Traffic stop went wrong
Recently a 47 year old woman, driving with a friend and her two children, was stopped for a seatbelt violation. While many states do not aggressively make stops for seat belt violations only, it is a legal reason in virtually every state to stop a motorist and write a ticket.
Public safety sometimes is not appreciated but saves lives. So we live with the small intrusion upon our personal freedom to allow law officers to stop us and remind us, sometimes with a fine, that safety is not just a good idea, it is required in the case of a seatbelt.
This event should not be news though and should not, by any estimation of the ordinary, result in a federal lawsuit. However, the stop of Lisa Mahone, her passenger Jamal Jones and her two children ages 14 and 7, has become a federal case because virtually everything went wrong once the car pulled was off the road in Hammond, Indiana by two police officers.
The federal lawsuit charges the two officers with “malice” and “reckless conduct” as a result of a video of the event captured by the 14 year old boy in the backseat of the car.
Events started to go bad quickly in the stop. After informing Ms. Mahone of her violation, which occurred on a trip to visit her dying mother, the officers asked her passenger, Mr. Jones for identification. Jones explained that he did not have identification because his driver’s license was recently taken by police for his failure to maintain auto insurance coverage. Jones has claimed he showed officers the ticket that confirmed his explanation but the officer’s claim Jones refused to turn over to them the document.
At about this point the officers drew their weapons. Ms. Mahone told the officers she was afraid and she then used her cell phone to call 911, hoping for intervention in the rapidly escalating confrontation.
At this point the young man in the back seat of the vehicle turned on his cell phone recorder.
The officers moved to the passenger side of the car and demanded Jones come out of the car. One officer had his weapon in hand, the other held a club. Jones refused to open his door and one officer threatened to break the car window and drag Jones out through the window. Jones asked to speak to the officer’s supervisor.
Jones steadfastly refused to exit the car or unlock the door, later claiming he feared for his life.
Then the stunning event happened; one officer used his club to smash the passenger window, which caused broken shards of glass to fly throughout the vehicle and over the adults and two children.
Jones was pulled from the car and shocked with a stun gun twice and then arrested for failure to aid an officer and resisting law enforcement.
A police spokesperson explained that the officers were concerned for their safety because they claimed Jones “repeatedly reach (ed) towards the rear seats of the vehicle.” The video does not show Jones movements towards the rear seats.
Two of the arresting officers are reputed by the civil lawsuit filed by Jones to have been convicted previously for the use of excessive force, assault and battery and other charges.
A video of the event is circulating on the Internet.
Law enforcement is a difficult and challenging job, and certainly entails serious risk. But the events sparked when officers found a family of four, stopped for a seatbelt infraction, should not have allowed reasonable enforcement to result in the harm to Jones and the risk of broken glass injuries to Mahone and her children.
Police need sound judgment when dealing with the public.
Jamal Jones is African American.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.