On April 11, a St. Paul police officer pulled over 27-year-old Franchize McWright for a cracked windshield. He climbed out of the squad, went up to the driver’s side window to ask for his license and proof of insurance, and was immediately accused of pulling a gun on him.
The cop, identified only as an Officer Finnegan, stated the obvious: he was not pointing a gun. McWright handed over his license and his cell phone – which had a picture of his insurance on it – which Finnegan took back to his squad to verify.
That’s when McWright poked his head out of the window and accused Finnegan of stealing his phone, according to the criminal complaint later filed against him. Finnegan assured McWright that he just needed to look up his insurance and that he’d get the phone back soon. McWright kept yelling out the window, accusing Finnegan of illegally searching through the phone.
Finnegan soon returned to McWright’s side to give him a ticket for the cracked windshield when McWright again accused the officer of pointing his gun at him, the complaint says. McWright complained of feeling threatened. He said he feared for his life, and that the traffic stop was giving him PTSD. He asked to see a medic as well as Finnegan’s supervisor.
Finnegan called for an ambulance and Sgt. Stephen Lentsch. While McWright got checked out by medics, Finnegan snapped some pictures of the windshield. McWright yelled out, allegedly accusing Finnegan of illegally searching through his car and stealing things from it. The sergeant tried to calm him down, explaining that Finnegan was only taking pictures of the cracked windshield to support the citation.
Later that same day, McWright filed an official complaint with the St. Paul Police Department, accusing Finnegan of pulling a gun, stealing and searching his cell phone, and searching his car. He demanded that Finnegan be disarmed and suspended.
Unfortunately for McWright, there was dash cam footage of the entire stop. It showed that Finnegan never drew his gun from its holster, that he never made a single threat, and that he never entered McWright’s car while photographing the windshield.
St. Paul Police then pressed charges against McWright for knowingly making false accusations against a cop, a gross misdemeanor.
City attorney Samuel Clark says cases like this are extremely rare. His office hasn’t seen one like it in at least a couple years.
That’s probably because in-car cameras almost always capture what happens during traffic stops, and most people would hesitate to outright lie about something that could be easily disproven by hitting the playback button.
"There are differing opinions about police interactions all the time, but this one stood out when the in car camera showed the exact opposite encounter and completely exonerated the officers of any wrong doing," says St. Paul Police spokesman Mike Ernster.