published Sunday, March 24th, 2013

David Cook: Driving while American

Jose Molina was driving his white Nissan Maxima down Main Street on a July night last summer when a police car began to follow him.

A red light. Molina stopped. Green light. He drove on.

"That's when she put on her flashing blue lights," he said.

Those blue lights. Such power. They can be a beacon of help or source of fear, especially for someone like Molina: brown skin, born 47 years ago in Mexico, doesn't speak English so well.

"She shined her flashlight in my eyes. She said she thought I'd been drinking," he said.

Or stoned.

"I told her neither of those were true. I was neither drunk nor drugged out," Molina said. "After that, it seemed she got upset. She started shouting at me."

Molina showed Officer Sheila Jetton his lemon-lime Gatorade. That was all he'd been drinking.

"She said, 'Stop lying to me,'" he remembered.

It was close to midnight. Molina, alone. Police flashlights in his eyes.

But he wasn't afraid.

"It did not even enter my mind I would end up in jail," he said.

Maybe it's because of all the studying he did

back in 2008. The civics questions he memorized. The way he stood up and pledged his loyalty to America.

The pride in his eyes on Nov. 19, 2008, when he became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.

Mr. Jose Juan Molina-Maldonado, his certificate of naturalization read. An American citizen.

"I was not afraid anything would happen," he said.

By the end of the night, he would feel very differently.

What follows is Molina's story, told with the help of a translator. On Friday, Molina and his attorney filed a nine-count, $500,000 civil rights lawsuit against Chattanooga and its police department, best summed up in three words that appear throughout the 15-page suit: discrimination, profiling, stereotyping.

Molina got out of his car. The officer put him against the patrol car. Had him spread his legs.

"In that moment, there was so much pain," he said. "I wouldn't wish that pain on anybody else."

Four weeks earlier, Molina had undergone hemorrhoid surgery. His lower regions were still sore, sensitive, and, by the time he would finally be released from jail, had begun bleeding.

His eyes? They were red, bloodshot, watery, just like Jetton noted in her police report, as she thought he was drunk or high.

But Molina suffers from an eye condition his doctor diagnosed as pterygium and pinguecula, both of which can cause redness, swelling and irritation.

He's got documents to prove it. Medical records. Doctor's names. Bills and receipts.

That July night? He had his Georgia driver's license (Molina lives in Dalton) and car insurance. Showed them to the officer, and the other officers who soon arrived. And the Spanish-speaking officer who came to translate.

"His Spanish wasn't very good," Molina said. "He just accused me of things. He was only saying those documents, those papers are not mine.

"The officer arrested me, started yelling in my face, telling me to shut up. 'Shut up and don't lie to me anymore.'"

They searched his car. Took him to the jail. Charged him with driving under the influence.

"They didn't tell me I had the right to a phone call or the right to an attorney," he said. "They kept saying they were going to deport me."

How would you do that? How would you deport an American citizen? To where?

"When I left the jail, I felt like a piece of trash," he said.

His car had been towed. He had to obtain police permission before he got his car released.

"Whenever I would call, they would tell me the officer wasn't working," he said.

He was arrested on July 7. According to his receipt, he did not get his car back until July 24. It cost him $429.98.

He lost time at work, at the carpet mill. His mug shot ran in "Just Busted." He went to court four times (turned down offers to close the case if he pleaded guilty to traffic violations) before the judge dismissed his case. Each time, the officer who arrested him never showed up.

And his blood-alcohol content that night?

Tests confirmed what Molina told officers. Zero alcohol.

"I never imagined the laws in America could be used to accuse someone in this way," he said. "I would like for this not to happen to anyone else."

The floor under America is shifting. Can you feel it? Demographics are sliding around like cups across a dashboard; in the next 30 years, people with brown and black skin are projected to be the new majority.

When Officer Jetton flashed her light in Molina's face that night, she was looking at the future of America.

"I feel very proud to be an American," he said.

He should have been treated like one.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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TirnaNOG said...

