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Sandusky cop stop causes stir

Courtney Astolfi • Oct 6, 2014 at 8:52 PM

astolfi@sanduskyregister.com

Video of a Sandusky traffic stop circulating on social media this week has spurred debate citywide, and beyond.

Watch the video in the player below (WARNING: Contains language that may be considered offensive)

A local man is outraged by police behavior, a Sandusky attorney deemed it a bogus stop, and the assistant police chief stressed that officers' actions were in accordance with proper procedure.

On Wednesday, at 7:07 p.m., Andre Stockett, 34, of Huron, was a passenger in a car that was stopped by Sandusky police at Remington Avenue and Cleveland Road.

The driver was Kathryn Said, 30, of Taylor, Mich., with the couple's two-week-old infant tucked in the backseat.

Read the police report below

Sandusky police Assistant Chief Phil Frost said Officer Christopher Denny stopped Said's car because her Ohio license plate number showed she had an expired Ohio driver's license.

Legal traffic stop, or not?

Said handed over her valid Michigan license, and it was at about that point Stockett flipped on his phone's video recorder.

According to Denny's police report, he'd watched Said pick up Stockett outside an apartment building and suspected he was Jeremy Newell, a man wanted on felony warrants.

In Stockett's video, Denny is seen re-approaching the car on Stockett's side. After Denny seemingly asks for Stockett's ID, or for him to step out of the car, the conversation goes roughly as follows:

Stockett: “No, for what?”
Denny: “Cause you look exactly like a person that has warrants, OK?”
Stockett: “But that's not me.”
Denny: “OK, then you can ID yourself.”
Stockett:  “I don't have to ID myself.”
Denny:  “Yes, you do.”
Stockett: “I'm not answering none of your questions.”

Denny threatens Stockett with arrest for obstruction, and shortly thereafter addresses him as “Mr. Newell.”

“I'm not Mr. Newell...I have done nothing wrong, you have no probable cause, I'm not coming outside the car, I'm scared for my life,” Stockett said.  “I haven't done anything wrong, I haven't broken the law... I don't have to get out the car, I don't have to tell you who I am.”

“It's a lawful stop, understand that. You match the exact description,” Denny said.

“It doesn't matter, I'm not him,” Stockett replied.

In an interview with the Register, Stockett said police had no probable cause to either ID him or have him exit the car.

“They said I looked like someone they had a warrant for.  I'm not...Mr. Newell, I know exactly who I am,” Stockett told the Register.

Frost, on the other hand, said both he and city prosecutor Lynne Gast-King agreed that Stockett and Newell bear a striking resemblance, according to their photos in a police database. 

Frost also said he reviewed dispatch recordings of Denny's radio traffic when he was checking Said's license status — the officer inquired about Newell's felony warrants, thus, according to Frost, showing that Denny believed Stockett was indeed Newell. 

Other points of contention

Stockett also expressed concern at the multitude of, and in his opinion, conflicting, reasons Denny — and later Officers Evan Estep and Adam West — gave as to why the car was stopped and why Stockett needed to exit:

Both in Denny's report and Stockett's video, Denny said Said was driving without head lights.

•Attorney Geoff Oglesby said due to the brief amount of time between Said stopping the car and the official sunset, driving without headlights was perfectly legal.

•Frost said he was unsure on that rule and thought the cutoff was dusk, but would look into it. He did note the sun that appears to shine behind Denny's head in the video is the actually the reflection of Stockett's flash.

*

Stockett told Denny he then didn't have probable cause to run a K9 unit around the car,

•Denny, however, justified it by citing Said's “nervousness” and Stockett not producing an ID.

•Stockett contended she wasn't nervous, and Said herself said she was upset.

•“To establish probable cause, (police) say, 'Oh, the person's nervous.' It appears now this is a script,” Oglesby said.

•“Let's say...she wasn't nervous at all. You have a legal reason to be there and a legal reason to identify him, how much more do you need? All of it could've been solved if he just shows his ID,” Frost said.

*

And the point that most outraged Stockett, and perhaps Oglesby, was Denny's eventual mention of Children's Services.

“Then your children will go to Children's Services,” Denny said, after the K9 alerted to drugs and Stockett refused to exit the car, instructing Said to do the same. 

“This baby is not about to be taken from me,' an emotional Said responded.

•“I don't look at (the mention of Children's Services) as a threat; I would rather it not be taken as a threat,” Frost said. “Could that ultimately happen to someone being arrested, yes...we do not want to displace a child from their mom or parent.”

Officers were spoken with Thursday night about issue, however.

“They were counseled on their use of that last evening,” Frost said. “I don't like the way it was used personally and it was already addressed.”

•Oglesby took issue with the mention of social workers in particular. 

"The utilization of Children's Services to further the interest of the drug task force...is a problem," the attorney said.

After the stop

Stockett and Said ultimately exited after about five minutes, and the pair were arrested on obstruction charges, the police report stated.

“It was so unprofessional,” Stockett said. “I tried to compose myself as long as I could....my girl takes the baby out of the car, and they search the carseat. I'm sitting in a police car, and I can't do nothing about that. He's two weeks old. I don't know where it goes from here.”

Frost, meanwhile, ordered a thorough review of the matter.

A formal complaint has not been filed, but Sandusky police received numerous calls Thursday about the video.

“I got ahold of our prosecutor and she said 'I want a report that says every little detail',” Frost said.

As for Stockett, he said he's taking it to trial — he appeared in Sandusky Municipal court in a preliminary hearing Thursday.

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