09/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Indiana State Police Intimidate and Search Gay Rights Activist

Gay rights activist Chris Mason from Driving Equality recently did a stretch of road in Indiana and apparently got a dose of Hoosier hospitality homophobia. After getting pulled over for speeding, Mason was let go but was detained again 20 minutes later at a rest area. The activist alleges that Indiana State Police trooper Brandon Lankford targeted him for persecution after the trooper questioned Mason about Driving Equality and gay rights.

After five police cars surrounded the car and Mason asked if they had a warrant, one trooper claimed to be doing an "open air" search of the car with his drug dog. Of course, the dog "got a hit" even though there were no drugs in the van. His van was searched, INStatePolice.jpglots of expensive equipment was damaged, and the activist was detained at the rest area for hours.

Officer Lankford of the Indiana State Police (Badge #7565), a dog, and four other police officers spent the next hour tearing apart the Driving Equality van. They took apart film equipment, my dashboard, the lining of the van, opened the hood, took out the air-filter, and went through every personal item that I own. It was degrading. I sat on the bench and took pictures with my phone. The feeling of helplessness and powerlessness was torture.
Then he told me that he had been hoping I would stop at the rest area so that he could search my van. He had wanted to search the van back when I was stopped, but because the other officer had given me my paperwork back, I was free to go.
I am concerned that I was targeted by Officer Lankford after our conversation about gay rights and the Driving Equality project. His actions are unacceptable. This kind of discrimination is exactly what I devote my life to stopping. I will use this as a learning experience.

Once the troopers were satisfied that Mason had done nothing wrong, he had to go to the closest police station to get paperwork so he could file a claim for the damages troopers caused while doing the search. The trooper who started all of the commotion was unapologetic till the end; in fact, according to Mason, Trooper Lanksford refused to acknowledge that he was wrong in his suspicions of the LGBT activist.

Before I left, I looked him right in the eyes and told him that I was very disappointed in him. I said that we had a good conversation back at the traffic stop and when he asked if I had drugs in the car I told him the truth. When he asked if I had been arrested before, I told him the truth. But he decided to have me tailed for 20 minutes, and then jumped on the van when I pulled over at a rest stop. He then searched my vehicle for an hour, pulling apart the van. He even broke my dashboard.

He said that it was "his training" that taught him to look for signs when talking to a suspect. He said that something signaled him that I was hiding something. I asked him what it was that I did that signaled him. He said that he couldn't tell me. I asked him how he felt about being wrong, and his dog being wrong. I asked him to apologize. I looked him right in the eye and told him that I was disappointed and that he needed to be more careful. He didn't look at me. He said that he wasn't wrong and didn't do anything wrong.

Mason has not filed an ethics complaint against Trooper Lanksford, but is in the process of filling out the paperwork currently. The daily schedule for the Equality Drive forced him to continue the tour without stopping.

The Indiana State Police's Internal Affairs office has been notified of the situation, but confirmed that nothing official has been filed with the department yet.


(Photos courtesy of the Driving Equality website)

(Crossposted from my home blog, Bilerico Project. Come visit me there to see why both the Washington Post and the Advocate named us one of the top 10 LGBT political blogs in the nation.)