In this episode of the Police Accountability Report, we provide breaking updates for several critical cases we’ve been covering for months, including a surprising development in the case of Daniel Alvarez, who received a $2500 ticket for changing lanes from a San Bernardino sheriff who had racially profiled him.

We also report on new developments in the felony camping charges against the popular cop watcher Otto the Watchdog, along with the ongoing case against the first Black police chief of a small town on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore.


Transcript

Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and this is Stephen Janis, and we are your hosts of the Police Accountability Report. And today, we have some breaking news updates.

We like to do follow-ups on stories we’ve done to let you know what happened to the people that we reported on, and if we’re able to get them results. And, fortunately, we have some good news.

The first case we’d like to update is the one of Daniel Alvarez. Stephen, can you give us a little background and share what the good news is?

Stephen Janis: We first encountered Daniel when he sent us a video of him being pulled over by a Los Angeles County sheriff for supposedly going too far over a white line before a stop sign. And we did that video. And then after we published that video and got, like, a million views, then he was pulled over by the San Bernardino County sheriff for another totally questionable violation: changing lanes too close.

The officer wrote him a $2500 ticket. We did that story. We put that officer, basically, so to speak, on blast. We put his picture in there. And so, when Daniel went to court to fight this ticket of $2500, the officer didn’t show.

Taya Graham: Well, that’s an interesting coincidence that there were two reports done on this police officer, and he chose not to show. That is a very interesting coincidence, and a happy one for Daniel.

Stephen Janis: Yeah. One would think maybe he had a sense of conscience because you could tell that the charges were pretty much bogus. But nevertheless, let’s watch a little bit of his interaction, and you can tell us.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Sergeant: I just stopped you because you cut that car off when you–

Daniel: No, I didn’t. I signaled–

Sergeant: Got your ID on you?

Daniel: …and made a lane change.

Sergeant: Need your ID too, sir.

Speaker: Oh, no sir.

Sergeant: What’s that?

Speaker: No, sir.

Daniel: It seems to me that you seen me go by the stoplight.

Sergeant: Ma’am, I need your ID, too.

Daniel: And you stopped me based just because you seen what I look like.

Speaker: The locals even mentioned it, too. The ones following us–

Sergeant: You been on probation or parole?

Daniel: Nope.

Speaker: Mm-mm (negative).

Sergeant: Are you on probation or parole?

Speaker: No.

Daniel: No, he’s not.

Sergeant: Are you on probation or parole?

Speaker: No.

Sergeant: Okay. And you guys are refusing to give me your IDs, right?

Daniel: I thought that they didn’t have to give you their ID if you just stopped me for a traffic violation.

Sergeant: [inaudible] So, are you going to give it to me or not?

Daniel: Can you call your lieutenant or sergeant, here?

Sergeant: I’m the sergeant.

Daniel: Okay.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Stephen Janis: So, as you can see, he really didn’t have any reason to write Daniel a ticket. But I guess this is a good outcome number one.

Taya Graham: Our next update is on Otto the Watchdog. Otto has unfortunately been separated from his children for almost three years because of felony camping charges that he received. And he’s also had to pay $300 a month for a monitoring device on his leg. So, we have an update in this case.

Stephen Janis: Basically, he was charged with felony camping after, quote-unquote, a Karen called because he was camping with his children, because he was facing a court case over holding a sign, a sign some people found offensive. They charged him with two felony counts of camping. Then you did a very emotional interview with Otto, where he talked about being separated from his children. Let’s watch a little bit of the pain that this caused him.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Otto: My kids are out there, and I know that they’re going through some stuff, and I can’t even talk to them about it. I can’t even write it. I can’t do nothing. Just have to sit there and watch. And I was afraid that they thought that I abandoned them. So, thankfully, my family is pretty awesome and kept reminding them that daddy loves them.

So, when I finally got to see them again, that was a pretty big deal, man. But it should have never happened. I wasn’t doing anything, at all. I was minding my own business, trying to do what they wanted me to do. I was trying to show up to court, and I just keep getting arrested on the way to court. It’s fucked up.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Stephen Janis: But the good news is now, that those charges of felony camping have been dropped.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Stephen Janis: He still has to fight the sign charge, but nevertheless there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and he was able to see his children again.

Taya Graham: Right. And the sign charge, I think, is a really clear cut First Amendment case. So we think Otto is going to have a bright future ahead, and we’re very happy to share this news.

