FARGO — Video released Monday night, Aug. 17, shows the full interaction between a Black Lives Matter organizer and Moorhead police officers during a traffic stop this weekend near Concordia College.
Local Black Lives Matter leader Faith Shields-Dixon has filed a complaint against the Moorhead Police Department, saying she feared for her life when an officer tried to open her door while she was pulled over Saturday, Aug. 15, at Eighth Street South and 11th Avenue South. In a police report, Officer Eric Zimmel said he tried to open her door because he was concerned about his safety when he saw her reach for the passenger seat.
The video that was released by the police department around 9:30 p.m. Monday shows a nearly half-hour interaction between Shields-Dixon and officers starting shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday near Concordia. The department released the video not to take sides or divide the community but to be transparent, Capt. Deric Swenson said.
Officers said in reports they observed Shields-Dixon driving 44 mph in a 30 mph zone, an allegation she denies.
The squad car dashcam video shows officers performed a U-turn to follow Shields-Dixon north on Eighth Street before turning their lights on. Shields-Dixon pulled into the striped area between the north and southbound lanes, but officers told her three times on the intercom system to pull over to the right side of the road.
Shields-Dixon later told The Forum she didn’t want to cause an accident, as passing vehicles were not allowing her to pull over.
Shields-Dixon asked for her ticket so she could leave, but she also told officers she was recording them. She asked to only talk with Officer Kaden Oldham instead of Zimmel, who she called "rude."
At one point, Shields-Dixon said “black lives matter.”
"OK, ma'am. You're making this racial," Zimmel said in the video. "Good job, ma'am."
Zimmel looked into her vehicle with a flashlight, but Shields-Dixon said she didn’t give him permission to search the vehicle. She rolled her window up, according to police reports.
He then tried to open the car door and said, "Let's go."
"Grab your stuff and provide it," Zimmel said loudly. "You are not just going to sit here and stare at people. ... You're playing games. You're blowing this up."
Shields-Dixon said she was looking for her proof of vehicle registration and insurance, though police said she wasn’t trying to find that documentation. Officers accused her of delaying the stop.
Additional officers arrived at the scene. Zimmel advised officers not to send more officers, saying he didn't want to escalate the situation, according to his report.
"Isn't this ridiculous?" he said. "We're out here doing our job, and it's just like people just want to blow this crap up for no absolute reason."
Shields-Dixon accused officers of being on a power trip, harassing her and targeting her. Zimmel said in the video she was making the stop racial for no reason.
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Residents have an expectation of privacy in homes, Fargo attorney Mark Friese said. Since cars typically are used in public, people can expect that right to privacy to be diminished, he said.
Courts have concluded officers can look into a vehicle in public areas, which is commonly known as “plain view,” Friese said. They also can use a flashlight to look inside a vehicle, according to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Texas v. Brown in 1983.
Law enforcement can order people out of cars to pat them down and check them for weapons, Friese said in citing the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Pennsylvania v. Mimms. In watching the video, Friese said pulling on a door handle does not qualify as a search.
“Police have very broad discretion to do exactly what they did,” he said. “It would not, in my view, be a violation of the Fourth Amendment to open the door and order the passenger out, especially when they are uncooperative.”
He advised drivers to be calm during stops, comply with orders and remain silent. Most people don’t get loud or argumentative during stops, and those who do make officers suspicious that something else is going on, Friese said. Behavior that is abnormal or presents a danger to police can prompt them, justifiably, to order drivers out, he said.
It’s better to file a complaint later, he added.
“If you try to voice your objections at the time of the stop, the police are going to get you out of the car, they’re going to pat you down,” he said.