A video taken during a traffic stop in California is drawing debate over the officer’s decision to keep his gun pointed at the passenger for more than nine minutes.
The stop took place last Wednesday morning along U.S. Route 101, south of San Jose, after an officer noticed a car pass him going 85 mph, according to the Campbell Police Department.
After stopping the car for speeding, the officer requested the driver’s license and additional paperwork. The driver and passenger spent several minutes looking for the paperwork before the officer walked back to his motorcycle to write a citation, police said.
It was at that point their stories diverged. According to police, the passenger began reaching “under his seat.”
“It is not clear why the passenger chose to reach under the seat since the officer was not requesting any other paperwork,” Campbell police said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the passenger’s unexpected movement towards the bottom of the seat, caused the officer to perceive a threat and draw his handgun.”
However, a man sitting in the vehicle’s passenger seat — the target of the officer’s gun — maintained throughout the incident that he had simply been reaching for some papers on the floor to try to find the vehicle’s license and registration, as requested.
A video that apparently was recorded by a woman in the car begins as the male passenger is expressing incredulity that the officer has pulled a gun.
“Wow,” the passenger says in the video, laughing. “We’re looking for the f—ing paperwork, bro. Oh my God.”
“I understand that,” the officer replies. “Don’t move, all right?”
The passenger sounds indignant as his hands remain on his lap. “Why are you still pointing that gun at me, bro?” he asks the officer. “Why are you still pointing the gun at me, though? Record this sh-t. Why are you still pointing the gun at me, bro? My hands are right here.”
“I understand,” the officer says.
“No, you don’t understand,” the passenger protests, as the officer tells him to relax. “No, I’m not going to relax. Get the f—king gun off me.”
A woman in the car asks the officer: “Is that really necessary? His hands are both out.”
The officer says that it is necessary as he waits for backup to arrive, eliciting another round of protests from the vehicle’s passengers. For several more minutes, they remain at an impasse, with the passenger muttering periodic complaints as music plays in the background. The entire time, the officer’s gun is trained on the man.
Toward the end, the officer relays something through the radio and the passenger begins protesting again. At one point in the video, the officer mentions that there had been a screwdriver on the floor of the car.
“Why are you trying to make this bigger than it is, bro?” the passenger says. “We complied with everything you asked for.”
The video lasts a little more than nine minutes total, and the officer’s gun is pointed at the male passenger the entire time. Police said in a statement the officer had to wait longer than usual for backup to arrive “and provide assistance in safely resolving the situation.”
“We understand that it is never a comfortable position to have a gun pointed at you, regardless of whether it is a police officer,” police said. “Unfortunately, the length of time that the officer’s gun was drawn lasted much longer than normal based on his location.”
Police said the traffic stop was resolved amicably.
“In the end, the officer had a conversation with the passenger of the vehicle explaining his actions and why the gun was pointed at him,” police said. “The passenger indicated he understood why it happened and actually apologized to the officer. Both the driver and the passenger were issued citations and were allowed to leave.”
However, the video was uploaded to Facebook last Saturday with a caption that suggested there may not have been as much understanding as police thought. (Note: The video contains profanity.)
“CAMPBELL COP IS A B—-!!!!!!!!!!” wrote a Facebook user named “Feo Mas” who identified himself as the passenger in the video. “(He) pulled out a gun cuz I reached for paperwork he asked for.”
A week later, the video had amassed nearly 2 million views on Facebook, as well as tens of thousands more on YouTube. Online, a debate raged: Several people defended the police officer and said they felt the passenger should have remained quiet, while others were outraged at how long the officer had trained his gun on the passenger despite the man’s hands being visible at all times.
Police departments are under increased scrutiny for violent, often fatal interactions with suspects. So far this year, 594 people have been shot and killed by police, according to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. Last year, police shot and killed 963 people.
In a message Sunday night, the Facebook user who posted the video continued to dispute several aspects of the police account.
The Campbell Police Department said in a statement it was aware of the video circulating online, as well as the thousands of comments surrounding it. Police also cited an officer-involved shooting that had taken place in nearby Los Banos, Calif., as an example of the “unfortunate reality” that people sometimes attack police.
“As an agency, we can understand the response to the Facebook video, and that is why we have and will continue engaging our community,” police said. “The comments on the Facebook video bring up a lot of different viewpoints about how the officer could have responded differently or used different tactics. Our officers receive a tremendous amount of training on a consistent basis and that training is what dictates our response. This is intended to protect our officers as well as those they come in contact with.”
Police said they had reviewed footage from the officer’s body cam, which included the beginning and end of the incident not shown in the Facebook video. The department did not release any footage from the officer’s camera. A Campbell police spokesman said Monday the department was still reviewing legal considerations around releasing the body-cam footage.
“We are thankful that this incident resolved itself with no one getting injured and hope that this additional information provides clarification,” police said.
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report. This post has been updated.