On Jan. 21, a 24-year-old man was speeding down Interstate 90 in his 2015 Chrysler 200 sedan. Seconds after crossing from Lakewood into Rocky River, he got pulled over by Rocky River police doing 77 mph in a 60 mph zone. He had an open bottle of vodka in a Browns backpack in the car and police found 7.4 grams of marijuana.
When asked if he would fail a drug test, he answered “Yes, sir.”
Was a drug test administered? No.
Did he undergo a field sobriety test? No.
Was he charged with drug possession? No.
He was charged with speeding.
And why did this young man appear to get preferential treatment? His name is Kareem Hunt and he is a running back for the Cleveland Browns. And the officer, Michael Asbury, is a fan of the Browns.
Appearances matter. Put simply, the lack of field sobriety and drug tests and the fawning statement from Asbury that he is “one of the hugest Browns fans ever” make Asbury and the Rocky River police look as if they gave special treatment to a football star. Police Chief Kelly Stillman said last week that he’s received twice as many positive, rather than negative, phone calls in support of Asbury’s handling of the case. Stillman pointed out that Asbury has received the Cuyahoga County OVI Task Force’s recognition as Rocky River’s Top OVI cop for two years straight.
Hunt maintains the vodka was in his brother’s backpack, which was zipped shut in the backseat where Asbury found it. And the small amount of marijuana in the backpack was deemed too little for any charges, as more police agencies are not issuing charges for small amounts of hemp or marijuana. In fact, on Jan.29, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson signed a law eliminating fines and jail time for possession of marijuana of up to 200 grams, or 7 ounces. People convicted of minor misdemeanor and misdemeanor possession also would not carry a criminal record.
Asbury said he did not give Hunt a ticket for the marijuana due to the state law that legalized industrial hemp. He also said he made a judgment based on Hunt’s speech, coherency and clear eyes to not conduct a field sobriety test.
Internet comments have not been kind. Here is a sampling:
“Must be nice to be famous. Weed and open bottle of vodka and didn't get more than a speeding ticket. That doesn't happen for a normal citizen.”
“So open bottle of Vodka, driver admits to being under the influence of something that would not allow him to pass a drug test and yet I don’t see an arrest, a booking or mugshot? How could this be?? Oh yeah. Justice is not equal.”
If not for the dashcam video, we might be completely in line with the justifications that Hunt didn’t need to be tested. We recognize that officer discretion and experience are vital to compassionate and ethical application of laws.
We weren’t there. Asbury was. We hope he was right.