Complaints of profiling raise tempers

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 19, 2005

A citizen’s complaint about the handling of a situation by theMonticello Police Department resulted in a heated discussionTuesday and allegations of racial profiling.

A representative of the National Association for the Advancementof Colored People met with the board later in the meeting in acooler discussion of the complaint.

Nearly 15 friends and family members of Quanda Griffith attendedthe meeting to lodge a complaint about an incident that occurredMonday but were not on the agenda for the meeting. Board policyrequires that people wishing to address the board be placed on theagenda, but Mayor David Nichols allowed them to address the board.He notified them they had five minutes to speak in accordance withboard policy.

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Griffith said she was pulled over by Lawrence County Sheriff’sOffice Deputy Brock Landrum for a busted taillight. MonticelloPolice Department Officer Scott Stormo was called in to assistbecause the stop occurred inside the city limits at the IGA grocerystore parking lot.

Griffith, who claims she was racially profiled, said passengersin her vehicle included her baby daughter, a 13-year-old boy andJosh, a 20-something black male whose last name no one knew.

Reports on what happened and when varied and Board Attorney JoeDale Walker said those issues should be held pending possiblelitigation, but the board could hear the nature of thecomplaint.

Griffith claimed when she was arrested for driving while licensesuspended, Stormo abandoned the teen and baby “beside the road.”Landrum had left to respond to another call, she said.

When the board pointed out that Josh was with them, Griffithagreed but added “no one knows him. I wasn’t going to leave my babywith someone I don’t know.”

Stormo disputed the claim, saying that both Josh and Landrumwere present. He also said a friend of Griffith’s came over from aconvenience store and asked if she could drive the children home.Her license wasn’t valid, so Stormo declined the request andsuggested she call a family member to come get them.

“I never left the scene. I was there the whole time,” hesaid.

The board attempted to ask questions of Griffith and her parentsbut were repeatedly cut off by them and others in the audiencesupporting Griffith. Stormo was also repeatedly interrupted whiletrying to explain his actions.

Griffith’s mother shouted at that point that the stop wasracially motivated, and Nichols pounded his gavel on thepodium.

“This item is closed,” he repeated loudly several times as hetried to regain control. “I will not hear any more of this. Yourfive minutes are up.”

Later in the meeting, Eugene Bryant, president of the LawrenceCounty Chapter of the NAACP, addressed the board. Bryant was on theagenda for a related matter and tied Monday’s incident into hisdiscussion with the board.

Nichols apologized for raising his voice in the earlierdiscussion but added that “voices were raised on both sides.”

Bryant acknowledged the earlier discussion had escalated to thepoint it needed to be stopped but it served as a counterpoint tohis meeting with the board, which was to discuss several complaintsthe NAACP had been receiving about racial profiling in the county.He alleged that profiling was being conducted by both the city andcounty.

“What we want to do is solve some issues before they becomeproblems,” Bryant said.

He said the NAACP has received numerous complaints recently thatofficers were engaged in racial profiling, specifically bytargeting vehicles with tinted windows and expensive rims.

“Young black males don’t feel like they’re getting any respect,”Bryant said. “We come to you with these complaints before we takeany action.”

Bryant said as a father he also wants to see drug dealing shutdown in the county, but profiling blacks was not the way toaccomplish that.

He suggested the town establish a police review board toinvestigate complaints against the police department. Bryant alsosuggested that board have the authority to make recommendations tothe town board on actions to correct any problems.

“Your idea of a review board intrigues me,” Nichols said. “I’malso going to do more investigating myself” on the earlierincident.

Nichols and Bryant agreed to meet again to discuss thepossibility of establishing a review board and the powers it wouldneed to accomplish its objective.