At least one Collegedale, Tennessee, police officer is under review after he kept his body camera muted while speaking with a subject he cuffed and detained during a traffic stop for alleged improper use of a turning lane. It was the second time the officer stopped the same man within 30 minutes.
Alex Staton, 25, was driving in the 9400 block of Apison Pike on Sept. 26 at 7:03 a.m. when he was stopped by Officer Brighton Spain.
Spain tells Staton he pulled him over because of a burned-out headlight and because he entered the turning lane too soon.
Staton admits to merging too soon but says he was "going with the flow of traffic," according to body camera footage obtained by the Times Free Press.
When Spain asks him to sign the citation, Staton first asks for an explanation but then complies, saying "this is amazing how you guys fill your quotas."
"Run your mouth all you want, I'm out here doing my job through the Tennessee Highway Safety Office," Spain responds.
By 7:10 a.m., the stop was over.
Staton received a citation for financial responsibility for not having a paper copy of his proof of insurance and improper lane use. He also received a warning for the burned-out headlight.
At 7:12 a.m., Staton, who had just parked in his apartment parking lot, was stopped again.
"Out of the car," Spain orders, according to body camera footage.
"Why, sir? I have a right to know why," Staton responds as his vehicle door is unlocked and opened. Body camera video does not show whose hand opens the vehicle, as Spain turned his body when he approached the door.
"For improper lane use again," Spain says. "You just cut off all those cars in that turning lane in [the] school zone."
Staton steps out of his 2001 Honda Civic, and Spain takes his arm, places him in handcuffs and walks him to his patrol vehicle, where Spain frisks him before placing him in the back of the patrol car.
At that point, the microphone of Spain's body camera is muted. For 15 minutes, the sound remains off.
According to Collegedale Police Department policy, "officers shall record with audio and video while in direct contact with citizens during the performance of official duties."
Officers are allowed to mute audio when they are not in direct contact with citizens.
Spain's body camera remained muted while speaking to Staton save for the last two minutes of the interaction. At least two other officers, who were not identified, were also present and spoke to Staton. But the police department did not provide their body camera footage. They did not have any additional videos in their system, patrol division Lt. Jack Sapp said.
"This could be due to a few reasons such as the videos have not been uploaded to our system yet, there were technical issues with the officer's cameras, or that the officers did not activate their cameras when they arrived on the scene," he said in an email on Tuesday.
"The officers seen on Spain's video are currently on their normally scheduled off days and will return to work tomorrow and I will look into whether or not they activated any cameras at that time," Sapp said, adding that he would also "look into" why Spain's camera was not reactivated upon speaking with Staton.
No dash camera video was provided for any officer who responded to Staton's stop.
Sapp did not respond to additional questions about whether he intended to or had already opened an official internal affairs investigation or how the department's internal affairs process works.
Police Chief Brian Hickman and special services Lt. Jeff Young also did not respond to the same questions.
For the second stop, Staton received two more citations: one for improper lane use and one for improper passing.