Despite outrage with Aramis Ayala video, experts say traffic stop was legit

The video of the stop of Florida's first African-American state attorney has sparked outrage and divided its worldwide audience into feuding camps. But Ayala herself and local experts say it was a routine traffic stop that appeared to fall within the parameters of normal police procedure.

Orlando Police DepartmentFootage posted online by the Orlando Police Department shows Ayala in her car. [Orlando Police Department]
Orlando Police DepartmentFootage posted online by the Orlando Police Department shows Ayala in her car. [Orlando Police Department]
Published July 12 2017
Updated July 13 2017

When Orlando police pulled over Florida's first African-American state attorney last month, the traffic stop lasted all of two minutes and involved no shouting and little drama.

The footage, recorded by a body camera worn by one of the officers, probably would have been forgotten, too, if it hadn't surfaced online this week. By Wednesday, the video of Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala had been viewed by millions, sparking outrage and dividing its worldwide audience into feuding camps.

There were those who accused the officers of racial profiling, and those who accused Ayala of being rude.

But Ayala herself and local experts say it was a routine traffic stop that appeared to fall within the parameters of normal police procedure.

In a statement, Ayala noted no lawsuit has been filed and that the stop itself "appears consistent with Florida law," even though she made no traffic violation.

That it was Ayala in the video explains much of the attention it has gotten. Earlier this year, Ayala made headlines when she refused to pursue the death penalty in violent felony cases, a stand that has embroiled her office in a legal standoff with Gov. Rick Scott and triggered a backlash. In April, she received a noose in the mail.

She was pulled over by Orlando Police officers on June 19 in Parramore after leaving Florida A&M University College of Law, where she teaches, according to a statement from her office. Video from a body camera shows the brief interaction, where two officers, who have not been identified, are seen approaching her car during a traffic stop around 8: 15 p.m.

In the video, one officer asked her what agency she's with as he checks her license.

"I'm the state attorney," she replied as she took her license back. The officer wearing the body camera explained that her car's tag had turned up blank, something he had never seen before from a Florida license plate. She follows up with a question of her own.

"What was the tag run for?"

The officer responds that it's routine and that they run tags all the time. Plus, he adds, her windows were "really dark," so that's why they initiated a traffic stop. She held her hands up and asked for the officers for their cards. The officer wearing the camera wrote down their information before handing it to her and walking away.

In an emailed statement, Orlando Police said the department routinely checks tags on patrol, and those in the department are only allowed to run them during official business.

"In regards to the video, which was released by the Orlando Police Department last month, the officers stated the tag did not come back as registered to any vehicle," the statement said. "As you can see in the video, the window tint was dark, and officers would not have been able to tell who, or how many people, were in the vehicle."

Pinellas Sheriff's Office Sgt. Spencer Gross, who declined to comment specifically about the video, said it's routine for officers to check tags during patrols in his department.

"It's a valuable tool in law enforcement," he said. If no record shows up from a tag, officers can investigate further by initiating traffic stops.

Tampa defense attorney Bryant Camareno said he would have been hard pressed to find a way the stop was unreasonable.

"I didn't see anything wrong," he said, adding that if had to defend the case, he would have a hard time there was any type of discrimination against Ayala. He said the briefness of the interaction, as well as the explanation of the stop, shows that the officers acted reasonably, and previous U.S. Supreme Court cases have held it's "objectively reasonable" for officers to run tags.

"It would be very difficult for me to argue that this was an illegal stop," he said.

Ayala makes clear in her statement that she had not violated any laws during the stop.

"The license plate, while confidential, was and remains properly registered," she said. "The tint was in no way a violation of Florida law."

The traffic stop appeared consistent with state law, she continued, adding that she intends to work for a mutually respectful relationship with law enforcement and the community.

"I look forward to sitting down to have an open dialogue with the Chief of Orlando Police Department regarding how this incident impacts that goal," she said.

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