Contrary to what you might glean from recently-released video of Indiana police tasing an unarmed black man after dragging him out of a smashed car window, traffic stops sometimes go wrong for white people, too. As with other police interactions, though, the results are often quite different. Take Ellen Bogan, who is suing Indiana State Police Trooper Brian Hamilton over a traffic stop gone wrong. Bogan was pulled over for allegedly making an illegal pass (which she denies), and after giving her a written warning (for speeding), Hamilton went to work:
15. Nevertheless, Trooper Hamilton remained at Ms. Bogan's car window and his car remained behind Ms. Bogan's car. The Trooper's car's lights remained flashing.
16. Given that the Trooper remained at her window talking to her with his police care behind her car with its lights flashing, Ms. Bogan did not believe that she could leave and a reasonable person would not have believed that they could leave.
17. The Trooper then asked her if he could ask her a personal question. Ms. Bogan did not feel she could refuse and when she assented the Trooper asked if she was from the Richmond area.
18. When Ms. Bogan indicated that she was not the Trooper asked her if he could ask another personal question. Again, Ms. Bogan assented because she did not feel she could or should refuse.
19. The Trooper then asked her if she had a home church and then asked if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.
20. Ms. Bogan said yes to both of these questions because she wanted to terminate the conversation and she believed this was the best way to do so. She did not feel at liberty to say no.
21. The Trooper then asked Ms. Bogan if he could ask her one more thing and asked if he could give her something.
22. Again, Ms. Bogan did not feel that she could disagree.
23. She therefore assented and the Trooper went this car and returned with the attached pamphlet (Exhibit 1) from the First Baptist Church in Cambridge City, Indiana, that notes, among other things, that one of the Church's ministries is a radio broadcast from Trooper Dan Jones entitled "Policing for Jesus Ministries." The pamphlet also outlines "God's Plan of Salvation" that requires the reader to acknowledge that she is a sinner and to realize that "Salvation is a gift and is received by faith in Jesus Christ" and that "the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins."
24. Ms. Bogan said thank you to the Trooper and the Trooper said "God Bless You," and returned to his car.
The horror. On her Facebook page, Bogan called Hamilton a "dope," and made another unfavorable comparison:
I believe it was, only a warning, but not for what he said he pulled me over for. Neither of which was illegal. Made a legal pass in a legal passing lane, then given warning for speeding, which I was not doing either. Sickening sweet, had the music from Deliverance playing invmy head. What if he was preaching Muslim or atheism or extreme anything? The the job of the state patrol is to do just that! Patrol. As a professional I would lose my job for a move like that!
Now, Bogan is absolutely right, cops have no business forcing their religion on citizens under color of law. It will be interesting to see if a court decides that's what he did, given that she assented at every turn. I still think it's coercive, but I'd really love to know what he would have done if he had asked if she's accepted Jesus as her savior, and she replied, "I'm reviewing his application. The essay was a little sloppy."
It's also a little unclear what sort of harm she can prove, and therefore what sort of damages she can recover. I'd also be curious to know if Hamilton had ever tried this routine with a male motorist.
Coming, as it does, on the heels of the Jamal Jones video, you can't help but note the contrast between those interactions. He got a window smashed in his face and a Taser; she got a warning and a pamphlet. Thankfully, they both lived. The same cannot be said for another unarmed citizen who ran into the wrong cop on August 9, the same day Ellen Bogan's soul was in danger of being saved.
His name was Michael Brown.