Racine police Chief Art Howell released a statement Monday on Facebook detailing an investigation that cleared one of his officers of accusations of a racially motivated traffic stop.
At 8:32 a.m. on June 24, Oscar James Wells, 21, of Racine, was stopped on Main Street near the zoo for not
He posted almost four minutes of video online detailing how the officer – who is white and female – prevented him multiple times from reaching into his glove box to get his license and his proof of insurance. Wells claimed the officer was afraid of him because he is African American and that she would not have known he didn’t have a front license plate based on her position behind him at a nearby intersection.
Wells filed a formal complaint with the Racine Police Department and requested the Office of Professional Standards conduct an internal investigation.
Howell in his statement said the investigation – and video from the officer’s dashboard camera – clear the officer of any wrong-doing and back up the officer’s decisions to issue citations to Wells for both the license plate violation and for failure to provide proof of insurance.
“After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances involved in this case, and after in-depth analysis the squad car video captured during this traffic stop, the allegations made by Mr. Wells were found to be completely baseless,” the post reads.
Video shows the officer did allow Wells to search for his license and proof of insurance, not just in his glove box but also in other areas of the car, the statement continues. In fact, Howell notes, the officer returned to her squad car while Wells continued to search for his documents.
“It should be noted that, in addition to the initial time Mr. Wells was allowed to search for the requested documents, he was afforded an extended period of search time (approximately 12 minutes) during the time the officer returned to her vehicle to verify Wells’ drivers license status and to draft the referenced citation,” Howell wrote.
After Wells posted his video, it was picked up by at least two websites that attached narrative indicting the officer and the Racine Police Department for initiating racially-motivated traffic stops. Howell notes, though, that a review of traffic stops that day indicate drivers across racial and ethnic lines were pulled over for a variety of traffic violations.
“The internal audit related no racial disparity in those stopped for traffic violations, as individuals of a balanced range of ethnic backgrounds were stopped and cited,” the post continues.
The negativity being expressed in the comments of Wells’ video and on the additional websites is cause for concern, Howell notes, even in a community where relationships between police and citizens has thus far been mostly positive.
“Inaccurate and inflammatory online posts of this nature collectively contribute to the anti-police climate that leads to poor community relationships in some communities, and worse yet, the execution of police officers. While we enjoy great police community relations locally, the same cannot be said for many departments across the nation. The false narrative advanced by the inaccurate video posted by Mr. Wells does a disservice to the service and sacrifice of the men and women who risk their lives daily to enhance public safety,” he wrote.
Howell concludes the post by noting that he posted his message to try and restore any trust that might have been lost between citizens and the department as a whole but especially to repair any credibility lost for the officer in question.
The full video of the traffic stop will be available Tuesday. We will post that when it becomes available.
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