Transcript

Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always try to 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 which makes bad policing possible. And today, we’re going to achieve this goal by examining two examples of the theme we explore often on this show; the destructive consequences of American over-policing. First, by reporting on the arrest of a man seen here in this video, whose alleged crime was turning around when he spotted a cop. And then by reporting on the work of an international commission which is investigating police brutality in this country, which they believe is so exceptional it requires worldwide attention to fix.

Taya Graham: But before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us, and we might be able to investigate. You can reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook, or you can email us privately at PAR@therealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. And please don’t forget to like and comment on our videos, we really do appreciate it, and it helps, and I try to answer your questions when I can. Okay, that’s out of the way.

Taya Graham: Now, as we’ve often reported on this show, there is a burgeoning problem affecting American law enforcement that does not get enough attention. It’s an issue that some evidence suggests may be behind many of the troubling police encounters we report on. Sometimes we call this over-policing, but I think it’s helpful to think of it from a different perspective, overcapacity. Since we live in a crony capitalist society where the monetization of public problems seem to be the preferred form of governance, why not use the same lexicon to point out its flaws? Because in town after town we have covered across the country, one truism has emerged from the myriad of minor arrests for seemingly fictitious crimes we’ve recounted. There are just too many cops.

Taya Graham: And today, we have a striking example of that thesis from Talking Rock, Georgia. A troubling video of the pursuit of a man who simply turned his car around when he spotted an officer parked on a road, a decision that has led to a prolonged legal battle and troubling consequences for the man who made the decision to reverse course. Now, it’s worth noting that tensions between Georgia State Troopers and the residents of Talking Rock in North Georgia had been high since the police-involved killing of John Harley Turner. He was shot on his own property by troopers after local hunters claimed he was threatening them, but then Turner was shot by the police on his own property just 45 minutes later.

Taya Graham: So tensions were high, to say the least, and that’s when Charles Spradling heard a trooper was staked out down the road from his house. He decided to drive to investigate, and now I’ll let him tell us what happened next.

Charles Spradling: At the time, it was just a roadblock, and I was going down to see it because having the neighbor tell me that she saw it is not the same as seeing it for yourself, and I wanted to be able to make sure that I could say, “Yes, on this date and time, there was indeed a police roadblock on our road.” Now, our road is very rural, so it would be highly unlikely for the police to have a roadblock there, so it had to be related to the incident with my neighbor five minutes earlier.

Taya Graham: And as you can see in this video, police pulled Spradling over, ordered him out of his car, and demanded to see his license. Let’s listen to what happened next.

Charles Spradling: I have every legal right to be [inaudible 00:03:49].

Speaker 3: Well, you just… We’re doing a road check [crosstalk 00:03:52].

Charles Spradling: I heard you were doing a road check. [crosstalk 00:03:58]. I do have a license, here.

Speaker 3: Okay.

Charles Spradling: [inaudible 00:03:58]. I went down there because my neighbors complained that there was a roadblock on our street. I went down there to see what’s going on.

Speaker 3: Okay. He wont give me his license.

Charles Spradling: I live right here.

Speaker 3: I want you to give me your license. [crosstalk 00:04:12].

Taya Graham: As you can see, police ultimately arrested Spradling, and since then they have embroiled him in a protracted legal battle. But before I get to my interview with him, I wanted to check in with my reporting partner, Stephen Janis to get some context on the case itself. Stephen, thank you for joining us.

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

Taya Graham: First, as mentioned at the beginning of the show, the conflict originated with the shooting of a resident by a Georgia state trooper. What’s the status of this case and were any of the officers arrested?

Stephen Janis: Well, as far as I can tell from what I looked at, there was no investigation of the officers, no questioning of the officers, the shooting was immediately ruled justified. So really nothing was done. There was no aftermath or after action investigation or any sort of report posted online. It was pretty much considered to be an okay shooting, which is a little disturbing.

Taya Graham: Now there’ve been quite a few rulings about the constitutional rights to avoid speed traps or police checkpoints. Tell us a little about that.

Stephen Janis: Well, let me be clear. It is not a crime to turn around when you see a police checkpoint, nor is it probable cause to chase somebody or try to arrest them when they avoid a police checkpoint. What’s interesting about that is that most of these cases revolve around DUI checkpoints. This clearly wasn’t that at all. So why the police chased him and what probable cause or justification effort remains a mystery because they violated his fourth amendment rights clearly.

