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East Texas law enforcement hold panel to discuss change, handling of police encounters

"We have combined over 200 years of experience," organizer LaRhonda Hamilton said.

TYLER, Texas — On the same day the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd last summer, began, law enforcement in Smith County decided to come together and plan for change. 

Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton led the discussion hosted by the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice (NABCJ). Ten criminal justice professionals gathered to discuss the civil unrest brewing all over the nation and even right here in Tyler.

“We have over 200 years of experience on this panel tonight," Hampton said.

Panel member Pastor Ralph Caraway understands for many, when dealing with the police, they fear for their lives.

“If I do what you ask me to do, am I still going to die?," asked Caraway.

The panel offered advice starting with what to do if you find yourself involved in a traffic stop.

“Have your driver’s license and don’t go scrambling through your glove compartment," retired detective Reggie Conley said. 

Conley says if you feel you’re being mistreated, take a breath and think.

 “Whether you agree with the stop or not, I would encourage people to not hold court on the side of the road," Conley said. "There's always gonna be a complaint process.” 

East Texas NABCJ President LaRhonda Hamilton agreed. 

“We always say, 'comply now, complain later'," she said.

Sometimes, these precautions aren't enough. Countless Black men and women have lost their lives to police brutality.

Retired Smith County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Gary Pinkerton says he leaves no room for corrupt police in Smith County.

“I've actually arrested officers who work for me when I saw they violated the law," Pinkerton said. "And if we see something happen and we don't act on it we’re just as bad as they are."

The panel advised if you get stopped and have a concealed weapon in your car, let the officer know immediately.

"Make it as simple as possible," Former Precinct 1 Constable Bobby Garmon, said. "When it's nighttime, turn the lights on inside your car so [the officer] can see. Let down your back window. These are things that will help make this traffic stop a little bit more easy."

"If I'm asked to exit my car and I'm told, 'I smell an odor please step out the car,' do I have a right to refuse that?," asked Hampton.

 "If it's an odor of marijuana so to say, you don't, because that's a prerequisite," said Conley. "If we smell marijuana, we think there is illegal contraband in that vehicle so we can ask you to step out that vehicle to try and locate that contraband."

The panel cautioned the public against taking legal advice from social media. Not only can this advice be incorrect, but it could also be from a different state with different laws that wouldn’t apply to you. 

RELATED: Derek Chauvin trial: Witness testimony to resume Tuesday with professional fighter

RELATED: Texas DPS trooper shot during traffic stop on life-support, DPS says


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