A recent encounter between a Charlottesville police officer and a Black man resulted in an unlawful detention but was not motivated by racial bias, a Charlottesville Police internal affairs investigation found.
LaQuinn Gilmore, a local musician, filed a complaint with the department after an interaction last month with city police left him injured, hospitalized and uncharged.
The department previously declined to comment on the case and has not released body camera footage of the incident. A spokesman for the department did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment about the internal affairs report and it is unclear what, if any, consequences there were for the officer involved.
The internal affairs investigation report sent to Gilmore and shared with the Progress shows Officer Joseph B. Wood was determined to have violated several procedures during the interaction with Gilmore.
According to Gilmore, on the night of Jan. 11 he was driving home when he started to feel nauseated, a feeling likely caused by antibiotics he had been prescribed for a hand injury. After pulling over on Monticello Avenue, he said, he opened his car door, got out and vomited. At that point, a police officer approached him.
After Gilmore tried to leave, the officer pursued him and other officers arrived, eventually forcing him to the ground. Once on the ground, Gilmore claims multiple officers kneed him in the head and back, causing to a concussion and other injuries.
As a result, Gilmore was hospitalized, and said he continues to suffer the consequences of those injuries, which have led to high hospital bills and affected his ability to perform and record his podcast.
“It’s just so ironic that the day I completed artwork with Laura Lee Gulledge on Black Lives Matter is the same day I was later assaulted on,” he said. “January 11th is etched into my brain as one of the worst days I’ve ever had.”
The internal affairs investigation backs up several of Gilmore’s claims but found others to be unfounded. Gilmore disagrees with the portions that were deemed unfounded.
The report claims that the body-worn camera footage shows that, after first approaching Gilmore, Wood “appeared to disengage from the encounter, and turned around to walk away.”
“At that moment, Gilmore said something to the effect ‘Cops be playing too much,’” the report reads. “Wood immediately reengaged Gilmore responding, ‘How ‘bout … Hey, you have a driver’s license? Let me see your driver’s license.’”
Wood failed to articulate or justify his reasoning to reengage and reacted because he was challenged, which is a violation of a general order, according to the report.
The report also sustained Gilmore’s claims that the officer unlawfully seized him, defining seized as “whenever a police officer restrains an individual’s freedom to walk away.” This type of seizure is only allowed if it is “reasonable” and the city police’s 4th Amendment analyst determined that the camera footage shows that this is not the case.
The pat down Wood performed on Gilmore after handcuffing him was also in violation, the report reads.
“In order to perform a pat down of a person in a temporary detention, an officer must have reason to believe that a subject is currently armed and dangerous,” the report reads. “Based on the circumstances apparent within the BWC evidence, it is the opinion of OPS and CPD’s 4th Amendment Analyst that a reasonably prudent person would not be warranted in the belief that he or other persons were in danger from Mr. Gilmore.”
However, the report found several of Gilmore’s claims to be “unfounded,” including allegations of racial bias. The report states there is “no evidence that racial, ethnic status, or characteristics were the sole basis for the detention, or interdiction.”
The report also states that Wood did not use excessive force when using a “takedown” on Gilmore, and that footage indicated that Wood alone used physical force on Gilmore, though the takedown was in violation of department policy.
Additionally, the report states that there is no evidence that Gilmore was elbowed in the head, which Gilmore refutes.
Other damage to Gilmore’s property, including a busted tail-light and broken cell phone, was determined to have happened before the incident and not as result of a purposeful action by the Wood.
After receiving the report, Gilmore’s attorney Jeff Fogel sent a letter to the Office of Internal Affairs expressing issues with some of the findings and alleging constitutional rights violations.
Specifically, Fogel wrote that race need not be “the sole basis” for detention or interdiction to violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and that consideration of race in the enforcement of the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment independent of whether the Fourth Amendment was violated.
“As to the factual basis for this claim, one would need to look at Officer Wood’s history with the department and any other evidence that may touch on his treatment of Black people,” Fogel wrote. “You did no investigation of this question and offer no reason why Officer Wood acted the way he did.”
Fogel also contends that, contrary to the report’s finding, any force that is not legally justified is excessive. In this case, Wood unlawfully reengaged because of the exercise of free speech, Fogel wrote, which led to the unlawful detention, handcuffing, pat down and takedown of Gilmore.
“As Mr. Gilmore was not fighting or threatening the officer, how can you conclude that there was not excessive force?” Fogel wrote.
Fogel’s letter also takes issue with claims that Wood was the only officer engaged and the report’s failure to mention if any officer was present who could have stopped the unlawful conduct.
Gilmore has claimed that as many as nine officers showed up at the scene, though he cannot be sure of their identities and the city police have refused to allow him to see a photo lineup that could help him identify which officers were present.
Now that the report has been released, Gilmore said he is considering his legal options and is concerned that only Wood is named.
“[The city police] are admitting he is at fault but they’re not admitting they’re at fault,” he said. “It seems like they’re going to put it all on him even though he didn’t move to grab me until the other officers showed up.”
Per city police policy, Gilmore will be afforded the opportunity to further meet and discuss the results of this investigation.