I’m not sure if you’ve seen this video that has been making the rounds online today, where a police officer fires at five children and there mother after a traffic stop goes awry. I have mixed feelings on this one, like in many cases of supposed police brutality and other misconduct. I feel like I have a pretty solid hunch on what went wrong here and in what order, knowing that it is easy to see why it went wrong. I feel both sides acted improperly. Oriana was clearly not setting a good example for her kids, but the police were presenting an awful and barbaric image of the state.
A mother is on a family trip with her five children from Memphis to the Rio Grande, as she tells the officers during the stop. She is stopped for driving with expired tags and speeding, going 71 in a 55, a fairly common speed for American roads these days yet because of antiquated traffic laws it is considered a “serious traffic violation” in New Mexico (perhaps even reckless driving). The first problem here is a systemic issue, people habitually drive over the speed limit on every road in this country. The laws are what are on the books, written by generations past and not always applicable to our times, they are not what people habitually do.
In the traffic stop the officer informs the mother, Oriana Ferrell, that she was speeding and she is to turn off her car while he returns to his for something. She takes off and he pursues, she soon pulls over again. Presumably while pursuing he called for back up. While the dash cam subtitles show the cop saying he will be right back, perhaps his exact words were more ambiguous, perhaps they had a miscommunication and that is why Oriana drove off.
The second time around he opens the drivers door and asks her to get out. At this point she mentions the family trip and specifies that she is not trying to run, which is why she stopped again. After she refuses to get out of the vehicle the officer reaches in the car, presumably to pull her out. Refusing to get out of her car was her second major mistake. At this point there is no way to see what the officer is doing in the car and it will be interesting to see what Oriana and her children have to say. Regardless of what is being done it is enough to provoke her 14 year old son to get out of the car to try and help his mother, a quick flash of the taser scares him back in the car. Oriana now steps out of the vehicle, we cannot hear what is said but the body language is not a good sign and she bolts for the open car door. The officer grabs her by the wrist to restrain her which provokes another attempted assault by her son (hard to tell, he may have actually tackled into the cop), again fended off by a threatened tasing.
When back up arrives instead of blocking in her car so she cannot drive off and working to de-escalate the scene they start smashing windows like looters in a riot. The fear of broken glass lacerating her children seems to be what provokes Orianna into driving off a second time. This time things are different, Officer Trigger-Happy is on the scene now and fires at least three shots at the car, and the other two officers (you can even see one dive for cover in the video, clearly fearing for his life). Oriana doesn’t stop her car again until she is in a populated and safe place, a motel parking lot. Her lawyer maintains that she drove away to get somewhere public because she felt the officers were threatening the lives of her children and herself. John Miller, a former assistant director with the FBI, makes note that many departments have laws against firing at moving vehicles and other officers. Miller also notes many other oddities of the case that led up to the disastrous outcome, such as Oriana’s initial choice to flee.
While the video just got released online today, the incident happened a month ago. Since then Oriana and her son are both out after initial arrests. Her son was charged with battery of an officer and resisting arrest. Oriana was charged with five counts of child abuse, aggravated fleeing an officer, resisting an officer, reckless driving and possession of drug paraphernalia. Officers claim they found two marijuana pipes in the car. I have always wondered what, in absence of marijuana, classifies a pipe as a marijuana pipe and not a tobacco pipe or pipe for smoking other herbs. As there was no cannabis actually find I guess I’ll have to put faith in those officers expertise in cannabis smoking and paraphernalia.
Until I read about the drug charges her actions made no sense, now they make complete sense. With a drug charge, Child Protective Services is very likely to take your kids away, even if you are a legal medical cannabis patient. Now this is just my opinion, but I think she was afraid of losing her kids and her life as she knew it, she was afraid of the downward spiral this would set off, for her kids as well. That fear can drive people to do illogical things, like turn a routine traffic stop into a high speed chase which may realize those worst fears. I feel Officer Trigger-Happy should get the book thrown at him, including endangering another officer in the line of duty. The first cop I feel was the most reasonable, but I feel they all overreacted when they should have de-escalated things.
I’ve been there myself. I was 20, with two bottles of alcohol and an 1/8th of pot in a baggie in a messenger bag in my passenger seat. The bottles were half empty from a party the week before, I was sober and was staying that way as the DD. The booze wasn’t even mine, it was my friend’s. I know, it’s an old line, but it is true and fitting. I sat it out, got a public defender and took my lumps in court. It was only about $500 in fines and fees plus 20 hours of community service, spent painting a community theater. I imagine her lumps wouldn’t have been as bad as mine for the initial stop. After the cop claimed he smelled pot I consented to an illegal search and made it legal, then he found all my contraband. In my case, the smell of pot was a mere hunch, not probable cause; I know this now but I did not when I was 20. After my own run in with police and illegal searches I’ve made it a goal to learn about these issues and raise awareness through the spread of knowledge.
I do not know how it would have played out for Oriana had she not tried to drive off that first time. I am greatly saddened that it went how it did, my thoughts go out to her family. It is worth mentioning that if the paraphernalia is the reason she was provoked into running from the police to protect her rights as a mother, Oriana and her children are yet more victims of America’s thoughtless war on drugs.