Body cam video calls racial profiling accusations into question

Social media uproar over accusations of racial profiling by a local officer have quieted amid revelations about their accuracy.

A post by local Pamela Smithbell on a community Facebook page started the online swirl. In it, she detailed claims that on June 19, a Black downstate couple was pulled over, and the driver, D’Monte Johnson, was arrested in an unjust, race-fueled stop. The couple had been staying in Smithbell’s vacation rental and cut their trip short after the incident, she wrote.

But body camera footage obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request calls into question some of the second-hand account.

A police report supplied through that request shows the incident actually occurred on June 20, a Saturday. The video confirms Johnson’s arrest — for driving on a five-time suspended license — and the traffic stop itself — for a loud exhaust issue — by the Grand Traverse Band Police detective accused. But it appears to contradict claims of “horrible treatment” detailed in social media posts.

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich called the social media accusations baseless, and took issue with those spreading the claims.

“It’s disgusting that people would try to harm the reputation of someone who’s so good-hearted and tries to help people,” Borkovich said, adding he knows the detective well.

The video starts as both cars roll to a stop on Bayshore Drive.

The detective approaches the couple’s car and offers a greeting before requesting Johnson’s driver’s license and registration. Johnson, a 24-year-old Flint resident, is shown providing it.

The detective informs the vacationers they were stopped for having a loud exhaust and suggests the couple’s car might have a leak. He adds that he “doesn’t see the need for a citation,” but suggests the issue could prove dangerous and should be fixed once they return home.

He runs Johnson’s license and finds five prior suspensions — corroborated by a search of 67th District Court records.

The detective later explains that he’s required to arrest Johnson for the suspended license under department policy.

The camera continues rolling through the arrest, showing the detective advising Johnson he’d be given bond shortly after booking and suggesting Johnson’s girlfriend follow them to Leelanau County’s jail.

Court records didn’t list the amount set for Johnson’s bond. He’s scheduled for arraignment on a count of driving with a suspended license — third offense — on June 30.

Calls to Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Attorney Sean Cahill and Police Capt. David Crockett were not returned Thursday.Tribal Manager Sonya Zotigh offered a written statement noting the band does not support racism and that an internal review was ongoing.

Smithbell declined an interview on the matter Thursday, but offered a statement via email.

“My initial Facebook post was made immediately after these incidents occurred,” she wrote. “As days have passed, it seems there are grey areas that could be interpreted in different ways, depending on how you look at them. At the same time, I’m not convinced that there weren’t some elements of racial profiling at play.”

Smithbell added that she didn’t experience any of it firsthand, but that the couple later recounted the incident to her.

Borkovich condemned her actions, and those of others on social media — he called those spreading rumors “judgmental” and of “poor” character Friday.

“People are basically repeating things they obviously don’t have facts about — it’s a very frustrating situation,” he said.

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By: ThisIsButter (43667.50)