JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs division have completed an investigation into a JSO traffic stop where a local veteran claims he was the victim of racial profiling.
The investigation found that JSO officer Justin Peppers demonstrated conduct unbecoming of a police officer during the stop when he pulled over Navy veteran Braxton Smith in November of last year. However, the allegation of bias-based policing, which would have proved racial profiling, was unfounded, according to JSO.
Peppers has been the subject of more than a dozen community complaints and has a history of infractions within JSO.
Smith contacted the News4JAX I-TEAM after being pulled over by a JSO task force along Golfair Blvd. Smith said JSO officers were aggressive from the very start.
″Don’t worry about it, you keep your freaking hands out the window and shut your mouth, I’ll figure it out,” an officer can be heard saying in the body camera video obtained by News4JAX.
Smith said he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, searched and then detained for more than 30 minutes before task force members let him go without charging him with a crime. He said police questioned him about drugs and a handgun the Navy veteran was legally carrying in the trunk of his car. Smith alleged his vehicle was illegally searched and claimed he was the victim of profiling.
“I was scared from beginning to end,” Smith told News4JAX.
Smith filed a formal complaint against Officer Peppers and so did at least 14 other citizens after the video surfaced.
According to the results of JSO’s internal affairs investigation in reference to the initial traffic stop, it found that “officers established probable cause to search Smith’s vehicle based off observations of ‘shake’ inside of Smith’s vehicle and the odor of marijuana.”
The report exonerated Peppers and the task force for stopping and restraining Smith as well.
“This was based on probable cause” and “all done within JSO policy and in good faith,” the report states.
Internal affairs also investigated biased-based conduct and concluded that the claim was unfounded. The other officers that were seen in the body camera footage were interviewed as part of the internal investigation.
“Internal affairs finds Peppers did not initiate a traffic stop because of Smith’s race but instead concluded Peppers observed the Smith vehicle tint was too dark,” the report states.
Internal affairs did find Peppers used “profane language” while interacting with Smith and called Smith “Mr. Black Man,” after Smith said, “I’m a Black man in America, I’m terrified of the police.”
Internal affairs also charged Peppers with “repeated infractions of unbecoming conduct” citing his inability to refrain from the use of coarse language, citing multiple citizen complaints filed against him dating back to the year 2017.
Peppers has been reassigned within the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Smith has hired a lawyer and is contemplating suing JSO.