Military home on leave, innocently walking after the dark in the neighborhood he was born, on the very street he grew up. If the skin is brown or black it doesn't matter Mr. Cook. And they'll swear down they were just following orders, which is the most lame of excuses. Who's orders no one can be sure.

They don't just follow any orders. After all, if they were told to go stand in the middle of the road and wait for an 18 wheeler to come barreling down at 70mph, they'd say You're crazy! But tap into that dark place that lurks just beneath the surface for some, where principles and scruples no longer exist, and you can bring out the monster in some people.

Then you have a system and society that enables. That excuse such behavior. That justify, that looks away. That attacks the victim, or the citizen that attempts to report. A society that's complicit. Why? Because these are people who have sworned to uphold the law. To police their own. To serve and protect. People we're told we can trust. We can go to when we feel the threat of danger. And we believe them.

quotes by Eli Wiesel/Holocaust survivor:

"“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ― Elie Wiesel

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” ― Elie Wiesel

March 24, 2013 at 7:22 a.m.
yaffay said...

Mr. Molina is arrested while doing nothing illegal,has to go to court multiple times, and must pay a big fine to get a car released that never should have been towed in the first place. Is this part of the "liberty and justice for all" we Americans take such pride in proclaiming?

March 24, 2013 at 2:01 p.m.
bhdodd said...

Mr. Cook,

I'm a little concerned with some of the facts that you represent as the truth in your opinion piece. I know it is easier to write your opinion pieces with your own personal slant on them if you dont ask questions or seek the facts in the case. Do you know what this gentleman was doing when he was stopped? Do you know any of the circumstances or evidence surrounding the case? Did you know the roadside interview, the field sobriety tests, search of the vehicle, and the arrest were actually recorded on an in-car camera? Another fact that might be worth mentioning in your piece: the toxicology results are still not back from the TBI lab, so the criminal aspect of this case has not been finalized.

Do you think it is pertinent that the officer should have known that the gentleman suffers from hemorrhoids or that he also suffers with pterygium and pinguecula, seriously? Well if you had bothered to ask a few questions, or god forbid watch the video of the incident, you might have been just a little less eager to accuse the officer of profiling this gentleman based on his skin color.

This is very similar to the last time we had a local lawyer come to the department demanding justice or at least a cash settlement. I would suggest to you that it might benefit everyone if you were to check some of the facts in these cases before you label a good person, a good police officer, a military veteran, and a good American as a racist.

March 25, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
Easy123 said...

bhdodd,

"Another fact that might be worth mentioning in your piece: the toxicology results are still not back from the TBI lab, so the criminal aspect of this case has not been finalized."

Innocent until proven guilty, remember? You're implying that the man is guilty when you have no clue as to whether he is or isn't. But what did the breathalyzer indicate? Zero, as Cook says? If that is the case, then the toxicology results are likely to read the same. It seems as if you're holding out hope that the man was intoxicated when all indications point to the contrary.

"Do you think it is pertinent that the officer should have known that the gentleman suffers from hemorrhoids or that he also suffers with pterygium and pinguecula, seriously?"

The hemorrhoids could explain any strange movements or behavior. The eye condition could explain why the officer thought the man was drunk since bloodshot eyes are also a side effect of alcohol consumption. Most reasonable, logical people would think those medical issues were very pertinent considering the situation.

"Well if you had bothered to ask a few questions, or god forbid watch the video of the incident, you might have been just a little less eager to accuse the officer of profiling this gentleman based on his skin color."

You're the same person that is trying to ignore the man's medical conditions and breathalyzer results, right? You only seem to want to ask the questions that make the man look guilty.

"I would suggest to you that it might benefit everyone if you were to check some of the facts in these cases before you label a good person, a good police officer, a military veteran, and a good American as a racist. "

I would suggest to you that it might benefit everyone if you were to check ALL of the facts in these cases before you label a good person, an American citizen, and a hard-working man as a criminal. By the way, good people, good police officers, military veterans, and good Americans can still be racists.

March 25, 2013 at 10:29 p.m.
bhdodd said...

