Midway City Councilman Dr. Stanley Brown Sr. said during a hearing Thursday that his recent speeding citation is retaliation for speaking up about what he says are problems with the city’s Police Department.
Police Chief Kelli Morningstar and the officer who issued Brown’s speeding ticket dispute those claims.
A court hearing concerning Brown’s speeding ticket was held Thursday evening at the Midway City Hall/Police Station.
Midway Municipal Court Judge Craig Stafford recused himself from presiding over the hearing. Stafford asked Billy Tomlinson, a municipal court judge for Port Wentworth, Pooler and Garden City, to preside instead.
Tomlinson asked Lyon Jemison, a sworn prosecutor and solicitor general for Garden City, to serve as the special prosecutor at the hearing.
Midway police Officer Matthew Ainsworth pulled over Brown for driving 60 mph in a 45-mph zone. During the hearing, Brown pleaded guilty to the speeding charge and wanted to explain. Brown said he has no problem admitting to speeding, but he thinks it was retaliation. Before he got the ticket, the City Council discussed a situation with an officer who, Brown said, was showing favoritism to other officers and their family members.
“Not because I’m a councilman do I think I should get out of it, but the fact that if they’re giving courtesy to other officers and their family members … and if it had been the mayor of the city, they would not have given me the citation,” Brown said.
Brown mentioned having an encounter with Ainsworth on Highway 17 before he joined City Council. He said it didn’t lead to anything, and he didn’t write a statement about the event.
“Because I’m on the council and because I speak out, I think that it’s wrong — like it’s retaliation, I guess, to embarrass me,” Brown said. “People elected me, and I’m just like everybody else. I feel that I can do a better job than anyone else that is up there (on the council). And I’m going to do that job, and I’m going to continue to do that job. But because I speak out and don’t turn my head, I think this is why this situation has occurred.”
Tomlinson accepted Brown’s guilty plea. The judge said he understands Brown’s explanation, but that it doesn’t change that he was caught speeding.
“If you had not been caught speeding, we wouldn’t be here, regardless of any interaction, politics or what may or may not be going on,” Tomlinson said. “I’m not going to speak on that. I think that is the whole reason they asked me to come, because I am unbiased in this matter.”
Because Brown admitted to speeding, his citation was reduced from driving 60 mph to 59 mph in a 45-mph zone. Tomlinson said he offers that to all who take responsibility for their actions. He said the ticket should not affect his insurance and will not add any points to his license. Tomlinson’s reduction of the charge cut the fine in half, to $95.
Brown made a statement to a reporter after the hearing and paying his fine.
“Here in the city of Midway, we do have some problems with our police department,” he said. “As a councilor in the city, I’m committed to doing the work that I was elected to do, and I’m going to continue that work. Every time something happens, there’s always certain officers’ names that come up. There are several complaints about the officers’ attitudes, how they handle citizens in this community.
“There are several complaints about our officers being at the school,” Brown continued. “Don’t get me wrong, we need officers at the school, but when you sit there in the school zone and you give tickets out to the teachers, and you go there and sit among them, it’s like an intimidation moment for them.
“As I counsel them (officers) and come to them with the problem, they feel that I’m the bad person. Being the new council member on the bench, I noticed that they have always had their way, and nobody ever said anything to them. Since I’m here and speaking out, I’m the bad guy.”
Brown added that people who are stopped by officers should record the stop if possible, respect officers and, if there is a problem, contact him.
Midway Police Chief Kelli Morningstar responded in an interview to Brown’s allegations of officers showing favoritism. She said that isn’t true and that Brown has been saying that for several months.
When asked about people feeling intimidated by officers, Morningstar said, “That’s not true. The citizens love us. It’s an ongoing thing with (Brown) and his perception of the department. When we do something right, we still get chastised. It’s only going to get worse.”
Ainsworth issued a written statement after the court hearing.
“Upon being hired by the city of Midway, I was instructed to enforce all state laws and city ordinances equally and impartially and that no one, to include City Council members, were to be afforded special privileges,” he wrote. “I personally hold myself accountable to maintain those standards of impartiality and fairness. I made contact with Councilman Brown that evening for traveling at 60 mph in a posted 45 mph speed zone and cited him accordingly, just like I have to numerous other citizens that are not in a position of political power or authority.”