The most frequent encounter the public has with law enforcement is during a traffic stop. The interaction can be a frightening experience with ever changing dynamics that can seem surreal at best.
Motorist Adam Finley in Arkansas found out this the hard way in December 2016 when he was stopped by Officer Matthew Mercado of the Walnut Ridge Police Department. Mercado stopped Finley under the suspicion he was trespassing in a railroad yard. Finley actually worked there and Mercado did not believe him even after he showed him his railroad ID. Mercado was wearing a body cam which taped the encounter. Even though Finley was doing everything right, Mercado escalated the traffic stop, handcuffing Finley. Eventually, Mercado released Finley without arrest.
Standing up for himself, Finley later went to the Walnut Ridge Police Department with his wife Heather to lodge a complaint against Mercado. Instead, the Police Chief Chris Kirksey and another officer interrogated Finley and wrote him up on two citations: ‘refusal to submit’ and ‘obstructing governmental operations.’ For some reason, Heather was also subjected to a recorded interrogation. Finley and his wife later admitted that the police action ruined their marriage and they have since divorced.
Finley’s case then went to trial in April 2017 and a judge acquitted Finley on both counts. A year later, Finley filed a civil rights lawsuit even though Mercado resigned his position a couple of months after the incident with Finley.
Finley was not choked, shot nor had any racial slurs been hurled his way. He was treated with disrespect and a criminal even though he did nothing wrong. The Washington Post recently covered this story and provided a long quote from a former police officer (anonymously) who now advocates for criminal justice reform:
This is very common in policing. Looking back on my career, I realize just how often I acted similarly and didn’t even realize it. It was subconscious. I was trained and subtly incentivized to do so. You intentionally create conflict and manufacture noncompliance in order to build your stop into an arrest situation. Because that’s what generations of law enforcers who have been steeped in a fear-based, comply or else, us-vs.-them mind-set do. They arrest people. Arrests are a primary measure of productivity and gives the appearance your department has solved a problem.
Most aggressive cops have honed this to an art. They are savvy, know exactly how to weaponize numerous petty laws, ordinances, use-of-force policy and procedures against citizens. This cop was off his game and clumsily went through the motions like a desperate door-to-door perfume salesman. Except when cops manufacture a “sale” like this, the “customer” ends up arrested, criminalized, emotionally and financially devastated, not to mention possibly physically beaten or worse. And the justice system will deem it legal, even when it isn’t.
Finley stood up for himself and did everything he was supposed to do during the traffic stop with Officer Mercado. The city of Walnut Ridge even now denies any wrongdoing. In May, the city answered Finlay’s civil rights lawsuit with a brief arguing that he had not made an actionable claim, had missed the statute of limitations and had failed to sufficiently serve the officials he was suing.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself in the face of such odds.