MORROW, Ga. — A video of a traffic stop in metro Atlanta is going viral.
The traffic stop happened months ago in Morrow but the driver, who posted the video this month, is hoping to get justice for his cause.
Jesse Cortez claims he did nothing wrong and that he was unfairly targeted. He was stopped in September by Morrow Police Chief Michael Crumpler. Crumpler told Cortez his vehicle was suspicious according to a video of the traffic stop. The stop was initiated near the area known as the District.
“They're cussing at me, violating my rights, pulling me out of the vehicle, moving me physically, they disarmed me, took my gun and they were in my face," Cortez said. "I got afraid, I was afraid for my life.”
Just a few months before, several teens were arrested on arson charges in the burning of historic buildings in the area. "No trespassing" signs were posted on the property.
Cortez said as many as 10 police officers responded to his September traffic stop after he refused to show his license when asked by Crumpler and others.
“I didn’t do anything wrong," Cortez said. "It’s 2023 now. If we’re forced to give IDs for looking suspicious, then when does the suspicion stop? That means anybody can just come up to us and harass us. I’m just glad it was daytime. I’m glad I had someone there with me, I had cameras rolling.”
Morrow Police Commander J.W. Guest said an internal review of the traffic stops found none of the officers acted in the wrong or violated any constitutional rights.
"Because of the ongoing construction, the public works folks in and out of there operating heavy machinery, it’s not safe for Joe and Jane citizens to go in and out of there," Guest said. "If he just would’ve given the chief his ID, I guarantee the chief would’ve told the subject 'hey, you can’t be back here,' it would have been over.”
A driver's rights during a traffic stop
Mike Puglise, a former police officer and current attorney who is not affiliated with the case, weighed in.
“If you’re in a car, you have to provide the driver’s license, your vehicle registration and proof of insurance," Puglise said. "You don’t have to answer any questions. He doesn’t have to give any information or provide his name. He doesn’t have to say why he’s there. He doesn’t have to say anything at all. But once the officer asks for the driver’s license, he has to hand it over.”
Puglise cited a Supreme Court ruling as the basis for that law. He said police still are not able to arbitrarily stop people. There has to be probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the stop. Police told Cortez he was trespassing on public property, which Puglise acknowledged was possible if there was a sign on the property clearly restricting access.
During the stop, police also found a gun in plain sight that belonged to Cortez. Puglise said the officer was within their rights to charge Cortez with obstruction for refusal to hand over the driver’s license.
“The chief of police was within his constitutional provisions to exercise those rights and approach that car and find out what’s going on," Puglise said. "I commend the police officers. They’re doing a proactive police stance and they’re doing their job. That’s what we hire them and train them for.”
Now, Cortez cannot pass through the city of Morrow without this traffic stop running through his mind. He was eventually cited for disorderly conduct and had to pay a $575 fine stemming from the traffic stop. He released the video this month, hoping for justice in his case.
Cortez told 11Alive he was considering filing a civil lawsuit against the Morrow Police Department but he has not been able to find an attorney willing to take up his case.
"I’ve talked to two attorneys and they told me it’s not worth it," Cortez said. "But to me, it’s more of a principle situation. The police did it to me, how many other people do they do it to? I speak to friends, and they tell me at least you didn't get beat up. I didn’t know who else to go to. I just felt robbed, cheated.”