PORT ALLEN — The West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office could find no evidence to support a Port Allen mother’s claim her teenage son was racially profiled and harassed by city police during a recent traffic stop, Col. Richie Johnson said Friday.
The city’s police chief asked the Sheriff’s Office to look into the matter after Nikisha Joseph confronted city leaders earlier this month about an incident involving her son.
Joseph, who is black, said a white, female police officer unnecessarily pulled over her 16-year-old son for a traffic stop on Feb. 6. She claimed officers illegally searched her son’s vehicle and tried to prevent him from calling his parents from the scene.
“We interviewed everybody that was involved and found no proof of racial profiling,” Johnson said Friday. “They were aggressively patrolling. But that’s what happens when you aggressively patrol.”
Joseph, who has threatened legal action, said Friday she’s not going to let the issue go. She said the issue isn’t just racial profiling. She said she still questions the legality of the traffic stop and the body search officers performed on her son.
“I don’t feel my complaint was truly investigated,” Joseph said. “I told (city leaders) I had the petition signed by more than 100 people with complaints against the same officer, and not one person has contacted me to get a copy of it and see if there is a deeper issue here.”
Joseph said the Sheriff’s Office told her the city would have to conduct its own investigation into her other allegations.
Joseph’s son was initially pulled over by a black male officer for driving without a seat belt. It wasn’t until the officer approached the vehicle that he saw the driver and his passenger, also a black male juvenile, were wearing across-the-lap seat belts.
The vehicle the juveniles were in was an older-model car that wasn’t outfitted with across-the-chest seat belt straps.
But the traffic stop turned into something more when the white, female officer showed up to assist and saw the juvenile in the passenger seat pull out a pill bottle from the glove compartment that was stuck to paperwork the driver was retrieving.
“I think the officer asked for his license and registration at the same time the passenger opened the glove box and the other officer saw the pill bottle stuck to the paperwork as she was approaching the vehicle from the other side,” Johnson said.
As part of its investigation, Johnson said, the Sheriff’s Office also reviewed audio recordings of the officers’ radio chatter prior to pulling the driver over.
“You could hear them on the radio talking about not seeing their seat belts as they were driving,” Johnson said.
Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown has defended his officers since the allegations surfaced, stating that once his officer spotted the pill bottle, they began searching the teenager’s vehicle.
The police report The Advocate obtained supports much of the chief’s claims but also provides additional insight into what happened that night from the officer’s perspective.
The report, written by Haley Stafford, the white, female officer, says Officer Justin Smith pulled the juvenile over about 5:18 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the intersection of North 14th and Court streets.
Stafford reported that the teenager, when asked, said he didn’t know who the pill bottle was for. The label on the pill bottle said it contained hydrocodone, a highly regulated pain medication.
“I did not observe pills in the bottle. However, I did observe a red liquid which I believed to be promethazine in the bottle,” Stafford wrote in the report.
The officer claims she later found other pill bottles inside the car’s rear cup holders, some of them prescribed to the teen’s father and some of which appeared suspicious.
The officers then asked the juvenile and his passenger to step out of the vehicle so each officer could pat them down for the officer’s safety, according to the police report.
At that point, the driver’s father, Brandon Lawson, showed up and took ownership of the two bottles prescribed to him and a liquid prescription bottle officers found in a plastic bag. Lawson told officers the pill bottle Stafford saw one of the teenagers pull out of the car’s glove compartment was for his girlfriend, the report states.
Joseph also arrived on the scene later and told the officers any evidence they found in the vehicle could not be used against her son’s father or her son because officers had no reason to stop the vehicle in the first place, the report states.
Lawson was arrested and booked into the parish jail on drug possession charges. Johnson said Friday Lawson bonded out of jail shortly after the arrest and the case had been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.