EVANSTON — A video posted to YouTube on Friday that accuses a Wyoming sheriff’s deputy of racism and has been viewed nearly 200,000 times, isn’t what it appears to some viewers, Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson said.
“They’re trying to make it look like extortion,” Johnson told the Herald on Thursday. The video shows Lincoln County deputy David Hammond conducting a traffic stop and demanding $150 cash from an Asian woman, apparently a resident of Korea, for allegedly speeding on Highway 89 near Afton. The woman is shown giving Hammond $90 in cash, but when she said she doesn’t have the full $150, Hammond said he can follow her to an ATM in the next town or take her to jail.
The woman seems surprised that she can’t handle the speeding ticket online, but eventually drives away, apparently withdraws cash from an ATM and pays Hammond $150 in cash.
A speeding ticket shown in the video indicates the woman was accused of driving 56 mph in a 35-mph zone. The incident took place at 2:40 p.m. on June 30, a time of the year when a large number of tourists drive through Wyoming, Johnson said.
“It certainly happens more in the summer months,” he said, “when we have a lot of traffic coming through our area to Jackson and have more international drivers.”
It might seem unusual for law enforcement to collect cash from drivers, especially when they haven’t been found guilty of a crime. But that is actually common practice in rural areas in parts of Wyoming and across the country.
“If there’s a low chance of having a good identification of the driver or a low chance of them showing up for their court date, then we’ll collect the bond on the spot,” Johnson said.
That’s often the case if there is a language barrier or the driver’s license is in a foreign language, making it difficult, if not impossible, to verify the driver’s name. Law enforcement can also collect the cost of the ticket if they suspect the driver is only in the country for a few days or weeks, Johnson said, adding that it’s at the deputy’s discretion whether to collect the bond on the roadside.
“A high number of those drivers, because there’s no recourse internationally, don’t appear [in court] on their citations,” he said.
As in many cases, Johnson said, the woman in the YouTube video did not end up making a court appearance. In those instances, drivers forfeit their bonds, which are used to pay outstanding citations.
Johnson said he’s received the video many times since it was posted on Friday, Dec. 6, and it was also sent to statewide and nationwide law enforcement organizations in an attempt to expose wrongdoing; however, Hammond acted appropriately during the stop and followed Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office policy, Johnson said.
Should an international driver who receives a traffic citation want to fight it, he or she can still do that in court. Johnson said if the defendant doesn’t have cash or a way to get the cash, they can be taken to jail or to the courthouse and have an impromptu hearing — if there is a judge available. They can also return to the area on a predetermined date to appear in court and, if the case is not resolved beforehand, face trial.
Evanston Police Chief Jon Kirby said some circuit courts request officers to collect bond from international drivers at the time of a traffic violation, and Evanston officers have done it at times in the past, but not with any sort of regularity. When it comes to traffic violations, Kirby said his department isn’t often involved with circuit court since most citations are handled through municipal court.