Cop’s Job on the Line After Traffic Stop
by Steve Rogers/The Packet
Five days after seeing it, the Columbus City Council and Mayor Robert Smith are considering firing a relatively new police officer not just for his interaction with a young African-American driver but also potential misrepresentations he made during that 13-minute traffic stop but also others.
“We can’t tolerate it, it’s that simple. The more you tell me, the more that becomes obvious. It was obvious from the beginning but the more it gets out there, the more we look like we are dragging our feet. That’s not the message we need to be sending,” one City Councilman told the Packet.
The issue over 46-year-old officer Keith Dowd goes beyond the police department’s troubled image but also to the divide in the department between Chief Oscar Lewis and Assistant Chief Fred Shelton.
The Aug. 18 traffic stop by Dowd has become a lightning rod on social media. Council members, the mayor and some others saw the video last week. Since then, The Packet and The Commercial Dispatch filed public records requests and obtained the video.
The city redacted the driver’s personal information but The Packet learned the driver’s name is Joshua Hibbler.
Dowd’s approach to the Aug. 18 traffic stop is problematic for several reasons. He stopped the 22-year-old Hibbler, a young black man who is a 2015 Columbus High grad and 2017 East Mississippi Community College grad, for speeding just before 3 in the afternoon.
Dowd’s car was not equipped with a radar speed detection device.
Early in the conversation, he takes a demeaning tone with the driver, but the issues city leaders say trouble them the most are not just Dowd’s tone, but the potential misrepresentations and veiled threats.
Dowd questions Hibbler’s story — Hibbler talks about playing football at EMCC and later says he graduated from the community college. Hibbler signed a football scholarship there in February 2015 but is not listed on the Lions’ 2015 or 2016 football roster.
The officer also questions his employment and other details, at one point calling Hibbler’s responses “malarkey.”
At one point early in the stop, Dowd says he was a paramedic in New York City for 20 years and finds it “really insulting” when people mislead him. While it is not unlawful for police officers to lie to potential suspects, some council members say they find it “disturbing.”
If his own timeline were accurate, the 46-year-old Dowd would have started work in New York when he was 11 based on his résumé and job application with the city.
At another point, he tells Hibbler to keep his hands on the steering wheel because, “I don’t do the Columbus stuff, I am from Jackson.”
He worked for the Jackson Police Department from July 2002 until August 2008. According to his résumé, he worked for Advantage Surveillance from August 2008 until June 2009, Mississippi Department of Correction from June 2009 until May 2010, the Terry Police Department from May 2010 until April 2011, American Medical Response from May 2011 until November 2014 and University Medical Center in Jackson from November 2014 until April 2017.
At another point when Hibbler moves his hand off the steering wheel, Down tells him he can “empty his entire clip” into the car before he could move.
The officer also purports to be an “expert” in drug and DUI enforcement and says he is “recognized” in courts at every level — local, state and federal. The Packet has been unable to confirm that assertion, but Columbus city leaders tell The Packet they are not aware of any “expert” distinction Dowd has.
In this video and others sought by The Packet, Flowed uses the unproven issue of a discolored tongue to convince Hibbler to confess to smoking marijuana. Drug agents and medical experts don’t confirm that, although Dowd tells Hibbler at one point, “We will scrape your tongue and take you to jail.”
“That’s like someone smoking cigarettes,” one drug agent told The Packet.
Dowd finally breaks off the traffic stop when he is dispatched to another call. He gives Hibbler a warning.
A Google search by The Packet revealed a complaint against him years ago when he worked in Jackson for supposedly pulling a woman out of her apartment for laughing at him, according to the story by TV station WLBT. The station and city officials are trying to confirm the final details of that report after a request by The Packet.
And two years ago, Dowd is featured in a promotion for a police body camera supplier talking about an incident where he says he bought his own camera because of an incident where he says someone lied to him.
Deciding what happens to Dowd highlights the continuing divide in the Columbus department.
Dowd’s body camera caught the 13-minute episode, which occurred at the intersection of Airline Road and Edgewood Drive in East Columbus just before 3 p.m. Aug. 18.
The Packet obtained the video through a Freedom of Information Act request. Hibbler has not filed a complaint, but all six City Council members, Mayor Robert Smith and Rev. Steven James, a pastor who serves on the city’s CPD Overview Committee all had seen it last week.
After hearing about it, Police Chief Oscar Lewis reviewed the video and recommended Dowd receive a written reprimand. He also initially was directed to go back through basic field training where he had to ride with another officer.
After it was discussed by the department’s command staff, Assistant Chief Fred Shelton made a separate recommendation that Dowd be fired, sources tell The Packet.
The Council is scheduled to consider the suspension recommendation at its Sept. 19 meeting, but some Council members say they think they should meet earlier to act.
As city leaders further discuss and review the video and additional information that has come forward, concern has grown about his status and the picture it presents.
“You just don’t treat people this way, I don’t care if it is a black officer on a white person, a white officer on a black person, white on white, black on black, it doesn’t matter. This is horrible,” said another Council member.
“The more it simmers, the worse it is. We should have acted rather than worrying about the personalities involved. That’s part of the issue,” he added.
As difficult as it may be, the video’s release comes at a time when the city is about to endure rekindled memories of a fatal police shooting for a black man by a white police officer after the man ran from a traffic stop and allegedly pointed a gun at the officer.
Civil and criminal trials in the Ricky Ball-Canyon Boykin case start in less than two weeks and continue through October.
“Image and perspective shouldn’t matter, but when you look at it all, it does, it has to. You can’t ignore it,” said one city official.