Sanford police criticized for traffic stop, tasing incident

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On the night of June 26th, Traymon Williams was driving with his girlfriend, DeShonda Robinson, and her younger brother, Kelvin Robinson, Jr., when he noticed a police car following close behind him. Not wanting to risk getting a ticket, Williams said he double checked that he was driving exactly the speed limit, and that everyone in the car was wearing their seat belts.

Williams said minutes later, a second squad car raced toward them in the on-coming lane. It made a sharp U-turn, and soon, was joined by at least three other cars. Before long, blue and red lights were flashing and sirens wailing, and Williams, 26, found himself being ordered out of his car, and told to lie face down on the street. He goes on to describe the incident by saying  his arms were yanked behind his back as he was placed in handcuffs, the hot asphalt burning his cheek. He could see DeShonda out of the corner of his eye, being ordered to sit on the ground, along with Kelvin, but in that moment, he could only think about the sound of guns clicking into the ready position.

“This kid thought he was going to be killed,” says Michael Moore, attorney for Williams.  He told theGrio. “[Williams] was scared to death. He heard the clicking of guns [into the 'ready to fire' position]. He was scared to death.”

Eventually, Williams said, he recognized one of the officers and begged him to tell the others who he is. Williams attended some of the rallies and events calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest for shooting Trayvon Martin in 2012. He did a number of media interviews, including with theGrio, with his first name ”Traymon” — so similar to Trayvon’s — making him an attractive subject.  He previously met the newly installed police chief, Cecil Smith, at a community meeting.

Now, Moore has put Sanford police on notice. Williams has requested an internal affairs review, which Chief Smith says is already underway. The next step will be a notification, by letter, that unless the situation is resolved, the three black Sanford residents will file a lawsuit against the department.

“If there’s a way to resolve it, perfect,” Moore said. “If not, they’ll sue. The grounds might include civil rights violations, they might include intentional infliction of emotional distress, and possibly negligent infliction of emotional distress, or potentially false imprisonment – they weren’t free to leave. We’re still investigating that.”

Moore said that “resolution” has to go beyond an apology, which he says Williams didn’t even get after officers realized he wasn’t the person in the “Be On the Lookout” (BOLO) alert that triggered what’s called a “felony traffic stop” — one in which officers use maximum caution to ensure that the suspect is immobilized and unable to harm the officers attempting to effect a felony arrest. That night, officers were looking for a suspect in a home invasion. But Moore said that based on the photo published in local newspapers, the suspect is much larger than Williams. “The gentleman, if I can call him that, that they were looking for weighed 200-plus pounds, based on seeing the a photograph in the newspaper, and Traymon probably weighs 165, 170 if that,” Moore said.

“During a felony traffic stop, so people will have an understanding, it’s not your normal traffic stop,” Smith told theGrio. “We don’t come in and ask for a driver’s license, because there is a belief that the individuals might be armed and dangerous. So when the officer saw Mr. Williams driving he thought it was the individual we were looking for. During a felony traffic stop the individuals are usually ordered out of the vehicle, in many cases at gunpoint. Usually the driver first and they are usually placed in a position of disadvantage to the officers, usually face down, facing away from the officers, and the passengers are done the same way. This particular day it was really hot out and unfortunately, Mr. Williams was placed on the hot surface as were the other individuals. They were handcuffed and brought to the back of the vehicle and the identification was made that he was not the individuals they were looking for. Mr. Williams and the other two people were released.”

“I would simply say if they are stopping the right person, then they are correct,” Moore said. “But if they are stopping someone who they believe might be the person, as opposed to someone who is an exact match for the BOLO — the color of the car, the exact make and model and license tag, that’s the exception. If they have a real high confidence level that that’s the car they’re looking for. I think you’ve got to be darned sure.” In this case, Moore insists that the only similarities between Williams and the suspect were that both men were black, and both drove Toyota Camry models… The tags on the car didn’t match, and Williams says the first police car followed close enough to run the tags on the car, which belonged to his girlfriend.

Sanford Police Chief Smith said that when he learned of the incident, he remembered Williams as “a very good young man,” and that he “immediately implemented an internal investigation to look at the conduct of my officers that same day and we are in the process of reviewing the circumstances behind that traffic stop.” But he said that at first glance, it did not appear that the officers violated any of the department’s procedures.

“As soon as the info came to my attention, I had met this young man before, I know that he has his   master’s degree and had moved back to the community, and I believed that we had developed a relationship where he could come to me.” Smith said he called Williams himself last week, but that Williams referred him to Moore. He added that since Williams retained an attorney, the situation has become a “stalemate,” although Moore said Williams and his companions that night have given depositions to Internal Affairs.

“Traymon is traumatized, believe me,” said Moore. “He can’t talk about it without breaking down, and neither can his girlfriend. The cops didn’t apologize. There’s a way you handle it once you realize it’s not the person. Especially, you’d think they’d be a little more sensitive to these kind of stops when someone’s being profiled who’s African-American, in light of the Trayvon Martin case. So it’s clear to me that there’s not been any sensitivity training department-wide, because if so, it would have been handled differently.”

Moore says that to say Williams and his family are angry is an “understatement,” and that at this stage, he wants more than an apology.

“This is not something where a simple apology will do,” says Moore. “I think a resolution means making sure this will not happen to someone else. [Williams'] goal is to make sure the police department makes changes, so that someone like him is not traumatized the way he is. This kid has a clean record. He has never done anything wrong. Talk about all-American kids. They will present themselves very well if this goes further.”