As police reform efforts stall across the country, the case of an Arizona man who was dragged from his car by cops during a routine traffic stop is revealing. In this episode, the Police Accountability Report investigates the incident and exposes flaws in the system of police accountability in Arizona that reveal just how difficult it is to create effective systems of police oversight.


Transcript

Taya Graham:        Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And today we’re going to do so by reporting on breaking developments in a story we have been investigating for months. It involves an Arizona State Highway Patrol officer accusing a motorist of a crime he didn’t commit and then ordering him to risk his life for no apparent reason. But we’re not just going to be discussing what happened on this disturbing video. We will also be giving you, our viewers, a peek behind the curtains on how police respond after we publish a report and what they do to justify their actions when their overreach is called into question.

But before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com, and please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and appreciate them. And of course you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore or Facebook or Twitter. And we have a special thank you shout out to our patrons at the end of this episode. And if you would like to be one, just hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below. All right, now we’ve gotten all that out of the way.

Now, for those of you who watch our show, you might already be familiar with the segment of our program when we perform what we consider a basic function of journalism. That is, no matter how bizarre, odd, or seemingly corrupt the actions of a particular officer or department are, we always extend the courtesy of asking them for comment to tell their side of the story. Why? Well, as much as law enforcement does quite the opposite when they paint a victim of brutality or false arrest in the harshest light possible, we simply believe that the tenets of basic journalism are too important to cast aside regardless of a story. I mean, what’s the point of reporting on an institution like law enforcement if you behave exactly like them?

What I mean is you can’t hold an institution accountable if you are not accountable yourself. Therefore, whenever possible, we always reach out to cops and extend them the courtesy of giving them an opportunity to tell their side. Of course, keeping with their tradition of a maximum of institutional arrogance, cops and their spokespeople certainly don’t make it easy for us to follow through even when we try to adhere to the basic principles and ethics of journalism. In other words, regardless of how many times we reach out for comment, our efforts are usually met with silence. At least until we publish our report. But I’ll elaborate on that more later.

Now, one of the reasons I believe we encounter so many obstacles getting cops to talk is simply due to the fact that we are not by any measure members of the mainstream media. The Real News is of course an independent donor-funded enterprise. We don’t receive corporate dollars from the same elites who bolster the police and profit off of prisons. Which means that, generally speaking, when we ask for comment, getting an answer before we go on camera is dicey at best.

But thanks to you, our audience, that lack of response is not always the end of the story. In fact, because so many of our loyal viewers like you watch our show comment and otherwise respond to our work, police often change their tune once we post videos. So your views and comments matter. And tens of thousands of views later, it seems that cops suddenly feel the need to respond. Sometimes it’s just a phone call complaining about our coverage in general, or at the very least they issue a statement defending the actions of the officers. Which, I might add, often includes taking a not so subtle swipe at our journalism qualifications, or, simply put, our basic level of competence.

Take, for example, our story on an illegal entry into the private property of two brothers in Brenton, Texas. As you can see here on this video police claim the door was open, which they used to justify entering the premises guns drawn. Now, the video clearly contradicts that contention. And when he initially asked for a comment on that discrepancy, Stephen did not hear back. But oddly, after we published our report on what appeared to be at least police exaggerating what occurred, the video got nearly a hundred thousand views. And guess what? Police in Texas actually did respond. Of course, not only did they defend the officer’s actions, but they took the time to say that we were not qualified to judge their actions.

Let me read a little bit from the email the police sent to Stephen. “I know that you have likely never undergone professional police training or served as an officer, but this is appropriate under the circumstances. No warrants are necessary under these elements and the elements noted below.” So as you can see, police are not exactly eager to interact with independent media. Maybe that’s because we’re a little less enthralled with the rhetoric of law enforcement that is so tightly embraced by many of our mainstream media counterparts. And this brings me to the story that we are going to update you on today. It involves a viewer named Perry Taylor, an Arizona resident who contacted us after he was pulled over for allegedly drag racing on an Arizona highway. As you can see in the video, when Perry pushed back on the assertion he was driving recklessly an Arizona State Highway Patrol officer quickly escalated the encounter. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Trooper Lawrence:     Hello, I’m Trooper Lawrence, Highway Patrol. And the reason I’m stopping you today is for your driving behavior.

Perry Taylor:         My driving behavior?

