Bil Browning

IN state police intimidate & search gay rights activist

Filed By Bil Browning | August 26, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Chris Mason, homophobic behavior, illegal search, Indiana State Police

Gay rights activist Chris Mason from Driving Equality recently did a stretch of road in Indiana and apparently got a dose of Hoosier hospitality homophobia. After getting pulled over for speeding, Mason was let go but was detained again 20 minutes later at a rest area. The activist alleges that Indiana State Police trooper Brandon Lankford targeted him for persecution after the trooper questioned Mason about Driving Equality and gay rights.

After five police cars surrounded the car and Mason asked if they had a warrant, one trooper claimed to be doing an "open air" search of the car with his drug dog. Of course, the dog "got a hit" even though there were no drugs in the van. His van was searched, INStatePolice.jpglots of expensive equipment was damaged, and the activist was detained at the rest area for hours.

Officer Lankford of the Indiana State Police (Badge #7565), a dog, and four other police officers spent the next hour tearing apart the Driving Equality van. They took apart film equipment, my dashboard, the lining of the van, opened the hood, took out the air-filter, and went through every personal item that I own. It was degrading. I sat on the bench and took pictures with my phone. The feeling of helplessness and powerlessness was torture.
Then he told me that he had been hoping I would stop at the rest area so that he could search my van. He had wanted to search the van back when I was stopped, but because the other officer had given me my paperwork back, I was free to go.
I am concerned that I was targeted by Officer Lankford after our conversation about gay rights and the Driving Equality project. His actions are unacceptable. This kind of discrimination is exactly what I devote my life to stopping. I will use this as a learning experience.

Once the troopers were satisfied that Mason had done nothing wrong, he had to go to the closest police station to get paperwork so he could file a claim for the damages troopers caused while doing the search. The trooper who started all of the commotion was unapologetic till the end; in fact, according to Mason, Trooper Lanksford refused to acknowledge that he was wrong in his suspicions of the LGBT activist.

Before I left, I looked him right in the eyes and told him that I was very disappointed in him. I said that we had a good conversation back at the traffic stop and when he asked if I had drugs in the car I told him the truth. When he asked if I had been arrested before, I told him the truth. But he decided to have me tailed for 20 minutes, and then jumped on the van when I pulled over at a rest stop. He then searched my vehicle for an hour, pulling apart the van. He even broke my dashboard.

He said that it was "his training" that taught him to look for signs when talking to a suspect. He said that something signaled him that I was hiding something. I asked him what it was that I did that signaled him. He said that he couldn't tell me. I asked him how he felt about being wrong, and his dog being wrong. I asked him to apologize. I looked him right in the eye and told him that I was disappointed and that he needed to be more careful. He didn't look at me. He said that he wasn't wrong and didn't do anything wrong.

Mason has not filed an ethics complaint against Trooper Lanksford, but is in the process of filling out the paperwork currently. The daily schedule for the Equality Drive forced him to continue the tour without stopping.

The Indiana State Police's Internal Affairs office has been notified of the situation, but confirmed that nothing official has been filed with the department yet.


(Photos courtesy of the Driving Equality website)

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And THIS is why the Supreme Court really made a big fat error in the case of Illinois v. Caballes. In that case the majority of the justices found that the alert of a dog, even when the dog is used without suspicion, is grounds for probable cause and a search of the vehicle.

Nevermind that a dog cannot testify and there is no real way to know just how well trained a dog is. Did you know drug dogs often alert to residual cocaine on the money in your wallet? That's right, the 20 dollar bill that just came out of a cashier drawer that was used to snort coke four days ago... yep, that just gave the police complete and total control over your life.

Please file the paper and let us know - I'm sure many of us will send emails/letters and make phone calls to these folks.

Wouldn't expect any less from the police.

Keep us updated, Bil!

In watching some of the cop shows on TV, I find the whole dog alert thing pretty subjective. Sometimes the dog does go kind of nuts, but often I certainly didn't detect much of a reaction.

I remember this one show where the cops wanted to "confiscate" this guys money on the grounds that he'd gotten it from drug sales, so apparently to prove that, they had to prove the money had drug residue on it (I guess because if you get money from selling drugs, you wipe the money through the drugs before you hand them over...but that's a post by itself). So to determine this, they took the money and put it in the gas cap area of one of the police cars. The cop started the dog around the car, and never touched the car, until he got to the gas cap. Then the handler tapped the gas cap cover, and surprise! the dog alerted.

Unfortunately, like tasers, dogs are a useful law enforcement tool that is now being misused.

This is why I always have my video cam in my car. If I see something suspicious being done by police or bad guys (sometimes there may not be a difference), I have proof in case someone is pigeon-holed like the victim, Chris Mason. This has got to stop, and the first visit would be to a good attorney!

I give Chris a lot of credit for what he's doing. I remember meeting him several years ago in Boston and thinking "this guy is going to be the mayor or senator some day."

Chris is making a great video about LGBT activists and problem areas across the US. But he is running out of money. I've been following his progress across the US and worrying about him the whole way at:

I've donated, and I've been trying to encourage my friends to do the same, but I think they are getting tired of me bugging them. You can see his videos on YouTube under DrivingEquality. This should be an awesome movie when it's done. I encourage everyone to donate so he can finish it.

nothing surprises me any more..but there is some good news.In Fort Worth they fired 2 agents and a supervisor and disciplined two other high-ranking employees after an investigation into a controversial raid on a Fort Worth gay bar revealed numerous policy violations.(stolen from my Dallas Morning News..or the DAM News as I call it)..Plus they have announced several policy and procedural changes. I was so mad when it happened especially since they just flat out lied about the reason they were there, their behavior and their lies about the customers behavior. So...maybe this will be a new start for all of them.