by: Mike Petchenik Updated:
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A Dunwoody business owner claims the city's police department violated his civil rights during a recent traffic stop.
Jermaine Muhammad told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik it happened in mid-June as he drove to pick up supplies for his barber shop on Winter's Chapel Road.
"He tells me the reason I pulled you over is because of the cracked windshield," said Muhammad. "He immediately goes into questioning me about weapons and drugs."
Muhammad said Dunwoody police Officer Dale Laskowski asked him if he could search the vehicle and Muhammad declined because he didn't feel the officer had any probable cause to do it. That's when radio traffic from the stop indicates Laskowksi called for backup and for a Doraville police dog to search the car.
"Something just ain't sitting right with me about this guy,” Laskowski can be heard telling a colleague on dash cam video obtained by Petchenik. “He just looks like the type that, if and when K9 gets here and they get him out to search that vehicle, he is going to try and run. I think he's you know, be willing to take a gamble that the dog ain't gonna pick up on anything."
Muhammad said the dog rummaged through his vehicle and his belongings for several minutes as he was forced to stand on the side of the road. The traffic stop lasted for nearly 45 minutes.
"There were no drugs found, no weapons found," he said. "It was frustrating. It was publicly humiliating."
Attorney Mark Bullman said what happened to Muhammad was a clear violation of his civil rights.
"The law is abundantly clear," he said. "If there is not probable cause, meaning it's more likely than not a crime's occurred and this is the person that did it, you don't get to detain somebody for an extended period of time."
Bullman said he reviewed about a dozen recent cases involving the same officer calling in K-9 backup, and it caused him some concern.
"In almost every instance I found, it's been a violation of constitutional law," he said.
Bullman said Dunwoody police need to retrain the officer who pulled over his client and others so they don't continue to violate rights.
“The stuff Jermaine is alleged to have done is less serious in the eyes of the law than what the officer admittedly did in this case,” he said. “There’s something dangerous when a police department doesn’t understand what the law allows them to do and what it doesn’t allow them to do.
A judge later dismissed the citations for the cracked window and for a tail light malfunction. Muhammad paid a fine for failing to update his home address on his driver’s license.
Dunwoody police wouldn't go on camera or grant an interview about the allegations. Instead, they sent Petchenik a statement:
"The Dunwoody Police Department takes all complaints serious, especially those involving allegations of racial profiling. We pride ourselves on having a professional police department with a good reputation in our community. As a police department, we have a duty and a responsibility to deliver fair and impartial police services to our community. This belief and practice is reflected in our mission statement and in the actions of our officers.
"Once Mr. Muhammad filed his complaint, it was assigned to Sergeant Dove for him to investigate. Sergeant Dove conducted a review of the videotape of the traffic stop, spoke to Mr. Muhammad and spoke to Officer Laskowski, who was the officer who made the traffic stop.
"A review of all the facts found that Officer Laskowski had probable cause to stop Mr. Muhammad. We train our officers to look beyond the traffic stop when engaged in this type of enforcement. Based only on the actions of the driver, Officer Laskowski asked to search the vehicle and when Mr. Muhammad said no he requested a K-9 come do a free air sniff around the car. The K-9 alerted on the trunk of the car as evident in the video.
"A subsequent search found an empty container which had a strong odor of marijuana coming from it. Mr. Muhammad was issued several citations and released. There is absolutely no evidence to support Mr. Muhammad's allegations. In fact, Mr. Muhammad states in his complaint that 'what made him nervous was watching him (the officer) approach my vehicle unhooking the latch to his weapon.'
"The video clearly shows Officer Laskowski approach the car and at no time did he 'unhook' his weapon or do anything with his weapon. Officer Laskowski did appear to turn on his radio which is on the opposite side of his gun belt from his weapon.
"Also in his complaint, Mr. Muhammad stated that "racial profiling is nothing new to me". It appears that Mr. Muhammad may have made some assumptions about the traffic stop based on his mistaken belief that Officer Laskowski had 'unhooked' his weapon and based on his past experiences rather than the facts of the case.
"On another note, about a year ago Mr. Muhammad filed a written complaint with our department about the way an officer, who was directing traffic at a construction site in the hot sun, spoke to him as he was pulling out of a parking lot into traffic.
"Based on a review of the complaint, an officer was counseled about making sure he is aware of how his comments are received and strive to display courtesy and respect when engaging citizens. We investigate every complaint and take the appropriate action dictated by the results of our investigation.
"On a final note, Chief Grogan has served on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Civil Rights Committee for the past seven years. He has worked with this committee to address issues of racial profiling and biased based policing across the country. Chief Grogan would not tolerate any form of biased based policing at the Dunwoody Police Department."