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal. “Title 75-3334, a section of state law that is not identified as a secondary violation under the legislation,” Cruz said.
Secondary traffic infractions have been a focal point for many within the city of Pittsburgh.
Sloan uses West’s traffic stop as an example for why the city’s law barring officers from enforcing secondary traffic offenses should be enforced.
“Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess just signed a bill saying they couldn’t pull people over for minor secondary traffic stops,” Sloan yelled in her video.
WPIX reports although the city banned police from enforcing secondary traffic offenses, the acting police chief issued an order advising officers to “return to the practice of enforcing minor traffic violations, such as broken headlights or expired inspection stickers.”
Pittsburgh resident Day Bracey wrote on Facebook following the controversial arrest, “If the police are allowed to pick and choose which laws enacted by the civilian government to follow, then you don’t have local government oversight of police. You have police oversight of local government.”
West said after the traffic stop, “It made me feel targeted.”
Lovelace said her client is on parole for prior gun and drug charges so an arrest could have cost him his city job.
“He would have lost his job, he would have been disenrolled from school, his girlfriend would have been left to care for the baby by herself,” Lovelace said to KDKA.
Police issued West a warning citation for the turn signal and “loose amount of marijuana in the car.”