Our third update for you is on Michelle Lucas, who is here in our home state of Maryland.

Stephen Janis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Taya Graham: Michelle Lucas is a pizza delivery woman and grandmother of four who was charged with allegedly passing a $100 counterfeit bill that she received from her workplace. So, Stephen, you have an update on this case.

Stephen Janis: Well, as you know, the charges were dropped against her after we investigated and got in touch with the public defender. They had already gotten her to plead guilty.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Michelle: I can barely… I had lost prior to this almost 80 pounds. I’ve gained most of it back. I’m crying constantly. I’m scared to take money. I don’t even want to go to the store for nothing, for nobody, not for myself. I’m scared to spend even a dollar, because what if it’s counterfeit.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Stephen Janis: As you know, Michelle Lucas was charged with two felony counts of passing counterfeit bills from an incident involving an employee she worked with who gave her the money. And she went and bought some liquor for him. And then police arrested her, for some reason. And after we investigated, they dropped all the charges.

But one of the things we talk about in our show is the long-term consequences. And the long-term consequences are that she would still have a record. And if she went for a job, you look up Michelle Lucas, and you’d see that she was charged with two felony counts of counterfeiting. Well, the good news is, now, that they have accelerated her expungement, and so those charges will soon be not on her record anymore.

Taya Graham: And that’s wonderful news, because charges like this can take up to three years to be expunged. So for them to be expedited so quickly is great news for her and for her family, because we know this has put a lot of stress on her and a toll on her health. So we’re very happy to have this good news about Michelle.

Our last and final update is on the case of Kelvin Sewell, a former police chief in Pocomoke City, Maryland, who was charged for not charging someone who had hit two parked cars.

Now, these two parked cars were hit. There was property damage. The insurance paid for it. But he was charged for not pursuing charges against a Pocomoke City resident, which is sort of unusual. So, Stephen, can you give us an update in this case, and give us an idea of what the good news is.

Stephen Janis: Well, first of all, let’s remember that Kelvin was police chief of Pocomoke City. He implemented community policing, making his officers get out of the car and walk. He was fired by an all-white city council, nearly all white, excuse me. And he filed a discrimination lawsuit, and then they brought these charges against him.

Taya Graham: Right. After the discrimination lawsuit.

Stephen Janis: Right. The state prosecutors brought these charges. A very controversial case. Many people said it was retaliation. He’s been convicted twice down in Worcester County by a nearly all-white jury. And he’s appealed the case.

The latest appeal, the Court of Special Appeals, has said that the court must hold a prosecutorial misconduct hearing. And Kelvin must get a chance to have that hearing, to determine if prosecutors acted with some sort of malice or corrupt intent.

And basically, which is kind of interesting, it’s like, flip the script on them. Basically, what they’re alleging is that a witness who was a key witness against Kelvin, a woman named Tonya Barnes, who said he was behaving unusually that night, had recanted to Kelvin and said they’d been putting pressure on her to testify against him.

So, this is a big deal. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if prosecutors are going to go forward with it, or if even Kelvin will pursue it. But really, at this point, the court has said there’s enough evidence to warrant a hearing about prosecutorial misconduct.

And the point you make is a really good point. The reason this case is so important, besides all the background in Pocomoke, is that they’re basically saying that anytime a cop shows up anywhere, they got to arrest somebody.

Taya Graham: Absolutely.

Stephen Janis: If there’s the smallest hint… And I don’t think there’s anyone in this country that wants every cop following the letter of the law every single day. Things are bad enough as they are.

Taya Graham: Right. If every interaction had to end in arrest in order to protect the officer, you can see how bad things would get, how quickly. That’s why officer discretion is important.

Stephen Janis: Right. So this case becomes really fundamental. It could be case law. Every cop could be watching and saying, “You know what? If I don’t arrest this person every time something happens that has a little slightest whiff of maybe being improper…” So, it’s a very scary case in some ways. So, it’s very important that we keep following up. But right now, we’ll have to see what happens. We’ll update you if we hear anything new.

Taya Graham: And, just to note, this is a testament to our dedication, because we have been following this case for five years. So when we say we follow up and do our homework, we are not kidding.

So, we hope you enjoyed these updates. We know you care about what happens to the people that we interview. You care about them like we do. And we’re so happy to have some good news to give to you.

I’m Taya Graham…

Stephen Janis: And Stephen Janis…

Taya Graham: And we’re the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

 
taya@therealnews.com
 
@tayasbaltimore

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.