DaJuawn Wallace was taught to ensure that he was in a safe, well-lit area before pulling over his car for a presumed traffic stop.
Now the Detroit native, a student at Saginaw Valley State University, is facing a felony charge of fleeing and eluding for putting that lesson into practice, MLive reports.
It was around 2 a.m. in mid-February. Wallace had gone to pick up medicine for his girlfriend when he saw a police car turn on its lights and sirens to indicate a stop.
"I live in Detroit, and I know some people who were robbed by fake police officers," Wallace told MLive. "I was taught to find a well-lit area to pull over in."
So the 24-year-old, who is enrolled in a master’s program for health administration, drove another 1.5 miles up the road to pull over in a Sam’s Club parking lot.
“I was not speeding up, turning off my lights or trying to get away,” the young man insisted. Dash-cam video shows the student with his hand out the window signaling to police. Wallace said he was trying to indicate that he was going to pull over in the parking lot.
The Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office, however, doesn’t see it that way.
According to the report, Saginaw Valley State University Police Officer Leon Wilson said that he stopped Wallace because the vehicle fit the description of a car that he saw driving on a sidewalk on campus.
“I was uncertain about the make and the model of the vehicle, but this vehicle looked like the same color and was leaving the immediate area,” the campus police officer wrote.
Wilson claims that when he turned on his lights, Wallace continued driving at around 35 mph.
“The driver made no attempt to pull over and stop. I observed the driver stick his hands out of the window a couple of times. I did not see the driver throw anything from the vehicle, though it was dark and the road was poorly lit,” Wilson added in the report.
Once Wallace did pull over, he was charged with felony fleeing and eluding.
“I feel that if I was an older individual, it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Wallace said. “I feel like if I was of a different sex, they would’ve probably thought that I was just trying to find somewhere safe to pull into.”
Saginaw County Chief Prosecutor Christopher Boyd said that when an official police vehicle indicates for a motorist to pull over, the driver is obligated to stop.
“You don’t get a driver’s license and get to pick what rules you are going to follow and what rules you are not going to follow,” the prosecutor said.
Boyd acknowledged Wallace’s reasoning for not stopping and acknowledged that he was not driving fast, and thus offered to dismiss the felony charge in favor of a misdemeanor charge with a delayed sentence.
Wallace rejected the offer, refusing to settle for anything less than a dismissal of the charges.
“I’m very certain I can stay out of trouble for a year, but I question whether they think I can,” Wallace, who is supposed to graduate in May 2016, said. “Most people will say, ‘Fine, thank you for not sending me to jail.’ Well, that will be detrimental to me.”
“If I had to take a plea for a felony, I would be forced to resign my job, and I wouldn’t be able to get financial aid, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my degree. Even still with the misdemeanor,” he added. “I feel like I didn’t do anything wrong … I feel as if it’s a way to get me on papers.”
Read more at MLive.