MOORHEAD, Minn. — A Black Lives Matter leader from Fargo is calling for an investigation into a Moorhead police officer who she claims tried to force his way into her vehicle during a traffic stop this weekend.
Faith Shields-Dixon recounted being pulled over Saturday afternoon, Aug. 15, along Eighth Street South near Concordia College. Officers told her she was going 44 mph in a 30 mph zone, which she denied. She told reporters on Monday she didn't want to argue with officers and that she would have taken the ticket and headed on her way.
One officer, who she identified as Eric Zimmel, prevented that from happening when he started to look inside her vehicle with a flashlight, she said.
"I said, 'You can't search my vehicle. That's against the law. You've no right, you've no warrant, and I do not give you permission to search my vehicle,'" she told reporters.
Shields-Dixon said she then rolled up her window. Zimmel then came up to her door and tried to open it, despite her informing police she did not consent to a search.
"I said, 'What are you doing?' and I started to scream," she said.
A known leader of Black Lives Matter who has advocated for police reform in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Shields-Dixon said she feels she was targeted and harassed by officers. She was wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt during the stop and has a similar sticker on her vehicle.
Shields-Dixon has filed a complaint with the Moorhead Police Department.
"We have received a complaint and are in the early stages of examining the data available," Chief Shannon Monroe said in a statement on Monday.
Monroe said his department planned to publicly release dash camera videos of the traffic stop as the incident was a traffic violation and there is no ongoing criminal investigation.
Additionally, the police department planned to release the video because "the allegations in the complaint against the Moorhead Police Department relate to our relationship with our community," the chief said.
No video had been released as of 6 p.m. Monday.
As police stopped Shields-Dixon, an officer yelled at her over a car speaker to pull over, Shields-Dixon said. She stopped her vehicle between the north and southbound lanes in the portion marked with yellow slanted lines.
"He said pull over to your right side, but there was traffic coming," she said, adding cars were not allowing her to move over as the officer yelled at her.
Zimmel wrote in his report that officers used the car speakers to ask Shields-Dixon to pull over but said it appeared she didn't understand the commands. Shields-Dixon was argumentative and refused to produce documents, he wrote.
After watching Shields-Dixon reach for the passenger side of the front of the vehicle, Zimmel claimed her behavior was unpredictable and, for officer safety, he attempted to open her car door to "obtain a better visual of her movements," a police report said. Zimmel and Officer Kaden Oldham alleged Shields-Dixon was making the stop a racial situation.
In another report, Oldham said Shields-Dixon was "not taking into consideration that officers are people just like everyone else."
"I felt that she judged us based on (the) uniform that we wear as well as the experiences that she has seen through the recent years and media instead of judging us based on our character and professionalism," Oldham said, adding he felt Shields-Dixon "put myself and other officers in an uncomfortable position."
Shields-Dixon said she was not arguing with officers but was trying to search for her insurance and vehicle registration. She was talking to her husband, Charles Dixon, on the phone when Zimmel tried to get into her vehicle, she said. She told him to call Jamaal Abegaz, another Black Lives Matter leader from Fargo, so that they could come to the scene. Then she hung up so she could start recording the traffic stop.
"I am scared," she said Saturday in a livestream on Facebook. "This is ridiculous. I have to stay on my phone. I fear for my life."
Shields-Dixon also claimed the officer unbuttoned the holster cover to his gun. She called Zimmel's claim about trying to open her door for officer safety a lie.
She said she thought the officer was going to drag her out of her vehicle. Her vehicle has a security option that doesn't allow people to open it from the outside without a key when parked, she said.
"Thank God that happened because, if not, I could have been snatched out of my vehicle, and Lord knows what could have happened," she said.
She said she started recording because she didn't know if she was going to be arrested for a traffic stop. Before she was allowed to leave, a total of eight officers had responded to the incident.
The squads arrived despite Zimmel initially advising police not to send additional squad cars, as he didn’t want to escalate the situation, the officer said in his report.
"At no point did officers from the Moorhead PD find anything that necessitated eight police officers arriving," Abegaz said in questioning why so many officers were needed for a traffic stop.
When asked about Oldham's statements, Shields-Dixon said that comes with the territory, and an officer who doesn't know how to de-escalate a situation shouldn't work in law enforcement.
Charles Dixon said it felt like officers wanted to show him and his wife who was in control by showing force.
Bringing in eight officers created more fear, Abegaz said, adding that practice should be reviewed and changed.
"I hope they can do better," Charles Dixon said. "I pray they can do better."
Shields-Dixon received a speeding ticket and citation for having no vehicle insurance. She told The Forum she had insurance, but she didn't retrieve it fast enough for officers.
She plans to meet with the Moorhead Police Department again later this week. She wants a public apology from Zimmel and for the agency to work with Black Lives Matter to implement change to prevent future interactions like hers.
"I wouldn't want anyone else to be put in that predicament," she said. "I would definitely want an investigation done as well as a mark on his record, if not termination, because that behavior is unacceptable for someone who is supposed to be here to protect and serve the community."
Zimmel has been with the Moorhead Police Department for three years. He remains on active duty.