Mike Sanford of the Halifax Regional Police was caught in a lie when he said pro boxer, North Preston’s Kirk Johnson, had no proof of car insurance in that now-infamous traffic stop on April 12, 1998 outside of a Smitty’s restaurant in Dartmouth.
Johnson recently recounted the events the night of the traffic stop — and the five-year legal battle that followed — in a webinar hosted by the advocacy group Equity Watch. The webinar was moderated by steering committee member Judy Haiven.
On December 22, 2003 — and after going against his lawyer’s advice to take a settlement — Johnson won a lawsuit against the Halifax Regional Police. The department was ordered to pay Johnson $10,000 in damages as well as an additional $4,790 to cover Johnson’s travel expenses. They were also ordered to set up an annual scholarship in Johnson’s name for students from North Preston.
“I said I don’t wanna shut my mouth up,” Johnson said. “I said in order for me to help my peers, to help people that been racially profiled while driving, this has to be out there and everybody has to know about it. So, that’s what I did, I turned [the settlement] down.”
Johnson was 25-years-old and 10 days removed from having advanced to a 24-0 pro record, with a TKO victory that sent his opponent, Rocky Pepeli, into retirement.
Johnson said a number of his relatives driving by on Highway 111 recognized his car from its shiny rims. He said those relatives pulled over, purposefully at a reasonable distance, in order to observe and witness the interaction between Johnson and Sanford .
“We pulled in there because there was a lot of people there, and I … didn’t want to pull in where there was nobody, or pull in off the road. So we pulled in a public spot,” Johnson said.
“The officer was walking back and forth, and ignoring me. He said I had no registration, he said I had no insurance. I said ‘Well, here’s my registration. Here’s my insurance.’ I took my insurance to him and he wouldn’t accept it.”
Johnson was a resident of Texas at the time and was in town visiting his parents for Easter. He says Sanford tried to use that to dispute the legitimacy of his insurance papers.
“Every cop out there read my insurance and said, ‘No, it’s not expired. It should be good.’ And I said, ‘Well, you gotta do something about it because this man is gonna take my car for no reason.”
Johnson said that of 16 police cars patrolling that night, 13 of them showed up to Smitty’s to back up Sanford. Despite his pleas, Johnson said the other police told him they couldn’t intervene because they weren’t the “arresting officer.”
“And I said, ‘The arresting officer? Who’s getting arrested?’ I said, ‘There is nothing that I did tonight … to get arrested.”
After two and a half hours, Johnson’s car was seized by the police.
Two and a half years later
Two and a half years later, after filing a complaint, Johnson and Sanford met again, face-to-face, at Johnson’s lawyer’s office, along with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and a lawyer for the city of Halifax.
“’Kirk did not have his insurance on him that particular night,’” Johnson recalls Sanford stating, at the meeting.
“My lawyer said, ‘Are you sure he didn’t have any insurance on him?’ He said, ‘I’m a hundred percent sure. A thousand percent sure. If he had his insurance on him, I would have never took his car.’”
Johnson said his lawyer then showed Sanford two separate photocopies.
The first was a photocopy of Johnson’s insurance that was, in fact, valid on the night of April 12, 1998. He said Sanford, again, lied and claimed he didn’t have it on him that night.
The second was a photocopy of Sanford’s own signature and badge number. Sanford acknowledged writing it down for Johnson upon his request at the traffic stop.
Goldberg then pulled out a third piece of paper. It was the original copy of Johnson’s insurance registration.
“And Sanford read it, looked at it and said: ‘No, I’m a hundred percent sure Kirk did not have this insurance card there that night.’”
“My lawyer told him to flip it. And when he flipped it, he realized that his original badge number and signature was on the back of my insurance card.”
Johnson said at the traffic stop, he figured Sanford might try to impound the car, lie, and say Johnson didn’t have his insurance papers on him to justify it. And so, in the heat of the moment, Johnson said he had the wherewithal to fold his insurance papers and ask Sanford to sign the back of it.
“I said, ‘Well, I need your badge number and your full name.’ He was trying to tell me his name and tell me his badge number, I said ‘No no no. … Because you’re so brave to stop me, why don’t you be brave enough to write your badge number down, and write your full name down if you’re not afraid.”
In the meeting, after it was revealed that Sanford, in fact, signed the actual documentation he tried to deny Johnson had on him, the city called for a recess.
When they returned, Johnson said the city offered him a settlement, but one that would require Johnson to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Johnson refused to sign.
“I said I’m not rich but I do make very, very good money. I said, ‘I don’t need it.’ I said this does not help minorities that need help,” he said
“So what I did, I declined. I said, ‘That little bit of money you can take it, and I’ll see you guys in court.”
Following Johnson’s presentation, the webinar also heard a presentation from Examiner contributor El Jones who spoke on a range of issues, including an update on an upcoming report on defunding the police.
This past summer, a Black Halifax Regional Police officer, Dean Simmonds, and his wife, Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds, said they were racially profiled by RCMP at a gunpoint traffic stop outside of North Preston where they live. A complaint into that incident remains under investigation.
“The interaction with RCMP police officers provides yet another example of the way Black people continue to be subjected to inhumane treatment and are regarded as dangerous, dishonest, guilty, criminals,” Angela Simmonds said in a joint statement after that traffic stop.
Jeremie Landry, who was acting chief officer of Halifax-district RCMP at the time, has since been discovered to have leaked classified alleged details of the incident.
The webinar also took place as Kayla Borden is set to have her appeal heard by the Nova Scotia Police Review Board over a complaint of racial profiling by the Halifax Regional Police at a traffic stop last summer in Dartmouth. That hearing is scheduled to run from December 13 to 17 at the Best Western on Spectacle Lake Road in Dartmouth. A rally is scheduled for outside the hotel in Burnside where the hearing will take place.
In that incident, Borden, a Black woman, said she was followed, pulled over, physically pulled from her car, and swarmed by over half a dozen police officers, and placed under arrest. A short time later, Borden was released on at the scene and said she was told they were looking for a white man in a different model and colour vehicle.
Halifax Police Chief Dan Kinsella will testify at that hearing. On Tuesday, the Police Review Board quashed a subpoena to have Insp. Derrick Boyd, the officer in charge of professional standards, from testifying before the Police Review Board about the incident.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help Borden with legal expenses, as she and her lawyer, like Kirk Johnson, have also expressed interest in suing the Halifax Regional Police.
To view the December 2003 decision into Johnson’s complaint against Mike Sanford and the Halifax Regional Police, click here.
To watch the webinar ‘The Kirk Johnson Case: 17 Years On – What, if anything, has really changed?‘, click here.