A violation of one's civil liberties; that's the claim South Bend common council member Henry Davis Jr., 33, is making against the city's police department, after a traffic stop reportedly gone wrong.
Around 10:30 p.m. Monday and following the weekly common council meeting, Davis Jr. left the County City Building in his Cadillac DTS sedan, with his father following in a second vehicle. The father-son caravan made its way toward Western Ave., bound for their respective west side homes.
According to Davis Jr., the two were driving within the posted speed limit and obeying basic traffic laws, when a South Bend squad car began tailing them near the intersection of W. Western Ave. and S. Taylor St. The trailing allegedly continued for 2.5 miles until a swarm of police cruisers activated their lights and sirens at W. Western Ave. and S. Albert St.
Fearing for his safety, Davis Jr. drove 12 city blocks, or 8/10 of a mile, to a well-lit Taco Bell, where he pulled over for police. The 2nd District leader said he was ordered by officers on megaphones to, “put your hands up” and “step out of the vehicle.” With guns drawn, Davis Jr. recalled the moment as patrolmen handcuffed and sat him in the back of a police vehicle for nearly an hour.
"Obviously you’re more in fear of losing your life, anytime guns are drawn on you in the night. It was as if I’d robbed a bank or I was a mass murderer that they were trying to hunt down. It's clear who I am, they know who I am, they know what car I drive, they know my license plate number. It's not rocket science, it was a direct retaliation on Henry Davis Jr., the council member,” Davis Jr. remarked during an impromptu Monday morning media conference outside Al’s House of Style, along the 600 block of N. Olive St.
Davis Jr.’s night ended with two traffic tickets; one for failure to yield and another for a burnt out license plate light. His father, Henry Davis Sr., was not as lucky, arrested for reckless driving and ticketed for failure to yield. He quickly posted his $250 bond and was subsequently released from the St. Joseph County Jail.
“I wouldn't know if my license plate light was out because I don't follow myself when I drive; so none of this is making any sense. These guys think they are above the law; they think that they are Johnny law,” Davis Jr. added.
Using social media as a pulpit, Davis Jr. took to Twitter to lament about his hour-long detainment and father's reckless driving arrest; in a city where nothing, including this late night police run-in, has locked his lips.
“So now I get pulled over by the SBPD & handcuffed for absolutely no reason. No respect for the elected official & the #SBPD runs #SouthBend,” Davis Jr. tweeted to his 525 followers around 12 a.m. Tuesday.
Although well aware of the matter, the city of South Bend is treading lightly before directly commenting about the incident. Police spokesman Capt. Phil Trent told NewsCenter 16, department brass would review dashboard camera video of the Monday night traffic stop to see if the Davis family's allegations held any water.
Then around 5:30 p.m. EDT Monday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Chief of Staff, Mike Schmuhl, released a media statement saying:
“The traffic incident that happened Monday night involving Council Member Henry Davis, Jr. and his father is unfortunate, and it is an unwelcome distraction at a time when elected leaders are hard at work on major issues. To our knowledge, the officers of the South Bend Police Department acted with professionalism and followed proper police procedures. The details of these cases will be reviewed and handled by the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office. Everyone, including elected officials, should respect the law, and everyone must be treated fairly and equally.”
A spokeswoman with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office says deputies are reviewing the pending criminal charges against Davis Sr. It’s expected that a decision to or not to prosecute will be made sometime Wednesday. Either way, the Davis family says this situation won’t disappear without a fight.
"They're trying to force me either to resign from the council or to conform to what they want me to conform to. I am here to do a job for my people and my constituents and I don't feel what they did last night was proper police policy or procedure and I feel they need to be reprimanded or lose their jobs,” Davis Jr. said.
Tuesday night a town hall meeting at the WUBS 89.7 FM Radio studios in South Bend, turned into a community rally for Davis Jr.
At the meeting, Davis wouldn't speak about the incident specifically, but said there are underlying issues behind it.
He claimed transparency is needed within the city. He added that the overriding “tape issue” reveals injustice within the police department.
“This tape issue has recordings of police officers dealing with racial slurs quote-unquote. Let's go deeper than that," Davis Jr. remarked.
Henry Davis Sr. was also at the meeting, but like his son, refused to speak specifically about his arrest and citation.
If you’d like to follow Davis Jr.’s Twitter page, just click on the Big Red Bar.