WASHINGTON - A D.C. Superior Court judge dismissed all of the firearms charges against a Maryland man after viewing police body camera video that was recorded during a traffic stop last November.
The case against George Thompson fell apart last month after the body camera footage totaling more than an hour failed to show Thompson giving the officers permission to search his car. Thompson was on camera and recorded the entire time. Despite that, prosecutors with D.C.’s Attorney General’s Office took the case to court and lost.
Thompson was pulled over by D.C. police officers last November for having bad tags on his Honda minivan. By his own account, he was unemployed and homeless – living out of his vehicle. At the time, he was driving into the District to visit his mother.
He was seen on the video being cooperative and helpful while answering all of the officers’ questions – even telling them where they could find his wallet.
On the police body camera video, an exchange was seen between two of the officers over whether they have permission to search the car. The female officer asks the other officer about the consent to search Thompson's vehicle three times. However, at no time does Thompson tell the officers they have permission to search it.
But what happened next got Thompson in trouble with the officers. The officer who pulled him over noticed a gun permit in his wallet and asked him if he had guns in the van. Thompson told the officers he had a bag of disassembled guns that were all legally owned and registered in Maryland. He explained he was an unemployed security guard living out of his vehicle.
Thompson was then taken into custody and charged, but it ultimately did not hold up in court.
"At that point, once the search begins, it's all bad,” said defense attorney David Benowitz of Price Benowitz LLP who did not defend Thompson in court. “It's all constitutionally infirm. It’s a total violation of the Fourth amendment. For example, the statements that Mr. Thompson later makes are what is called a fruit of the poisonous tree. In other words as well as the weapons that are found, all of that is inadmissible in court.”
Thompson's attorney Jack Gilmore was unavailable to comment on camera on Tuesday about the case. However, he did tell FOX 5 the officer who initially made the traffic stop stuck by his story on the stand and claimed he had gotten a consent to search.
Benowitz said these body-worn police cameras have now changed the way defense attorneys go to work.
"The body-worn camera is a game changer in the District of Columbia and around the country for these types of issues and other types of issues,” said Benowitz.
He said the law and the arrest was on the officers’ side in this case, but the failure to get the consent to search ruined it all.
When we first met Thompson last November, he admitted what he did was wrong. He told us that he hoped the judge would show him some mercy.
D.C. police said on Tuesday that no misconduct allegation has been filed against the officer who made the traffic stop and he is not under investigation.
Thompson is working again, but still remains homeless.