UPDATE: July, 11, 2016 ― All charges against Chris Jeffries have been dropped and his case has been dismissed, his lawyer announced in a Facebook post Monday.
Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said he is prepared to file a civil suit against the officer who made the traffic stop and was recorded pointing a gun at Jeffries, before allegedly pulling him out of his car.
“Now let’s get some transformative justice,” Gordon wrote.
Chris Jeffries, a 25-year-old black man working as a pizza delivery driver, started recording with his cell phone when Bladensburg Police Officer Munir Ayoub pulled him over for an improper lane change last month.
In a brief exchange, which is captured on film, Jeffries asks Ayoub to put his gun away. Jeffries says Ayoub subsequently dragged him from the car and beat him, before taking him to jail on charges of fleeing and eluding an officer, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. The alleged beating is not recorded.
Watch the video below:
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday, Jeffries said his experience shows how even routine interactions with police can lead to violence and even death.
“I think the best word to describe the feeling of him walking up with a gun pointed on me was feeling like this was the end and thinking: 'Is this how I was going to die?'" Jeffries said. "It’s a different fear than a roller coaster or the dark. This was it. This man has a gun on you. My only thought was that he was going to kill me. ... It wasn’t even fear, it was a realization that all he had to do was pull a trigger, and that was from the beginning of the traffic stop.”
Jeffries said he was on his way to make a delivery and driving his BMW sedan in the left lane going southbound on Baltimore Avenue in Bladensburg, Maryland, when Ayoub stopped him.
Jeffries said Ayoub approached his vehicle with his gun drawn and pointed into the car. In the video, Ayoub tells Jeffries that if he doesn't stop recording with his cell phone, the situation would go from "bad to real bad," and that he would be removed from the car.
At one point, Jeffries asks, "Can you put your gun away, sir," and, "Sir, are you about to kill me right now?"
Jeffries' lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon, said his client attempted to follow his GPS when he realized his missed a turn. When Jeffries realized his mistake, he signaled from the left lane to make a hard right across one lane of traffic. There were no other cars near Jeffries, Gordon said.
Gordon said he viewed a copy of the police report, and that Ayoub cited an "improper lane change" as the cause for initiating the traffic stop. Gordon said Jeffries didn't know he was being followed by police at first, and may have driven a quarter-mile before pulling over on a well-lit road.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Bladensburg Police Department said Ayoub followed Jeffries for a half-mile before he stopped. It also described Jeffries' driving as "erratic," and said he was "defiant to lawful orders" to roll down his window and present his license and registration.
The department made no mention of Ayoub's weapon being drawn.
The video shows that Jeffries' window is at least partially rolled down during the interaction. Jeffries also attempts to pass his identification through the window, at which point Ayoub demands that he roll the window all the way down, or else he'll pull Jeffries "out the car." Ayoub is then heard pulling on Jeffries' door handle.
Jeffries' camera is lying on his dashboard at the end of the recording. It captures Jeffries telling Ayoub that he is afraid and suggesting that he would like another officer on the scene to monitor the stop. Gordon told HuffPost that Jeffries was eventually extracted from the vehicle, and then Ayoub beat him.
Gordon said he and his client are seeking justice for what occurred.
“These issues happen nationwide. There’s been a discussion of implicit bias and this is another example that was expressed explicitly," Gordon said. "His gun was drawn immediately. He was ready to kill someone that night. [Without] the camera on him, there’s no knowing what would have happened to Christopher that night.”
The escalation of seemingly minor traffic stops has become a common complaint in the U.S., especially among black Americans.
Last year, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was stopped for failing to signal in Texas. During the traffic stop, Bland repeatedly questioned the reason for the stop and the legality of state Trooper Brian Encinia's demands. After Bland declined to put out her cigarette, Encinia pulled her out of the car, wrestled her to the ground and arrested her. Days later, she was found dead in her jail cell.
Gordon said he wants to reform police protocol for routine traffic stops, in order to reduce unnecessary escalation on the part of officers. Jeffries, a former football player at Missouri Southern State University and 4.0 student, said the incident is not just about Ayoub's conduct.
"Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, the list goes on, these are the nationally recognized executions. This stuff happens," Jeffries said. "There needs to be a line drawn between an officer sworn to protect us and those who have a badge and feel they can take our lives. ... You can’t create a narrative about my personality or my character. I don’t have any priors, I was working a second job, I was a 4.0 student."
Jeffries said he wants his experience to open up a line of conversation about the legitimate fear of driving while black.
"That fear that I felt, I know it was the fear that everyone who is recognized nationally for being executed felt. And for what, a routine traffic stop?" Jeffries said. "For that guy, of course he has to lose his job. He can’t be in the position to take someone’s life."
Jeffries continued, "One semester I’m a Dean's List student and captain of a sports team, and months later I have a gun in my face by someone sworn to protect me."
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