A La Marque woman is filing a complaint against the La Marque Police Department after a traffic stop for rolling a stop sign led to her two daughters being handcuffed and searched.
Police Chief Kirk Jackson defended the department after reviewing tapes from the officers’ body cameras. Jackson said the officers had followed the department’s standards and protocols for nighttime stops.
As part of an effort to get tougher on drugs and guns, Jackson said, police are asking people pulled over during traffic stops if they have narcotics or weapons.
There’s some discretion of the officer as to whether a search continues based on circumstances, such as the time or where the person is stopped, Jackson said. It was difficult to say how often this resulted in a search, Jackson said.
“I’m not going to say ‘typically’ and not going to say it never happens,” Jackson said. “It depends on a number of factors and is up to the officer to see if more field investigation is warranted.”
But to the women stopped and their parent, the women had been humiliated, treated unfairly and racially profiled during the course of a routine traffic stop. Upstanding and responsible citizens were being assumed to be criminals without reason, said Valencia Tyler, mother to the two women pulled over and a Galveston educator.
“As a parent, I’ve taught my kids to respect police but it’s not reciprocated,” Tyler said. “I hate that my daughters were traumatized.”
“If this is a policy and how you’re handling stops, this is unacceptable,” Tyler said. But she had doubts all stops would be handled similarly, she said. “If this was a little old white lady, you’re telling me she is going to go through all of this?”
The dispute stems from a traffic stop around 1:30 a.m. Thursday on Cedar Drive near Cedar Drive and Westward Avenue in La Marque. A police officer pulled over two sisters traveling home, 29-year-old Jalessa Burton and 25-year-old Dexavier Taylor, for allegedly failing to make a complete stop at a stop sign.
After taking insurance information and both women’s drivers licenses, the driver and passenger were asked whether they were carrying drugs or weapons, said Taylor, a Galveston teacher and passenger in the car. The women replied “no,” she said.
A second police unit had arrived at this point, she said. The first officer asked to search the car, Taylor said. Taylor, the passenger, said she denied consent to search her car. The officer asked the women to step out of the car for a pat down, Taylor said. A K-9 unit, the third police car, arrived shortly after, she said.
The officers patted down the women and did not find weapons, police said. A dog sniffed the perimeter of the car and alerted the officers at two points, Jackson said. The women were then told they were not being arrested but “detained” in handcuffs, Jackson said.
“We were embarrassed and we were scared because we’ve never been in handcuffs before,” Taylor said.
The dog and officer proceeded to search the car while the women remained in handcuffs beside the car in the rain, Tyler said. There were no drugs or illegal substances found in the car, Jackson said. Police removed the cuffs and told the women to sit in the car while officers wrote a traffic citation for failing to stop, Taylor said.
Jackson said placing people in handcuffs when they’re not under arrest is a procedure done for officer safety and to ensure the person doesn’t run.
“I can’t look at you and say ‘You’re an upstanding person’ because that kind of assumption can get us killed,” Jackson said.
The situation was unreasonable and did not call for handcuffs, Taylor and Tyler said.
“If you’ve seen my daughters you know there is no reason to be threatened or afraid of them,” Tyler said, noting the women’s dispositions, short-statures and education.
Tyler and Jackson met Friday morning to discuss the issue. Tyler said she was seeking a formal apology, which she said she did not get. She said she planned to have an attorney review the records for civil liberty violations.
“I’m going to pursue this; this is not about me getting someone fired or the win-lose but about responsibility,” Tyler said. “All I can see is this happening over and over again and if nothing is done my daughters won’t be the last.”
Jackson said the officers had acted appropriately and said the department knew people would be upset by the efforts to increase policing.
“I know they didn’t like the situation and I don’t know anyone who would enjoy that situation,” Jackson said. “The thing is, we’ve got a problem with drugs and weapons. If we just pull over a car, write a ticket and drive away we’re never going to stop the crime that’s going on.”