New Bedford City Councilor Explains Why He Filed Complaint Against Police Officer
A New Bedford police officer is under investigation following a complaint by a city councilor.
Ward 4 Councilor Derek Baptiste, who filed the complaint, said the incident is “not even a big story.”
New Bedford Police Public Information Officer Lt. Scott Carola confirmed to WBSM News that Baptiste “has filed a complaint (and) that there is a subsequent review being conducted by our Professional Standards Division" but offered no further information. New Bedford Police Union President Chris Cotter said no statement would be given on an internal investigation.
Baptiste shared his account of the incident with WBSM News. He said was coming off Exit 4 on Route 140 onto King’s Highway on a recent morning, heading to pick up his son from where he lives and drive him to school, and Baptiste was running a bit late.
“I came off Exit 4, and I pulled up to the light. I was the third in line. The first car went through the yellow light, the car in front of me went through the red light," he said. "I stopped at the red light, picked up my phone, and saw my son was texting me asking where I was, so I just sent back that I was four lights away.”
Baptiste said a traffic detail officer “was on the sidewalk, wasn’t doing the detail, but talking to the guys working the backhoe on the sidewalk.”
“The cop then banged on my passenger window and told me, ‘Keep your (expletive) eyes on the road,” Baptiste said. “I said, ‘Excuse me, we’re at a red light. I’ll put the phone down, I have no problem with that, but you’re not going to speak to me like that.”
“The officer then said ‘Keep your eyes on the road and I won’t have to speak to you,’ and I said, ‘Well if you were doing the detail, you would have caught the person running the red light,’” Baptiste said. “That’s when he said, ‘Pull over, I’m going to give you a ticket, and if you think I can’t give you a ticket while I’m on detail, watch me.’ And I replied, ‘I don’t care if you give me a ticket, you’re still not going to talk to me like that.’”
Baptiste stressed that at no time did he identify himself as a New Bedford city councilor, nor was he looking to avoid the citation.
“I don’t tell anybody that doesn’t know me that I’m a city councilor,” he said. “I want to be treated as a man, not as a city councilor.”
He said he asked for the officer’s name and badge number, and the officer refused to provide it.
“He then said, ‘I have nothing on me to write the citation now, you’ll get the citation in the mail,” Baptiste said. “And I replied, ‘If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I still want your name and badge number. You can’t talk to people like that, swear at me, come at me like that and think I’m not supposed to get angry.’”
Baptiste said when he then asked for the officer’s name and badge number a third time, “he said, ‘You know what? I’m going to double your ticket now because you’re in a work zone, how do you like that?’”
“I said, ‘I still want your name and badge number,’ and he said, ‘You’ll get it on the citation when it comes in the mail,’” Baptiste said.
Baptiste then left the scene in order to pick up his son and bring him to school. He said after dropping his son off, he returned to the scene and again asked the officer for his name and badge number.
“He called backup in, three other cars showed up because they thought I was creating a disturbance, but I wasn’t, I just wanted his name and badge number, which he has to give if asked,” Baptiste said. “That’s when I got the citation.”
Baptiste said he then went to police headquarters to speak with Chief Paul Oliveira.
“I wanted to talk to him about this officer’s conduct,” he said. “I never was trying to argue the ticket – I’ll fight the ticket with the magistrate in court, that’s how you do it, you don’t fight it with the police – I just wanted to express that banging on the window, being aggressive, that’s not how an officer should talk to somebody. That’s not how you should be talking to the public.”
“I didn’t realize there was going to be an investigation,” he said. “I’m not trying to get someone jammed up, I don’t want anyone to lose their job. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t speak to anyone else the way he spoke to me.”
Baptiste acknowledged that he did share in the fault for the escalation of the incident, and that he could have just caught the officer on a bad day.
“I was out of hand, too. I take responsibility for my actions. He wasn’t going to give me a ticket until I said, ‘you should have been in the road.’ That was my first technical foul,” Baptiste said. “When I asked for his name and badge the third time, that’s when I got the second tech.”
But Baptiste also said incidents like this play into “why people of color don’t trust the people policing their neighborhoods.”
“I was in sweatpants and a hoodie, so I don’t know what he thought about me. If I was dressed differently, if I spoke differently, if I was a different color, would he have come up less aggressively?” Baptiste said. “I felt threatened the way he came at me, and I wouldn’t have said what I said if he didn’t bang on my window like that.”
Baptiste will go even more in-depth with his account of the incident on his podcast “Yo But Listen,” with the episode planned for a release sometime this afternoon. It can be found on all podcast platforms.
In Massachusetts, the Hands-Free Law against using a handheld device while driving calls for a fine of $100 for a first offense. A second offense is a $250 fine, plus mandatory completion of a distracted driving educational program. A third and any subsequent offense is a $500 fine, plus an insurance surcharge, and the mandatory distracted driving program.