Attorney: JSO officers went ‘too far’ during traffic stop involving Navy veteran who says he was profiled

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After viewing body-worn camera video of a traffic stop involving a Navy veteran who claims he was racially profiled by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, legal experts are weighing in on the officers’ actions.

There are two sides to this story.

Driver Braxton Smith said when police initiated the traffic stop, he drove 300 yards to find a well-lit place to pull over. And then there’s the perspective of JSO Task Force members who oftentimes deal with some of Jacksonville’s most violent criminals. While officers were prepared for the worst-case scenario, a lawyer not associated with the case says police went too far.

RELATED: Bodycam video shows tense traffic stop involving Jacksonville veteran who says he was racially profiled

During the stop, JSO officers found no evidence of any crime and decide not to press charges against Smith. And before releasing Smith, the arresting officer tried to explain to Smith why they yanked him out of the car and aggressively put him in handcuffs.

“That’s why I had you keep your hands out the car, I don’t want you taking, it takes half a second for you to grab a gun and shoot. It takes me on a good day 1.8 seconds to grab my gun and shoot, so that means I can get shot three to four times before I even get my gun out the holster, right? So these are the kinds of odds I have to deal with man,” the officer said.

Smith said he drove approximately 300 yards before he pulled over because he was trying to find a safe place to stop, but the police seemed to believe he was trying to get away.

News4JAX showed the bodycam video to defense attorney Lauren Prater who’s not associated with the case. She said in her opinion, the JSO Task Force members went too far.

“So he puts his hands out the window with his license and registration, he did take a second to get his license and registration,” she said. “Then he’s thrown out the car with a seatbelt still on. I mean, again, he listened to the officers’ commands, he actually went a step further and gave the officers what we think that, you know, officers would typically ask for. So again, he complied with the officers’ demands. I understand that cops have a duty to protect and serve, and, you know, these officers, that should be their goals. But I just feel like that went a step too far in this situation.”

Bodycam video reveals JSO officers tried to find a violation to charge Smith with by first questioning whether the Navy veteran threw his holstered handgun into the trunk from the driver’s seat while he was being pulled over.

“Again, it’s frustrating because it seems as though there’s some fishing going around and all things like when you look at it in the grand scheme of things, this is a gentleman that was sitting in his vehicle with his seatbelt on whether he had a gun or not. It was nowhere near him. It was in his trunk,” Prater said.

Officers also questioned the Navy veteran as to why he doesn’t have a concealed carry license. They interrogated him about drugs that they didn’t find and alleged his front two windows were tinted too dark.

“Listen, officers’ jobs are to question individuals when they’re stopped. But this right here is a bit of a reach because there was no time or opportunity for him to do all that they were questioning him as to whether or not he had done,” Prater said.

Officers told Smith they let him go because their police equipment malfunctioned.

Prater said Smith’s civil rights may have been violated.

“I think, more importantly, I think that there may be a case against the officers potentially, within their own HR and integrity department to investigate how they handled this and whether it was appropriate,” she said.

News4JAX put in a public records request for the names of the JSO Task Force officers involved in the incident and the task force they are assigned to, and we are waiting on that reply.

JSO said the case is under review after Smith filed a formal complaint.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.