Imagine you’re going about your Black business only to have a cop follow you out of a convenience store, accuse you of waving a gun at someone and selling drugs. All things that he never saw.
Well, you don’t have to imagine because that’s exactly what happened to Obadiah Jacobs on May 10, 2019.
The town of Chester, Vt., has agreed to pay Jacobs $50,000 as part of a settlement after the state’s Human Rights Commission determined that a Chester police officer only stopped him because he is Black.
The Associated Press reports that the city also agreed to post a public apology to Jacobs on its website as well as review and update its law enforcement policies and procedures against bias. The apology was posted on Oct. 1.
The investigation by the Vermont Human Rights Commission found earlier this year that Jacobs was stopped by a white Chester police officer on May 10, 2019, after another department issued an advisory about someone matching Jacobs’ description who had displayed a gun during what was described as a road rage incident several days previously.
The investigation found that Chester Police Sgt. William Frank followed Jacobs after spotting him at a convenience store and thought he matched the description of the person involved in the road rage incident. Jacobs pulled over and stopped on his own.
In ordering Jacobs out of the car, Frank displayed his firearm, searched Jacobs and his vehicle. No weapon was found. Jacobs was later released.
Now get this: according to Valley News, another officer, Police Chief Rick Cloud, arrived on the scene and told Jacobs that he was known as a “player” who “slings dope.” The Human Rights Commission never found any police records that substantiated that accusation.
There was no evidence of a weapon or drugs in the car. Valley News notes that Jacobs’ attorney Thomas Bixby also said that his car didn’t match the one seen in the road rage incident. The only thing that matched the suspect officers were looking for is that Jacobs was a Black man.
“I thought I was going to be arrested or shot,” Jacobs said, according to Valley News, “I couldn’t believe this was really happening. I didn’t know if I made the wrong move at that point if I would have a bullet shot at me. It was terrifying.”
Here’s more from the Valley News:
Chester officials had disputed the finding in the Human Rights Commission’s investigative report that Frank’s actions were based on Jacob’s race and posted its own 26-page response to its website.
The state investigator did not agree.
“Respondent’s argument that race and color was used only for identification purposes entirely ignores the record in which Sgt. Franks made assumptions about Mr. Jacobs being a drug dealer and a well-known ‘player’ in Bellows Falls without any evidence,” the report stated.
“Those stereotypes of African American men being associated with drugs and criminal activity,” the report said, “are exactly the type of stereotypes that motivate one to find ‘reasonable suspicion’ when it does not exist.”
Chester Town Manager Julie Hance sent an email to AP on Thursday saying that she does not condone the officers’ actions but supports them because police often have to make split-second decisions.
In his own statement, Jacobs’ attorney said he understands that police officers have difficult jobs, but he also followed up with what we’re all probably thinking: “However, you can’t just pull somebody over based on the color of their skin. And so Obadiah stood up and he fought back.”