Charles Spradling: So, Stephen, finally, what are the police saying about Charles Spradling’s case? How are they justifying the arrest in the light of the questions over its legality?

Stephen Janis: Well, to be honest, I haven’t been able to get in touch with police about this, but it’s clear the prosecutor dropped the charges almost immediately, showing that really there was really no basis or probable cause for this arrest, or no reason for the police to [inaudible 00:05:50]. It’s clear from what I said before, about the constitutionality of avoiding a police checkpoint, there was no basis for this, so the charges really were bogus.

Taya Graham: And now to get more on the details on what happened and the consequences for the person you’re seeing in this video, I’m joined by the man himself, Charles Spradling. Charles, thank you so much for joining us.

Charles Spradling: Thank you for inviting me on the show.

Taya Graham: First, can you please explain to us the traffic stop that we are seeing in this video? What was their pretext for stopping you?

Charles Spradling: If you watch the video, and it depends on the time that you actually look at the video as to what the pretext is. Initially the stop was… Allegedly it was suspicious for me to turn around at the site of a checkpoint down the road. But when they found out later in the video that their sergeant told them that he thinks it’s okay to do that, then they started to come up with all sorts of other reasons that should be clearly seen in the video.

Taya Graham: Now you had good reason for not wanting to have a direct encounter with police, in particular the officers who slapped the cuffs on you. Can you tell us what he did to your neighbor?

Charles Spradling: The neighbor in question called me about the roadblock. They live on the other side. Their son was 34 years old at the time, and he was a naturalist. He loved the outdoors. Well, hunters and that tend to not mix. The hunters apparently were on his property, they were hunting. He yelled through the woods, told them to get off of his property, that he was going to come down and shoot if they didn’t basically. But it was through the woods, so he didn’t confront them face to face. Well, they left the property, they went and called the police. The police came out and they immediately drew their weapons because the neighbor was wearing a chest holster with a .45 in it. They told him on his own property, “Put the weapon down, put the weapon down.” And of course, he said, “I have every right to have this weapon. I’m on my own property. I want to go to bed. Leave me alone. Just keep the trespassers off my property.”

Charles Spradling: But this went on for about 45 minutes. At one point, my neighbor even went back into his house and grabbed a gallon jug of water and in a flash he came back out. Well, unbeknownst to him while he was in the house, the police devised a plan to get him to come closer. So when he came out, the female deputy on the scene had asked him if she could have a drink of his water, because he was carrying his gallon jug.

Charles Spradling: So he started to approach the fence to give her that drink of water. Well, he didn’t know, but two of the deputies had jumped over the fence onto their property and were hiding and waiting for him. So when he got close enough to her to give her the water, then they opened fire with bean bag rounds at that point. And of course, he drew his weapon and fired back. He didn’t shoot any of them, but they let loose over a hundred rounds, ended up killing him.

Taya Graham: That seems like that didn’t have to happen, that there was no need to escalate the encounter.

Charles Spradling: Well, I agree with that. The problem we have is that that law enforcement don’t see things the same way as the citizens do, they just don’t. And they think that their word is to be obeyed under all circumstances, notwithstanding the law. And that’s the problem.

Taya Graham: Now let’s take another look at the video. You asked to see the supervisor and you were placed in the back and the officers begin discussing what to do with you. What did they say to each other and during their call to their supervisor?

Charles Spradling: Well, keep in mind at the time, I couldn’t hear this. So I’m locked in the back of the cage with handcuffs on and they’re discussing that he thinks it’s okay to turn around at checkpoint so they need to find probable cause to have stopped me. So the first thing one of the troopers looks at is the tire. He says “The tires are down to the [inaudible 00:09:56].”

Speaker 3: He says we’re violating his rights, he’s got a weapon in the car. [inaudible 00:10:00]. Because he turned around and went the opposite way. It’s valid, but I know in Atlanta [inaudible 00:10:12] turn around and run. [inaudible 00:10:12].

Charles Spradling: So they bring up the window tint. The window tint looks a little dark, but that was 14 minutes of course after he had handcuffs put on me.

Taya Graham: Did you give permission for the search of your car? In your estimation, were your civil rights violated? I mean, where do you think the officers crossed the line?

