ROCKY RIVER

Patrolman Mike Asbury has written a lot of tickets over his 5-year career at the Rocky River Police Department, but probably his most notable occurred Jan. 21 when he flagged down a driver going 77 mph on Interstate 90.

He recognized the driver soon after he walked up and started talking to him: Browns running back Kareem AJ Hunt.

Dashcam video of the stop, posted by TMZ on Jan. 27, has since been viewed across the nation after other news outlets picked it up. The nearly six minutes of tape and conversation has raised questions about what appeared to be preferential treatment for a pro athlete. Hunt received a speeding ticket and was allowed to drive off after the officer gave him a warning after finding marijuana and an open container of vodka in a backpack in the car.

Asbury pulled Hunt over at 12:24 p.m. In his written report, Asbury said he noted the smell of marijuana in the car and asked Hunt to roll down his window all the way. “The driver’s window was only down a couple of inches and I recognized this as a common ploy that people have used in the past to keep officers from smelling the odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle,” Asbury wrote. He asked if someone had smoked marijuana in the car and Hunt said that it was not his car. He later said he had just gotten the car and that no one was smoking marijuana in it.

Hunt seemed frantic and nervous when he was asked for proof of insurance, according to the report. Based on his movements and behavior, Asbury grew concerned and suspicious that Hunt may have contraband or a weapon. After Hunt took almost a minute to search for proof of insurance, Asbury asked him to step out of the 2015 Chrysler 200, according to the report.

When Asbury said he planned to search the car, Hunt said that his stepfather drives the car and he smokes marijuana, according to the report.

Asbury searched the car and found a zipped Browns backpack in the backseat that Hunt said belonged to his brother. In it Asbury found an unsealed bottle of vodka and a freezer bag, which held:

A Wana Sour Gummies plastic container with three plastic bags containing a total of 5.5 grams of suspected marijuana. Wana Sour Gummies is a brand of edible marijuana.

An Aurora Blue Dream Sativa container with a plastic bag holding 1.3 grams of suspected marijuana. Sativa is one of two types of cannabis known for its “head high, an invigorating, energizing effect that can help reduce anxiety or stress and increase creativity and focus,” according to an article on the website healthline.com

A plastic bag containing 0.6 grams of suspected marijuana.

In all, Asbury found 7.4 grams of marijuana, the report said. He seized both vodka and the marijuana.

Just after the stop, which lasted 45 minutes, Hunt said that he had a flight to catch. Yet Hunt, who lives in Westlake, was driving west on I-90, the wrong direction if he’s headed to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Asbury told Hunt he is “one of the hugest Browns fans ever” and it’s been frustrating to watch the team every single year. Asbury also lectures Hunt about his life choices and compliments him about his play the second half of the season, when his eight-game suspension was over.

At one point during their exchange, an emotional-sounding Hunt is heard telling Asbury he has been through a lot and how he should be playing in the Super Bowl, which “hurts my soul.” Hunt played with the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the Super Bowl Sunday, but he was cut in November 2018 after a surveillance video surfaced that showed him pushing and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel earlier that year. The Browns signed him last year.

In the video, Asbury asked Hunt if he would fail a drug test. Hunt responded, “I mean, yes sir. It’s the offseason. Sorry. I was having a good time.” In his report, Asbury said in further conversation that Hunt said the backpack was his but the marijuana belonged to his brother. Asbury wrote that Hunt also said he had been “downtown with his brother partying for MLK day” The Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday was the previous day.

He told Hunt he should not have an open container in the car, for which he could have received a ticket. The officer said he was not going to cite Hunt that day for possession of marijuana, but that the suspected marijuana would be sent to a lab for testing and analysis.

Asbury cited the former Willoughby South High School football player for speeding. Hunt was scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. today in Rocky River Municipal Court on the charge.

Whether Hunt received preferential treatment during the stop because he’s an NFL star depends on whom you ask.

“Seems like he got a little privileged treatment,” commented Robert in a story about the incident on Yahoo! News. “I know officers have a lot of discretion; he lied, had weed, had an open container, and seemed to be slurring his speech a little. I think an average person would have at least been field tested for D.U.I.”

Another commenter said, “The guy just confessed if taken for a drug test he would fail it and the cop let him back behind the wheel????”

Fred, who said he was a longtime LEO (law enforcement officer), asked, “How does he not check him for DUI?? Being overly emotional is an indicator of drinking. Did he not administer a portable BA? If you write paper on anyone and they go on to get into an accident, you have liability.”

A Rocky River Police Department spokesman said there was nothing out of the ordinary about the stop.

“The way officer Asbury treated Hunt during that stop is the same way he treats everyone during his stops,” said Lt. George Lichman. “I’ve watched his videos before. He is a leader in the department for OVI arrests and I watch how he conducts himself and that’s the way that most Rocky River officers should and do treat people. Some officers, of course, are more pleasant than others, it’s just a difference in personalities.”

Several factors contributed to Asbury’s decision to only cite Hunt for speeding, city officials said.

Due to a change in Ohio law last summer regarding the possession of hemp products that contain up to 0.3% THC, Hunt was not charged for having marijuana in the car, Law Director Andy Bemer said while briefing City Council members of the incident during their Jan. 27 meeting.

Asbury didn’t make Hunt perform a field sobriety test because he did not believe Hunt was impaired. Asbury is not required to give a test just because he found marijuana and an open container in the car, Lichman said. Asbury was recognized last year by Safe Kids Greater Cleveland and OVI Task Force Coalition as the DUI Task Force Top OVI Cop.

“Even if the officer cited Mr. Hunt for possession of marijuana and open container, both offenses are minor misdemeanors and not arrestable,” Lichman said, noting that along with cities like Westlake and Columbus, Rocky River has stopped citing drivers for having small amounts of marijuana in their car.

If the marijuana in Hunt’s car contained more than .03% THC, police could cite him for possession, Lichman said.

Browns officials are still reviewing the situation and the potential impact on Hunt’s 2020 season.

Lichman understands the concerns people have about the stop and has spent the past week replying to anyone wanting to know more about it.

“We work really hard to foster a positive relationship here in the community,” he said. “I believe that most people who behave the way Mr. Hunt did on that stop would have the same experience as he did.”

Meanwhile, Cleveland City Council approved legislation Jan. 27 to eliminate prosecution of low-level marijuana possession. Mayor Frank Jackson signed it two days later. The legislation will remove fees and jail time for possession of marijuana of up to 200 grams. In addition, people convicted of misdemeanor possession would not carry a criminal record, according to the legislation.

Contact this reporter at akamczyc@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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