Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland (center) held a press conference on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, to call on the Police Department to address excessive use of force against minorities. Copeland shared images of injuries he said he suffered after he was pulled from his vehicle and handcuffed following a May 24 traffic collision. (Kristal Dixon / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Kristal Dixon / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Kristal Dixon / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

OPINION: Dangerously dumb how this councilman copped an attitude

Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland was ordered to undergo an evaluation for anger issues last month after a fender bender led to his arrest.

Instead, the tests should have tried to determine if he has a clue. Because the video of his interactions with Marietta’s police in May indicate he doesn’t.

Copeland last month offered up an Alford plea on a count of disorderly conduct after he acted, as one cop put it, like a child in disregarding numerous requests to show his driver’s license. He also had been charged with three counts of misdemeanor obstruction, but those went away with his plea.

An “Alford” is a negotiated plea in which a defendant essentially says, “I still think I’m innocent, but ya got me.” It was the best outcome because this mess needed to go no further in court. It should have just drifted away into the mist of dumb actions that deserve to be forgotten.

But, no. Last week, after a damning video of him acting a fool was released, Copeland, who is a pastor, held a press conference to say the cops’ “hostility and disrespect” caused him “to be fearful as a black African American man for my life.”

Copeland has used race before as a cudgel during his two tumultuous years on the Marietta City Council. He employed it a couple of years ago when a city employee accused him of yelling at her and making her feel threatened.

During Copeland’s press conference Wednesday, he said viewing the full police video would show him to be the victim.

So, I viewed (several times) the full 14-minute body cam of Officer Ryan Lukaszewicz, the cop dealing with Copeland on the scene of the accident in May. And it’s pretty clear that Copeland repeatedly disregarded the officer’s request for his driver’s license.

In fact, Copeland acted as if the cop didn’t exist. The really strange thing is Copeland wasn’t originally in the wrong here. A 19-year-old woman making a U-turn bumped into his truck.

In fact, 10 minutes before he was ‘cuffed, the cop told another, “I’m gonna cut him loose in a second here.”

All Copeland had to do was show the cop his driver’s license, which he never did that day. Lukaszewicz asked him seven times, which were met with long periods of silence as Copeland ignored him.

I don’t know what was in Copeland’s mind that day other than the supposed fear he talked about in the press conference. I called and texted him several times without response.

Part of Copeland’s dissatisfaction is probably because the cop started out telling him to move his pickup truck from the road because the two vehicles were blocking both southbound lands. When Copeland said his pickup truck wouldn’t start, the cop told him, “Just put it in neutral and roll it. Let’s go.”

But the cop didn’t say, “Please.”

It turns out Copeland’s vehicle couldn’t shift to neutral, so the cop said he’d call a tow truck.

Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland points out to police officers where another vehicle was turning when it hit his pickup truck. (From Marietta police video)
Photo: Marietta police video

What seemed to turn Copeland sour was that Lukaszewicz asked if he really wanted to report an accident, saying, “It’ll be on your Carfax and all that.”

One could view that two ways: (1) the cop didn’t want to bother with writing up a report. Or (2) he was warning a motorist involved in a very minor collision that an accident report could impact his vehicle’s resale value.

Whatever, Copeland further seemed to get an attitude when he asked if the other driver would be ticketed. “Maybe,” the officer said.

“Maybe?” Copeland responded incredulously, no doubt thinking, “She hit me!”

Lukaszewicz noted he hadn’t gotten the other driver’s story yet.

He asks the councilman, for the third time, for his license. Twenty seconds of silence follows.

“Can you get your driver’s license?” said the cop, more insistent. “Like now, please. Like right now.”

A couple of seconds roll by and the cop grabs the door and starts closing it. “OK. Forget about it, you need a wrecker,” he said.

Copeland pushes the door back out. “Don’t smash my foot up in the door, man,” he says.

Copeland is now on his cell calling 911, identifying himself as a City Council member and asking for a watch commander, meaning he had been calling 911 rather than getting his driver’s license. After all, he is a councilman.

He tells the 911 operator that his back hurts. (A year earlier, in 2018, he sued Cobb County for $23,400 over an accident that occurred in 2016, when a county truck sideswiped his vehicle and injured him. The suit was later dismissed, court records show.)

The incident in May degenerates further as Copeland talks with 911. “Sir, let them know you’re out with the cops and you’re wasting 911’s time right now,” the officer says.

At about 9 minutes into the video, Copeland cranks up his pickup and moves it to a parking lot. The cop knocks on his closed window. “Hello, hello, are you going to keep ignoring me, I’m trying to finish it.”

Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland talks with a 911 operator as police at the accident scene ask for his driver’s license. (From Marietta police video)
Photo: Marietta police video

Copeland waits a long time before rolling down his window. He is on the phone with a deputy chief because, well, he’s a councilman.

The commander asks to speak to the cop. He does. Then they ask him to “step out.” Finally, the cop says, “I told you three times to step outta the car.” He was wrong. It was his seventh such request.

Soon, Lukaszewicz and another cop are yanking Copeland out and cuffing him.

“This is terrible,” Copeland says.

“I agree, you’re acting like a child,” the other cop says.

Finally, some brass arrive and tell the cops to release Copeland, who is formally charged a few days later.

Also a few days after the incident, Copeland showed up at a council meeting wearing a sling for his arm and a boot on his foot. It is unknown if he was wearing a back brace because of the collision. The woman in that accident told me she has not been sued. Not yet, that is. Copeland sued the county two years after his 2016 collision.

The cops didn’t want to say much about this because “we’re all part of the same city,” said police spokesman Chuck McPhilamy.

“The body cam is out there for people to see for themselves,” he said. “We’re grateful the city invested in body cameras.”

Body cams help straighten out the formerly unknown in police/citizen interactions. In Gwinnett County, a cop is now on trial because a couple of them thumped a black motorist and got busted by video.

Said McPhilamy, “It’s better for society. That’s what the public wants. To let the truth prevail.”

And for Copeland, it doesn’t look pretty.

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