An improper police motion. An nameless whistleblower. An alleged cover-up. These aren’t the plot factors of the newest Hollywood thriller. They’re all a part of a real-life story that has been unfolding in Collin County for 4 years and is barely now coming to gentle. We count on higher transparency and accountability from Sheriff Jim Skinner, and residents ought to too.
Site visitors Cease
On Dec. 4, 2017, Collin County Deputy Sheriff Robert Merritt carried out a site visitors cease alongside U.S. 75 north of McKinney. The motorist, a 45-year-old Black man named Ronnie Brown, was driving alone. He stated he was on his technique to the evening shift at work, and that he was stopped for a lacking gentle on his license plate. Using together with Merritt was a civilian named Leos Drbohlav, a canine coach who works with the division’s Okay-9 models.
In dashcam footage of the cease, Drbohlav is seen carrying a tactical vest marked “POLICE” on back and front. He carries a holstered sidearm. Merritt and Drbohlav search Brown’s automotive, which Brown stated he consented to. At one level, Merritt comes away from the automotive, leaving Drbohlav to look alone.
Drbohlav will not be a sworn peace officer. In response to a number of sources, he’s from the Czech Republic and never an American citizen. We spoke to Drbohlav briefly by telephone, however once we requested about his citizenship standing, the road went lifeless. He has not responded to a number of makes an attempt to contact him since then.
Civilians aren’t allowed to pose as law enforcement officials or take part in police searches. The sheriff division’s personal inside coverage on ride-alongs forbids them to hold firearms, give the impression that they’re police, use police gear or take part in an investigation. The 2017 cease broke all these guidelines.
In an e-mail, Sheriff Jim Skinner referred to as the incident a “mistake” that “mustn’t have occurred.”
It wasn’t simply inside coverage that was damaged. Dallas civil rights legal professional Don Tittle makes a speciality of police misconduct instances. He stated it’s “fairly clear” that the legislation was damaged.
“There’s a legislation in opposition to impersonating a police officer,” Tittle stated. “We’ve all heard about that, however that legislation is definitely on the books.”
Brown’s constitutional rights may additionally have been violated. In a 1999 case referred to as Wilson vs. Layne, the U.S. Supreme Court docket dominated that police in Maryland violated the Fourth Modification’s safety in opposition to illegal search and seizures after they allowed ride-along journalists right into a suspect’s residence whereas serving an arrest warrant. The Collin County case could also be much more grievous since Drbohlav was allowed to look a citizen’s automotive.
Past improper and unlawful, the motion may even have been harmful. Site visitors stops will be tense, and Drbohlav will not be skilled for them. As will be seen on the video, a number of occasions in the course of the encounter he places his hand on the pistol holstered on his thigh.
Brown instructed us, “Lots of people don’t perceive, once you’re 6-2-and-a-half, not just a little dude, and really dark-skinned, issues can go very dangerous in a scenario like that.”
Thankfully, any escalation was prevented as soon as patrol Sgt. Russell Driver arrived. When he found what was occurring, he stated, he instructed Merritt to let Brown go. Then he reprimanded Merritt and Drbohlav and ordered the ride-along over, he instructed us.
Driver retired in 2019 and now lives in Washington state. He instructed us his frustration over the best way the division dealt with this incident contributed to his determination to go away the drive.
Assistant Chief Deputy Nick Bristow, the spokesman for the sheriff’s division, instructed us that as quickly as Sheriff Skinner heard concerning the improper cease, he requested two unbiased investigations: one by the Texas Rangers into the incident itself, and one other by the Division of Homeland Safety into Drbohlav’s citizenship standing. However the sheriff’s division couldn’t produce any documentation of these requests, and a spokesman for the Texas Rangers, Sgt. Kyle Bradford, instructed us the Rangers by no means acquired such a request and didn’t conduct an investigation. DHS has acquired our request for info however has not responded.
Skinner declined to reply a query about whether or not Merritt and Drbohlav confronted any disciplinary motion associated to the cease. In response to Bristow, Merritt nonetheless works for the division and holds the identical rank, and Drbohlav’s canine coaching firm, True Canine Worldwide, maintains its contact with the division and continues to coach its canines.
Which may have been the place the story ended, however in 2019 an nameless whistleblower loaded 16 thumb drives with the dashcam footage and mailed one to each decide and commissioner within the county together with a letter signed “involved citizen.”
When these envelopes arrived, representatives from the sheriff’s division went to the courthouse and retrieved them from mail slots and desks with out judges’ permission, in accordance with three nameless sources. Bristow stated they did so on the request of the county’s IT division, which was involved concerning the drives containing malware. Collin County’s director of IT, Caren Skipworth, didn’t return a number of messages asking for remark.
Weeks later, after a number of complaints from judges, and greater than per week after IT had decided the thumb drives to be secure, they had been returned, the sources stated. The returned footage contained no audio.
Skinner insisted that he didn’t want judges’ permission to take their mail, and referred questions on why they weren’t returned sooner to Skipworth.
“The County has the authority to analyze suspicious mail and the contents of mail despatched to county officers at county addresses,” Skinner wrote. “Any assertion of a cover-up is blatantly false.”
There are definitely extra threads to unravel right here. We nonetheless have questions on who handed Drbohlav a police vest within the first place and why, apparently, nobody has confronted disciplinary motion. Why, actually, wasn’t Russell Driver given a commendation and promotion for safeguarding the integrity of the sheriff’s workplace?
Skinner insisted repeatedly that there is no such thing as a wrongdoing on his half. “My workplace and I did every part by the e book,” he wrote.
However this isn’t simply concerning the letter of the legislation (although it seems that was damaged). It’s about management and sending a transparent message about what habits can be tolerated. To protect public confidence, Skinner ought to be bending over backward to reply questions and help his solutions with documentation. The general public ought to have gotten this info 4 years in the past, together with an apology and a plan to enhance. As an alternative, it’s been 4 years of shell video games, and it’s that very impulse to obfuscate that may make critical misbehavior extra possible sooner or later.