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The Smell of Fear

The public, as well as the law enforcement community, knows there's no such thing as a routine traffic stop.

January 01, 1997  |  by Maureen Hayden

Sandra Antor was not look for fame when she set out on a 745- mile journey from her hometown of Miami to visit friends in January 1996. But the 26-year-old nursing student's hesitance to pull over promptly for a South Carolina patrolman who was pursuing her in an unmarked car landed her and the officer in the national news. The situation raised new question about the public's perception of police.

The incident was a stark reminder of how closely scrutinized law enforcement can be in the electronic age: A video of the encounter was widely distributed to news agencies and played for a global audience on CNN. But for police agencies eager to learn from the struggles of their peers, the incident also served as a training course in how to anticipate and diffuse fear during a traffic stop, both on the part of the motorist and the police officer.

"Let's face it, we scare people," said John Singleton, a training instructor at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and a veteran state trooper. "We better learn to deal with that."

Antor was scared the afternoon she was pulled over by South Carolina Lance Cpl. W.H. Beckwith. She'd started out early in the day from Miami in a rental car, and by the time she'd hit a stretch of small towns and lonely mile markers in rural South Carolina, she was tired, and she was speeding.

In her rearview mirror, she spotted a plain beige Ford Crown Victoria with a blue light flashing in the corner of the windshield. She was confused at first and slowed down to let the car pass, but did not pull over.

"I thought somebody was trying to rob me or something because they saw I was alone," Antor later told a reporter with Dateline NBC. It was a fear based on reality: A rash of robberies and murders of tourists a few years before had prompted Florida authorities- from the governor on down- to campaign for motorists not to stop for any vehicles unless it was readily identifiable as a police car.

Beckwith has made 15 other stops that day, and each had gone smoothly. A video camera mounted on his car that was triggered when he flipped on the flashing light, showed that he had been polite during each of the previous stops as he issued tickets, chiding motorists to slow down or buckle up.

The incident with Antor started when the radar beam on his patrol car was tripped. The beam caught Antor, who was driving a late-model silver car in the left lane passing traffic at 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. Beckwith started his pursuit, flipping on his blue light and siren, but almost eight miles went by before Beckwith put on his trooper's hat.

What the videotape then caught later came to haunt Beckwith. The tape shows an agitated Beckwith approach Antor's car with his fun drawn. He curses at her and screams for her to get out. Beckwith then opens the door and pulls her from the car.

On the tape, Antor tells Beckwith she can't get out because she still has her seat belt on. Beckwith puts his gun back in the holster, pulls her out, shoves her to the pavement and threatens to cut her clothes as he handcuffs her. When she has difficulty getting up, he threatens to spray her with pepper mace.

As she struggles to get up, he shouts: "Roll over and stand your a-up, lady, now! You're fixin' to taste liquid hell in a minute!"

CONTINUED: The Smell of Fear «   Page 1 of 4   »

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