Officers from San Diego Harbor Police racially profiled, illegally searched and illegally detained me for over 40 minutes, singling me out because of my “Dark Complexion” and “Other” race. Two officers, Thomas Bland and Australian-born Troy Nicol, violated my 4th and 5th amendment rights during the illegal search and detainment.
Officer Bland took it a step further by retaliating with defamation after my infraction ticket was dismissed by a judge. Thomas Bland committed the federal crime of lying to federal agents on a report, falsely claiming that I was “photographing cargo ships in the harbor,” somehow, without a camera. My camera was not with me and both officers knew this, as I had been searched. Even if I had my camera, it is not a crime to photograph a cargo ship. Thousands of tourists and residents would be charged every month if it were a crime. Also, if any cargo even ships passed by the pier between 1:45-2:56 there would be a list on the harbor manifest. Authorities refuse to acknowledge this because they know Thomas Bland was lying.
I was sitting on a bench near Grape Street & Harbor Drive and had been on my cell phone for over an hour when I heard one of the officers say something to the effect of, “There’s someone on the bench; let’s talk to him,” as they crossed Harbor Drive at Hawthorne Street. The officers started waving their flashlights in my direction and I recall looking at my watch, wondering if there was a curfew. The time was 2:56. They made a beeline towards me, walking past a potential terrorist with several suitcases of unknown material on another bench, singling me out.
Officer Bland asked the first, and stupidest, question of the night: “What are you doing here?” I showed him my phone, and he immediately accused me of being drunk! “How much did you drink tonight?” He angrily asked. “Nothing,” I honestly replied. “What did you eat tonight?” I wondered why he would ask that question so I paused before telling him I had a shawarma sandwich. “What’s that?” he barked at me. “You don’t know what a shawarma is?” I replied. As I began to explain it, Officer Tom Bland cut me off and asked why my pants had a small tear on one leg.
I immediately knew that these officers were trying to set me up for something due to their odd questioning. The tear on my pants was fraying and obviously very old, which I explained to Bland as I moved my leg to look at it. Officer Bland told me not to move at this point, and the illegal prolonged detainment began, going on for nearly 40 minutes. Neither officer read the Miranda warning as they continued to interrogate me. I asked them, “What is this harassment about?” I told him that while living in New York City for 6 years, I never experienced treatment like this before.They replied that they were just conducting a “field interview.” I didn’t believe this poor excuse, but continued to be open and respectfully answer their questions. Then, the Australian-born officer without a name-tag or badge asked, “Where do you hang out? What do you do?” I told him that I’m a photographer and gave him the name of my stock library website, which he wrote down in his little notepad.
Troy Nicol then asked an odd question, if photography was a “lucrative” profession. “It can be,” I replied. He also asked for my phone number, which I gave to him, and he wrote down in his notepad. Then Troy Nicol asked me where I was from. When I told him I live here (San Diego), he asked me the same exact question again. I told him I grew up in Northern California. He didn’t seem satisfied with the answer and asked another time, so I jokingly asked him where he was from, already knowing the answer from his accent. He said Australia and then I asked him, “Where in Australia?” He refused to answer me. As I was talking to Troy Nicol, and looking to the left, Officer Bland moved to my right side next to my right foot and started fidgeting around. Then, he pulled out his flashlight and pointed it at a few cigarette butts underneath the bench, claiming there was a “roach.” (This is mentioned in the police report, yet it was NEVER seized and impounded as evidence, which brings up many questions, such as how many other cases has he done this in? If it was a “small roach” as he noted why wasn’t it seized as evidence? It wasn’t mine, and he appeared to believe me, but still used that as probable cause to illegally search me. Officer Bland didn’t take the cigarette butt in as evidence, because he also probably knew it would not contain my fingerprints or DNA.
After gripping my hands with extreme force behind my back, he told me to hold my hands like I was praying, while he searched me without consent. Bland also accused me of being on heroin or other drugs, which was another false accusation. Bland pulled out a small notepad with a cheat sheet on the back cover that had several pupil sizes and writing. After flashing his powerful LED flashlight at me a few more times, Bland pulled out a second smaller flashlight (a single AAA Maglite). This flashlight had a weak bulb, and he performed an eye test that proved I was not under the influence of anything.