Easy123,

I never said the man was guilty of anything, nor did I label him a criminal, I simply asked if Mr. Cook had enough facts about the case to decide that the actions taken by the officer were inappropriate, or motivated strictly by the man's skin color. Don't you think your comment "Innocent until proven guilty" should work for both sides.

Jumping to conclusions without having the facts is never a good idea. Accusations and name calling without facts is very irresponsible.

March 25, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.
Easy123 said...

bhdodd,

I completely agree. But I think the majority of people take stories like these with a grain of salt. At least I hope so. Everyone should withhold judgement on both parties until the full story comes out.

March 25, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.
inquiringmind said...

I, a "respectable white guy" have been stopped by Chattanooga's finest for doing nothing more than walking in my neighborhood on the sidewalk as I passed one of the rental house the officer lives in. You do not need to tell me the Bill of Rights is dead in this town.

March 26, 2013 at 12:25 p.m.
John_Proctor said...

"Another fact that might be worth mentioning in your piece: the toxicology results are still not back from the TBI lab, so the criminal aspect of this case has not been finalized."

So charges were dismissed before lab results were received?

How many times does the accused have to show up before the citing officer finally appears in court? Wasn't 4 times enough? The point you are missing is that a United States citizen was detained and arrested by an officer based on an alleged smell and other subjective "evidence." It's the way he was treated that "smells" like racism to a lot of us.

March 26, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.
bhdodd said...

John_Proctor,

You're missing my point...I asked Mr Cook if he had seen the video of the interaction between Mr. Molina and Officer Jetton. I have seen the video, so I simply asked that he ask questions or review the evidence in the case before he makes allegations against the officer.

March 26, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.
davidcook said...

Chief Dodd, I have not seen the video. You know that. When approached by TFP, your office would not comment on the case. But I would welcome any interview about this and other things. I have a copy of the police report Officer Jetton filed. The alcohol screens were negative. Yet Mr. Molina was arrested for driving under the influence. So by tox results, do you mean illegal substances? If so, why has it taken the state since last summer to produce results from such a simple test? And Mr. Molina was in court four times, and at no point did any officer appear to testify. (The judge dismissed his case). And: do you deny what Mr. Molina said?

March 26, 2013 at 5:12 p.m.
Easy123 said...

David Cook for the win!

Thank you, Mr. Cook!

I can now pass judgement on Chief Dodd and Officer Jetton.

March 26, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.
bhdodd said...

Mr. Cook,

I was contacted by Todd South via the PIO and asked if I wanted to make a comment about the recent lawsuit filed by Mr. Molina. We responded that we weren't familiar with any complaint made by Mr. Molina, nor had we had the opportunity to read the lawsuit yet. We normally don't respond to lawsuits until we have had the opportunity to review the complaint, the lawsuit itself, and review the information provided by the officer(s) involved. We also take advice from the City Attorney's office on how to proceed with responses involving litigation.

Todd South reported that the lawsuit had been filed and basically reported what Mr. Molina alleged had occurred, or the opinions of his attorney. Mr. South actually reached out to us and asked for comments on the lawsuit and then based his story on the comments made by those involved and the "no comment" from the department.

We have never heard from you about this case, nor have you made any requests from my office about the existence of any evidence to prove your story one way or the other. You wrote the story as if you have some insider information about the case, or you have all the proof you need to slander Officer Jetton and label her as a racist. When the truth is, you only have half the story. You might feel that is enough to make the allegations that you made, or feel that is all you need to label this officer as a racist who was profiling Mr. Molina, but I respectfully disagree.

One sided stories and slanderous accusations are not only unprofessional, but very irresponsible. You have all of my contact numbers if you want to discuss this with me in person.

March 26, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.
Easy123 said...

bhdodd,

Can you show me where Mr. Cook labeled Officer Jetton a racist.

March 26, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.
bhdodd said...

Easy 123,

You have already declared Mr. Cook the winner, so enjoy your forum my friend. I don't think you would appreciate someone writing such a matter of fact article about you with only half the facts, maybe I am mistaken.