Trooper Lawrence:    Yeah.

Perry Taylor:       I just let off the break. Can you explain?

Passenger:              Yeah, can you explain?

Trooper Lawrence:     You’re weaving in and out – What’s that?

Passenger:             Can you explain?

Perry Taylor:          [crosstalk] I’m weaving in and out? How am I not allowed to weave in and out, like I’m just changing lanes.

Passenger:             He was just changing lanes.

Trooper Lawrence:    Oh, yeah, just changing lanes?

Passenger:             Yeah.

Perry Taylor:          Yeah.

Trooper Lawrence:    You’re not racing a white Camaro at all?

Passenger:            No.

Perry Taylor:       No. Can I not get around somebody to make it safe for myself?

Trooper Lawrence:     Can you do what?

Perry Taylor:          Can I not get around somebody to make it safe for myself? Can I not make distance between me and the guy beside me or next to me because I think maybe they’re driving a little aggressive. I’m just asking?

Trooper Lawrence:     Oh, okay. So that – Is that how you want to play today? [crosstalk].

Perry Taylor:           I’m just asking. I’m just asking.

Trooper Lawrence:     No, is that how you want to play today?

Perry Taylor:         Okay.

Trooper Lawrence:    Because you’re talking a whole lot of attitude, so here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to go ahead and exit the vehicle.

Perry Taylor:            No, I’m not.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:        And the officer was hardly done. As you can see here, he enlists another cop to point a taser at Mr. Perry. Then he proceeds to drag him out of the car onto the shoulder of the road, pretty much packed with oncoming traffic. Let’s look.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Perry Taylor:         I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe.

Police Officer 2:     Get out of the car, sir.

Perry Taylor:           Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.

Police Officer 2:       Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:           Don’t touch me. I’m getting out. [crosstalk] Don’t touch me –

Police Officer 2:      Put the phone down.

Perry Taylor:           Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. You’re threatening my life right now –

Police Officer 2:    Put the phone down.

Perry Taylor:         – So get out of my face. Get out.

Police Officer 2:      Put the phone down.

Perry Taylor:        No, I’m not putting my phone down. No.

Police Officer 2:      You can leave it recording right there.

Perry Taylor:             I don’t care.

Police Officer 2:       I’m trying to be-

Perry Taylor:        No, you’re not.

Police Officer 2:     Listen –

Perry Taylor:           I asked you to give me the ticket.

Police Officer 2:        Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:            Okay.

Police Officer 2:        Get out of the car.

Perry Taylor:           Let me get out of the car.

Police Officer 2:      Get out of the car now.

Perry Taylor:           Let me get out.

Police Officer 2:       Get out.

Perry Taylor:          Let me get out.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:          Mr. Taylor was charged with, wait for it, obstructing an investigation. But before we posted our first report on this alarming incident, Stephen reached out to the police and did not hear back, at least initially. But after the video debuted, some strange things started to happen. And to explain them, I will be talking to Mr. Perry in a moment. But, before we talk to him, I’m joined by reporting partner Stephen Janis who gives us the breakdown on how this all started. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.

Stephen Janis:      Taya thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:          So first, tell us what you did when we initially reported on the story to get a response from the police. Who did you contact and what did you send them?

Stephen Janis:        Well, I sent the email to the Arizona Department of Safety with which I believe is the umbrella organization for the Highway Patrol and I asked them some very specific questions about, did the officer have a use of force report? How did the officer justify the use of force? Was the use of force consistent with the department policy? And what they told me was you have to file a public information act request. It was very unusual because these are things that public relations and media relations specialists are supposed to be able to answer right off the bat.

Taya Graham:          So they wanted you to file a public information act request to answer some pretty basic questions. What do you think’s going on here?

Stephen Janis:         Well, that’s the question I had. It was weird. I said, do I really need to do this just to ask these basic questions? And then they never responded to me. So it was a very weird situation. I’ve had people not respond or send a response late, but never saying, hey, just to get basic information about an incident you have to file a public information act request. So it was very unusual. I think they were just stonewalling.

Taya Graham:        Now behind the scenes, you had an inkling that police were more interested in this case than they expressed. And they had a pretty amusing indication of just how interested they were. Can you explain it?

