ATLANTA — A Channel 2 Action News investigation has uncovered a new kind of profiling that could leave you sitting on the side of the road while officers search your car.
She and her husband were driving in Gwinnett County when they were pulled over by DeKalb County police officers, including a K-9 unit. Hampton says she was made to wait outside in the rain for more than 30 minutes.
“They searched the vehicle. They didn’t find anything. They damaged the birthday cake that was in the car,” Hampton said. “Never apologized, it just was a nightmare.”
She says the K-9 left several scratches and dog hair all over her car. An officer wrote her a ticket for ‘driving too fast for conditions’ but a judge dismissed the case.
Hampton contacted Channel 2 after watching a similar news story earlier this year. Robert Brinson had recorded his DeKalb police traffic stop, after the officer started asking about drugs.
“Is this normal procedure for someone to get pulled over for a traffic ticket and ya’ll detain them?” Brinson asked on the video.
“We didn’t detain you. We asked you about drugs. We are just going off of these clues and everything else,” the officer replied. The officer never said what those clues were.
Brinson was late for a work appointment and admits he was speeding when the officer stopped him on Interstate 20 near Panola Road. It took just eight minutes to write Brinson’s ticket, but then he was made to wait on the side of the road for an hour for a K-9 to arrive to search for drugs.
“And I asked him, is this normal procedure to search people for drugs once you pull them over for speeding? He was like ‘If you don’t have anything why can’t we search?'” Brinson said.
“I was actually kind of shocked that so many people was going through this,” said driver Fred Williamson.
Gwinnett police stopped Williamson to measure his window tint as he and his wife were driving to pick up a prescription. He had left his wallet at home, but recited his personal information to the officer from memory. Then, he says the officer asked if he could search for drugs.
“Most people would say, if you don’t have anything why not go ahead and let them search it? Because that’s my right to refuse them,” said Williamson, adding that the officer began searching him, his wife and his car anyway.
“I’m still constantly telling him I do not give you consent to search my car and that’s when he pulled his Taser out and he pointed it at me. He told me to turn around and put my hands behind my back, and he walked over and placed me in handcuffs,” Williamson said, “After he didn’t find anything, that’s when he came back and he took the handcuffs off of me.”
In all three of the above cases, police found nothing during the search. All of the drivers filed police department complaints. All were driving Dodge Chargers.
“I had never heard of car profiling, not until now,” Williamson said.
Another Gwinnett police officer who witnessed the search filed a complaint against the officer who did it. In a written report, an internal affairs investigator admitted Williamson’s ‘vehicle would draw the attention of police officers.’
“He just said you’re more likely to be pulled over because of the Dodge Charger and because of the theft of Dodge Chargers and because of the way they’re built they’re more likely to have a bunch of drugs in them,” Williamson said.
“To suggest that driving a particular type of car indicates you’re committing a crime is ridiculous,” said attorney Mark Bullman, who has already filed a lawsuit against DeKalb County, alleging a pattern of illegal car searches by officers.
“Your right as a driver is to say ‘I don’t consent to you searching my vehicle.’ They don’t have a right to search if there is not reasonable suspicion,” said Bullman.
But a metro-area K-9 officer told Channel 2 he is often asked to provide that ‘suspicion’ by having his dog show up and alert on the outside of the car, which gives officers the authority to search the inside.
“They’re hitting when they shouldn’t be hitting and then the second issue is that the handlers are cuing the dogs, causing them to hit and then using that as the impetus to then improperly or illegally search the vehicle,” the officer said, asking not to be identified.
He said he’s also noticed a pattern.
“Your Chargers, certain Chevy vehicles we’re seeing, your Challengers, and vehicles of that nature. They’re being targeted specifically because young black men are driving those vehicles,” the officer said.
Tenesha Walker says officers walked up to her Dodge Charger while she was lost and trying to turn around in a DeKalb County neighborhood.
“They asked me if I had any weapons or drugs in my vehicle… I was shocked,” said Walker, who was working as a 911 operator for DeKalb police at the time.
She says officers shined a flashlight into the backseat of her car, during daylight, to look around.
“I wrote a letter to internal affairs and I stated that if I had tinted windows and chrome rims I believe that it would have been worse,” said Walker.
In all four complaints, the departments cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.
Shenita Hampton said she’s not willing to take the risk, “My husband and I, we decided to get rid of [the car] because we’re hearing more and more stories of Chargers being pulled over, and I didn’t want to go through that anymore.”