Sheriff says traffic stop of New England Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts is not a ‘racial issue’

“It wasn’t as professional as it should have been.”

New England Patriots rookie NFL football linebacker Elandon Roberts speaks with members of the media at Gillette Stadium, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts in 2016. –Steven Senne / AP

The sheriff of Fort Bend County, Texas, said during a Friday afternoon press conference that he doesn’t believe the traffic stop interaction between one of his deputies and New England Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts was “about race.”

The press conference followed a report by USA TODAY, in which Roberts told the publication he felt he was being harassed by the officers in the driveway of his home in the Houston suburb of Richmond after he was pulled over for speeding on March 10. The article included a 1 minute and 31 second edited clip of the dashcam video from the traffic stop.

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During Friday’s press conference, Sheriff Troy Nehls blasted the publication and reporter A.J. Perez for the way the video was edited, saying it presented a “false narrative” and is “full of inaccuracies.”

“What happened is Mr. Perez and some of you in this room are trying to make this a racial issue, and it is not,” Nehls said.

The department shared its own version of the stop, which is more than 16 minutes long.

 

Nehls said that the two-time Super Bowl champion was pulled over on March 10 around 9:53 p.m. by Deputy Adam Watkins, who had only been on the job for four months at the time.

Roberts was pulled over for driving 59 mph in a 35-mph zone, and Watkins called for backup, the department said, because he was “nervous” that the 25-year-old got out of his car.

In the video, Roberts can be seen exiting the car with his hands up after pulling into the driveway of his home. When the deputy tells him to get back in the vehicle, the 25-year-old says, “This is my house.” 

When Watkins yells at him again to get back in the car, Roberts complies, keeping his hands up.

When pressed on the description Watkins used in calling for backup, saying, “there’s a big black male, he got out of the car, I told him to get back in, he wouldn’t comply, I had to yell at him pretty hard,” the sheriff was adamant that it was just the standard description an officer would use during a call. 

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“[Perez] tried to turn this into a race issue, and I think it’s shameful,” he said. 

Nehl said it took eight minutes for backup to arrive after Watkins called for it, during which time Roberts was in his car and Watkins was in his own. 

Both Nehl and Capt. Steve Holtz, director of the patrol division, said there were aspects of the traffic stop that they had problems with. 

“It wasn’t as professional as it should have been,” Nehl said. 

Holtz said he reviewed the dashcam footage with Watkins, who received a verbal reprimand for the stop. Nehl and Holtz said they took issue with the way that Watkins interacted with Roberts’s wife, who he yelled at to go back inside or she’d be arrested. 

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“We could have interacted with her in a different way,” Holtz said. 

“I didn’t like the tone,” Nehl agreed. 

Both officers chalked up the way the stop went to the deputy’s inexperience. Both said they did not think they would have called for backup and would have handed out the citation in a matter of minutes, avoiding the eight minutes it took for the backup officers to arrive and the traffic stop to fully begin.

After reviewing the video, Holtz said Watkins asked if the citations he gave Roberts — for speeding and failing to provide insurance — could be changed to warnings, which they were. 

Nehl said he met with the linebacker and his attorney and apologized for the stop.

The sheriff issued another apology to the New England Patriot during the press conference. 

“I apologize for the way you were treated and maybe the way you felt at that point in time,” the sheriff said. “I mean I don’t know truly how he felt, but he’s thinking, ‘I’m sitting in this car for eight minutes and nothing is happening.’ He doesn’t at that point in time even know what the deputy is doing in his car. But the deputy then is calling for backup. So that’s a long eight minutes and I’m sure he felt a little uncomfortable. And I’ve apologized to him for that.”

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According to USA TODAY, Roberts and his legal team filed a complaint with the department 10 days after the stop, saying he “felt so harassed I couldn’t even remember where my insurance paper was in my car.”

According to the publication, the internal affairs division of the sheriff’s office wrote in a response that the complaint was not acted on by the department, the matter was closed, and that a supervisor had been instructed to have the deputy involved “go through refresher training” for traffic stops.

“Unfortunately, these types of things are happening all too often to African Americans,” Roberts said in a statement to USA TODAY on Thursday. “People are becoming desensitized to them. Being harassed in your own yard simply because you are a ‘big black man’ should never become the norm. To the person being harassed, it is frightening, disrespectful and embarrassing. 

“I have no interest in any financial gain from releasing this story,” the statement continued. “My only hope is that these types of bias-based traffic stops can end and that, perhaps, other black drivers might see how to deescalate a threatening situation.” 

Nehl said he has “no issue” if Roberts chooses to file a complaint with the district attorney. 

“I think he’s a very professional young man,” the sheriff said. 

Watch the full press conference below: