When 24-year-old DaJuawn Wallace saw flashing blue police lights in his rearview mirror while driving along a dark road in Kochville Township, Michigan, early one morning in February, he says he chose to proceed with caution.
"I live in Detroit, and I know some people who were robbed by fake police officers," Wallace told MLive. "I was taught to find a well-lit area to pull over in."
Wallace drove at a low speed with the police car in tow for about a mile and a half before coming to a stop in a Sam's Club parking lot, where he was arrested by Saginaw Valley State University police officer Leon Wilson. Wallace now faces a felony count of fleeing and eluding police for not pulling over sooner, a charge that carries a potential two-year jail sentence.
In a police report, Wilson wrote that he attempted to pull Wallace over because his vehicle matched the description of a car he had earlier seen driving on a sidewalk on the campus of SVSU, where Wallace is pursuing a master's degree in health administration. While Wilson was unable to pursue the vehicle, he claimed that Wallace's sedan was similar in color and was leaving the same area.
"The driver made no attempt to pull over and stop," Wilson wrote in the report, according to MLive. "I observed the driver stick his hands out of the window a couple of times. I did not see the driver throw anything from the vehicle, though it was dark and the road was poorly lit."
Wallace said the gesture was an effort to signal to the trailing police officer that he intended to pull over when he reached an area that he felt to be safer. At a preliminary hearing on June 12, Wallace attempted to explain why he didn't stop immediately.
The prosecution responded by offering Wallace a reduced charge of attempted fourth-degree fleeing and eluding. If Wallace pleads guilty to the one-year misdemeanor with a delayed sentence, the charge would be dismissed after he completes probation. But not before potentially losing his job and his financial aid, Wallace said.
Wallace's concerns about police impersonators in Michigan aren't unfounded. In 2013, authorities issued a warning to residents in the Detroit area after a string of incidents in which people were robbed and assaulted by men claiming to be police officers. Two men were arrested after allegedly identifying themselves as Fugitive Recovery Agents to rob two individuals.
In a particularly strange twist, it was eventually revealed that in a third incident, two of the presumed impersonators were in fact off-duty police officers who said they were attempting to retrieve a stolen cell phone -- by allegedly pistol-whipping the supposed thieves and stealing marijuana, cash and a gun.
And just last week, less than 100 miles south of Kochville, a phony police officer in Lyon Township was observed making a traffic stop. His car had police lights and he was outfitted in a sheriff's vest.
Saginaw County Chief Prosecutor Christopher Boyd has expressed little sympathy for Wallace's concern, saying that drivers are required to pull over when an officially marked police car attempts to initiate a stop. In a video obtained by MLive, however, Wallace can be heard explaining that he could see the cruiser's lights, but not its official decals, at the time.
A call to the prosecuting attorney's office in Saginaw was not answered.
Wallace isn't the only one to recently run into legal trouble for exercising what he believed to be due caution. In Indiana earlier this year, a 52-year-old woman driving alone at night along an unlit road was booked on a felony charge of resisting arrest after she waited to drive to a department store parking lot before pulling over to the side of the road for a police officer. The low-speed "pursuit" lasted less than a mile in that case, and the charge was ultimately dropped.
Wallace is set to return to court on Thursday for a preliminary examination, where he will be given a last chance to accept the plea agreement. If he doesn't, a district judge will determine if the case goes to trial.