‘There were Nine Armed Officers… If It Wasn’t for the Car’s Cameras, they would have Done Everything and Anything’
Professional sprinter Ricardo Dos Santos recalls his experience of discriminatory policing last year in London. The footage of his stop was broadcast for the first time by Byline TV
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Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched; six times more likely to be stopped while driving; and if restraint is used, seven times more likely to die in custody.
I was stopped with the family in July 2020. We had just finished training, so me and my wife Bianca Williams, also a professional athlete, decided to go out for dinner. It was the day the restaurants had opened after the first lockdown. So we had a nice evening going out to eat. Probably about 10 minutes from home, I pointed out to Bianca that there was a TSG van – the big blue police vans that drive around. When I indicated, the van also flashed me to go and I said to Bianca “there’s something really fishy about this”.
Seconds later, the van turned left into the same road that I turned right into. I decided I’d not done anything wrong, so I decided to keep on going. Our three-month-old baby was in the back seat and I wasn’t going to do anything stupid to endanger his life or anybody else’s.
The van tried to cut in front of me to pull me over. I wasn’t going to stop here in case a car came and hit us. So I continued down a street and a half to where I lived and I stopped outside there, unlocked the car door, and waited.
Within seven seconds of the van pulling up, they had the diamond cutters and batons ready, trying to force the door open and trying to smash the glass. Once I saw the diamond cutters, I decided to open the door. They grabbed me and smashed my chest into a pillar. The first thing they said was that they smelled cannabis on me – which I found very funny because I’ve never smoked in my life. I’m an athlete. We get tested so often. It doesn’t make sense.
That was the reason for the stop – from what I heard of what was written up: drugs and weapons. Right. Two days later, I found out that it was because I was driving on the wrong side of the road and speeding. There was no mention of drugs or weapons or the smell of cannabis.
I decided it was getting too much now. I had a BMW and decided to get a car that doesn’t stand out. So I got a Tesla – more of an older person’s car, and I thought I was never going to get pulled over again, unless I did something stupid. I could just drive. I could chill. The Tesla stops at red lights and it picks up when the light turns green. It picks up to the speed limit. It’s all done through the car and all the driver has to do is stay awake.
One night last August, I had gone to charge the Tesla. As I got back on the A40, I noticed a police car ahead. As I merged into the same lane, I saw that one officer looked into the car and my head was saying “it’s going to be a long night”.
The car turned its lights on and braked in front of me. My car manoeuvred around for safety reasons – it has a feature where it prevents an accident, a forward collision. It was now in my head – what the hell was going on? I missed a turning right because I was still confused as to what was happening. I wanted to stop where I knew the area properly and where it was safe to do so.
I took over the wheel. Every time I changed lanes, I indicated right to allow the police car to know that I wasn’t running away or anything. I was driving at the speed limit.
The car just followed the whole time – at that moment it was only one car, but they had already called in for back-up. I didn’t know that at the time – I just thought there was one vehicle but there were six.
I decided to stop exactly where I had stopped before. I thought they would come to the car and I would explain to them, and if there was something wrong, we would talk it out – and then I’d go about my day and they’d go about theirs. Unfortunately, it didn’t end like that.
One officer was the more aggressive one – he was ready to do whatever. Another took out the baton, because he was going to smash the glass as he thought the car was locked. I talked to the other officer and said “I’m not going to speak to your colleague because he wants to smash the glass and I’ll talk to you”.
Two other police cars came.
The officer tried to open the car door without me knowing. I just stepped out and told this officer that the car was recording data on them. I told him that because I had a very important competition at the end of the week and my priority was making sure I’d be fit and healthy to compete – I didn’t want anything to happen to me because I wanted to be able to compete.
Now there were nine armed police officers.
I called Bianca in Germany to let her know that I’d been stopped. She’s able to log into the car’s cameras remotely. One of the officers was grabbing at me. His colleague came and he winced at the camera and whispered to his colleague that the car was recording. He walked off. I started laughing at him because, if it wasn’t for the cameras, I said these guys would have done everything and anything.
The officer’s colleagues tried talking to me and said “you’ve been using the phone”. I wasn’t on my phone.
What angered me the most is the demeanour of the officers – they went from standing with their arms crossed to leaning on the car and playing with their fingernails, because they knew this was pointless now.
We went back and forth for another 45 minutes. Then we reached a point where they said they would disregard the phone. I said “by disregarding the phone, you’re basically disregarding the whole stop – the reason for the stop was because of the phone”. They’re like “oh, no, no, no, I never said that”. So I said “where do you go from here? If I was on my phone give me the three points”.
Then they’re like “can I have your ID? and I said I didn’t have my wallet. They said I had to carry it with my ID, otherwise they could take me in. I told them that is not the law – the law says that, in the case you are given a ticket, you have seven days to produce a driver’s license to any local police station. That’s when they realised I knew what I was talking about.
Their tone changed and they started asking me about the car’s cameras and how they filmed; and about athletics and how long I’d been doing it. It was only because of the car’s cameras that they changed their tone.
When I was stopped in 2020, those police officers were found guilty of gross misconduct. They are still working for the Metropolitan Police.
The officers who stopped me last year were very aggressive; they were just itching to do something. I do believe the way these officers were acting, someone was going to do something that they were going to regret.
If they had seen a white male driving a Tesla, they would have continued going about their business. There was nothing that flagged the car up as being stolen or with no insurance. I didn’t do anything and I wasn’t with anybody in the car.
The only thing that I can take from this is that it was about the colour of my skin.
Ricardo dos Santos has four cases ongoing against the Metropolitan Police. This is an edited version of his interview with Labour MP Dawn Butler for ‘Byline TV’.