A traffic stop last Wednesday outside Milwaukee in Caledonia, Wisconsin generated controversy on social media after a police officer was captured on video by one of the vehicle’s passengers throwing a baggie into the backseat of the stopped car while searching it.
According to a post on the Village of Caledonia Police Department’s Facebook page attributed to police chief Christopher Bosch, no arrests were made during this incident, and the driver was given a speeding citation for traveling 63 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. However, she and two rear-seat passengers were removed from the car, while the front-seat passenger, a Black man, remained in the vehicle.
In the clip that’s circulating around Twitter captured by the front-seat passenger’s phone, one officer can be seen tossing an object into the back of the car before putting gloves on. The passenger asks “hey bro, what’s that?” The office responds “what’s what?” to which the passenger asks “what you just threw in here? I got you on camera, bro.”
The officer, seemingly unfazed, tells the passenger “I got you on camera, we’re all good.” The passenger turns around and centers the camera on the baggie that the officer had thrown onto the backseat, and the recording ends.
Bodycam footage from officers embedded in the police department’s post and immediate reply shows moments before and after the exchange. A different officer searches one of the rear-seat passengers, another Black man, outside the car as the driver stands by. This individual is searched for weapons and the officers find none. They do pull a baggie out of his pocket, and place him in handcuffs, even though they don’t know what it contains.
From there, the first officer — the one we see in the initial Twitter recording — can be heard saying “I got specks of green, you’re good to search.” He’s handed the baggie, then asks “corner cut?” referring to a tear in the baggie which, according to the department, is a “common method for holding illegal drugs.” A baggie is later thrown into the car, though the officer’s hands aren’t visible in his bodycam’s frame as he does it.
When the front-seat passenger comments on the fact the officer just put something in their car, the officer explains that he didn’t “want to hold onto it.” He also says that the bodycams of the other three officers on the scene show that the baggie had been removed from the other passenger. This is where a key quote from Bosch’s explanation seems to be particularly relevant (emphasis mine):
Essentially, he appears to be discarding the empty baggie. While we would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s vehicle, the video is clear that the officer is NOT planting evidence or doing anything illegal. Additionally, the empty corner tear is not itself illegal.
The simple act of throwing anything at all onto the backseat that previously hadn’t been there is careless and immediately raises red flags, even if this officer wasn’t attempting to plant evidence. The passenger was smart to capture it on video nonetheless, as it had all the hallmarks of your classic traffic stop that’s never really about speeding in the first place. The Village of Caledonia Police Department says it’s “still in the process of reviewing the videos,” and all the pertinent footage in its entirety “will be released in the very near future.”
Sometimes officers will be negligent. Other times, they’ll be willfully insidious. Either way, record the police. If you’re able to do it by opening your phone’s camera app in the moment, great. If not, there are useful tools, like a custom Siri Shortcut for iPhone that my colleague José recommended, or the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app, on the iOS App Store and Google Play for Android devices. The Washington Post has recommendations for how to safely record that are worth giving a look, too.