TAMPA — With encounters between police and black Americans facing new scrutiny, videos now circulating show two views of the same incident — a Tampa police officer training his pistol toward a driver he had pulled over on suspicion of car theft.
The encounter occurred just before 5 p.m. Thursday in the driveway of a home on Hanna Avenue near 40th Street.
The first video was posted Friday on Instagram by the driver, 23-year-old Joneshia Wilkerson of Tampa. Recorded on her cell phone, it shows Wilkerson parked in the driveway and sitting in the driver seat. The officer is standing outside his patrol car holding his pistol toward her in two hands. Wilkerson can be heard asking her passenger and the officer why he won’t put the gun down.
The video runs for about one minute. It had drawn more than 50,000 views by Sunday afternoon.
Warning: The following video contains explicit language.
The second video was attached to a news release Saturday from the Tampa Police Department, sent out to correct what the department called “the false narrative” about the incident.
“There is a post circulating on social media,” the news release said, “that misrepresents the facts of a recent felony traffic stop of an occupied stolen vehicle.”
In the release, police deny that the driver was “ever ‘smashed into the car,’ nor was ‘a gun pointed to (the driver’s) head.’” Wilkerson had said on her Instagram post that “the last thing I need is a gun pointed to my head.”
The police video comes from the officer’s shoulder-mounted body camera and runs for more than 22 minutes. For the first four and a half minutes, until backup arrives, the video shows the officer holding the pistol toward Wilkerson from about 20 feet away with the barrel pointed toward the ground outside her door. During this time, he tells people approaching the scene to stop distracting him or face arrest.
The officer can be heard yelling to Wilkerson that the black sedan she was driving had been reported stolen and urging her and her passenger to relax and keep their hands up and visible. The release described his actions as “calmly explaining each step to the occupants.”
Later, the video shows Wilkerson being placed in handcuffs in the back seat of the patrol car, where the officer advises her of her rights and says she is not under arrest but is not free to go.
Wilkerson tells the officer she had borrowed the car from a friend to use briefly and knew nothing else about it.
“Upon completing the investigation, the driver and passenger were released and appeared to understand the explanation provided by the officers,” police said in the news release. The car had been reported stolen to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, police said. The Sheriff’s Office said Sunday the case remains open and a report was not available.
“The stolen vehicle was impounded,” Tampa police said. “The occupants were not charged.”
Wilkerson was not satisfied with the outcome of the incident, though, saying on the Instagram post, “I told him numerous times I can get out the car and I’m not arm yet he still pointed his gun at me I was scared and in fear with my life ...”
The post was shared on social media sites including the Facebook page of Tampa’s Fearless Peaceful Protest, which promotes news about protests called in response to the death of George Floyd on May 25 in the custody of Minneapolis police.
In interviews with the Times, Wilkerson said an officer who came to provide backup treated her kindly once he learned she was in the Army Reserve, informing her that the vehicle had been flagged as stolen but that police didn’t know why.
She asked the officer why the gun was pointed at her and he said that didn’t happen. She told him she had it on video, she said. He told her that this is standard procedure with stolen car stops. Wilkerson said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which made the encounter particularly unnerving.
“You can hear in the video, he told other officers I’m compliant and he still held his gun at me,” Wilkerson said. “I felt like how they treated me and how they went about everything was completely wrong.”
The Tampa Police Department did not respond to two phone calls and an email from the Times on Sunday with followup questions about the incident.
Radio chatter on the police video indicated the car was owned by a rental company. Wilkerson told police the friend she borrowed it from was known to buy rental vehicles. She told the Times her understanding now is that the friend was financing a car and stopped paying.
Police did not identify the officer who pulled Wilkerson over.
The Tampa Police Department is moving forward with the purchase of 650 body-worn cameras, one for every officer through the rank of corporal. City officials earlier in the year had decided to hold off on the purchase due to concerns about a financial hit from the pandemic. Then, Mayor Jane Castor announced on June 2 that the city would refinance bonds to help free up up money for the $7.4 million purchase. Two days later, the City Council unanimously approved the purchase from vendor Axon.
Tampa police officers are required to activate their cameras during most interactions with the public, including traffic stops, pursuits and arrests.
The same day Castor made her announcement, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and three of his officers were outfitted with cameras from a company called Body Worn. After a pilot period of several weeks, Holloway will make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to purchase the cameras.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office outfitted its deputies with cameras in 2015. Sheriff Chris Nocco has said the cameras have “exceeded expectations,” helping resolve citizen complaints and shed light on deputy misconduct. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office does not use the technology. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has remained against them but said earlier this year that he would keep an eye on St. Petersburg’s trial program.