LAKELAND, Fla. — Community activists are calling for an investigation at Lakeland Police Department stemming from a drug bust back in March.
Video from the scene that day appears to contradict the officers’ version of how the arrest went down.
“You don’t expect it coming from officers. It was just very disturbing,” Pastor Clayton Cowart, President of the Poor Minority Justice Association, said.
Cowart says it’s not a question of whether police were doing their job back on March 18 during the drug bust on Kansas Avenue in Lakeland. What is at the forefront, he says, is the number of inconsistencies and discrepancies in a deposition given to the public defender.
“And you can’t hold others accountable,” Cowart said, “When you’re not accountable yourself. I think there’s rules and there’s laws and that’s why we have law and order.”
Cowart says he’s not sure whether Lakeland police officer Jason McCain knew – when he sat down for that deposition to discuss his police report – that there was a doorbell video taken the day of the arrests.
“If we’re just going to go off everything that your client is telling you, again, you know, that’s more along the lines of a trial I would think, not a deposition,” McCain can be heard telling the public defender.
“I think it goes more towards your credibility,” she responds.
The sometimes-contentious deposition exposed several details contradicted by the video.
The defendant, Joshua Chatmon, claims police rolled past the car he was in and then backed up.
Officer McCain said their police vehicle did not, but the video clearly shows it did. McCain testifies the three police officers slowly approach the defendants for what he described as a cordial conversation, but that the two men opened the doors to their car to flee when they saw police pull up.
Again, the video shows the car doors were already open and while the men do get out of the vehicle, police seem to quickly grab both defendants placing them in handcuffs — even pushing one onto the hood of a nearby car.
“We are never condoning anyone committing a crime, but I think you’ll have to decide certain things in court," Cowart said. "And that person has to go through due process.”
During the deposition, Officer McCain also says his police report makes no mention of searching Chatmon‘s car but the video clearly shows he did. He tells the public defender he omitted that detail because they didn’t find anything in it.
Officer McCain’s report also says Chatmon confessed to the marijuana seized, but his lawyer says Chatmon denies that.
“Where would that conversation have been?” she asks.
“At the Lakeland Police department,” McCain answers.
“So, there was a capability of that being recorded and you did not record that statement?” she questioned.
“No, we did not,” he concedes.
McCain also says he didn’t recall police inspecting nearby mailboxes although, again, the video shows it happened.
And when asked what became of the suspect vehicle McCain says he assumed it was left there since it wasn’t in his report and was not blocking traffic. The video clearly shows police taking the car with them when they left.
“Again, unless we’ve got the wrong video,” Cowart said, “something is wrong about that story.”
Cowart says he has been in contact with Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia, and that Chief Garcia told him an internal investigation is underway.
Had it not for the doorbell camera video, Cowart questions whether that would have happened.
“We would only have the officer’s word,” Cowart said. “And the officer’s word against someone charged with a crime in a court, the officer automatically wins.”
The Lakeland Police Department says all citizen complaints are reviewed by their office of professional standards and that they do not comment on complaints under review.