Updated May 27
Racial data collected by the Tisbury Police Department as part of motor vehicle stops has become a flash point in Edgartown District Court, and has thrust a Black Lives Matter activist into an unusual spotlight as he battles criminal charges.
Eugene Jemison is facing an OUI charge and several other charges from the Tisbury Police Department, and was facing them last summer at around the time he entered into discussions about some sort of affiliation with that police department.
Jemison and Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio have offered divergent descriptions of what those discussions entailed, and what, if anything, was on the table. Jemison characterized his conversations with Saloio as encompassing the possibility he would work for the department and attend a police academy. Saloio described the conversations as rooted in an offer to tour the Tisbury Police Department, observe police activity, and to perhaps become a guest speaker or bias instructor at an academy. At the time, no mention appears to have been made by either Saloio or Jemison about the charges.
Tisbury Police arrested Jemison June 16, 2019, and charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, an open container violation, and other charges, according to a police report and court records. Jemison refused the Breathalyzer, according to a police report. A year later, Jemison was spotted in a vehicle near the Vineyard Haven Post Office, according to a police report. Tisbury Police Sgt. Jeff Day allegedly told Jemison a vehicle needed to be moved from where it was. “He said he would take care of it,” a report states. And after Jemison began moving the vehicle, Sgt. Day pulled him over and told Jemison he had a suspended license. Jemison, according to a report, said he had a valid driver’s license. Day, a report shows, disagreed, and issued Jemison a citation and summons for operating with a suspended driver’s license.
What the report doesn’t indicate, according to what Jemison told The Times in April, was that Jemison had been participating at a Black Lives Matter event at Five Corners at the time of his police encounter. Day’s report appears contradictory in that it states Jemison was parked “on the side walk [sic] at the intersection of Lagoon Pond Road and Beach Road” and later states, “at the time Jemison had exited the the Post Office parking lot and driven onto Lagoon Pond Road.” These descriptions place the vehicle in two different places. In April Jemison insisted the vehicle was in the Post Office parking lot. Since April, Jemison said his attorney has advised him not to discuss specifics of his case. Day didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
On Monday, Jemison’s attorney, Ryan Searle, continued her battle to get six months’ worth of reports and citations containing racial and ethnic data from the Tisbury Police Department on behalf of Jemison and another client who faces charges from Tisbury Police, Josuel Souza. Souza was pulled over and arrested by Tisbury Police for an OUI on Sept. 17, 2019. Like Jemison, he refused the Breathalyzer. In court, Searle described the records as essential to compose one or more motions to suppress evidence on behalf of her clients.
Searle reminded Judge Benjamin Barnes that in October 2020, he ordered the discovery material to be provided by Jan. 4.
“It was not provided,” Searle said, and pointed out the commonwealth got another month to provide it. Then the heating system in the courthouse failed, and the commonwealth got another month, she said. On March 11, the discovery still wasn’t provided, and a show-cause hearing was ordered, she said.
“Have you received it?” Judge Barnes asked.
“Not yet,” Searle said.
Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Michael Preble told the court some discovery material had been provided to the defense, but it wasn’t “practicable” to provide all the information the defense sought. He said, “It would be unduly burdensome for the commonwealth to provide that information.”
He also said at the time, Tisbury Police officers weren’t required to log race into records, and the discovery material already provided took an officer 25 hours to compile. Further materials would amount to “[a] tremendous amount of work for that particular individual,” he said.
Searle said Tisbury Police appear to be inflating the scale of the request. She noted she has reduced the scope of the request, and made it more specific. She added that the Tisbury Police Department has been obligated by statute to report race for about six years.
Judge Barnes asked Searle what she thought the proper remedy would be for noncompliance with her discovery motion and the court’s order.
Searle asked for suppression of evidence.
Preble asked if the commonwealth is sanctioned, that it not be through suppression.
Barnes admitted he was unsure what the proper consequence was.
“For the record, the court’s unclear what exactly would be the remedy,” he said.
“As is the commonwealth,” Preble said.
Judge Barnes found the commonwealth was not in compliance, and set a judge’s hearing for July 19, when the court would determine what to do about the noncompliance.
Souza didn’t appear in court Monday, but Jemison did via Zoom. Searle described Jemison’s records plight as the “[s]ame exact situation as Mr. Souza’s discovery.”
On Tuesday, Tisbury Police Det. Bill Brigham, the department’s court officer, shared some perspective on the discovery Searle requested. “All six departments, the chiefs got together and they decided that they wanted to start collecting accurate race data pertaining to traffic stops, and that went into effect on Oct. 17 of 2020,” Det. Brigham said. “So she was provided everything that she asked for, but the only problem is prior to Oct. 17, 2020, we didn’t record — unless it was a written citation such as a written warning or a civil, which would be a fine, or an arrest, or a criminal summons. Other than that, there was no race data collected by any agencies on the Island that I know of. So I can only give her the data that I have … and the only other way that I could give her race data going back to 2018, which is what she requests, is to go through the citations and tabulate the race based on the box that was checked. And the only problem with that is 75 to 80 [percent] of our motor vehicle stops are verbal warnings.”
If Tisbury supplies that data, Det. Brigham said, it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection because it would show only about 20 percent of the department’s stops.
Updated to provide additional details from a police report.