TOLEDO, Ohio — For many, the idea of being falsely accused of a crime is a nightmare. But for some people in marginalized communities, that fear can be even worse.
Rob Shaffer, a transgender man from Defiance, experienced that nightmare when he was charged with drunken-driving in 2021
"I was door dashing that night because it was Christmas break," Shaffer said. "I'm a big Miami Dolphins fan. And they were playing Monday night so I wanted to catch the second half."
Shaffer was making his last Door Dash delivery of the night on Dec. 27, 2021, taking an order from McDonalds to an apartment complex in Defiance, when he realized he was being pulled over by police.
"I didn't know what I was doing wrong," Shaffer said.
Defiance Police Officer Whitney Schalk's body cam-video shows the explanation she gave to Rob.
On the video, Officer Schalk can be heard telling Shaffer, "So the reason I stopped you is because we had a complaint that you were driving all over the roadway, that you were going left of center a couple of times."
Shaffer replied that he was just delivering for Door Dash and the officer had the wrong person.
"We were given your vehicle description, a black Ford Edge, as well as the plate," the officer told Shaffer.
A false witness
The officer never told Shaffer during the stop that she saw him do anything wrong, but continued to cite the caller who alerted police as the reason she pulled him over.
She said the person told police that Shaffer had crossed the center line while driving several times and she asked if he had had anything to drink. Shaffer said he had not.
Shaffer said he became increasingly upset when it became clear he was suspected of drinking and driving.
"I was getting agitated because I don't drink or do drugs," he said. "I never have."
Officer Schalk administered a field-sobriety test and told him she wanted to look at his eyes to determine if he had been drinking.
"I'm gonna look at your eyes if you're okay with that," she said. "It's just gonna show me if there's any alcohol in your system or anything, OK?"
Shaffer was arrested and taken to the Defiance Police Department for a urine test, where he says he also was strapped to a chair.
During that time, he says two officers made derogatory remarks about his gender.
"I heard another male officer say you know they're going to have fun with him tonight at CCNO because I'm the closest thing to a woman some of them had ever seen," Shaffer said.
Shaffer said he lost his jobs at Door Dash and as a Paulding school bus driver because of the OVI charge. He thought about suicide and even made the decision to move to Toledo, but couldn't secure an apartment, again, because of the OVI charge on his background check.
The local newspaper reported his arrest and the case was on its way to court. Four grueling months later Shaffer finally received the results of his urinalysis, which showed no alcohol or drugs were in his system that night.
Authorities dropped the charges against Shaffer, but he'd already lost his reputation, his jobs, and his will to live.
"Basically, (they said) 'sorry we got it wrong. We messed up your life, but sorry we got it wrong,'" he said.
Not only did they get it wrong, but Shaffer believes he was targeted because he's transgender. He filed citizen complaints against Officer Schalk and the other responding officer, Zachary Higgins, as well as prosecutor Troy Essex.
Concerns about conduct
11 Investigates requested the personnel file for Officer Schalk. In two reviews, she received "very good" and "satisfactory" marks in various categories. However, in December, 2020, her reviewer noted under "Areas that need improvement: Confidence and knowledge when conducting standard field sobriety tests during an OVI arrest.
We asked a defense attorney about the stop. He points to a problem when Officer Schalk gave Rob that sobriety test by checking his eyes.
"That's not necessarily an indication of criminal activity, or simply having red eyes," he said "You need more."
In addition, WTOL 11 asked for a list of all OVI arrests in Defiance between February and July. The results show that nine officers made 24 arrests.
But, records also show Officer Schalk made no OVI arrests during that time. The city attorney provided no response when asked why.
There also are concerns about the reliability of the person who called 911 that night in December. When asked if the person who made the call should be charged for falsely reporting a drunken driver, the city attorney said only that he would not recommend making a false call.
WTOL also asked the city attorney about the traffic stop and the behavior of the officers.
"The city handles allegations by the public against public employees with the utmost concern," he said. "The Defiance Police Department and the City Law Department performed a thorough investigation into these allegations. The investigation found the allegations against city personnel to be unsubstantiated and unfounded."
WTOL 11 also contacted the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which took four months to process Shaffer's urinalysis. A spokesperson said the processing times have improved since Shaffer's arrest with the hiring of two new chemists.
The patrol's crime lab now analyzes urine samples within 36 days and blood-drug samples within 60 days, a patrol spokesman said.
Attorney Mark Davis said he believes that analysis takes too long.
"In today's day and age when we have modern science and smart phones and better technology, they ought to be able to turn that around much faster because of the damage, the incredible damage it can cause to an innocent person," Davis said.
What to do if you get pulled over
If you get pulled over, Davis recommends turning on the lights on in your car, opening the windows and putting your hands at 10-and-2 position on the steering wheel so officers know you're not up to anything. Be polite and cooperative, he said.
You're not required to consent to a search or field sobriety tests, all of which could be evidence used against you, he said. You're also not required to submit to a Breathalyzer, but if you know you haven't been drinking, taking one could be in your favor.
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