8/25/2016Texas: Dashcam Video Undermines Police Account Of Traffic Stop
Drug dealer escapes punishment after dashcam video disproves traffic stop justification of a Texas deputy.
Police officers rarely have their testimony questioned in the courtroom. That was not the case in the federal courthouse in Amarillo, Texas on Friday as a judge ordered all charges dropped against a motorist accused of an unsafe lane change after a police officer's testimony was found to be inconsistent with video evidence.
In dispute was what exactly Deputy Dustin Lansbury saw before he stopped the blue 2015 Nissan Sentra driven by Daniel Gastelum Ramos on Interstate 40 on April 12. Ramos says he made a "safe and legal" move left into the passing lane to get around a slow-moving truck. He saw a fast approaching vehicle in his rearview mirror, so he quickly moved right after getting past the truck. The officer's account of what happened differed significantly.
"I watched as the vehicle cut in front of the vehicle after barely passing it," Deputy Lansbury wrote in his arrest report. "The vehicle appeared to have left one to two car lengths between it and the truck... I recognized the car cutting off the truck to be a safety hazard, and if the car had to stop for any reason I do not believe the truck could have stopped... before hitting the car."
Deputy Lansbury admitted he was "a football field" away when he saw the alleged traffic violation. A dashcam video of the incident shows Deputy Lansbury was far behind Ramos that he had to accelerate over 110 MPH to catch up. He did not use his lights or siren while doing so. The video also shows that the truck did not use its brakes when Ramos moved over. Texas law requires that, when passing, a motorist must be "safely clear" of the passed vehicle before moving back over.
The public defender representing Ramos used the video to calculate that, based on the position of the lines painted on the pavement, Ramos was six car lengths ahead of the truck. Because there was no legitimate traffic violation, the lawyer argued, the initial traffic stop was illegal and the evidence of drugs found in the car after a search should be suppressed. US District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater agreed.
"Deputy Lansbury was traveling at 115 mph, was focused on another alleged traffic violation, was attempting to catch up to the other alleged violator, and was trailing approximately one football foot (300 feet) behind Ramos' vehicle, in the left lane," Judge Fitzwater ruled. "This combination of fact makes it doubtful that, despite Deputy Lansbury's training and experience, he could have observed the distance between Ramos' vehicle and the passed truck at the time Ramos returned to the right lane. And the objective unreasonableness of his suspicion that Ramos was not 'safely clear' of the passed truck is corroborated by the dash camera video that shows that, when Deputy Lansbury caught up to the truck, the distance between Ramos' vehicle and the passed truck was approximately six car lengths (120 feet)."
Because Judge Fitzwater found insufficient evidence to show the initial traffic stop was justified, he ordered the drug possession charges dropped.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.