By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
A Waycross man arrested Monday evening at a traffic stop for an out-dated tag took his beef straight to the floor of City Hall Tuesday, addressing the Waycross City Commission during the regular semi-monthly meeting Tuesday about what he termed unfair treatment by the officer.
The man, Willie Knight, and his boss, who spoke on his behalf at the meeting, argued that an out-of-date car tag is not normally a jailing offense. On top of it all, they said, the city police department lost Knight’s truck key, forcing him to call a locksmith just to get his truck out of impound.
Knight introduced himself and told the board he went to jail the day before just after getting off work as he was pulled over on Carswell Avenue for having a delinquent tag.
He said the officer asked for permission to search Knight’s truck and, believing he had nothing to be concerned about, he said, he agreed. The officer then found some hydrocodone in his truck, for which Knight has a prescription.
Knight said the officer then called for a drug dog to search the truck and placed Knight in the back of a patrol car.
Later, after being bailed out of jail by his boss, Russell Lee, Knight went to retrieve his pickup truck from the impound lot but could not get in because, he said, the arresting officer still had his truck key. At that point he had to contact a locksmith to get a new key made.
All of the activity was captured on the officer’s body camera, and Waycross Police Major Chris Tatum assured Knight and the commission he will review the tape and see if anything “out of the way” occurred or if the officer was simply “going strictly by the book.”
Said Tatum: “We have a policy in place — you come see me, help me walk through it. I’ll be happy to work with Mr. Knight and try to find his key.”
Russell Lee, of Waresboro, who employs Knight, blasted the city for putting a “hard working family man” in jail.
“This was a frivolous stop,” said Lee, who is white (Knight is black). “He was handcuffed and carted off to jail. For him to have to pay $210 to get a key made galls me. I know the man. He worked all day Monday and was on his way home and … to be treated any such way. He is a man of his word.”
Lee added, “Do you think if that was me they stopped they would have called a drug dog? No! A working man don’t have a lot to hide and he is a working man. I understand why people all over the country are protesting.”
Lee pointed out that Knight also had to bear the expense of the tow of his truck from the site of the traffic stop to the city police impound lot, which is routine when a suspected driver is jailed.
Commissioner Norman Davis asked Knight if the officer offered him a “get out of jail free card” by asking if he knew anyone who sold crack cocaine or other drugs. Knight answered that he did.
Commissioner Marian Solomon asked that Commissioner John Threat (who is retired GSP trooper) be allowed to review the tape since he has a law enforcement background.
Davis then called for the NAACP to be allowed to conduct an investigation.
Tatum asked, instead, for the city police department to be allowed to first conduct an investigation and go from there. Tatum said he was concerned that Knight went straight to City Hall rather than contacting police officials to seek his lost key.
“Without reviewing it, I cannot be sure. We do have procedures in place. We investigate every complaint. But to be stopped for an expired tag is normal,” said Tatum.
Tatum promised the board and Knight he would conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.