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Rutherford County Sheriff Responds to DUI Checkpoint Viral Video


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  The confrontation between civil libertarians and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office continued to escalate Thursday.

On the Fourth of July, 21 year-old Murfreesboro resident Chris Kalbaugh recorded his confrontational exchange with a Rutherford County deputy at a DUI traffic checkpoint. Kalbaugh reportedly uploaded the video to Youtube at the behest of Civil Libertarian groups who believe the random DUI checkpoints are a violation of search and seizure rights.

Yesterday, the Rutherford County Sheriff’s office released a press statement saying that it had investigated the incident and concluded its deputy acted appropriately.

The statement went on to reveal that during the stop, a drug sniffing dog detected an illegal substance in Kalbaugh’s car. The Sheriff’s Office says a search of the vehicle turned up what the statement calls “marijuana seeds and “shake” or crumbs,” but Kalbaugh was not detained as a result.

In an interview aired by WSMV-TV this morning, Kalbaugh fires back saying he doesn’t use illegal drugs and believes officers “…knew I actually did not have drugs in my car.” He went on to say he thinks officers are simply trying to justify an illegal search.

The statement from the Sheriff’s Office notes that the department has received hundreds of angry emails and phone calls in response to the video, including a death threat made against Sheriff Robert Arnold’s family.

As of this morning, the Kalbaugh Youtube video has been viewed more than 3.8 million times.

Additional Media:

  • Review the Kalbaugh video here.
  • Review a THP video of the incident here.
  • The full text of the RCSO press statement is copied below.

July 11, 2013

Sheriff Robert Arnold

Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office

Disciplinary action was not expected against a Rutherford County deputy whose traffic stop of a driver at a DUI Checkpoint gained national attention on YouTube last Friday, said Sheriff Robert Arnold.

The investigation showed Deputy A.J. Ross did not violate the civil rights of a driver, said Sheriff Robert Arnold. The driver notified the Sheriff’s Office he did not wish to file a complaint against Deputy Ross.

“He didn’t violate anybody’s rights,” Sheriff Arnold said. “He did his job.”

The sheriff’s comments came after watching an unedited video of the entire traffic stop from a Tennessee Highway Patrol dash camera. The link to the video is http://youtu.be/GHj6PqWiPZc.

The THP dash camera video showed Deputy Ross discussing the traffic stop with the driver.

“I don’t violate people’s civil rights, never have,” Deputy Ross told the driver.

The video posted by the driver on YouTube led to threats against the sheriff’s family, dispatchers and other employees.

“The day my 10-month-old son started walking I received a call demanding A.J. be fired or they will cut my kids’ heads off,” Sheriff Arnold said.

Out-of-state callers to Communications threatened dispatchers and cursed them, tying up 9-11 and other emergency lines throughout the weekend. People came into the Warrants lobby with video cameras demanding comments. Visitors to the Sheriff’s FaceBook page left vulgar messages prompting the staff to suspend the FaceBook page. The sheriff’s office, Rutherford County and Murfreesboro Police received several hundred emails.

Lt. Nathan Pagel of the Office of Professional Responsibility received more than 300 calls. Lt. Pagel concluded his investigation today.

The incident began when Deputy Ross was participating in a DUI Checkpoint July 4 on Rutherford Boulevard and a driver refused to roll down his window. The driver videotaped the checkpoint and in the YouTube video stated his rights were violated. The video touched off response from viewers all over the world.

Sheriff Arnold and Lt. Pagel, along with supervisors and the Training Unit, reviewed the YouTube video posted by the driver showing Deputy Ross raised his voice.

Deputy Ross raised his voice to get the attention of a driver who raised reasonable suspicion and asked him to pull over, the sheriff said. Deputy Mike Hoekstra and his K-9, Balu, walked around the driver’s vehicle for the odor of drugs. The dog alerted to the driver’s door, prompting Deputy Ross to search the vehicle and find marijuana seeds and “shake” or crumbs.

“It was a legitimate hit,” Sheriff Arnold said, adding Deputy Ross chose not to charge the driver due to the small amount of seeds found.

In reviewing the video, Sheriff Arnold explained Deputy Ross asked the driver to roll down his window to check for signs of drinking. The deputy asked the driver to pull over to he could interview him.

Attorney David Raybin, who helped revise Tennessee criminal law, reviewed the videotape. In his blog at http://www.hollinslegal.com/2013/07/08/dui-checkpoints-legal/, Raybin stated, “I do not see that this officer was excessive in his contact with our YouTube citizen here.”

In his report, Lt. Pagel stated, “I can find no evidence of violations of any state or federal law, rights violations or violations of the RCSO Standard Operating Procedure.”

Sheriff Arnold said Sheriff’s Office employees try to do the best job for Rutherford County citizens and visitors. It was unfortunate the incident affected citizens by tying up the emergency telephone lines when citizens called for help.

The YouTube video posted by the driver caused Deputy Ross to be portrayed as doing something wrong when he did not, the sheriff said.

“The public trust is a very fragile thing we hold in our hands every day,” Sheriff Arnold said. “I have strived to make Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office the utmost professional sheriff’s office in the state of Tennessee by conducting training and education in each and every office.”

Lisa Marchesoni

Public information officer

Rutherford County Sheriff's Office