The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs is investigating a complaint against an officer who allegedly racially profiled a Black veteran during a traffic stop.
Investigators found that the officer’s behavior was inconsistent with the conduct expected of an officer but that he did not stop the Navy vet because of his race.
A review of the officer’s history revealed numerous community complaints, indicating a pattern of misconduct over the years. Still, very little punitive action was taken against the officer— and as a result, the veteran has secured a lawyer and thinking about suing the department.
JSO officer Justin Peppers was under scrutiny after pulling over Navy veteran Braxton Smith on Nov. 24, 2022.
Smith alleged that Peppers engaged in bias-based policing, but his allegations were never substantiated. However, over his career, Peppers has received 14 complaints and has a history of infractions within JSO, according to sources.
On the night of the incident, Smith says Peppers used excessive force during their interaction, which included throwing the sailor to the ground, handcuffing him, performing an illegal search, and detaining him for half an hour.
Body-camera captured the incident. Click here to watch the video.
Smith was later released without charges only after task force members came to the scene of the stop to support Peppers.
During the 30 minutes, the disabled Florida veteran was asked about drugs and the legal firearm he had in the trunk of his car. He also threatened to charge Smith with felony fleeing.
“I was scared from beginning to end,” Smith said in an interview with News4JAX.
He also said he felt humiliated by the stop and what he believed was an illegal search.
“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 said.
The internal investigation concluded that even though Peppers’ conduct was not acceptable, Smith was pulled over for a reason. A report on the incident said, “Officers established probable cause to search Smith’s vehicle based off observations of ‘shake’ inside of Smith’s vehicle and the odor of marijuana.”
Peppers and the task force were exonerated for stopping and restraining the Navyman.
“This was based on probable cause” and “all done within JSO policy and in good faith,” the report continued.
According to internal affairs, Peppers did not initiate the traffic stop because of Smith’s race. He stopped him because he believed his vehicle’s tint was too dark.
Where Peppers was wrong is in the banter that he had with Smith during the stop. Internal affairs reported Peppers used “profane language” while engaging with Smith.
After Smith said, “I’m a Black man in America, I’m terrified of the police.”
Peppers started calling the veteran “Mr. Black Man,”
The investigation also founder Peppers has committed “repeated infractions of unbecoming conduct,” stating evidence showed he was unable to refrain from the use of coarse language while policing.
The report cited the multiple citizen complaints filed against him dating back to the year 2017 as additional proof of such conduct. Between 2020 and 2022, he was the subject of 10 internal affairs investigations, according to LEO Ratings.
The outcome of the investigation resulted in Peppers being reassigned within the JSO.