JACKSONVILLE, FL — A Florida man is suing the local Sheriff’s Office after reportedly being violently assaulted and arrested by a police officer for the crime of “walking on the wrong side of the road” as a pedestrian. In arresting this criminal, the officer punched him in the face and threatened him with a taser. The offense was taken all the way to trial.
Last December, Bobby Wingate, of Jacksonville, Florida, was on his way to an appointment in the neighborhood of Arlington when he was suddenly stopped by an officer of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department.
As reported by First Coast News, The officer pulled up alongside Wingate while he walked along Oliver Street and asked him to stop. When he explained to the officer that he was late for an appointment, the officer cited Wingate for the heinous offense of “walking down the wrong side of the road.”
Next, as if to impress upon him the seriousness of the crime, the officer punched him in the face. Then, according to court records, he “engaged his taser.” Fearing for his safety, Bobby Wingate called 9-1-1 for help. On the recording of the call Wingate can be heard telling the dispatcher, “He said do I really want to fight him? I haven’t done anything wrong.”
The Sherriff’s Officer arrested Wingate, charging him with resisting arrest without violence and walking down the wrong side of the road. He then spent the night in jail, and the State Attorney’s Office brought the case against him to trial.
Once in court, the judge threw the case out and dropped all of the charges because of lack of evidence against Wingate. Not the least of which was the arresting officer’s inability to remember which side of the road Wingate was walking on.
Bonderud also said he believes client was a target of racial discrimination. His opinion is supported by the staggering absence of any real evidence, suggesting that Wingate was not arrested for anything other than “walking while black.”
Wingate is now suing the department in civil court not out of malice towards the arresting officer, but as a matter of principle. He says, “If I ever see him again, and he needs my help for something, I’ll help him.” In addition to a monetary settlement, Wingate is seeking an apology from the department.
Meanwhile, the JSO Officer at the center of this event is still on the job, and has yet to be investigated internally by the department. The JSO will not comment on either case due to the pending lawsuit.
This incident is a good example of the benefit of knowing your rights when dealing with the police. The ACLU offers a detailed guide on what to do if you are stopped by police. I recommend that in addition to familiarizing yourself with the guide’s main points, you download their handy PDF version (which conveniently folds down into a card the size of your wallet). Keep it next to the laminated copy of CPR instructions that you carry on your person at all times.
As far as the federal government is concerned, individuals are afforded the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures in the same manner as they apply to property. As such, there is no federal law requiring an individual to identify herself. Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada held that the States, however, are free to enact laws requiring citizens to provide their identity, provided the officers have reasonable suspicion that a specific person is involved in a specific crime.
Police-citizen encounters are generally broken down into three tiers: consensual encounters, investigative detentions and arrests. “Stop and identify” statutes, the law in 24 states, fall under the detention category, and allow police to arrest suspects who refuse to identify themselves. While the specifics of each law vary greatly from state to state, there is one constant; without reasonable suspicion of a specific crime, the police cannot force you to identify yourself. The key word here is “reasonable,” and its vagueness allows the police a wide latitude when dealing with the public.
Bobby Wingate appears to have initially been involved in a consensual encounter with the officer. He should have been allowed to terminate the encounter and leave freely without answering any questions or identifying himself. Lacking reasonable suspicion of specific crime, the officer escalated the encounter past the level consensual by asserting that Wingate was walking on the wrong side of the road. The officer’s reasonable suspicion was so vague that he later failed to articulate to the court any of the specifics of the alleged crime.
Having been detained, assaulted, arrested and tried in court on false charges; Wingate will now have his day in court, and justice may yet be served.
In lieu of any apparent crime, the way to find out if the police have reasonable suspicion is to determine if you’re free to go. You can do this by saying, “Excuse me officer. Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” If the officer says you’re free to go, leave immediately and don’t answer any more questions. As the police state endeavors to legislate our rights into ever narrower parameters, it is more important than ever that we know our rights and understand the threats to our freedom and liberty. The police are counting on our continued ignorance, and we can no longer afford to remain oblivious to the abuses committed against the innocent by those tasked to “protect and serve.”
Watch: Florida man explains violent encounter with police, via First Coast News:
Respond to the department here: