Black man wrestled to ground, jailed after traffic stop
A Black man from Mississippi is appealing his conviction on charges stemming from a traffic stop in North Carolina in 2020 in which a white National Park Service officer forced him to the ground for not putting his hands behind his back to be frisked.
Marvin Minor was sentenced to four months in prison by a magistrate after he was convicted on multiple charges last March 29 in U.S. District Court. The appeal was filed June 6, shortly before Minor’s sentence was to end. The traffic stop resulted from a report that the car Minor was riding in had crossed the center line.
The appeal makes multiple references to the fact that the traffic stop involving Minor occurred two months after George Floyd was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer, who pinned Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee for more than 9 minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder in 2021.
“Certainly, two months after the roadside killing of George Floyd, Mr. Minor was understandably hesitant to leave himself completely at the mercy of a person who had clearly decided to degrade him to an extent far greater than the ‘offense’ that (the officer) had witnessed would seem to merit,” wrote Asheville attorney Eric J. Foster in the appeal.
Foster didn’t respond to a request for additional comment on Wednesday.
A National Park Service spokeswoman wasn’t immediately available for comment.
According to the appeal, Minor, 47, of Natchez, Mississippi, had been drinking a can of beer while he was a passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend. The couple was on their way to a celebration of his sister’s 20th wedding anniversary in the Tennessee mountains when they were stopped on July 25, 2020, on U.S. 441 on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The National Park Service officer had stopped the car after seeing it cross the center line. According to the appeal, the ranger saw the open can of beer in the backseat and then ordered Minor out of the car to assume “a submissive position” so the officer could frisk him.
Minor rejected the officer’s command, although he did get out of the car and put his hands on the roof, the appeal said. The officer was dissatisfied with that action and then told Minor to put his hands behind his back as if he would be handcuffed. Minor refused that command as well, but kept his hands on the roof of the car.
According to the appeal, the officer spun Minor, then grabbed him by the waist and leg and both men fell to the ground. Minor got to his feet first, returned to the car and put his hands back on the roof.
In the appeal, Foster wrote that Minor’s resistance to the officer’s commands was not unlawful, but that the officer’s actions were, raising concerns about the subsequent sentence.
“... The commands themselves exceeded (the officer’s) constitutional authority, and therefore the sentence was, in fact, for having a single open beer as a passenger in a car,” the appeal said. “It is difficult to imagine a person outside of law enforcement who believes it necessary to cage a person for four months for that offense.”
Minor was charged with failure to obey a lawful order, fighting with an officer and having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.
In the officer’s report, he said he saw an open case of beer and asked Minor and his girlfriend if there was any open beer in the car. They answered “no,” but the ranger saw Minor reach into the back of the car before placing his hand on his waistband, suggesting to the officer that Minor “was possibly checking for, reaching for, or hiding a weapon to ensure it remained concealed.”
The officer suggested in his testimony that he was concerned that both occupants of the car may have had weapons.
“ ... Mr. Minor urges this court to recognize that when the National Park Police and the Department of Justice claim that Mr. Minor is ‘armed and dangerous,’ they mean he is Black, talked back to the officer and did not move swiftly enough for (the officer) or the prosecutor.”
The officer’s report said he pointed his stun gun at Minor as he asked him again to put his hands behind his back. Additional officers arrived on the scene and helped get Minor handcuffed, according to the report.
Foreman is a member of the AP’s Race & Ethnicity team.