The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office of Internal Affairs is investigating a complaint against an officer who allegedly racially profiled a black veteran at a traffic stop.
Investigators found that the officer's behavior was not consistent with behavior expected of an officer, but that he did not stop the Navy veteran because of his race.
A review of the officer's past revealed numerous complaints from the community, indicating a pattern of wrongdoing over the years. Still, very little punitive action has been taken against the officer — and as a result, the veteran has secured an attorney and is considering suing the department.
JSO officer Justin Peppers was under surveillance after stopping Navy veteran Braxton Smith on November 24, 2022.
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Smith claimed that Peppers engaged in biased policing, but his allegations were never confirmed. However, according to sources, Peppers has received 14 complaints over the course of his career and has a history of violations within the JSO.
Smith says Peppers used excessive force during their interaction the night of the incident, including throw the sailor to the groundhandcuffed him, conducted an illegal search and held him for half an hour.
A body camera recorded the incident. Click here to watch the video.
Smith was later released without charge after task force members came to the scene to support Peppers.
During the 30 minutes, the disabled Florida veteran was questioned about drugs and the legal firearm he had in the trunk of his car. He also threatened to charge Smith with escape crimes.
“I was scared from start to finish,” Smith said said in an interview with News4JAX.
He also said he felt humiliated by the stop and what he believed to be an illegal search.
“I'm a veteran, I went to college and did things to protect myself from that kind of stigma, but she still managed to follow me,” Smith said.
The internal investigation concluded that Smith was pulled over for a reason, although Pepper's behavior was unacceptable. A report of the incident said: “Officers determined the probable reason for the search of Smith's vehicle by observing that the inside of Smith's vehicle was shaking and smelled of marijuana.”
Peppers and the task force were exonerated for stopping and detaining the Navyman.
“This was based on a probable cause” and “everything was done within JSO guidelines and in good faith,” the report continues.
According to internal information, Peppers did not initiate traffic control over Smith's race. He stopped him because he felt his vehicle's tint was too dark.
Where Peppers went wrong is in the banter he had with Smith during the stop. The Department of Internal Affairs reported that Peppers used “profane language” when speaking to Smith.
After Smith said, “I'm a black man in America, I'm terrified of the police.”
Peppers began calling the veteran “Mr. Black man,”
The investigator's founder, Peppers, also committed “repeated violations of disorderly conduct” and presented evidence that he had failed to refrain from using harsh language in policing.
As additional evidence of such behavior, the report cited the numerous citizen complaints filed against him in 2017. Between 2020 and 2022 he was the subject of ten internal investigations. after on LEO ratings.
The outcome of the investigation led to Peppers being reassigned within the JSO.