Stephen Janis:      So I sent them the video, the whole video of the incident, the whole thing so they could comment on it. And while they were stonewalling me and not talking about it, somebody was watching it. We were getting all these plays. It was in my VIMEO account so I could track geographically, and we’re getting all these plays in Arizona, like dozens and dozens of plays. So apparently the police department, because this link was created specifically for them, they were watching the video, all of them. Meanwhile, not telling me a thing about what was actually going on.

Taya Graham:          And now to continue the story on how Arizona Public Safety officials got in contact with him and what they said to him when they did, I’m joined by Mr. Perry Taylor. Perry, thank you for joining us.

Perry Taylor:            Thank you, guys, for having me back again.

Taya Graham:         After our story aired you got a call from state investigators. What happened?

Perry Taylor:        Yeah, so I got a phone call, I believe, I don’t remember the name on the letter. I think he’s a captain in the field. I think maybe the officer’s supervisor. And he said from what I remember from the voice conversation on the phone was that he said, yeah, I didn’t agree with how the officer handled the situation, but I also thought that you should have, didn’t agree with what you did as well. So I kind of felt like, again, you’re just not accepting full responsibility for what you guys did and you’re going to come out with the outcome you want to come out with no matter what. You got to make face with… I filed the complaint. You got to show something that you did to the guy but all I got back was that letter. So I’m just supposed to take their word that they did something to him.

Taya Graham:          So you’re not getting any follow up on what disciplinary actions were taken.

Perry Taylor:        So, yeah, that’s a good point. So I asked exactly that. I said something to the effect that, okay, so I got a piece of paper in the mail saying you did this, this, and that. And me or whoever else would’ve been involved is just supposed to accept that as you did something. I’ll never know for sure what you did or if he’s really been disciplined or reprimanded, and he’s just right back out on the streets terrorizing everybody else. So yeah, I did ask that question. And trust me, from what it sounds like you feel the same way I do. I don’t trust anything they say. I just know how it is.

Taya Graham:         Kind of break down for us what was in that letter.

Perry Taylor:            Well, what was in the letter from what I remember was that the officer… It sounded like they did mention both officers at first and then said that the Officer [Tropp] was counseled and was pretty much the end of it. It was like a little one paragraph letter saying that he got disciplined and that was it. Didn’t even mention the part like I told you where the cop also said, well, we felt you were at fault as well. So they wanted to make it sound like they did their part. Now, what do you want us to do?

Taya Graham:           How would you characterize the attitude of the investigator? Because I’m not getting any sense of impartiality here.

Perry Taylor:        Yeah. So, like I said, when he called I was kind of surprised that they even called even to follow up to be honest with you. But then again, as soon as he said, I don’t like the way Officer Tropp handled the situation and his partner, I felt like, okay, great. That’s nice to hear that. And then he came in with the, but I think you’re at fault as well. I don’t like the way you handled it. And I thought, see, and I said this to him. I said, this is exactly why we don’t trust you guys. You never admit when you’re wrong. You have to come in and put everyone else at fault. And just accept when you did something wrong. He overreacted, didn’t have anybody’s safety in mind at all including his own, and decided to put his ego above everything else.

And I just politely ended the conversation with him. I didn’t get his name at the time, the captain, so I called back to the original internal affairs officer. And he did some digging around for me and found out that’s who it was. And then they had sent a letter to my previous address. Again, this is how unorganized they are. They didn’t even ask for… Sometimes when the cops say, is this your current address? None of that stuff was ever asked of me. So they sent it to a previous address that was on my license, but not the updated one. So I had to wait to get that letter, so that letter was obviously dated November 4th. And here we are, it’s the 15th. So yeah, I should have had that letter a few days ago but I just got it today.

Taya Graham:        So what do you think this says about police accountability and what lessons are you learning from this experience?

Perry Taylor:            Again, it’s just nothing more than them just… It’s just smoke and mirrors. It’s just okay, you made the complaint. We’re going to satisfy you to shut you up. We’re going to show you that or tell you that we counseled this particular officer. Again, just having to take their word for it, I have no details of what happened. Again, I don’t even have any of their body cam footage now. Yes, I do have my attorney and I do want to see their body cam footage eventually. I have not accepted their… Well, I’ve accepted it but I haven’t paid for anything to set anything up technically, their little diversion program to kind of make this all go away. But again, it just gets underneath my skin that even if it was a penny out of my pocket to pay more to satisfy these people for what they did to me, it doesn’t sit well with me.

