Caledonia PD chief: Officer did not plant evidence, viral traffic stop video 'taken out of context'

Caledonia PD chief: Officer did not plant evidence, viral traffic stop video ’taken out of context’

CALEDONIA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Caledonia police said they are conducting an internal review after a viral video of an officer appearing to plant evidence was seen more than a million times on social media.

On Monday, July 26, Caledonia Police Chief Chris Botsch told CBS 58 the video was not what it appeared to be.

"One thing is clear and that is that evidence was not planted and the officer did nothing illegal in this incident and certainly nothing in the realm of what he was accused of," Botsch said.

Police said they caught a driver speeding through Caledonia. When officers pulled over the car, a passenger began recording the traffic stop on his phone. A 16-second clip of the video went viral showing an officer tossing something into the car.

"What's that?" the passenger asks in the video.

"What's what?" the officer asks.

"That you just threw in here? I got you on camera, bro," the passenger says.

"I got you on camera. We're all good," the officer says as he points to his body camera.

After the video went viral, Caledonia police began receiving hundreds of inquiries about the incident. They quickly released body camera footage of the incident on Facebook that shows officers searching the man who was in the back seat and taking a plastic baggie out of his pocket. The officer then throws the piece of plastic into the car.

"Hey bro, you just threw that in here," the passenger says in the body camera video.

"Yeah, because it was in his pocket, and I don't want to hold onto it," the officer responds.

Botsch said the incident happened Wednesday afternoon just before 3:30 p.m. near Douglas Avenue and Middle Road. Officers pulled over a driver for going 63 mph in a 45 mph zone. He said some of the people in the car were not wearing seat belts and refused to provide identification, so the officers began searching them.

"It's very unfortunate that a 16-second video clip taken out of context can generate such a whirlwind within the media and create all of this extra work for everyone who's involved when just with proper context, there is a clear understanding as to what occurred here," Botsch said.

Some local community members did not agree with officers' reasons for searching the car. 

"I don't like hearing it. I think it's very discouraging, but I’m not surprised. It's called driving while Black," said Pastor Ernest Ni'A of Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In Racine Monday night, the Interfaith Coalition got together at Monument Square to pray for an end to racism.

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the families of George Floyd and Jacob Blake, reposted the viral video on Facebook, calling it "a CLEAR example of police abusing their position of power." It is not clear if Crump saw the body camera footage. His office did not respond to CBS 58's request for comment.

Botsch said he would typically discourage an officer from throwing something back into a car but noted the baggie was empty. He did not know what previously had been in the bag before it was in the passenger's pocket.

Caledonia police have only worn body cameras for about a year, but Botsch said he is grateful to have them, as they can help protect law enforcement when false allegations are made.

"When we get it wrong, we will take ownership of it and we will make corrections. But in this case, we did not get it wrong," he said.

The ACLU sent CBS 58 a statement saying: "While the ACLU has not investigated this incident, it does raise some issues worth noting. It is unfortunate that officers escalated a routine traffic stop by asking the driver and occupants to exit the vehicle and seeking consent to search when the purpose of the stop was to enforce the speed limit. Additionally, while it appears that the plastic bag was found in the pocket of one of the occupants after a consent search, it is troubling that an officer placed an item that could be considered "evidence" in the stopped car when that is not where it was found. Such police behavior raises legitimate questions about whether the officer may have been seeking to justify an otherwise impermissible vehicle search. This stop illustrates the importance of knowing your rights in police encounters: one passenger successfully asserted his right not to identify himself, while another passenger had the right to not consent to the pat-down search during which the police found the plastic bag. The ACLU continues to support the collection and reporting of demographic data on all traffic stops and searches so the public can ascertain whether such police interventions occur in a racially disparate manner."

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