Body camera video shows traffic stop of Baltimore City councilman

Baltimore Police body cameras recorded officers pulling over a city councilman earlier this month in an example of the kind of everyday encounters that the cameras now capture.

In the video, Robert Stokes Sr. quickly identifies himself as a councilman and an officer can be heard saying he's been pulled over for having two broken taillights, failing to use a turn signal, and driving through a stop sign.

The officer says he can smell alcohol and questions Stokes about drinking, but does not order a field sobriety test and gives Stokes a warning for the stop sign violation.

Police released the footage after a public records request from The Baltimore Sun.

Stokes, in an interview, denied that he ran a stop sign, and said he had had one glass of wine. He said he was frustrated that he was asked to park his car and walk to his nearby destination.

"I didn't want a confrontation with them," said Stokes, who was elected to the council last year.

The incident occurred at about 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 8 in the 2200 block of McElderry St.

After pulling Stokes over, the officer informed him of the tail lights, and Stokes asked to get out and see for himself.

"You've had a couple drinks tonight," the officer said to Stokes on the video as he showed him the broken taillights at the back of the car.

"I had one beer," Stokes said.

"I don't believe that," the officer said.

After writing up a warning, the officer asked Stokes, now sitting back in his car, to park across the street.

"This car stop can go one of two ways. I can either give you this verbal warning that I have in my hand about you failing to stop at that stop sign. You can park your car right here."

"Why I got to park my car right there?" Stokes said. "I'm not drunk, sir."

"Sir, I can smell a very strong odor of alcohol," the officer said.

"I had a glass of wine," Stokes said.

"Back at the back of the car you told me it was a beer," the officer said. "Mr. Stokes, if you want to argue about this, what I'll do is get back in my car, I'll call someone who is field-sobriety-trained, and I'll have them run you through a field sobriety test."

"I'll take the warning," Stokes said.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the officer "handled the situation by using their discretion."

"Officers possess discretion all the time. They are not compelled to give a ticket versus a warning in traffic situation," Smith said. "Each person's perspective is going to be different and you aren't compelled to make an arrest at a certain point."

Smith said the officers who performed the stop are assigned to the Operational Intelligence Division, a plainclothes unit focused on guns, drugs and violence that uses traffic stops in an attempt to find other types of crime.

"These officers mainly focus on guns, drugs and violence," he said. "In the circumstances presented, they exercised discretion in the situation which is perfectly reasonable."

Smith said police did not have data on the percentage of traffic stops that end in a warning, or in an officer telling the subject to park the car.

Stokes told The Sun that he thinks it's good that interactions with police are being recorded.

City police began equipping officers with body cameras last May. More than 900 city officers are now equipped with body cameras.

"I think it's good because of all the things that have been going on with the interactions with the police," he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
77°