Wrong Turn: A Minor Traffic Violation Becomes a Nightmare 

Have you ever been stopped for speeding? If so, think about what happened next, and the life-altering and traumatizing consequences of your lead foot. Oh, there weren't any?

I've never experienced any, either. I have been stopped for speeding more than once in Memphis and have received either a warning or a ticket. I paid the fine if there was one and that was that. No further trouble, Ms. Klyce, just watch it from now on. I am a white Memphian of a certain age who drives a 2007 Prius.

click to enlarge Ellen Klyce and Deangelo Brown - MURRAY RISS
  • Murray Riss
  • Ellen Klyce and Deangelo Brown

When Deangelo Brown, a Black Memphian age 24, was stopped for speeding, that's not what happened.

A Melrose graduate, Brown was driving too fast one day while making deliveries and was pulled over. He was working to pay for tuition at Remington College, where he's studying to become an HVAC technician. He'll graduate next year.

I've known Deangelo almost his whole life. He was raised by his grandmother, Louise Brown. She was employed by my mother, Polly Cooper. Even though my mother died in 2009, I have remained close with Deangelo and his family. He called me recently, and I asked how he was doing. He said "Not too good. I just got out of jail."

I wanted to help tell Deangelo's story to increase our awareness about how the justice system can sometimes be cruelly unjust — and can turn a routine pizza delivery into a nightmare. — EK

On September 14th, around 2:30 in the afternoon, I'm driving west on Union and the cars in front of me in both lanes are going about 20 mph. I merge left into the turning lane, pass them, and then merge back. I stop at the light at Danny Thomas, and then at the one at B.B. King.

I notice a white SUV with tinted windows come up behind me at the light. The light turns green and I proceed to Second Street. The light is turning from green to yellow as I go through the intersection. At Front Street I realize I have missed my turn, so I turn around in a parking lot at Wagner Place.

I head back east on Union to make the delivery. When I stop at the light at Front Street, I notice the white SUV making a U-turn on Union back toward me. It comes up close on my bumper while I am stopped, so when the light turns green I pull over so the SUV can pass me. Instead, it pulls up on my bumper again and just sits there — no siren, no blue lights, no intercom, no attempt to get my attention. So I pull out and head toward Main. Then I notice the white SUV has sped up and is on my bumper again. I pull over.

At that point, I'm fearing for my life and wondering what's going on. The driver of the SUV gets out of his car and he's wearing a police uniform. He instructs me to cut my car off and step out of the vehicle. I do as instructed. He tells me, "You're going to jail," and grabs me by my clothes and puts me over the hood of the SUV. He tells me to put my hands behind my back, and he handcuffs me.

He asks me if I have anything on me. I say, "No, sir, just my wallet and my phone." It's my music phone. My work phone — my regular cell phone — is still in the car. Then he says "What were you thinking going that fast?" I tell him that I'm sorry; I'm at work on a delivery. I tell him he was riding my bumper and I didn't know who he was. I tell him again that I'm the only driver at my job and I'm the only one delivering all these orders.

Four more police squad cars show up. Another officer gets out, searches me, then he puts me in the back of his squad car, saying, "I'm not mad at you. We all speed sometimes." He closes the door and talks to the officer who stopped me. I'm now alone in the back of a closed police car and it's very hot.

The officer who put me in the car comes back and asks me if I have a license or insurance. This is the first time anybody has asked me that. I say, "Yes, sir." He asks me for my address, ZIP code, and phone number and closes the door again. By then I have been in the car for at least 10 minutes. I am still handcuffed.

Then a third officer comes and asks if I know my boss' number so they can come get the pizzas I was trying to deliver. I tell him, "Yes, but you are going to have to get my phone out of my car."

A fourth officer appears and begins to search my car. He looks in the back seat, under the back seat, in the pockets of the seats, inside the trunk, inside the glove compartment, inside the armrest, inside the middle console, and inside all four doors. After he finishes, the third officer gets my phone from the floor on the driver's side. I give him the code to unlock my phone and the number to call my general manager. When she answers, he puts the phone on speaker and I tell her that I am going to jail. She asks "Why?" and the officer says "for reckless driving."

She says, "I've never heard of anyone going to jail for reckless driving. Do you have to take him to jail?" He doesn't say anything and does not return my cell phone.

My general manager calls the day manager and tells her to come get the pizzas, the money, and receipts that were in my car, and to see if the police will let her drive my car home for me. The day manager says she is on her way, and my general manager tells me that if I need anything to call her. This is all on speaker, and the officer is standing right there. She hangs up and he closes the door.

They switch handcuffs on me because the first ones were super tight. The second ones are still very tight. Then the first officer, the one who arrested me, comes and asks me again, "What were you thinking going so fast?" I say, "Yes, sir, I did do all those things you said I did. I understand you have a job to do and I was doing my job as well." That's when a fifth officer shows up and puts me in the back of his squad car. Then they search my car again.

The day manager arrives and takes the two pizzas and the money and the receipts from the officers. As she walks away, she looks at me and shakes her head, meaning the police wouldn't allow her to take my car home for me. So far, no one has even looked at my driver's license or asked for my vehicle's registration or looked at my proof of insurance.

Ten minutes later, an officer comes back to the squad car and starts to drive me to 201 Poplar Avenue. I ask him, "What do I do about my car?" He says "Do you have insurance?" I say, "Yes, sir." He says, "They should just give you your car back if you show proof of ownership and insurance."

