PHOENIX — A viral Facebook post about a traffic stop in Arizona is raising eyebrows, both with commenters online and the agency that conducted the stop.
On Friday, Ken Walton posted a long story of a traffic stop conducted by an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper near Williams, Arizona that culminated with him handcuffed in a DPS vehicle after being held at gunpoint.
Walton, a San Francisco resident who was touring the Southwest with his 7-year-old daughter, said he did not know why he was pulled over.
Capt. Damon Cecil with DPS said one of the license plates on the rental car Walton was driving had been reported stolen.
“What had happened was, the rental company, after reporting those plates stolen, did not go to the MVD and get new license plates, which is what you are supposed to do,” Cecil said, adding that Walton did not know of the plate issue.
Walton claimed he only learned of what had happened after he was in handcuffs.
When the trooper pulled Walton over, he approached the car with his gun drawn. In his post, Walton said he was “utterly terrified” when the trooper ordered him out of the car to detain him. Walton also claimed the trooper pointed the gun at his daughter.
“My daughter is traumatized,” he wrote. “She said she wanted to cry to the officers who were comforting her, but she was afraid they would get mad at her.”
Walton later updated his post to thank deputies from the Cononino County Sheriff’s Office for being kind to his daughter.
“You were friendly and generous to her, and she cherishes the flashlight that one of you gave her,” the post read.
However, Cecil said the trooper’s response was in line with DPS protocol. When a trooper comes across a car with a stolen license plate, they are to perform a “high-risk traffic stop,” essentially responding with guns drawn in case the driver turns violent.
Cecil said stolen plates are often put on stolen cars and the protocol was designed because law enforcement officers have been killed in similar incidents.
“We don’t want troopers just walking up to vehicles where there is high potential for violence and for risk and to get themselves or anybody else in the public hurt,” he said.
In his post, Walton said the trooper threatened to shoot him before he was detained.
“I braced for bullets to hit me and all I could think of was my daughter having to watch it happen and being left alone on the side of the highway with an insane, violent cop,” he wrote.
Cecil said the trooper saw Walton make a move toward his waistband, while Walton denied that.
“My hands were high in the air as he said this, and I was not in any way reaching for my waist,” the post read.
Cecil praised the trooper’s actions and said some of Walton’s account was embellishment and exaggeration “to that point that it read like a novel.”
“We have absolutely no issue with what our trooper did,” Cecil said. “He followed protocols. He made tactical decisions that he felt he needed to make at the time.”
Though DPS is currently field testing some body cameras, neither the trooper nor his car were equipped with cameras, Cecil said.
Walton’s post went viral over the weekend. It was shared thousands of times and garnered thousands of comments, some of which urged violence toward the trooper.
Cecil said such comments are “absolutely ridiculous.”
“The way that he posted and the way that he embellished on the facts of this case and the things that he said about our trooper, have really put his (the trooper’s) life at risk,” “We’re very frustrated with that. We’re not happy with it.”
KTAR’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.
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