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HOW A TRAFFIC STOP TURNED INTO A CASE OF “CELEBRITY BULLYING”

By Colleen MacMillan || On September 3, 2012 at approximately 8:00 p.m. Corporal Mike McClatchy, a road patrol officer for the city of Pickens, S.C. police department, clocked a new-model Ford F-150 traveling at sixty-three miles per hour in a thirty-five miles per hour zone.  According to a detailed recap of this incident – originally posted on Sports247.com (and confirmed to have been authored by McClatchy) – this was no ordinary traffic stop.

After seeing the officer’s lights, “the vehicle continued at a fast pace” into the parking lot of a Bi-Lo supermarket.  Before McClatchy could approach the car, two men exited the vehicle and headed toward the patrol car.  McClatchy immediately recognized one of the men as Dabo Swinney, head coach of the Clemson University football team.

“Typically in that situation I would react in a different way, but being that it was him I didn’t feel threatened by him but I guess I was a little more (lenient) because of knowing who he was,” McClatchy wrote.

Swinney and a man who identified himself as the coach’s brother then approached Corporal McClatchy and explained that the coach was running late for his scheduled radio show at the supermarket.  The two also reportedly made it clear that this just wasn’t a good time for him to receive a speeding ticket.

Told several times to return to their vehicle, Swinney and his brother allegedly refused – and began “socializing and signing autographs for fans” in the Bi-Lo parking lot.  While writing up Swinney’s ticket, McClatchy says he was informed by a store manager that a local city official was on the phone asking to speak with him – presumably to talk him out of writing Swinney a ticket.

To his credit, McClatchy refused to take the phone call and continued to process the citation.

At this point, Swinney’s brother allegedly approached McClatchy’s car and informed him that he was a retired Alabama police officer who served more than three decades on the force.  Swinney’s brother asked if McClatchy would take that fact into consideration.

Pickens, S.C. cops determined that their officer acted appropriately.

After advising the brother that he would do what he could, McClatchy again asked the men to have a seat in the vehicle.

Upon completing his paperwork, McClatchy again requested for Swinney to stop signing autographs.  After separating the coach from the crowd, McClatchy took him to the back of his patrol car and issued him a reduced speeding citation.  Upon handing Swinney the ticket, the officer noticed the coach was visibly upset.

Swinney reportedly gave McClatchy an “unfriendly glare” before storming off.

His brother allegedly took it a step further, though.

“After the traffic stop was complete, but before I turned off my camera, I was again approached by Dabo’s brother who told me he had never been so disappointed in the uniform, that I was a disgrace to the badge and that if he ever saw me on the side of the road needing help I wouldn’t get it from him! As he walked away from my car he stated ‘You will get it one day!’” McClatchy wrote in his testimonial.

Wow … that sounds a lot like a threat, doesn’t it?

Though McClatchy’s body microphone was malfunctioning at the time, his conversation with the Swinneys was recorded on a dashboard video camera mounted in the police car.  FITS has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the “dash cam” recording and any reports related to the incident – although this request has yet to be fulfilled.

We are also interested in a letter allegedly sent from Swinney to the Pickens police department in which the coach accepted the speeding charge but voiced his unhappiness over the outcome of the situation.

“It’s my belief that he thought he would be excused for the violation and continue to his appointment,” Corporal McClatchy wrote in his statement.

Initially posted on the fan site SouthCarolina.247sports.com, McClatchy’s testimonial was mysteriously removed from the outlet’s website shortly after FITS launched its investigation into the incident.  Asked to comment on the matter, Tim Bourret, Clemson University’s sports information director told us, “(Dabo’s) already commented on this. The coach got pulled over, he was going too fast, he was in the wrong. He’s going to pay the ticket. Period.”

“We’ve said all we needed to say,” Bourret added.

As the face of Clemson University’s multi-million dollar football program, Dabo Swinney represents a part of the school’s culture that is deeply rooted in tradition.  Oftentimes the entire morale of the region hinges on whether Dabo and his crew were victorious on Saturday.  In this capacity, any negative statement or media misstep by Swinney is amplified – something the coach really ought to know by now.

People in the spotlight should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.

Coaches, educators, politicians and, for that matter, any publicly influential figures, need to think twice before assuming the law does not apply to them.  Earning, or being handed, a hefty salary and a high-profile public persona, does not entitle anyone in this country to a get out of jail free card.

Pickens City Police Chief Rodney Gregory, after reviewing the car video, advised McClatchy that he did his job and acted professionally. In upholding his legal obligation to public safety and choosing not to cave to Swinney’s celebrity-status intimidation attempts, McClatchy brought a rare bit of positive attention to a widespread problem.

With some public figures  there exists a false sense of entitlement, an irrational belief that when it comes to the watchful eye of the law they are immune to the consequences of their actions.  Whether we’re talking about Lindsay Lohan, Chad Ochocinco or Dabo Swinney – and whether we’re dealing with offenses large or small – we rely on honest brokers like Corporal McClatchy to not only enforce the law but to call out those who demand special treatment in the wake of their lawlessness.

A traffic ticket isn’t a huge deal – although Swinney could have easily been cited for reckless driving and hauled off to jail given that he was traveling nearly 30 miles above the posted speed limit.  What speaks volumes is the childish way in which he and his brother appear to have handled the situation.

Colleen MacMillan is a reporter/ columnist for FITSNews. Reach her at colleen@fitsnews.com.

Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina

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