Friday, May 05, 2000
Report: Traffic stop was valid
By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WAYNESVILLE A sheriff's report released Thursday cleared two village officers of engaging in racial profiling during a traffic stop of three young black men on Feb. 26.
But the investigation, requested by village officials, raised other questions about the officers' actions.
Detective Mark Duvelius of the Warren County Sheriff's Office questioned why the stop was not taped even though the village cruiser was mounted with a video camera.
He also raised concerns that the officers did not radio the location of the traffic stop to the county communications center.
This action raises several questions. First, is there a pattern of unrecorded traffic stops being made by the Waynesville Police Department? Detective Duvelius wrote in his report summary.
The report concluded that part-time Officers Ryan Stanaford and Marc Walters had probable cause to stop the car driven by Saul Plaza,
a 19-year-old soldier from Monroe, because of alleged traffic violations.
The report also concluded the officers were justified in drawing their guns because the driver had made a statement about guns.
Detective Duvelius also said they had a right to search the car for drugs because the officers said they saw hollowed-out cigars, called blunts, in the car. The report says that Mr. Plaza admitted to Detective Duvelius that he used the blunts to smoke marijuana, but had not consumed drugs or alcohol that night.
Mr. Plaza, who is biracial, and passengers Dwenton Jackson and DeAngelo Harrington, who are black, claimed they were singled out because of their race.
They said Officers Stanaford and Walters pulled them over at 12:26 a.m. Feb. 26, ordered them out of the car with their guns drawn, then handcuffed them and held them for more than an hour while they searched Mr. Plaza's car with a drug dog.
Mr. Jackson, 19, said the stop occurred after police circled the block several times while the group played basketball at a village park. The three high-school friends were visiting a white friend at a Third Street apartment that night and said they were on their way back to the residence when they were stopped.
The officers told Chief Allen Carter they stopped Mr. Plaza's car for a cracked taillight, a loud exhaust system, improper display of temporary license plate and broken turn signals after following the vehicle for a few blocks.
After finding no drugs in the car, police released the men without issuing traffic citations or filing any charges.
Chief Carter could not be reached Thursday.
Village Council President Sandra Stemple said: It was a normal traffic stop. It happens every day of the week, by every police officer around, and nobody's dogging them about it.
She said the report confirms what she knew already: that the police department does a good job.
Ms. Stemple said she had no lingering concerns because the camera issue has been ad dressed. The cameras in the village police cruisers used to be manually operated, but they have been upgraded to turn on automatically when the car's lights and sirens are activated, she said.
Further, Ms. Stemple said she resented the fact that news of the investigation was released to the press before the investigation was complete. There was nothing to be informed of, she said.
But Mayor Charles Sanders, one of three black adults in the rural village of 2,000 residents, disputed the findings.
I'll be accepting that report with great trepidation, said the mayor, who has weathered calls from two councilmen to resign because of his views on the incident.
The issue of racial profiling came under intense national scrutiny in February after four New York City officers were acquitted of killing an unarmed West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo.
Waynesville is not a racist town. We have a couple rotten apples in the basket that I want to get rid of. I can't get council to go along with it, Mr. Sanders said.
Mr. Plaza, who is stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., could not be reached Thursday.
I am disappointed, to tell you the truth. I'm really at a loss for words, Mr. Jackson said. He said he had not yet read the report.
Dennis Lieberman, a lawyer representing Messrs. Plaza, Jackson and Harrington, said he wasn't surprised by the outcome of the investigation.
He said he was conducting his own probe because he did not put much faith in the sheriff's investigation.
When you talk about racial profiling, you are talking about an indigenous situation that is difficult to prove and easy to cover, he said.
Col. Del Everett, the sheriff's chief deputy, said the investigation was thorough.
The report stands for itself. It doesn't make any difference who we're investigation. Even when we investigate our own, it's on the up and up. The truth is the truth, Col. Everett said.
Janice Morse contributed to this story.
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