As soon as we get to 201, he helps me out of the squad car. I'm still in handcuffs. The woman doing the processing asks me if I have any symptoms of COVID-19 and I say no. Then she gives the officer a mask for me and takes my temperature. The officer takes the handcuffs off. My left thumb is numb. The officer gives me the mask and I put it on. It's around 3:40 p.m. It was my first time inside 201 Poplar.

Once I enter the building, the officer tells me to empty my pockets and put everything on the counter, so I pull out my wallet and music phone and leave them. My name is called and my fingerprints are taken and I'm told to sit back down. Then I get a full body search and I'm taken to a little holding block to wait for intake, where they take more fingerprints. I sign my name and give them my money — $22. Then they do another full body search and tell me to write down on a card any phone numbers I need to remember, and then take my phone. I sit in intake for three hours.

Finally, they call my name and take my picture and process me into the system, giving me a wristband with my name, gender, birthdate, and inmate number. It's about 8 o'clock. I sit for about another hour, and then they bring us small sack lunches: bologna sandwich, chips, and a juice carton.

At 9:30, they call me to the medical staff, who check my blood pressure and oxygenation and ask me if I have any symptoms of COVID-19. Then I'm moved to pre-trial. They verify my address and ask for two emergency phone numbers. They ask me if I have ever been locked up before. I say, "No, ma'am."

Another hour goes by, then they call my name to get dressed in the jail uniform. I'm frightened because I thought I would be getting released or given an amount of money for a bond. I had no idea I would have to spend the night in jail.

After putting on the jail uniform, they send me back to intake, where I sit for another three hours. Around 1 a.m., I call my sister and let her know I'm in jail. I also call my brother, who calls my cousin, who is a bail bondsman, to see if they have set a bond. My cousin says I haven't even been processed into the system yet.

It's 2:30 a.m. I have been sitting in an uncomfortable chair for several hours. They call my name, search me again, and give me a bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, a blanket, a sheet, a big towel, and two discolored and stained face towels.

As they're taking me to the lower level, I ask the correctional officer why I'm going to the lower level. I thought I was supposed to be getting out. She says she will check on it.

Then I'm put into a cell. It is very small, almost like being in a cardboard box. There are two of us. If my roommate and I were to both stand up, there would be three feet of space between us. There is a bunk bed to the right and an open toilet to the left. I just sit on the floor all night. I don't feel safe getting into the top bunk.

They give us breakfast around 6 a.m. — grits, a piece of cake, cereal and milk, and black coffee.

Around 8 a.m., they start coming to get people for court. I ask the morning CO if I have court or if she'd heard anything. She says she'll check. Around 8:30, we get an hour of "rec" where we can use the phones and walk up and down the halls. I wait behind two inmates to use the phone. It turns out the phone requires a code. When I finally get a call to go out, a recording tells my sister she has to put money on a card to talk to me. So we don't talk.

I sit in my cell for the rest of the day. We get our next meal around 6 p.m. — a Polish sausage, two slices of bread, a piece of cake, and Kool-Aid. No one has said anything to me about my case.

Around 7 p.m., I see the second-shift CO and ask if he could check to see if I got a bond or an ROR. He comes back 30 minutes later and says I will be going to court Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.

Around about 1 a.m., I finally climb up on the top bed and try to go to sleep, but I just toss and turn all night long. I just want to go home.

At 5 a.m. Wednesday, the third-shift CO flashes her light in my room and tells me to wake up. The nurse comes and takes my vitals. She says usually when you are seen by the nurse you are about to go home. She also says we are on quarantine lockdown because an inmate is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. They give us breakfast around 6:30 a.m. — soupy eggs.

At 10:30 a.m., the CO calls my name and says that pre-trial is getting me released. I change out of the jail uniform into my clothes and get my valuables back: sunglasses, headphones, regular phone, music phone, wallet, and a check for $22. Everything is there. They take my picture again and cut off my armband and release me. I leave the building and call my sister, who comes to pick me up.

When I get home, I open a letter from the city of Memphis that arrived while I was in jail. It says that my vehicle was impounded and the reason was possible theft. It says I can retrieve it at the impound lot.

I call them and give the last six digits of the car's VIN off the car's title, which I keep at the house. The person at the impound lot tells me it will be $195 to get my car back. I tell her that the police said that if I showed proof of ownership and insurance I could get my car back without paying anything. She says they don't do that at the police impound lot and I had to pay $195 and that the fee was going up the next day and I'd have to pay more.

I call my brother to take me to get my car, and I pay the $195 cash and get my car back.

At 9 a.m. on Thursday, September 17th, I appear at General Sessions Court for my charge of reckless driving. Thanks to family and friends, I am able to get a lawyer. I sit there for about 30 minutes until they call my name. My lawyer talks to the judge, and then the prosecuting attorney. Then the judge calls me up to let me know that my charges are being dismissed.

I'm sharing my story because it was unbelievable, shocking, terrifying, and life-threatening. No human being should be treated the way I was for a traffic misdemeanor. It makes me look at life differently. I got treated like a criminal, and I'm not a criminal. I do nothing but good things for people. I go to work. I go to school. I try not to ask people for help, try to do it on my own. I want to make a difference in this world. I wouldn't want this to happen to anyone else, but it does happen — and could happen to anybody. And that's just wrong.

I want a justice system that works for everyone. — DB

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