Charles Spradling: At that particular time, I was in the back of the car for 20 to 30 minutes before they finally come back and told me that I was “officially under arrest.” At that point it was a failure to display, obstruction of justice and faulty tires. So they claimed my tires were in the state. So I was taken to jail. I had to post about $2,700 in bond to get out of jail. So I was in jail for several hours until we worked that out. You know how easy that is on a Saturday afternoon after 4:00. They towed my car out of my driveway after searching it completely. They went to the glove box and the center console, they even ran the serial number on my firearm multiple times during the stop. I had a backpack in the back of the vehicle, they went completely through that.

Charles Spradling: Ironically, they ended up giving my wife several of the possessions that were in the vehicle, including the firearm, but they refused to let her take the car the remaining distance up the driveway to the house. This was on Saturday. So on Monday morning, first thing I have to get up is go and get my car. You got to pay cash. They don’t accept credit cards when they’re impounds. So I drove down to get my car. From there, I drove over to my attorney’s office. I explained to him pretty much what I’ve said here on this video and his response to me was, “Okay, what else aren’t you telling me?” Which is like, no, that was really it. There was nothing I was hiding. So he arranged to have a preliminary hearing about three weeks from that date. The judge pretty much threw it all out. They dropped it like an affidavit.

Taya Graham: Now on this show, we’ve spoken a lot about over-policing in particular in rural America. Do you think this is an example of it and is it really a problem?

Charles Spradling: I think we’re over-policing everywhere, unfortunately. I don’t think it’s just rural America. I think a lot of these big city police officers are running into problems inside the cities and some of these bigger departments, and they’re coming out to the rural communities and they’re bringing their problems with them. I think that’s what’s really going on. And we’re just seeing it to where the power a police officer carries when he confronts somebody in public is intoxicating, and they get so used to that and they’re so accustomed to people praising them, worshiping everything that they do that when somebody says, wait a minute, you can’t do that. They don’t know how to handle it.

Taya Graham: So how has this ordeal affected you? Can you talk a little bit about the personal toll for you?

Charles Spradling: I’ve never been one to suffer an injustice lightly, it’s always affected me pretty heavily. This, it shocked me beyond the pale because I knew I had done nothing wrong. I was very careful that I don’t have anything illegal, my insurance is up to date, my registration, everything is proper. I live that way. So when I was stopped, I was taken back a little bit. It was like why I was being stopped in the first place? I turned around, it was more than a [inaudible 00:13:55] of a mile before the checkpoint. So I wasn’t even in the checkpoint region.

Charles Spradling: But it took me back that, wow, if they can do this and what I have to go through to have my day in court that they like to tell you to go for, then what does a person who has the most minor infraction registration that may not be properly type or they could be a type or something doesn’t perfectly match, what chance do they have? Like I said, in my case, I don’t think they have anything they can come back on, and they’re really struggling with that. In fact, right now their story is that they arrested me from the very second they put the handcuffs on me. It was a full arrest even though they denied it multiple times both in the video and in the preliminary hearing.

Charles Spradling: All of a sudden they’re changing their story now because they couldn’t get past, I believe, pulling my wallet out of my back pocket with objection. So the police get to redefine their narrative and they do it and they do it over and over again. And they know that we as citizens are going to have to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees to answer every one of their narratives. And if we do, then they’ll just change it and there goes another few thousand dollars.

Taya Graham: Now, the reason we report on cases like this week after week is twofold. One, we want to be helpful to hundreds of people who reach out to us for assistance when facing unfair or unjust law enforcement. And two, we want to apply the specific to the general. Meaning we want to use these stories to paint a larger, more informed picture of the state of American policing, and nothing could be more exemplary of that idea than the case we just reported om, and by extension a conference which took place a few weeks ago, focused upon the use of force by American police. Keep in mind, American police use deadly force more often, and with more lethal consequences than almost any other country on earth. For example, cops in Australia kill as many people in 30 years as American cops shoot in one month. Granted the populations of both countries are quite disproportionate, but you get the idea.

Taya Graham: And it’s our ongoing problem with the over use of force that was the topic of an international commission specially created and then paneled to investigate and report on the use of deadly force in this country. The commission took testimony from lawyers, family members and law enforcement officials who expressed concern about how many people die at the hands of cops. The panel examined controversial police killings like Tamir Rice, a 14 year old boy who was shot and killed by Cleveland Police while playing in a park with a toy gun. Or Tyrone West, a Baltimore City resident who was beaten by police for nearly an hour after he made a U-turn, and Brionna Taylor, the young nurse who was killed during a botched drug raid last year.

