A Memphis man who recently published a book on racism following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, found himself in jail in Lincoln for three days last month and says he and his fiancée were racially profiled.
Devin James, 33, Alicia Campbell, 26, of Glen Carbon, Illinois, and their 5-year-old daughter were driving across Nebraska for meetings about a book tour when Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Kyle Gress stopped them at about 5 p.m. on Aug. 27 for speeding. In a court document, Gress says Campbell was driving 79 mph in a 65 mph zone.
The search warrant affidavit filed Sept. 2 gives some details about what happened during the traffic stop, which ended with the trooper injured, James and Campbell in jail and the 5-year-old in state custody. It's unknown how long the stop lasted.
In a telephone interview from Tennessee on Tuesday, James said the warrant contains fabricated information on trumped-up charges.
"We were pretty much racially profiled," he said. "We were pulled over for driving while black. We were never told what we were being stopped for and we repeatedly asked what we were being stopped for."
In the court document, Gress said he stopped the eastbound 2010 Mazda just east of 91st Street on Nebraska 2, approached the passenger side and asked Campbell for her driver’s license and vehicle registration. He said James interrupted him, talked over him and interfered with his ability to communicate with Campbell, including blocking his view of her by holding his cellphone up to record the situation.
Gress said he walked around the car so he could talk with Campbell unimpeded.
James said he was recording the stop on his phone but claims he did not yell at Gress.
"I was the passenger," he said. "I wasn't talking."
James described Gress' behavior as aggressive and said he used foul language. He said he and Campbell repeatedly asked Gress to call a supervisor.
"It was a very traumatic experience," James said. "I don’t really like talking about it. We feel like victims. My daughter and fiancée have nightmares. We’re all in shock and disbelief."
Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins referred questions on the traffic stop to Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon, who did not respond to requests for comment.
In the search warrant affidavit, Gress said Campbell gave him her driver's license and said she wanted to show him something on her cellphone. James said that's where she keeps her insurance card.
"We had copies of the documents we could have given, but he wasn't giving us the time," James said. "He had everything he needed to write a citation. If it was just a traffic stop, he had everything."
In the court document, Gress said that because James was yelling, he asked Campbell to get out of her car so they could talk in his cruiser.
But James said he and Campbell were afraid of what would happen if one or both of them left the car so she refused. Gress said the two continued to argue with him.
Then, according to the document, he told Campbell she was under arrest for failure to comply and asked her again to get out of the car.
When she refused, the trooper said, he reached through the partially open driver's side window to unlock the door. Campbell and James lunged at him, he wrote in the affidavit, hitting him and grabbing his left arm.
James said neither he nor Campbell ever touched Gress.
“(Gress), fearing the driver would roll up the window on his arm and trap him in the vehicle and then ‘bolt,’ dragging him down the highway,” grabbed the window, pulled back and shattered it, the warrant says.
Gress said he tried one more time to put Campbell under arrest, but the couple grabbed his arm and drug it across the broken glass, cutting him. At that point, he said, he called for emergency assistance.
"He reached in to try to snatch my fiancée," countered James. "The injuries he sustained were self-inflicted. When I grabbed her to get her away from danger and from his aggressiveness, he grabbed my wrist and tried to twist my arm and break my wrist."
Other troopers arrived, and Campbell and James told them they were still recording with their phones, the warrant says. They arrested the pair and took Campbell's phone, according to the document. James said his phone was taken later.
"I definitely believe (Gress) escalated the situation," James said Tuesday. "They seized my phone, my business property, my computer, our clothes, our car, everything they did was out of line. I was recording the entire incident. The officers came back after they unlawfully arrested us and retrieved the phone to make sure I couldn’t get that evidence."
The state Department of Health and Human Services took the 5-year-old girl into custody, where she stayed until Campbell and James were released from jail on Aug. 30, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The search warrant affidavit says troopers found marijuana, several pieces of drug paraphernalia, a bottle of rum and a bottle of vodka, both halfway gone, in the car. The probable cause affidavit doesn't say whether the trooper smelled marijuana or suspected James or Campbell of being intoxicated. James said they were both issued breathalyzers and passed with a .00 BAL.
The county attorney's office charged Campbell and James with third-degree assault on an officer or health care professional. Preliminary hearings are set for Oct. 26.
"Assault of an officer, failure to comply, how can you do that when you're sitting in the car?" James asked. "At what point did we get out of the car? He got angry because we were videotaping. There's just no merit to any of the charges. He made a mistake and assaulted us and now they're going through their coverup."
James said Gress told him after the stop that he knew about his background, referring to James' work in Ferguson after a black teenager was shot to death by a white police officer last year, and that he knew James had a 2006 criminal conviction in Memphis.
James handled public relations for the city of Ferguson after the Brown shooting, but his firm, Devin James Group, was released from its contract by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership when the city learned he was convicted of reckless homicide, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
James said the shooting was in self-defense during a home invasion and that he routinely discloses his background to potential clients.
"I was convicted for standing my ground," he said.
Today, he travels the country talking with law enforcement agencies about "bias-free policing, colorblind policing and community conscious policing," James said.
"We're doing more national efforts to change legislation around the country," he said. "You shouldn't be able to assault people of color."
His memoir, "Inside Ferguson: A Voice for the Voiceless," details James' experiences working in Ferguson as a community liaison and was published last month.
James said the arrest in Nebraska adds up to character assassination.
"They want to make me look like the bad guy," he said. "But if you see the dash cam video, you'll see we never exited the car. We never did anything unlawful ... We could have been shot, we could have been killed. I thank God we're fortunate that we were able to walk away from this, but we're not undamaged."
The county attorney's office did not respond to a request to look at video from the patrol car or the couple's cellphones, and patrol spokeswoman Collins said she can't provide the dash cam video.
"As this is a pending court case we would not release video,” she said in an email.