The Bay State Examiner has learned new information about a video-recorded state police traffic stop that occurred in Revere last month. On June 10, Anthony Destefano was pulled over by a Massachusetts state trooper for allegedly having tinted windows, then his car was searched, and he was issued a warning for having tinted windows and a citation for marijuana possession. Destefano said the marijuana was for medical purposes and that he has a recommendation from his doctor.
Parts of the traffic stop are shown in two videos which Destefano uploaded to YouTube. The first video shows that Destefano repeatedly asked why he was pulled over. The police officer, who identified himself as Trooper Taylor Robidoux, refused to tell him until he handed over his license and car registration. After Destefano produced the documents, the officer told him he was pulled over for having tinted windows.
“By you acting the way that you’re acting–,” Robidoux said, before being interrupted.
“How am I acting? I’m just asking why you pulled me over,” Destefano said.
“By questioning my authority,” Robidoux replied.
Robidoux returned to his cruiser, then approached Destefano for a second time with back up, opened the door to his car without permission, and ordered him out of the vehicle.
“For what reason?” Destefano asked.
“Because of your behavior, sir,” Robidoux replied.
After Destefano exited his vehicle, the police took the phone that he was recording with and handcuffed him.
“If you treat me with respect, I’ll treat you with respect,” Robidoux lectured.
Destefano accused the cops of slamming him around, although it’s impossible to see what’s going on at this point in the video. Eventually, the video stops abruptly.
Destefano said one of the police officers turned his camera off.
Destefano said the police locked him in one of their cruisers for an hour while they “ransacked” his car. He said the cruiser was hot and the police left the windows rolled up and the air conditioning turned off.
I asked Colonel Tim Alben, the head of the Massachusetts State Police, about Robidoux's behavior a few weeks ago. At first, Alben dodged the question and instead sent a link explaining how to make a formal complaint against a state trooper.
It was not clear from Alben’s comment whether the state police would investigate the incident if Destefano did not make a formal complaint. I asked Alben several times for clarification, before he finally said he was "Gathering some additional facts and hope[d] to have an informed response to share."
Several days later, Alben published a blog about the traffic stop (although he never contacted The Bay State Examiner to alert us about it). In his blog, Alben gave what he said was the real reason Destefano's car was searched:
What the video does not capture are observations made by Trooper Robidoux (detailed in his report) of item(s) observed in plain view within the vehicle that lead to a probable cause search of the vehicle. While the video highlights the individual’s protest and objection to a search of the car, all of Robidoux’s actions are consistent with the law, department procedure and the Trooper’s training.
But Alben's claim that Robidoux searched Destefano's vehicle because of "item(s) observed in plain view" is contradicted by the video, which shows that Robidoux said he was ordering Destefano out of his car "Because of [his] behavior."
Destefano denied that Robidoux saw anything illegal before ordering him out of the vehicle. "Nothing was in plain view," he said.
Destefano said he did have a gram of marijuana in his car, but it was in the glovebox.
Destefano said he told Robidoux that he had paperwork for the marijuana in his wallet, but Robidoux said he didn't care and would not even look at it.
Destefano showed me a photograph of the paperwork from his doctor and his driver's license, although he asked me to blur out his driver's license information, address, and medical condition, which he said he wants to keep private. He said the paperwork he showed me was more recent than the one he had at the time of the traffic stop, but looks the same other than the date on it.
Destefano also said the police never tested the tint of his windows to see if it was too dark. Destefano’s first video shows Robidoux admitting that he didn’t know how dark the windows are.
Earlier this year, Alben told The Boston Globe that police should treat medical marijuana patients like criminals because he thinks it's too hard to investigate whether doctor's letters are legitimate:
State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said it is not practical for state health officials to expect police to call doctors to verify the authenticity of letters.
“Does anybody really think that a police officer is going to start calling one of these people at 10 at night or 2 a.m and say, “Did you really give Johnny Jones a prescription for marijuana?’ ” Alben said. “That’s ridiculous.”
Alben said sometimes police have to use their discretion when deciding whether to issue a citation or bring charges.
“I think police are going to err on the side of caution and probably issue a criminal complaint if there is some conflict or question in their mind of whether this is legitimate or not,” said Alben, adding that they will let the courts decide if someone stopped with marijuana is a legally recognized patient. “Police were not meant to be judges on the side of the road.”
In a few years, it may no longer matter whether people have been prescribed marijuana by their doctors. The Marijuana Policy Project, which pushed for marijuana legalization in Colorado, is now working to get legalization on the 2016 ballot in Massachusetts. A recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll found that a majority of Massachusetts voters support legalization.
Destefano said he hoped to obtain dashboard-camera video of the traffic stop showing the search of his car after his camera was turned off, but the state police do not use dashcams.
Dashcams are used by police departments across the country and are relatively common. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 61% of local police departments and 67% of sheriff’s departments used dashcams in 2007. However, last year the state police confirmed in response to a public records request that they do not have cameras installed in any of their vehicles.
Ablen said on his blog that it would be impossible for the state police to investigate Robidoux's behavior without a formal complaint being filed because there "are approximately 8 minutes of a YouTube video depicting an event that likely spanned 30 minutes."
But if the state troopers who searched Destefano's car hadn't taken away his camera and shut it off, or if the state police used dashcams, then they would have been able to review video of the entire incident.
Destefano said that the state police never reached out to him to ask if he was interested in filing a complaint.
He said he has no plans to make a complaint because he doesn't see the point in doing so. "What is gonna come out of it?" he asked rhetorically.