Florida trooper’s stop of legal citizen at Texas border draws criticism

The Texas man believes the Florida Highway Patrol trooper asked for identification because of the color of his skin.
Published Sept. 29|Updated Sept. 29

TALLAHASSEE — After finishing a workout on a July morning, Samuel Vielma was walking back to his car in a deserted area near the southern border in Texas, when he was stopped by a Florida Highway Patrol officer.

It was not the first time Vielma, a 36-year-old brown-skinned man who was born and raised in Texas, had been pulled over by law enforcement officers in the area — about a mile north of the southern border. But it was his first time an officer had skipped the pleasantries.

“As soon as he opened the window, the first thing out of his mouth was: ‘Where is your ID?’” Vielma said in an interview with the Herald/Times on Wednesday.

Usually, when stopped by Texas officers or immigration officials, Vielma said, they make small talk or ask him how he is doing. Not the Florida state trooper.

“He didn’t even try to talk to me at first, he just asked for my ID. Those words really got on my nerves,” said Vielma, who said he believes he was stopped because of the color of his skin and because he looks Mexican.

Texas law only requires that you show your ID to a police officer under certain circumstances, according to the Texas State Law Library. These circumstances include: after being arrested, when you are driving and when you are a License to Carry holder carrying a handgun.

Florida’s role in Texas remains elusive

The encounter — which was filmed and posted on TikTok by Vielma — ended with the state trooper apologizing and driving away after he was challenged by Vielma — in Spanish, then in English — for asking for his identification without providing a reason. The video was viewed more than 700,000 times on the social media app, and shared countless other times in other video mash-ups.

In the video, Vielma repeatedly asks the state trooper to explain why he is asking for his identification if he is not being arrested or accused of a crime.

“Be careful asking for my ID just because I look Mexican, all right?” Vielma tells the state trooper at one point.”

“I didn’t think you looked Mexican,” the state trooper says.

Vielma laughed at the comment, saying “I mean, I am Hispanic.”

The only explanation the state trooper offered Vielma for the stop was the fact that he was walking “in the middle of nowhere,” a reason Vielma did not think was good enough.

“What do mean middle of nowhere? My house is half a mile from here,” Vielma said.

While the interaction got heated at times, Vielma later said in an interview that while the state trooper’s actions felt discriminatory, he got over the interaction because “it is what it is.”

“I told him, ‘Don’t be sorry, be careful,’ " Vielma said. “He really, really regretted it. I could tell from the bottom of his heart that he was sorry, but I mean, I am sorry that I look brown.”

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The interaction raises questions about the protocols being followed by hundreds of Florida law enforcement officers and Florida National Guard members, who Gov. Ron DeSantis sent to Texas this summer to respond to what he calls “reckless” federal policies at the southern border.

Information about the activities of Florida personnel at the southern border remains elusive, but the DeSantis administration has said the state’s efforts have helped Texas law enforcement officers make contact with thousands of immigrants — encounters that have sometimes led to arrests.

DeSantis has agreed to spend at least $15 million this year to support Texas in deterring migrants from entering the country through its border security initiatives, including some that have come under scrutiny for being “inhumane.”

Now, the Florida state trooper’s interaction with Vielma is also raising questions about how the border initiatives may be impacting community relations in majority-Hispanic cities and towns along the border.

When asked about the video of the encounter, Molly Best, a spokesperson for the Florida Highway Patrol, said as a state employee, she was unable to comment on the specific situation because TikTok is banned from government-issued electronic devices. But generally, Best explained, it is “normal” for state troopers to ask people for identification.

“When we ask for an ID, it is often to verify nationality and ensure that resources are available for that individual in the way of translators. Our goal is to ensure the individual is safe and has no unattended medical needs,” Best said.

Vielma, however, says there was no reason to stop him.

He was wearing workout clothes and a 20-pound vest, carrying a gallon of water, and his car was within eyesight of the location where he was stopped — about a mile north of the border. He said he frequently runs about two miles, does some pushups and uses some free weights that he leaves in a shaded area. He was not in distress and as a U.S. citizen, Vielma said he doesn’t think there should be a need to check his nationality — especially not by someone who is from out of state.

‘They’re not even from here’

Vielma, a father of four who works in construction and lives in Mission, Texas — a city that shares a border with Mexico — says the color of his skin has made him a target of several “uncomfortable” encounters with law enforcement officers patrolling the border.

The Florida Highway Patrol has “strong prohibitions against racial profiling or taking any enforcement action based on a person’s race or sex,” Best said.

“Members receive consistent in-service training and serve the state knowing that any allegations of such behavior will be thoroughly investigated,” Best said.

Best referred questions to the Texas Department of Public Safety for more information on the “rules of engagement” at the border when asked for the protocols that Florida officers are following in Texas about requesting IDs.

The Texas Department of Public Safety did not immediately respond to the request seeking comment.

Over the years, Vielma said, he has built a good rapport with local law enforcement officers. Vielma says he doesn’t even mind when Border Patrol agents ask him questions, because they “are doing their job.”

But Florida?

“I couldn’t believe Florida was asking for my ID,” he said. “They’re not even from here. They come here from Florida, where they don’t like Mexicans over there, and he didn’t even try to talk to me at first? He just wants my ID?”