JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM on Thursday obtained body camera video that shows a traffic stop involving a local Navy veteran who said he feels like he was racially profiled.
Driver Braxton Smith said officers yanked him out of his car, handcuffed him face down on the ground and illegally searched his vehicle. After being detained and questioned for more than 30 minutes, Smith said Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Task Force members let him go free, without charging him with a crime.
The video shows officers thought Smith was trying to elude arrest.
On JSO body-worn video, police are heard saying they pulled Smith over because he traveled 300 yards with them behind him flashing their lights and sirens. That’s the length of three football fields and 45 seconds to a minute at a slow speed.
Smith, who is Black, said he didn’t pull over immediately because he wanted to find a well-lit, safe place to stop, and he believes he was racially profiled.
Lights and sirens were seen along Golfair Boulevard the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving during the traffic stop that started at Pearl Street and ended in a business parking lot.
″Turn the car off, turn it off,” officers can be heard saying in the video. “Get your hands out the window, get your hands out the window.”
Smith can be seen with his hands out the window. He’s holding his driver’s license and registration.
″Don’t move,” an officer says.
“I ain’t moving, what’s up?” Smith said.
“Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. You keep your hands out the freaking window and shut your mouth,” an officer says.
In the video, police ask Smith if he smokes hemp and then tells him he might be going to jail.
“Officer, I’m a law-abiding citizen,” Smith says.
“Well, right now you might be going to jail,” an officer says.
“For what?” Smith responds.
“We’ll talk about that in a second,” the officer says.
Smith told News4JAX he was pulled over after speaking with a man at a nearby convenience store.
In the video, Smith tells police he was trying to find a safe location to pull over for police and himself. He’s read his Miranda rights and then aggressively questioned by the officer.
“So, why didn’t you stop?” the officer says repeatedly.
“I just told you,” Smith says.
“You think you’re smarter than everyone else,” the officer says.
“Look at what you just did to me. You just snatched me out my car, I rolled the window down and gave you my license, my registration, you didn’t read me my rights, you snatched me out of the car,” Smith says.
“You’re damn right I did. Why did I do that?” the officer interrupts.
“I don’t know, I haven’t the slightest idea,” Smith said.
“Because for 300 yards I had my lights on,” the officer says while Smith repeatedly tells him to search his name in the system.
“I’m a Black man in America, I’m terrified of the police,” Smith says.
“Mr. Black man, I’m asking you a question, how many different sirens did I turn on, how many times did I lay on my horn?” the officer says.
He then tells Smith to get in the back of his police cruiser and shut his mouth.
While Smith is being questioned, police search his car for drugs but don’t find any. Then they move to the trunk where they locate the veteran’s holstered handgun. One of the officers can be heard alleging that while Smith was being pulled over, he somehow reached behind him and put the gun in the trunk through the back seat.
“He absolutely could have,” an officer says.
“Let’s see if he’s a convicted felon, I’ll go run him for that,” an officer says.
Officers on the scene determined Smith was not a convicted felon. They then question him as to why he doesn’t have a concealed carry license for his gun before finally letting him go.
“I’m not going to take you in for felony fleeing and eluding. My ticket-writing program is not working right now, and we’ve got reports of gunshots down the street. So that’s the reason why we are letting you go,” the officer said.
Smith has filed an formal complaint against the JSO officers in the video, and JSO said the incident is being administratively reviewed.
The first three minutes of the police encounter were captured on his cell phone camera before officers turned the recording off.
Smith is also taking issue with the fact that JSO Task Force members stopped his cell phone video from recording while searching his vehicle without his consent. He says he wants answers and he wants the officers to be held accountable.
On Friday, legal experts are weighing on the release of this video. Why they say the video can be a learning lesson for both the public and police.