Two Cumberland police officers were cleared of any wrongdoing following a Black attorney’s complaint that she was racially profiled during two traffic stops in spring 2019, the town announced Tuesday.

However, the town’s police department has changed its video policy to keep recordings longer as a result of the probe. The department had destroyed the recordings of the stops because they did not result in police action.

Attorney Krystal Williams, writing in the Maine Bar Journal this fall about why white privilege must be included in discussions about racism in the legal profession, described being stopped twice by Cumberland officers over a short span of time as an example of how personal racism can feel. The anecdotes were not the main focus of the letter, but included as examples.

Williams, in a written response Tuesday, said she was not surprised by the investigation’s outcome, given the lack of objective recorded evidence, but was pleased to see the department change policies in response.

She also said that while the officers told investigators they did not recall the traffic stops, she recalls in detail what they felt like.

“The challenge of this type of investigation is that it presumes that context doesn’t matter when, as humans – as social beings, we instinctively know that the tone in which you say something and the manner in which you act can change descriptively neutral behavior into situationally negative behavior,” she wrote.

In one traffic stop, Williams was pulled over for having a burned-out license plate bulb and was let go without a ticket, but she said the officer followed her home for no reason. In the second stop, Williams was headed to a gym to work out, and the officer asked her if she had a gun.

“When I am stopped by a Cumberland police officer because – allegedly – the small light that illuminates my tail light is out on one side – it’s personal,” she wrote. “And when that same officer sees my ACLU and Maine Law tote bags in my back seat and lets me go only to follow me until I reach my house – it’s personal.”

She wrote: “When I am stopped on my way to the gym by a Cumberland police officer, who approaches my car yelling ‘do you have a gun?’ – it’s personal.”

Once made aware of the article on Sept. 2, the town and the Cumberland police department initiated an investigation, consulted the Attorney General’s Office and brought in investigators from the Augusta Police Department to look into the complaint.

In a statement released Tuesday that had been approved by both the town and the police union representing the officers, Cumberland Police Chief Charles Rumsey said that neither officer remembered stopping Williams, and the questions asked during the stop were normal for police stops.

The stops occurred about a month apart, Rumsey wrote. The first stop, after which Williams said she was followed home, occurred about 0.68 miles from where she was living. The release does not address whether the officer actually did follow her home, or whether the route she took required any turns. Neither stop resulted in a citation, and Williams was let go after each encounter. Both officers told an investigator they did not remember stopping Williams.

“Both officers, when interviewed by the Augusta police detective, said that they follow routine steps during traffic stops that include a question about weapons in the vehicle. The officers said that they routinely ask this question, as well as other questions, of motorists they stop, regardless of traits common to a group or seriousness of a perceived offense.”

The investigative report generated by the Augusta detective was also reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office, Rumsey said.

Rumsey said all officers in Cumberland receive implicit bias and cultural awareness training.

Because no action was taken by either officer, the video recordings of the encounter were not kept. Going forward, Cumberland will keep video for two years, even if a stop does not result in a citation, the department said.

Williams, in an extensive written response provided to the Press Herald, highlighted that the investigation was conducted to determine whether there was evidence of a policy violation.

“For each incident, only I and the officer were present,” Williams wrote. “I filed a formal complaint because I presumed, based on a published statement from Chief Rumsey earlier this year, that video and audio files would be available to provide an objective, independent recording of each stop. It would be fair to say that I counted on those recordings being available to prevent the investigation from becoming a ‘he said-she said’ scenario.”

Williams wrote that she was interviewed once by the Augusta detective, and that when she was informed about the recordings being destroyed, the investigator did not know the department’s records retention policy, and then told her data storage was expensive.

“Given the falling and variable cost of data storage, I question whether the investigator’s comment can be broadly considered as factually correct; regardless, I do believe that the investigator’s comment was wholly inappropriate in the context of an investigation into a complaint about potential police misconduct when the only objective information would have come from the destroyed recordings,” Williams wrote. “I did construe the investigator’s explanation of why the recordings were not retained longer as being favorably biased toward the police.”

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