As everyone knows, 100% of our effort is dedicated to supporting the troops.
But, because we give 110%, we still have 10% left over.
So we dedicate that extra 10% of our effort to helping all citizens who've encountered unfairness, and helping them be heard.

 

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Highway Robbery
A Virginia citizen shares his first-hand experience with what is apparently an infamous ticket-writing racket in NC.

February 28 2022 - by VirginiaCitizen

Highlights:

  • On Feb 25, 2022, I was driving home from South Carolina to Virginia with my wife in the passenger seat and my 15-month-old son in the seat behind me.  I was driving safely through NC on 1-95. 

  • Suddenly, and just 4 minutes from the Virginia border, NC Highway Patrol (“SHP”) Trooper Darrius Brake pulled my family over.  After confirming that I was driving the speed limit and otherwise proceeding safely, he alleged that I had not sufficiently moved away from the right lane while passing a pulled-over trooper vehicle on the right shoulder.  Trooper Darrius Brake issued me a $441 citation (Citation 650H487)The citation alleges that I “willfully” failed to move my vehicle into the left lane.  That's false.  I never willfully broke a law.  I never knowingly broke a law.  I asked Trooper Darrius Brake if we would be able to view his dashcam footage, given that the trooper has the obligation to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I committed the infraction willfully, and the dashcam would help establish, factually, what had occurred.  Trooper Darrius Brake said that his dashcam was not in use, that it was not turned on. 

    • North Carolina SHP Policy Manual Directive J.05 states "Members operating Patrol vehicles equipped with recording devices shall have the recording devices and body microphones up and ready for operation at all times and shall ensure that camera angles and views are not obstructed in any way to prevent recordings from being viewed. Members shall record all traffic stops and chases."

    • We learned subsequently from SHP Internal Affairs that the reason Trooper Darrius Brake did not have a dashcam on was because he did not even have a dashcam, as he was driving a "spare" vehicle that was not equipped with a dashcam.  And why was Trooper Darrius Brake driving a "spare"?  Because he had crashed his normal vehicle into a mailbox, and it was in the shop. 

    • We also learned that North Carolina SHP has a no-body-cam policy.  So, conveniently, there is no recording of the traffic stop or how Trooper Darrius Brake raced toward me and my family recklessly on the highway, or what he did once he'd pulled my family over.

  • Formal records requests were made Feb 27 to the NCDPS for details about ticket-writing policy, Trooper Darrius Brake's record of ticket-writing, questions about ticket-writing abuses within the SHP, etc.  But an NCDPS records-provision staff member (Ashley Rice) refused to respond to 9 out of 10 of the requests.  That's 90% of the requests denied.  It smacks of suppression of information.

  • I intend to contest the nuisance citation, raise concerns about the officer’s motives in writing the citation, and object to the manner in which Trooper Darrius Brake pulled my family over and then dealt with us.  I also want to shine a light on this unfair situation, because, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, sunlight is the best disinfectant.  I care about SHP, and if something's broken, or an error has been willfully made by one of its troopers, I want to help them (him) fix it.

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I'll start by sharing some headlines from North Carolina media outlets...

 


I'm sad these headlines exist, because I have great respect for law enforcement.  I’m an Eagle Scout.  A big part of my career has been about doing pro-law enforcement work.  I make documentaries and write books that are pro-veteran and pro-law enforcement, and I’m currently writing a book celebrating an NYPD officer’s career. 

But still, everyone is familiar with the concept of a few bad apples.  And I guess that's the topic of my story...

I love North Carolina.  But on Feb 25, as we drove through NC on Interstate 95, we noticed an unusual number of reckless drivers.  People speeding by on the left, dangerously.  I’d estimate many of them were doing well over 90 mph.  There seemed to be a lot of people swerving, jockeying, and groups apparently racing and darting among cars, dangerously.  I wondered aloud to my wife why we weren’t seeing more SHP pulling these dangerous drivers over, or deterring them.

 

So I went into the right lane and tried to stay there, for safety reasons mainly, in order to give an extra measure of protection to my family from the reckless drivers. 

 

As we approached the Virginia border, I did see a police car with blue lights that had pulled someone over on the right.  I presume the law enforcement vehicle was SHP.  I remember the pulled-over vehicle in front of the law enforcement vehicle; it was a new white Tahoe or Yukon or Denali (I recognized the distinctive model body style... because I'm fond of it). 

 

Then, shortly thereafter, I saw blue lights flashing behind me… and a police car speeding towards us.  I was surprised when it pulled up rapidly behind us and crowded us.  My wife and I were both wondering what was going on, what on earth he could possibly be pulling us over for.  We had no idea.  We were going the speed limit.  We were driving safely in the right lane, with adaptive cruise control set.  We were in a Subaru, which we own because it’s one of the top safety picks of the IIHS.  (Point is, I’m a safe driver.  I have no driving record.  I even have deductions on my car insurance for years of safe driving and no claims.)

Progressive safe driver.jpg

 

Trooper Darrius Brake was driving the vehicle that rushed up on us.  In my opinion, he drove toward us recklessly, in a way that can be described as bumrushing us.  Why was he bumrushing us, a Subaru family wagon that was driving safely? I was hovering at the speed limit, and he closed the distance in a flash, so he must have been going way over the speed limit to catch up to us.  He got much closer to our car than he needed to.  We’d seen the flashing blue lights as he approached.  We were pulling over, with our turn signal on.  Trooper Darrius Brake didn’t need to be right on our tail, riding us, as we pulled over. 

