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Election Day Checkpoint Investigation Completed

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Contact:
Major Ken Howes or
Florida Highway Patrol

For Release December 5, 2000

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Highway Patrol has completed its investigation concerning allegations of troopers interfering with the November 7, 2000 election. Colonel Charles C. Hall, Director of the FHP, ordered the investigation after receiving a complaint from the Florida Attorney General's Office that troopers conducted a driver license/vehicle equipment checkpoint in southern Leon County and hindered members of the minority community from arriving at polling facilities on election day.

On November 7, 2000, Sergeant Hubert J. Cutchen, Corporal Timothy P. Seymour, Trooper Michael L. Stallworth, and Trooper Michael E. Uzzell conducted a Driver License and Vehicle Equipment Checkpoint on Oak Ridge Road, near Woodville, between approximately 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

The distance from the location of the checkpoint to voting precincts 107, 109, and 110, was approximately 2.1 miles. All of these voting precincts are located at the First Baptist Church of Woodville on State Road 363 (Woodville Highway). The checkpoint location and the First Baptist Church are located on two separate roadways.The investigation determined that Sergeant Cutchen knew that Oak Ridge Road was not on the list of approved locations when he authorized the checkpoint. Cutchen determined the checkpoint location based on several factors, including safety of the general public and participating members of the FHP, adequate visibility, availability of screening areas, and input from squad members. Cutchen authorized the checkpoint in order to produce enforcement activity and promote highway safety, through stationary operation, thereby reducing operating expenses to the Florida Highway Patrol through reduced fuel consumption. FHP troopers stopped and checked approximately 150 vehicles during the 90-minute checkpoint; as a result, 18 enforcement contacts were issued to 16 individuals.

FHP investigators determined that Cutchen did not consider the locations of any polling facilities nor did he consider whether the checkpoint could potentially affect members of the public regarding voting, when he determined the location for this checkpoint. Cutchen did not know the locations of polling facilities when he authorized the checkpoint on Oak Ridge Road. He did not intend to prohibit any person from attending their polling facility when he authorized and conducted the checkpoint on Oak Ridge Road, nor did he intend to interfere with or intimidate any member of the public concerning exercising their right to vote.

In addition, FHP investigators determined that no member of the public was unreasonably delayed as a result of the checkpoint, and no person was prohibited from attending their voting precinct or exercising their right to participate in the democratic process as a result of the actions of the troopers. The checkpoint was conducted in an effort to promote highway safety, in the normal performance of troopers' duties related to the mission of the Florida Highway Patrol. This particular checkpoint was one of 31 other similar checkpoints conducted during the 30 days prior to November 7th.

Only one individual interviewed during the investigation, Mecah Graham, of Woodville, indicated that she felt intimidated concerning her right to vote because she was casually asked if she had voted. She was returning to her residence when she encountered the checkpoint. She was stopped for about five minutes. During the course of casual conversation, a trooper asked if she had voted that day. She felt intimidated concerning her right to vote, because she felt that if she said she had not voted yet, she felt that she would have been persuaded to vote for a certain party. Graham stated, however, that the trooper did not ask her any other questions related to voting or her party affiliation. Graham stated that she had already voted by absentee ballot the previous week. Additionally, Graham stated that she was not prevented from attending a polling precinct or exercising her right to vote. She also told the FHP investigator that she did not express any of her concerns to the troopers at the scene of the checkpoint related to voting.

FHP investigators also confirmed that troopers did not visit any polling places, and no parking tickets were written in the parking lots of voting precincts while owners/drivers of the vehicles were inside the precinct voting. These accusations, coming from high-ranking political officials, were publicized in various media reports. "At no time did any of our troopers do anything other than conduct what has been a typical, routine selective enforcement operation for many, many years," emphasized Colonel Hall. "I consider these unsubstantiated allegations and innuendoes a grave disservice to the men and women of the Florida Highway Patrol who put their lives on the line every day to serve, protect, and defend the rights of all Floridians," Hall added.

Although minor FHP policy violations were identified during the course of the investigation, there is no evidence to indicate that any member of the Florida Highway Patrol intended to intimidate or hinder any person from attending their polling precinct or vote. As a result of the investigation, Sergeant Cutchen has been counseled and instructed not to conduct driver license and vehicle equipment checkpoints in the future at locations that have not been approved in advance pursuant to FHP Policy 17.07. Additional safeguards, such as designating specific supervisory personnel to authorize checkpoint locations, and designating the troop public information officer to disseminate the locations of these checkpoints to the public via the news media in Troop H, have also been developed to insure compliance with the policy. This policy is available on-line at www.flhsmv.gov/fhp.

 


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