Two months after an African American couple alleged they were racially profiled by a white rookie state trooper who trailed their car for two miles and confronted them in the driveway of their Chadds Ford home, the Pennsylvania State Police said Friday that no racial bias had been shown but acknowledged that troopers violated two departmental regulations.
State Police officials released a 25-minute dashcam video of the July 8 incident, in which Rodney Gillespie, 52, an executive with the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company, was handcuffed and rebuked for saying he had not pulled his vehicle over on his unlit, shoulder-less road because he feared being shot.
The first 48 seconds of the video are without audio, so it is unclear why police were following Gillespie. At the 55-second mark, the siren and flashers are turned on, and they remain on for almost a minute, until Gillespie turns into his driveway.
“Get out of the car!” yells Trooper Christopher S. Johnson, emerging from his patrol car and heading toward the stopped SUV. “State police! Get out of the car!”
Gillespie responded, “This is my home.”
Johnson: “Why didn’t you pull over before?”
Gillespie: “’Cause this is a small street. I didn’t want to get killed.”
Johnson: “How old are you?”
Gillespie: “How old am I? I’m 52 years old, man.”
Johnson: “Why didn’t you pull over? Our heart rate’s going up. You keep going, keep going. Turn the car off right now! Turn the car off right now!”
Gillespie: “I’m coming to my house, man. Y’all kill black people. I don’t want to get killed.”
Gillespie and his wife had just returned to the United States after six years in England and South Africa for his job; she said at one point in the video that they had grown accustomed to driving on the left side of the road. And he said they had been following news reports about fatal clashes between police and black motorists in the U.S.
Johnson, 23, didn’t want to hear it. “One of my best friends is a black trooper that works with me. I don’t want to hear that black nonsense,” the trooper says in the video, which shows Gillespie being handcuffed and standing behind his vehicle for about 20 minutes while troopers interrogate him and his wife.
The video starts shortly before the left tires of Gillespie’s rented Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo touch the yellow lines of a residential road that intersects with the road where his family lives, but does not show when Johnson and his partner began following the Jeep on Baltimore Pike. The trooper activated his flashing lights after the tires touched the yellow lines.
Gillespie and his lawyer, Samuel C. Stretton, contend that the troopers had no reason to be following the Jeep he was driving with his wife, Angela, and their teenage daughter as passengers, while returning from a visit with relatives in Lambertville, N.J.
State Police officials concluded that Johnson and the other troopers involved in the incident had not engaged in racial profiling.
“In the matter brought forth by Mr. Gillespie, the complaint of bias-based profiling was not sustained,” the State Police said in a statement released Friday. “As depicted in the video, the traffic stop was initiated only after troopers observed a clear violation of the vehicle code when Mr. Gillespie’s vehicle failed to maintain its lane of travel, crossing over the center line. Failure to yield to the marked patrol vehicle in a reasonable amount of time after its lights and sirens were activated, or otherwise acknowledge the presence of the troopers, heightened officer safety concerns and resulted in Mr. Gillespie being detained while troopers verified his identity.”
The statement said troopers violated two regulations during the traffic stop: Some troopers failed to activate their audio microphones as policy requires, and they could have “more effectively deescalated the situation upon making initial contact with Mr. Gillespie.”
“Pennsylvanians expect and deserve the highest level of professionalism in their encounters with the State Police, even in potentially inflammatory situations like this one,” said Lt. Col. Scott Price, deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility.
Rodney Gillespie said Friday he was stunned that the investigation found that no racial profiling had taken place and now feels compelled to file a lawsuit to hold Johnson and the State Police accountable.
“They leave me no other choice. To be honest, I didn’t want to sue them. I was hoping they would get this right,” he said. “The case would have been over. But now I have to sue.”
Gillespie added that he was “disappointed, I’m angry, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because they have not found any cases of racial discrimination. Every case is unsubstantiated. If you don’t admit you have a problem, you can’t begin to start to put any type of training around it. You can’t fix it. I am one person, but if you continue to get complaints from the public, you have to look at what you’re doing.”
In the 11 cases in which Pennsylvania state troopers were accused of racial profiling last year, all were cleared by internal investigations, Sgt. William C. Slaton, heritage affairs commander in the State Police equality and inclusion office, told The Inquirer in August.
“It was all about racial profiling,” lawyer Stretton said Friday of the Chadds Ford traffic stop. “A black man in a white, wealthy area, and when he did not pull over right away, they said: Black man not stopping, he’s guilty.”
Although the troopers told the Gillespies that the area had experienced a rash of burglaries, that did not justify their following the family, Stretton said. “He wasn’t doing anything,” the lawyer said. “He was coming home with his family. There has to be a reason to follow someone. That’s the problem, that’s where they were wrong. Sometimes you have a police hunch and it’s right, but this time they were wrong.
“They are a respectful, good family, and they were treated terribly. What was the purpose of cuffing him and searching his car? Once you realize the guy lives there, that’s it.”
Stretton said Gov. Tom Wolf and other elected officials should investigate the Chadds Ford case. “Very few people have confidence in internal police investigations because they are usually whitewashed,” he said. “In this case, they have gotten it wrong.”
At the end of the video, after he had been issued two citations and the officers were returning to their cars, Gillespie said to the cops: “Sorry for the inconvenience. Be safe out there.”