 

Once I’d found a safe spot to pull over, Darrius Brake approached us on the passenger side and put a flashlight in my wife’s face and said we’d failed to move over for police that were on the side of the road.  I was surprised.  I told him I recalled trying to move over.  He was contrarian and said, no, I hadn’t tried to move over (my wife and I felt his attitude was hostile).  I said I respected law enforcement.  I didn’t want to disagree with an officer or imply he was lying, just on principle.  So I didn’t contest his claim at that moment, wanting to hear what he had to say, and wanting to be respectful. 

 

But his story didn’t sound right.

 

I figured there was no need to guess about what happened, in the era of dashcams.  So I asked him if we would be able to review his dashcam footage, of us passing him on the highway, and of his stopping us.  But he said he didn’t have his dashcam on.  That was suspicious.  Why did he turn his dashcam off?  Did he not want to record how he’d bumrushed our vehicle?  I asked him politely why he’d deactivated his dash cam.  He refused to answer.

This is from the North Carolina SHP Policy Manual Directive J.05:

shp dashcam policy.png

Trooper Darrius Brake was saying his own dashcam was off and that he hadn't recorded our traffic stop.  This appears to be a violation of Directive J.05, which says "members shall record all traffic stops."  Trooper D Brake then suggested his colleague may have had his dashcam on.  He suggested we could try to subpoena it.  My wife and I thought it was strange that he was saying we could “try” to subpoena it.

 

Additionally, I was surprised that Trooper Darrius Brake was not wearing a mask.  It’s the COVID era.  He was putting his unmasked face into the cabin of our car and breathing into our enclosed airspace, with a sick child in the back seat.  In his own life (and space), I feel Trooper Darrius Brake is free to do what he wants, in terms of masks.  But it’s inappropriate for him to force his mouth into our space and breathe unmasked on us.  It’s the opposite of courteous.  It’s also strange, given that on that very day, Feb 25 2022, the current NCDHHS guidelines for “public facing businesses” (SHP is public facing) were for even vaccinated people to wear masks when “less than 6 feet away from others.”  And yet Trooper D Brake was breathing unmasked within 12 inches of my wife’s face.

 

Note: Feb 9 and Feb 21 2022 Twitter posts by NC State Highway Patrol show NC Highway Patrol members all wearing masks.  So, NC State Highway Patrol personnel seem to care enough to wear masks around each other, and to think that masks are important when it comes to protecting each other.  But when Trooper Darrius Brake was 12 inches from my wife’s face, he didn’t think that safety was important, apparently.  Does Trooper Darrius Brake care less about us and our safety?  If so, why?  Is it because we’re merely citizens?  Or because we’re out-of-staters?  It’s concerning.

 

NCDHHS mask guidelines public facing Feb 26.png

Trooper Darrius Brake went to check my license and registration, all of which came back in good shape.  I have a spotless record and all my docs (insurance / registration) are up to date.  I reiterated that I was positive I had moved over... and I indicated the incident on the side of the road that I was referencing was the police car behind the new white Tahoe/Yukon/Denali.  But Trooper Darrius Brake suggested that that was not the pulled-over vehicle incident he was part of.  The white Tahoe/Yukon/Denali was not the car he’d been behind. 

He had no interest in discussing where he actually was, or what he was talking about.  Instead he just hit me with the $441 ticket.

 

I noticed that it was 3 days from the end of the month, and we were 4 minutes from the Virginia state line.  And—surprise—right at the border, the SHP was suddenly pulling cars over, when we’d spent most of our time on 95 in NC wondering where the SHP was while all the reckless drivers were whizzing by.  Right at the border, Trooper Darrius Brake drove recklessly (in my opinion) to pull over a Virginia car and slap it with a bogus $441 citation just before we crossed the state line.  $191 of the $441 citation are for “costs.”  But there is no explanation what those $191 in costs actually are.  It’s suspicious.

 

I asked Trooper Darrius Brake if he had a ticket-writing quota.  He refused to answer.  I find it strange that he didn’t simply say “no, we don’t have a quota.”  Instead, he refused to answer the question of whether he had a quota or not.  It makes one wonder: why did he refuse to answer? 

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NC HP masks in use Feb 21.png
Feb 9 NC HP all masked.png

When asked about mask policy and why Darrius Brake did not wear one when he stuck his head into the cabin space of our car, Lt. Garrett Barger of NC SHP Internal Affairs said that the mask policy only applies to the indoors.  And yet, in all of the above photos, taken in the same month as our encounter with Darrius Brake, SHP personnel are wearing masks outdoors.

 

Being heard.

I look forward to the April 19 court date (naturally, we have to drive back to NC for it) and to having a chance to be heard and to contest this unfair shake-down of a ticket.  We have other questions, too, such as:

  • regarding the other vehicles in the right lane which we were following (with adaptive cruise control), were they pulled over and ticketed by Trooper Darrius Brake, too?  Or did he let them go and just target us unfairly?  We'll see.

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FOLLOW UP

On Feb 27, 2022, two online requests were sent to the NCDPS for public records regarding the ticket-writing irregularities at SHP, with ten separate requested elements articulated in the requests.

  • On Feb 28, 2022, Ashley Rice of the NCDPS wrote two emails in response, in which she explained NCDPS "has no responsive documents" for most of the requests, and "in regards to the rest of your request," she/NCDPS would be supplying no records, but her advice was that the requester could go to the clerk of courts in the issuing county and get the records there (I was asking for info on certain SHP citations).

  • Ashley Rice of the NCDPS also wrote, "We [the NCDPS] have no responsive documents regarding...' government or official probes or reviews there have been into citation-issuing irregularities at the NC State Highway Patrol in the past 3 years…etc.' ”  Ms. Rice is apparently claiming the NCDPS has no documents or records (e.g. emails, statements, memos, etc) regarding citation-issuing irregularities at SHP.  It's curious, given all the articles cited on this page, incl. this one...

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