Next, Bland searched my wallet (also without consent) and wrote an infraction ticket in which he wrote my race as “O,” despite the fact that I’m Caucasian. He even asked me my age at one point, even though my birth date is on my DL. He pulled out a spare battery for my phone and asked if it was for a camera or phone. I told him it fit my cellular phone. On the infraction ticket, Bland crossed out the vehicle section and wrote “–PED–” in that section for pedestrian. (This is interesting, considering what he did next.) Officer Bland then took out car insurance and registration papers from my wallet and wrote them down on a separate paper while also looking at business cards in my wallet.
I found out later that Bland used my car information to fill out a second completely false report in which he knowingly lied about details. This report was forwarded to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force & Department of Homeland Security. On this report, Bland also wrote that my race was “O” and checked a box claiming that I have a “DARK COMPLEXION”. As Bland was writing the ticket, the foreign-born officer Troy Nicol continued with his bigoted attitude. Nicol resumed questioning me about my ethnicity and background for absolutely no reason. Troy Nicol again asked me, “Where are you from?” So I asked, “How do you define ‘from’?” Troy Nicol responded that he wanted to know where I was born. I told him New York, and he finally shut up for a few more minutes.
Next, Officer Nicol asked me if I “had traveled outside the country recently.” It hit me like a ton of bricks that these officers were profiling me based on a perceived religion or ethnicity. Nicol proceeded to ask me what countries I travel to. “What?” I asked him. I began wondering to myself what these were cops up to. Nearly 40 minutes later, the intimidation and interrogation officers left, telling me not to touch my phone or keychain until they were over 100 feet away. As they walked away, a patrol car pulled up and one officer leaned into the window to talk. The officer pointed in my direction, laughing about something as he talked to an officer in the patrol car.
I discussed the incident with attorneys before going to traffic court for the bogus infraction ticket. On the last Friday in July, the infraction ticket was dismissed. I did not even have the chance to present the details of the illegal search, detainment and other civil rights violations the San Diego Harbor police officers committed before the ticket was dismissed.
Four days later, I came home to strange news. Someone working in my building told me the Feds were looking for me, and gave me a business card. The business card handed to me looked bogus, because it had a fill-in-the-blank line for a person’s name. Apparently, the FBI/DHS agent made a 20-minute drive from Kearny Mesa to downtown to harass me, despite having my phone number in the field interview report.
I contacted Special Agent D. Tatigue and he relayed to me that he received a report claiming I “was photographing cargo ships in the harbor.” When I told him I didn’t even have my camera with me, and that the officers wrote an infraction ticket which was dismissed a week prior, he laughed, telling me not to worry about it and that it was a closed case.
Why would they wait 2 months to investigate this claim, which just happened to be 3 days after the infraction ticket was tossed out of court? This reeks of retaliation by the San Diego Harbor Police Officer(s) involved. This behavior is also the very definition of defamation: Officer Bland 1) Communicated 2) To a 3rd party 3) Something to damage my reputation. Officer Bland KNOWINGLY LIED TO A FEDERAL AGENCY!
It is incredibly ironic that a foreign-born agent without a badge and name-tag, Troy Nicol, was allowed to racially profile and question me in such a manner in full view of another officer. My family has been in this nation for over 100 years! These officers need to wear cameras that record every word they say and every move they make. This is the only way to reduce criminal behavior among the San Diego Harbor Police and the only way to keep them in line. Officers Tom Bland and Troy Nicol are criminals by definition for violating my federal civil rights as well as numerous state and federal laws. This incident should reinforce the notion that staying silent in the presence of an officer is always the best policy. They try to twist your words and use non-criminal facts to spin into a crime. This is despicable behavior and I’m reminded about Martin Luther King’s writing’s about man being judged by the color of his skin, rather than the content of character.
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