A 22-year-old Black man named Phillip Colbert was stopped by a La Paz, Arizona police officer in September 2019 over an air freshener in his rear-view mirror. Nearly six months later, the officer has been fired, according to the Phoenix New Times.
“On February 19th, Deputy Eli Max was terminated from the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office,” said La Paz Sheriff’s Captain Curt Bagby told the outlet. However, Max is appealing his firing.
Prior to the incident, Colbert was driving down Arizona State Route 95 to meet his father for lunch. While driving, he noticed that a La Paz County Sheriff’s Deputy was following him. The 22-year-old said he drove below the speed limit, but the deputy continued to follow behind him closely for about 10 minutes.
Colbert said he began recording the encounter because he was being followed for so long and had done nothing wrong. In the video footage, which was uploaded to YouTube, the deputy can be heard telling Colbert he was pulled over because of a “small pine tree air freshener dangling from his rear-view mirror,” according to the Phoenix New Times.
The deputy accused the 22-year-old of being “deceptive” and asked him eight times if he smoked marijuana. Each time, Colbert replied no. He has no record of a marijuana arrest and the officer did not state in the video that he smelled the drug.
Colbert was then asked what his father does for a living, and if he had cocaine or heroin on his person. The officer then tried to get Colbert to agree to taking a field sobriety test and allow for his car to be searched.
“I denied any of the sobriety tests,” Colbert said. “I denied him checking the car, because I felt as soon as he checked the car, he was going to try to put something in there.”
Colbert wasn’t arrested, nor did he receive a citation.
Shortly after the incident made local news, a couple came forward accusing that same deputy of being racist.
A couple named Larry and Janet Briggs said that Deputy Eli Max racially profiled them over Labor Day weekend in 2019, according to ABC 15. The officer stopped them for an hour and repeatedly alleged that they were under the influence of alcohol and drugs, despite them testing negative on their field sobriety tests and being unlawfully detained for a dog search.
“I remember his parting words were, ‘I know you’re under the influence of something I just can’t provide it,” Larry Briggs said. “I was like how many times can you be wrong about something in the same day.”
Briggs said he accidentally rolled through a stop sign, which prompted the officer to pull him over.
After Briggs passed a sobriety and breathalyzer test, the officer told him he was calling for police dogs to sniff his vehicle. “He goes ‘we’re going to bring the dog out,’” Briggs said. “And he goes, ‘I guarantee we’re going to find drugs in your car.’ And I’m like is this guy going to put drugs in my car?”
The couple retained the same attorney as Colbert, who later settled his case for $15,000.
Prior to the officer’s termination, he was placed under internal investigation and administrative leave.