March 26, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.
Easy123 said...

bhdodd,

What facts are missing? Was the man intoxicated or not? Were the alcohol screens positive or negative? Why was the case dismissed? Did Officer Jetton testify or not? Why aren't the toxicology reports back from an incident that occurred last July? Why do you feel Mr. Molina's medical conditions aren't relevant?

According to you, the only facts that are missing are not particularly accessible to the public. None of us has seen the video of the interaction between the officer and Mr. Molina. What is in the video that would implicate Mr. Molina?

If you want everyone to look at all the facts, then why aren't you presenting any? I am open to anything that you could present to prove anything Mr. Cook or Mr. Molina said wrong or prove Mr. Molina's guilt.

Also, you cannot show me where Mr. Cook has labeled Officer Jetton a racist because he never did so.

I get it. You want to protect your officers and that is understandable of you, but it seems that none of the facts support your officer's actions. You have already said that the personal medical information of Mr. Molina wasn't pertinent when, in fact, it is. Which facts do you want us all to look at? The ones that haven't been presented? You obviously don't want people looking at the facts that would lead any reasonable person to believe Mr. Molina was wrongly stopped and accused of being intoxicated. If you have anything that would prove otherwise, present it.

March 26, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

There are no winners or losers here. This is not a game where someone lose or someone wins. Just a great sadness and disappointment in how prior chiefs ran their regiment. One that promoted cracking heads, polarizing and encouraged creating volatile situations, promoting fear and intimidation, and sending their posse out to silence anyone who attempted to complain, rather reaching out to the people and public and at least attempting to promote peace.

For reasons I won't go into on this board, I don't think I can ever fully trust police again. However, I do believe Chief Dodd is one of the good guys. Someone who can return policing under his charge back to being peace officers, serving and protecting ALL citizens. The dept. lost some potentially good cops because they didn't want to work with or around the bullies and hot-heads, as one once told me.

I've never met the chief personally, and likely never will. But you don't have to be in physical presence or close proximity to a person to know they have good character, values and compassion. It's the way they carry themselves and the look in their eyes. The eyes really are the window into ones soul.

GIVE HIM A CHANCE To turn things around for the better.

Likely, my last post here.

March 26, 2013 at 7:14 p.m.
bhdodd said...

Easy 123,

I keep telling you...I'm not accusing anyone of being guilty of anything. I'm not defending the officer or accusing Mr. Molina, in my opinion, the article is one sided and Mr. Cook doesn't have enough facts to slant the article that way. Wait till the case is finalized and write all you want about it either way.

TirnaNOG,

Thank you for your kind words. This is the first time I have ever responded to a story in this forum and I can say for sure this is my last post on this subject.

March 26, 2013 at 7:25 p.m.
Vet32 said...

I know the man personally, he doesn't drink or consume any drugs, he is a hard working family man. And what does it matter that the officer is a veteran, his daughter is also a military veteran. And one more thing I'd like to ask, is why make assumptions? Like the guy said above "innocent until proven guilty"? I think that should some thing the officers should also ask from now on, just like they ask when frisking to protect themselves "any sharp object or weapons I should be aware of?" They should ask if there is any medical impediments that can stop their harsh frisking and maybe go softer on them. That's is just my opinion.

March 29, 2013 at 12:02 a.m.
Danimal said...

I am not brown skinned. I did not require another officer to translate. Aside from that, my story is identical. It happened 10 months ago in another state. I am still waiting for the urinalysis results to clear my case. Thats right, 10 months, 3 postponments, attorney fees, missed work, plane tickets...oh, and my breathalyzer, also a ZERO. I have faith that this will work out, but at what cost? I am a white, college educated, heterosexual, christian man. Maybe my crime was having a Tennessee drivers license. I understand Mr. Molina feeling like a piece of trash when he was finally released from jail. I'm just saying it doesnt only happen to minorities.

April 2, 2013 at 9:13 a.m.
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