Driver held at gunpoint for having permit to carry settles with Minneapolis Park Board for $100K
Jenice Hodge has been pulled over before.
So on July 12th, 2019, as Hodge delivered food in northeast Minneapolis, she prepared herself for a routine traffic stop when she saw red and blue flashing lights in her rearview mirror.
Police body camera footage shows Minneapolis Park Police Officer Calvin Pham explaining that he pulled Hodge over because her phone was in her hand and she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt.
But sixty seconds after approaching Hodge’s car, Officer Pham suddenly pulled his gun out of his holster and ordered the 42-year-old woman out of the car.
“I didn’t even have my driver’s license out of the sleeve and I had a gun pointed at my head,” she said.
Hodge, who is Black, said she was scared and confused.
“Phone in one hand, wallet in the other,” Hodge pointed out, as she watched the video back in January. “Where’s the threat to pull your firearm out?”
With her hands through the sunroof, the video shows Hodge telling the officer repeatedly to “calm down,” as he ordered her out of the car.
In the body camera footage, which led to a six-figure settlement late last year, it is not clear why Pham pulled his gun.
The officer later wrote in his incident report that he believed “Jenice may have a gun” after he noticed a permit to carry card in her wallet. But Pham never wrote in his report that he saw a gun.
“You didn’t see a firearm, you didn’t ask if I had a firearm, you just reacted to something that you seen in my wallet,” Hodge said, adding she does have a valid permit to carry license but did not have the gun that day.
Memories of Philando
Hodge said her traffic stop reminded her of another traffic stop involving a Black driver in Minnesota who had a valid permit to carry: Philando Castile.
“That was the first thing that ran through my mind,” Hodge said. “I’m going to die the same way that this young man died.”
Castile was shot and killed in 2016 in Falcon Heights, after telling then-St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez that he had a firearm on him. Yanez was later acquitted on criminal charges.
Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, called the video of Hodge’s traffic stop “absolutely terrifying” and could understand what Hodge was thinking at the time.
“I know at that very moment, she thought about my son,” Castile said.
Castile said it’s another example of “over-policing” and raises questions about why officers escalate routine traffic stops by pulling their weapons on drivers, sometimes within seconds of approaching the car.
“As a trained law enforcement officer, you’re supposed to be trained in how to de-escalate the situation,” she said. “And yet, we see these situations happen over and over and over again.”
“Why are you pointing a gun at me?”
Police officers are trained to escalate their use of force if they believe there’s a threat.
In his report, Officer Pham wrote he saw Hodge reach into her purse, reach her hand “near her waistline and in between the seat and center console,” leading him to believe she was trying to conceal something or was reaching for a weapon.
But retired Chicago Police commander Marc Buslik, who spent nearly four decades in law enforcement, said he believes the officer should not have pulled his firearm.
“I did not see an immediate threat,” Buslik said after watching the video from Hodge’s stop. “My perspective was that of a body camera, you know, in the middle of the officer’s chest.”
Buslik said if Officer Pham had seen evidence of a conceal carry permit on Hodge, the next step to ensure the safety of the officer and the driver would be to ask about it.
“The more appropriate response would have been, ‘Ma’am, do you have a firearm with you?’” he said.
But his own body camera video shows Officer Pham never asked Hodge about the permit or the presence of a gun as she repeated that she did not have anything
“I don’t have nothing! I don’t have anything!,” Hodge yelled. “Why are you pointing a gun at me?” she asked, with her hands up.
Castile, who has advocated for de-escalation training for officers across Minnesota, said the lack of communication from the officer contributed to the chaos.
“She insisted on knowing exactly why she was pulled over and why are you escalating the situation,” Castile said. “What have I done to be treated in the way that I’m being treated? Which is a normal response when you have done nothing wrong.”
Buslik pointed out Hodge refused to comply with Officer Pham’s orders at times. But he believes the officer could have cited or even arrested Hodge without escalating the situation.
“I think the officer reacted to something,” Buslik said. “The issue is how reasonable was that something?”
When Hodge stepped out of the car, dash camera video shows Officer Pham grabbed her, pushed her to the ground and used his bodyweight to pin her face down.
Hodge was arrested and booked on five charges, including obstruction and possession of marijuana. Those charges were later dismissed after she pleaded guilty to driving on a suspended license.
“I think a lot of people will question what he had to be afraid of that day,” Hodge said.
Settlement and Resignation
In October, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted to pay Hodge $100,000 to settle her lawsuit.
The following month, Officer Pham resigned from Park Police. His separation form, obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES, doesn’t list a reason for why he left the department.
Pham’s personnel file makes no mention of the traffic stop or any discipline related to the July 2019 incident. Neither the Park Police chief nor the Park Board superintendent would answer questions about the traffic stop and what happened in the aftermath, and said simply in a statement “the settlement speaks for itself.”
Pham did not respond to multiple calls, texts and emails.
His law enforcement license is currently inactive, according to the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board.
More than two years after the traffic stop, Hodge said it’s difficult to get behind the wheel of a car. She’s experienced panic attacks, flashbacks and worries about other Black drivers on the road today.
“You never know when it’s your turn,” she said.