Taya Graham:        What happened with the charges?

Perry Taylor:          As far as I know, it’s called a delayed prosecution. So as long as I sign up for this, whatever, this counseling class with this third party counseling company that’s in cahoots with the state, all making money with each other off of people like us. As long as you complete that class then it just goes away as if you never got charged with anything. And it just goes away, nothing on your record from what I’m being told. And again, going back to my whole issue with this is I don’t care if it’s a penny, why am I paying anything out of my pocket for something you did? You should have a civil lawsuit against you right now for what you did to people, putting my life and your own life in danger. Are you ridiculous right now? It just blows my mind, I don’t even know how to respond to it, what all that just happened. I’ve watched that video so many times now just going back and thinking, oh my God, this guy, was it his first day? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Taya Graham:       So do you think there’s any way to reform the police, given what you’ve experienced?

Perry Taylor:        Somehow, some way, they need to stop prowling the streets looking for petty stuff and just combing the highway… I get the idea of it. Again, if he pulls me or someone else over thinking he saw what he thought he saw, and then after getting an explanation he should make sure everybody’s okay. Okay. Okay. Well then I guess I didn’t see what I thought I saw. I’m just making sure everybody’s okay. Have a great day. That would’ve been like, wow, you guys do represent what it says on the side of your vehicles. You’re making sure everybody’s safe, blah, blah, blah. No, it’s the whole us against them mentality. And to go out of your way to tell me to step out of the vehicle on the side of a busy highway and put everybody’s life in danger including his own, it just blew my mind.

It’s like, you’re not public safety at all. You’re a public danger. But anyway. Somehow stop these little patrol units. Like I said before, I’m an ex-firefighter. We don’t comb the streets looking for fires, looking for stuff, we respond. Medical calls, fires, stuff like that. It has to be the same way. I know they think they don’t have enough officers, they have way too many.

And the lawsuits, they cost all of us taxpayers. I know we don’t see it directly hit us but we do. Stop pulling people over, get rid of this patrol combining the streets for people rolling past the stop sign, you didn’t use your blinker, you made a wide turn, or you were like, they said to me, my driving behavior. You were changing in and out of lanes on the highway in an aggressive manner. My car’s in way better shape than yours, I guarantee it. So I’m not worried about it. But yeah, I think they should get rid of that stuff. And then for stuff like real crime. They got a call, there’s a robbery in progress. There’s a shooting, like these mass shootings we hear about every day. That stuff, respond to that stuff. Stop combing the streets looking for revenue, pissing people off. And you see what happens.

Taya Graham:             Now, this story illustrates several truisms about American policing that I think are worth emphasizing. And I’m not just talking about the difficulties and obstacles of basic police reform in light of what we reported on in Mr. Taylor’s case. No, this series of events speaks to an even deeper malaise within the law enforcement-industrial complex that needs to be examined more closely to be fully understood. Consider a story about the Washington, DC, police union that all is a revealing example of what I’m talking about. It is an almost comical take of how law enforcement perceives a responsibility to adhere to the law and how often they evade it with little or no consequences.

It’s a tale about a police-sponsored organization called the Jack Daniel’s Committee. I’m not kidding. A fundraising arm of the Washington DC police lodge, or more specifically, the union that represents cops who serve in our nation’s capital. The committee was formed in 2017 to purchase Jack Daniel’s whiskey by the case and print the union’s logo on the bottles and sell them online. It turned out to be a wildly successful enterprise with cops selling tens of thousands of dollars of alcohol online, pardon the pun, at jacked up prices.

But there was a catch. A slight hiccup so to speak in this otherwise profitable fundraising scheme that, as I already said, reveals much about how the police think the law applies to them. That’s because it turns out the cops were selling the liquor without a license, and that is illegal. But fortunately, the officers enforcing DC’s law didn’t let the law get in the way of a good time. In fact, as the Washington Post reported, a paralegal who worked with the group asked the same question and was rebuffed by the leadership as they hauled nearly half a million dollars.

