Chief Durham refutes claims that smell of weed falsely being used for searches

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/30/2018, 6 a.m.
Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said he has sought to hold his department to high standards and to impose discipline ...

Court records show that Mr. Chavis was stopped two additional times in Richmond and once in Henrico County since February. According to the records, he was convicted in April in Richmond and Henrico County General District Court of driving with a suspended license and expired vehicle registration. His next court date is in mid-October for a May traffic stop in the city.

Mr. Chavis also incorrectly stated that the Aug. 2 stop involved two city police officers. Police camera footage confirms Chief Durham’s disclosure that a State Police trooper and a city officer stopped Mr. Chavis.

They have since been identified as Trooper C.G. McKenna and Richmond Police Officer Jonathan Bloom. They were riding together in the trooper’s car because they were part of the Weapons Enforcement Blitz in which state officers and city officers are teamed to go after illegal weapons, Chief Durham said.

The city Police Department noted that legitimate traffic stops are one way that WEB officers turn up illegal guns or other contraband.

In response to a Free Press query last week, State Police issued the following statement: “Trooper McKenna initiated the traffic stop because he observed the vehicle’s inspection sticker was invalid and registration decals were expired for more than a year.”

The statement also rebutted Mr. Chavis’ claim that marijuana was the reason for stop.

“The trooper asked of the driver — which is the trooper’s standard protocol — if (Mr. Chavis) had any drugs, guns or weapons or anything else in the vehicle that the trooper should know about.”

Some of the conversation between Trooper McKenna and Mr. Chavis was picked up by the body-worn camera of Officer Bloom, who stayed on the passenger side of the vehicle but did not speak. Though the audio is often muffled and inaudible, Trooper McKenna can be heard questioning Mr. Chavis about his suspended license and Mr. Chavis telling the trooper about his financial problems and the need to drive to keep his job.

On the tape, Mr. Chavis tells Trooper McKenna that he is to appear in court Aug. 24 to apply for a restricted license to drive for work purposes, though the court record does not support that claim. Mr. Chavis was approved for a restricted license in March in Henrico County, but it apparently has been put on hold, according to records, because of unpaid fines and fees.

Trooper McKenna gives Mr. Chavis a break, telling Mr. Chavis that he will not issue a ticket. But he warns Mr. Chavis on the video that the vehicle would be confiscated if the trooper comes across Mr. Chavis driving again without an up-to-date inspection sticker, proper registration and a valid license.

On the tape, Mr. Chavis thanks the trooper. But according to Facebook time stamps, a few minutes later Mr. Chavis begins posting on social media that the stop was because of the “smell of marijuana.”

The Free Press contacted Mr. Chavis. Asked about camera footage showing the faulty inspection sticker and outdated license plates, Mr. Chavis did not change his position.

He responded: “The officer pulled me over saying he smelled marijuana with his hand on his holster, and he never said anything about my tags until he got in front of the car. He said he pulled me cuz he smelled marijuana and that is what prompted the stop.”

Asked if he had any credible evidence that Richmond officers are abusing the claim of “I smell marijuana” to conduct searches, Chief Durham said reports he has seen indicate that officers are properly making that claim.