A local sheriff's department is at the center of a CBS46 investigation after being accused of harassing drivers during traffic stops.
“It was bad, it was just bad. It was bad all the way around,” said Walton County resident Kimberly Spivey.
A Walton County Sheriff's deputy stopped Spivey four years ago and told her the window tint on her car was too dark, but then one thing led to another.
Deputy Jacob Palmer became suspicious of Spivey, so he searched her and then her car. She remembers it like it was yesterday.
“He came back and was shaking the pill bottle, like we found something,” Spivey said.
The deputy then seized prescription medication from her purse.
Spivey was arrested and then taken to jail. Later she proved she had a valid prescription and the case was dismissed.
“I understand she brings a prescription after the fact, but she didn't have it at the time,” Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman said.
“It makes me want to be sick to my stomach that people can be treated like that when I could prove that I wasn't wrong,” Spivey said.
The sheriff's department also stopped Jameel Ellis for dark windows, not once, but twice during the past year.
“They're picking certain cars,” Ellis said.
Both times he received a warning even though the window tint on his Chevy Impala is legal.
“So how does that happen?” CBS46's Adam Murphy asked the sheriff.
“Oh, I can't explain it to you how that happened,” Chapman said.
The sheriff's department also couldn't explain why Deputy Palmer stopped an elderly couple for tinted windows this year and then questioned them on the side of the road about smuggling drugs.
“He just got maybe a little zealous and had tunnel vision at that time and probably could have reacted a little better,” Chapman said.
“Not everybody is up to no good just because you have tints,” Walton County Resident Brittany Wright said.
Wright was also stopped for having tinted windows during the past year. She said the dark windows keep her two-year-old epileptic daughter from having seizures.
“I feel like it may just be stereotyping people with tints. So if you have a dark tint you're automatically a drug dealer or whatever the case may be and I don't think it's fair,” Wright said.
“It appears that your deputies are using the window tint to fish around for something else?” Murphy asked the sheriff.
“On the drug interdiction that very well could be,” Chapman said.
Our investigation found that the Walton County Sheriff's Department stopped 457 people for tinted windows during the past year, but only 2 percent of those stops led to drugs.
Nearly every neighboring county had fewer than 30 stops each for tinted windows during that time.
“Do you feel like these people with window tints are a threat to society?” Murphy asked.
“No, they're in violation of the law,” Chapman responded.
But it's how the sheriff's department is going about their business that has some drivers upset. We've learned that someone within the department had organized a citation competition, awarding the deputy who writes the most tickets with a restaurant gift card. Something the sheriff said he was unaware of and doesn't approve.
“How do you plan to address it?” Murphy asked.
“I don't know yet,” Chapman said.
But most people living in Walton County know that once you cross the bridge into the county, you may not be the only one crossing the line.
“They were just trying to get something on somebody and use those tint windows as probable cause,” Spivey said.
Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman told me that he provided counseling to Deputy Jacob Palmer after a couple of his questionable traffic stops and he has also been removed from the drug unit.
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