While stationed in Prince William’s County for training with the Department of State in May of 2020, a bad day was about to get worse for one Army Veteran.
Mohamnad Lee was sleeping in his car in a hotel parking lot when Officer H.A. Stoll approached his vehicle.
What happened next would cost Lee his top-secret security clearance, along with his entire livelihood for over a year, ultimately costing him more than $135,000 in lost wages, his car, and his reputation.
All based on illegally obtained evidence, which would later cause the charges to be dismissed.
Here’s the rest of the story…
Background of Mohamnad Lee’s Charges
Lee had been in Manassas, Virginia, to receive training for a Department of State (DOS) position. An issue occurred at his hotel, and he was not able to book a room. Tired from a day of training, he decided to drive to a different hotel sleep in a nearly empty hotel parking lot.
But Lee’s night was only beginning.
The Reason for the Stop
At a little past midnight, Officer Stoll approached his vehicle in a private parking lot. The reason for the stop? Lee’s car was “parked crookedly.”
After inspecting the scene and seeing Lee was asleep in the driver’s seat. Stoll knocks on Lee’s window. When he rolls it down, she asks him for his license. Shortly after, asking him to step out of the car, Stoll asks Lee if he has any weapons. And then asks to pat him down.
Lee attempts to explain that he had indeed had two beers in his car. But only after having an issue with the hotel and deciding to sleep in the parking lot. At no point had he driven while intoxicated.
Officer Gives Lee a Field Sobriety Test
After Lee is unable to dispel the officer’s suspicions, he is given a field sobriety test. In one, he paces one foot after the other in a straight line perfectly but “fails” after walking the following ten paces backward, rather than turning around, which would be even more difficult, in my opinion.
Next, Stoll asked Lee to hold one foot up for 30 seconds. He does in such a fantastic fashion; you can see one of the two male officers look at the other as if he were impressed.
Regardless, Lee was asked to blow into a breathalyzer, and according to the officer’s report, he blew a point 139. But this number was not captured on camera.
Officer Stoll Searches Lee’s Vehicle
What happened next is subject to scrutiny. While Lee never consented or objected to the officer’s search of the vehicle, she did. And while a limited search. Such as grabbing the two beer bottles visible from the outside of the car, which she did not; may have allowed her initial access to the vehicle. Officer Stoll seemed more concerned about finding evidence of other crimes. For example, looking into Lee’s cigarettes and through his credit cards.
While it may be arguable that Stoll could have grabbed the beer bottles from inside the vehicle, instead, she began an exhaustive search of his car. Seemingly with no reasonable objective in mind. Which later helped Lee in Court.
While it seemed at times that Officer Stoll attempted to trick Lee into consenting with questions like “do you need me to grab anything out of your car?”
Lee never answered but instead asked her other questions. At which point she got annoyed and searched his car anyhow. Perhaps this is a tactic that so often works for Officer Stoll that she didn’t realize she never gained consent to search his vehicle.
The Day of Trial
One and a half years later, on November 12th, 2021, Lee’s day of Trial finally arrives. He flew from Texas to Prince Williams County on the 11th. And was barely able to make it there after being made homeless, having lost his job, and soon after his car.
Luckily for Lee, his Public Defender, Melissa Kucemba of VA Public Defenders, did her homework. Having received the footage of the incident, which resulted in Lee’s arrest, she came prepared to argue on Lee’s behalf.
Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide To Working With A Public Defender
The Prosecution Seeks A Continence
After one and a half years of pending Trial, the Prosecutor asked the Court to issue a continence to have time to prepare, which set Lee’s Attorney on fire. And she admittedly opposed. As a result, the Trial carried onward as scheduled.
But not before the Prosecutor offered Lee a plea bargain for “reckless driving,” which Lee refused.
Lee’s Attorney Tell’s The Judge What Happened
At the Trial, Lee, through his Attorney, explains to the Judge what happened. That Lee was sleeping in his car to make it to his training. That he felt his rights had been violated for a variety of reasons.
Finally, she filed a Motion to Suppress “unlawfully” obtained evidence—a point which was not rebutted by the Prosecution.
The Judge Dismisses the Charges
Eventually, the Judge says that he has “heard enough” and dismissed the charges. Labeling the charges as nolle prosequi.
Which, as you can imagine, upset Officer Stoll. Who immediately tried to refile them but was denied by the Judge.
DWI While Parked in Virginia
Growing up in North Carolina, on the border of Virginia, I always heard that you could get a DWI/DUI in Virginia for sleeping in a parked car, which is something I never understood. But it’s true. In fact, you can get a DUI for sleeping in your car in any state.
While there may be some logic behind the idea. The idea that a man could be arrested while sleeping in his car on PRIVATE property; simply because he was drinking. Is an idea that should be and should remain foreign to any American. The idea behind a DWI is that you were actually driving and thus endangering the lives of others. Without proof of driving, the idea behind the DUI law quickly shifts from a reasonable assertion to authoritarian control.
With this line of logic, you could be arrested in your own driveway for sleeping in your car after a fight with your spouse. Certainly, Case Law is needed to overturn the idea that one can be arrested for sleeping in their car after drinking; without even an inkling of suspicion that the individual was driving. Note: ‘Driving’ being the operative word.
The Cost of An Unlawful Search?
Ultimately this unlawful search cost Lee everything. While the hotel made no complaints about Lee’s presence, Lee, who had never been arrested before, became a slave to the fruits of a poisonous tree. All for sleeping in his car, on private property, and having less than two beers.
Lee lost his means career in the security field with pending ‘DWI” charges, which led to him being unable to repair his car—leaving him unable to make it to Court—all the while having no place to live.
While the actual costs he has faced may ultimately remain unknown, Lee’s story should spotlight the issues in the justice system. How did an Army Veteran with no criminal history lose everything… Simply because he had to spend ONE night in his car?
For me, Lee’s story highlights the importance of understanding one’s Rights. And knowing what the police are allowed to do and what they aren’t. While this may not have stopped what happened to Lee within the scope of his own experience. A well-informed People would have never allowed a culture of policing to develop that could destroy a man’s life in the blink of an eye without just reason or cause.
You can watch the footage on the YouTube channel D-247 Infantry. Here is the police footage in order:
- Part One: Officer Stoll Approaches Vehicle
- Part Two: Officer Stoll and Lee Talk
- Part Three: Lee Walks the Line
- Part Four: Lee Lifts His Foot (2nd camera)
- Part Five: Breathalyzer and Stoll Searches Lee’s Car
- Part Six: Lee Stands Next To Police Car (Part 1)
- Part Seven: Lee Stands Next to Vehicle (Part 2)
- Part Eight Angles of Search of Vehicle