It’s Constitution day, and I’m feeling particularly patriotic, so here’s a little story. This story is as factual as I can remember, being that this event happened a while ago, however some poetic license has been taken with the dialogue. Please forgive me. When my FOIA request goes through, I’ll post the video of this incident.
Backstory: I was a criminal justice major.
Now, I’m driving along on my way to work. It’s a sketchy little ‘98 Ford Escort, red and worn. I just dropped my friends off and started up Dorchester Road when I see some blue lights behind me. Being a law abiding citizen, I pull my car over, grab my license and registration, and wait for the officer to approach.
More backstory: I had bought a pack of those little firecrackers that you throw at the ground — snap ‘n’ pops, I think they’re called.
Officer walks up to my car: “License and registration, please.”
"Sure, no problem, here you are. What seems to be the problem?"
"Your brake light is out."
"Oops. Just got the car, and I wasn’t aware of the problem."
"Wait right here please." She leaves. I wait.
She returns: “Please step out of the car.”
"What’s the problem officer?" Passive resistance. I don’t want to appear threatening, but I don’t want to waste both our time with an unnecessary search.
"I need to search your vehicle. Any weapons or illegal substances that you have on you?"
I tell the officer that I have a knife in the glove compartment and some pepper spray in the passenger seat. She repeats her request for me to step out of the vehicle. In the interest of good faith, I comply, although I do not consent. Its better for both of us if I willingly concede my ground rather than continue to resist, however passively.
"On what grounds would you like to search me and my vehicle?"
"You have suspicious material all over your shirt." Those snap ‘n’ pops had gotten a little out of hand earlier with my friends around, and I had the sawdust they come packed in all over my shirt, and most of my car as well. I proceeded to tell her as much. I point to the empty box, full of the same sawdust.
"I still need to search you and your car."
"I refuse my consent to a search on the grounds that this is unconstitutional."
"I have probable cause. I’m going to search with your consent or not."
"Well, ma’am, in the interest of not sitting cuffed in the squad car, I’m going to comply with your search. That does not mean I am consenting: It simply means I want this to be quick and painless."
She asks me to assume the position. Again, I comply, but I simultaneously request a male officer. I don’t particularly want to be groped, and perhaps I can stall for some time: The law requires that a male officer request a female officer to search a female subject; why not likewise?
She denies my request. “It’s all on camera.”
I certainly hope it is.
She searches me, and she’s not especially gentle. It’s a little painful at times. She, of course, finds nothing of interest.
She asks me to remain by the squad car. I stand leaning against it, watching as she violates the remains of my 4th amendment rights. It’s not pretty. She grabs at something: Rolling papers. Much of the content of the car belongs to the previous owner. She walks back to me.
"Are you sure that there’s nothing you want to tell me?"
Now, having been a criminal justice major, I know how worn the “that’s not mine” excuse can be. So I sidestep it: “Those aren’t illegal.”
"Those aren’t illegal. I am entirely within my rights to possess those rolling papers. They were procured legally, and used for the legal consumption of tobacco. May I please continue with my day?"
"When I’m done with the search." She returns to rifle through my car, but of course fails to find any contraband. She returns my keys and tells me to sit in my car. She writes me a ticket; while she’s writing, I’m writing down her name and badge number. She hands me the ticket — a warning for my taillight — and leaves.
And that’s the story of how North Charleston Police Department decided to ignore my constitutional rights. I have a signed form letter from them stating that the complaint that I filed against the department was sustained, which basically means that they agree that what I stated is in line with what happened.
Happy Constitution day!