Taya Graham: The point is that American law enforcement kill so many people in so many ways, and so often those same cops are rarely punished that it has required an outside body to intervene. In other words, American style policing is so extraordinarily brutal that in order to address it, we have to venture beyond the borders of the country which allows it. But that’s not where the excesses end, because this just released report by the investigative news site ProPublica exposed how deeply rooted all the aforementioned ills are embedded in our system of crony capitalism.

Taya Graham: The award-winning journalism organization analyzed the contracts of New Jersey police officers looking for perks that led to extraordinary payouts. The group found that police there received a whopping $492 million for unused sick leave over the past several years. Payout so generous that some officers collected hundreds of thousands of dollars each in unused sick leave.

Taya Graham: Now, let’s remember that during the most recent negotiations over the COVID relief package, negotiators specifically excluded a clause that would have guaranteed sick leave to American workers. The measure was dropped after republicans protested that the benefit would be too costly and the democrats failed to successfully craft and pass a bill that addresses the needs of an increasingly desperate electorate. Nevermind, we were in the middle of a deadly pandemic and nevermind that this sick leave is essential to keep all of us healthy.

Taya Graham: But instead of affording a critical benefit to all of us, states like New Jersey have set aside half a billion dollars in wait for it, unused sick leave. That is while denying grocery store workers, cab drivers, retailers a right to a basic and life-saving benefit. State officials have made sure that police can cash in their unused sick pay like a taxpayer funded slush fund. In other words, cops get sick pay they don’t need or use, and we the people get nothing.

Taya Graham: Considering this divide between the perk showered on police and the basic necessities denied the rest of us, is there any wonder we see stories like the one we featured in today’s show? Is it surprising that police make bogus arrests and use force under questionable circumstances? Are we really shocked when cops enforce punitive laws without reasonable discretion, all of which results with more of us riding away in jail? I think it’s the divide between the pricey perks for them and very little for us that reveals the true imperative of American policing. How US law enforcement has become a veritable Praetorian guard, the for-rent soldiers who defended Roman emperors and their unfettered wealth for a price. They are better paid and better protected from the laws in ways not afforded to the rest of us. In exchange they are tasked with enforcing economic inequality, not justice.

Taya Graham: They can cash out sick pay while we are forced to work during a pandemic because they perform the valuable service of enforcing all the social boundaries that make inequality possible. That my friends is why we continue to see law enforcement officers paid outrageous salaries and receive plenty of perks the rest of us will never get. That is also why an international tribunal is actually forced to take on American law enforcement’s catastrophic brutality while our own leaders stand back and watch.

Taya Graham: The truth is American policing has evolved in ways that have little to do with public safety or service instead has become a self-serving institution that feeds at the trough of American excess, a job that has been transformed by the influence of rapacious crony capitalism into an enforcer of the inherent unfairness which unfortunately engulfs us all. I would like to thank my guest Charles Spradling for sharing his story with us today. Thank you so much, Charles.

Charles Spradling: Thank you. I really truly appreciate what you guys are doing out there because I know it’s somewhat of a thankless job, but it needs to be done and you’re fighting the fight along with everybody else, so thank you.

Taya Graham: And of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, editing, research and reporting on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

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

Taya Graham: And I want you to watch him to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please reach out to us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please email us your tips privately at P-A-R@therealnews.com and share your evidence. You can also direct message me @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook, or you can reach out to us through the Police Accountability Report Facebook page, Instagram page, and @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And please like, share and comment on our videos. It really does help, and I’ll answer your questions whenever I can. My name is Taya Graham and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

In this week’s PAR, Taya Graham and Stephen Janis continue their ongoing investigation into small-town overpolicing by reporting on the case of Charles Spradling. Spradling was supposedly stopped for avoiding a police roadblock, then Georgia State Troopers searched his car without consent and arrested him on dubious charges. While Spradling struggles to have his day in court, some residents of Talking Rock, Georgia, say that the pattern of overpolicing in their rural area is undeniable.

Tune in every Thursday at 9:00 p.m. EST for new episodes of the Police Accountability Report.

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.