It was only after the group commissioned a study three years and 3000 bottles later that they figured out selling liquor across state lines without a permit was illegal. In fact, the entire idea that a whiskey bootlegging operation was a fundraising operation was also a fraud. Turns out an audit of the entire enterprise found that almost all of the nearly half a million dollars raised, nearly all of it was spent on travel expenses. Seriously. But of course, one would expect given that this is an organization of law enforcement officers, the discovery of a scheme which flagrantly violated the law would lead to consequences. I mean, how on earth can a group run by cops not be accountable to the laws they enforce? Well it turns out, no need to worry for the liquor-touting law enforcement officers. That’s because despite the fact that the selling of alcohol without a license is clearly illegal, prosecutors in DC investigated and declined to press charges. Another probe of the sales by the DC Liquor Board is currently underway, but that too has yet to yield any results.

I think the point here, though, can be best understood by what the head of the union, a police officer himself, argued to the Washington Post when they published this article on the liquor sales scheme. The union had said there was no way, and let me make this clear, no way they would’ve sold Jack Daniel’s if they knew it was illegal. In other words, they just didn’t know the law and therefore are not responsible for their illegal actions. Wow. That is a twist. I’m sure that if you or I or anyone else who doesn’t wear a badge made this sort of plea, it would fall on the collectively deaf ears of the cops, courts, and prosecutors who love to hold us accountable to the strictest interpretation of the law.

I’m sure if one of us started selling whiskey out of our basement across the country online and then told investigators we didn’t know it was illegal, we would be forgiven for our transgressions and patted on the back with a reminder not to do it again. And that’s the point of bringing up this story and the conundrum of events by this tale of a police union turned bootlegger. It’s also the reason we decided to revisit the case of our viewer Perry Taylor. Both illustrate, as I said before, the inherent ironies and challenges of holding police accountable. How can we ensure that people who enforce the law are also subject to it? How can we create a system where people who wear a badge do not exist in a rarefied space where the laws which apply to us don’t apply to them. It’s a vexing dilemma that has no easy answers.

And it’s one of the tougher policy questions that legislators and activists have been struggling with across the country as they try to reform an institution that considers itself to be almost always immune to the rules that govern the rest of us. But maybe, and this is just a thought, we’re approaching this dilemma the wrong way. And maybe, I’m just throwing this out there, we need an entirely fresh approach. Maybe what we should do is simply balance the scales of justice in a way that reflects the reality of how it functions or doesn’t today. What do I mean? Well, maybe we should apply the same standards of leniency to us. Maybe we should have qualified immunity just like they do. Maybe we should be given the benefit of the doubt that even if we committed a crime, we didn’t mean to. Why not apply the same compassion and empathy showered on cops to us?

I mean, why not? Aren’t we deserving of the same consideration as people who are actually paid with our tax dollars? Why can’t the people who fund the police have the same beneficial perks as the cops who work for us? Why can’t we all be afforded the same sense of compassion and empathy given to our so-called public servants? Seems fair, doesn’t it, to have the law apply equally to everyone? Of course, that’s not how it works. And as we discussed before on this show, that type of leniency would be bad for business. But still, I think it’s worth a shot. After all, equal treatment under the law is one of the defining principles of our Constitution. Let’s just give it a try, maybe it will reveal something about just how corrupt a system is that affords special privileges to people who have the right, well, scratch that, the undue privilege to take the lives and the freedom of others. Maybe we’ll discover that a legal system that carves out privileges for a special class of enforcers is not a justice system at all.

I want to thank our guest Perry Taylor for keeping us updated on this process. Thank you, Perry. And of course, I want to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis:         Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:          And I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee. And a very special thanks to our patrons. We appreciate you. As a matter of fact, I want to thank all of our patrons, including: Rhyme P, Mark W, Noli Dee, Kyle R, Guy B, Shane B, Calvin M, Steven D, Allen J, Trey P, Julius Geezer, Jemesh H, John P, Ryan, Lacey R, Rod B, Douglas P, Andrea J, R B M H, Siggy Young, Steven J, Celeste DS, P T, Talia B, Peter J, Joel Armstrong, Tim R, Larry L, Ronald H, Tamara A, Artemis LA, Tumble Bug, Don T, Jimmy T, and True Tube Live.

And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us privately and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at par@therealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter and Facebook.

And please like and comment, I do read your comments and appreciate them. And we do have the Patreon link pinned in the comments below, so if you feel inspired to donate, please do. We don’t run ads or take corporate dollars, so anything you can spare is greatly appreciated. My name is Taya Graham and I am your host of 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.