Chris Kalbaugh, a 21-year-old college student, hit national headlines when he heeded Libertarian Party of Tennessee warnings about Independence Day DUI checkpoints and set a video camera up to record any interactions if he was stopped. The ensuing footage, capturing as it does an unfailingly polite motorist being hassled by Rutherford County sheriff's deputies for asserting his rights, and those same officers later tossing his car while frankly discussing the unfounded nature of the search, has gone viral. As of this morning, it's been viewed almost 3.2 million times. The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office says the interaction is "under investigation," which usually means they'll sit on it until the media moves on to something shinier and prettier. But there has already been fallout as the checkered past of the featured deputy is revealed to public scrutiny. And the Libertarian Party of Tennessee promises an organized effort to make such videos common.
Deputy A.J. Ross, the deputy who speaks directly to Kalbaugh in the video, has an interesting past of his own, involving a certain lackadaisical attitude toward his job and a more take it or leave it stance toward motor vehicle rules than you might guess from the video. According to WSMV:
Deputy AJ Ross has faced scrutiny in the past and has actually worked for the department on two different occasions.
His personnel file shows Ross left the sheriff's department in 2004. He resigned instead of being terminated after failing to show up to testify in court on a day when he had dozens of criminal cases on the docket.
He also missed a grand jury appearance, according to the file.
On top of all that, Ross lied about having insurance when he rear-ended someone in his pickup truck, the file shows.
Hmmm … That would seem to be a bit more transgressive than declining to lower a window more than halfway when speaking with a police officer — the action that set Ross off during his interaction with Kalbaugh.
According to a Libertarian Party of Tennessee press release, Kalbaugh's camera was set up because "members of the Rutherford County (TN) Libertarian Party became concerned about DUI checkpoints occurring in Rutherford County. Members were advised to record their interactions, should they find themselves going through a checkpoint during their routine travels. It was made clear that this would be done so in a way that was nonconfrontational and unobtrusive, but still in clear view of law enforcement."
During the encounter, the Rutherford County deputies invoked "alerts" by a drug-sniffing dog as cause to force Kalbaugh to exit his car while it was searched. Unsurprisingly, nothing was found, since as Reason writers have documented, dogs will alert on pretty much anything their handlers suggest with signals subtle and not so much. Tellingly, before discovering the camera, Deputy Ross conceded that Kalbaugh was "perfectly innocent and he knows his rights" while his colleague admitted, "It wasn't a very good alert."
Kalbaugh isn't giving interviews at the moment, presumably on legal advice, but Axl David, LP of Tennessee Communications Director, tells me that the county party is considering creating a formal organization to continue to make sure that checkpoints continue to be monitored by video cameras. He told me, "We want all law enforcement agencies in Middle Tennessee to know that they will be watched and held accountable should they abuse anyone's civil liberties."
To give that organization the ability to fulfill its mission, the county party is in the process of creating an Kickstarter IndieGoGo campaign to help fund dashcams for active members. The link is here for anybody who wants to support the project.
As for the results from such efforts … Even if police departments respond with nothing more than a flurry of announcements about pending investigations, the whole effort will be worthwhile if the A.J. Rosses of the world tune up their conduct to avoid scrutiny of their work history and personal foibles.