COLLINSVILLE — Terrance Huff may wish he could have teleported himself home from St. Louis to Hamilton, Ohio.
But that didn't happen.
Instead, he and a companion traveled on Interstate 55-70 through Collinsville early on a Sunday morning. That's where police officer Michael Reichert stopped Huff's PT Cruiser.
The 53 minutes they spent together on the side of the road resulted in a video with almost 400,000 hits on YouTube and a federal civil rights lawsuit against Reichert and the city of Collinsville.
It was Huff's birthday weekend. He decided to celebrate it with a journey to see a Star Trek exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center. Huff and his friend, Jon Seaton, were headed home. They had just stopped for coffee and breakfast, then got on the road.
Reichert was parked along a stretch of interstate looking for traffic violators and drug smugglers.
On Dec. 4, 2010, around 8 a.m., Reichert and Huff's trajectories collided.
Reichert pulled behind Huff, then hit his lights to pull him over. Reichert's in-dash camera began recording.
Reichert approached the passenger side of Huff's car and spoke to Seaton. On the police video -- which Huff and the News-Democrat both obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request -- Reichert tells him that he pulled him over because he crossed "halfway over" into the other lane in front of a tractor-trailer, then went back into his own lane.
Reichert asked Seaton if he noticed.
"I don't know. I was eating," he says.
Reichert then asks Huff to get out of the car. Huff walks to the front of the squad car and looks directly into the camera.
Reichert reiterates the traffic infraction.
"I fumbled my drink a little. It doesn't have a lid. The cup collapsed," Huff said. "That might have been it."
Reichert asked whether Huff may have a warrant or if he'd ever been arrested.
"No," Huff replied, then adds, "I was arrested, but it was a long, long time ago -- 20 years."
Reichert returns to his car to run Huff's criminal background through the computer. A few minutes later, a voice come through the radio.
"Positive history through Ohio and California," the dispatcher said.
Huff did have an arrest for menacing in Ohio in connection with a traffic stop in his hometown in 2006. He also had an arrest for cultivation of marijuana in Sacramento, Calif., in 2001.
Reichert called for back up, then cursed.
Minutes later, with another officer present, Reichert gets out of his car and hands Huff, who is still standing outside, a warning for the traffic violation.
But their time together didn't end there.
Reichert asked to search Huff's car. Huff says "no."
"I want to go on my way," he tells Reichert.
Reichert tells Huff that, without his consent, he will bring in his canine to sniff the outside of the car and if the dog detects the scent of drugs, he would have probable cause to search the vehicle.
"You pulled me over for swerving and I know that I didn't swerve. I think I am being profiled here. ... Do I look like a drug user to you?" Huff said to Reichert. "If I am free to go, can I go?"
Reichert told Huff he could go, but he couldn't take the car.
Southern Illinois University law professor Bill Schroeder disagreed that Reichert could hold the car in this instance.
"The stop was over. He handed him the warning," Schroeder said. "To hold him longer is excessive."
Collinsville Police Chief Scott Williams disagreed.
"I've looked at the video and I didn't see anything wrong in that stop. Nothing. We have the authority to do everything that Reichert did in that stop," Williams said. "I have to look myself in the face every day and I want to make sure that we do this right. Who would not? I would fire him if I knew that he did that. Why wouldn't I?"
Huff then tells Reichert that he makes documentary films.
"I actually did one on my hometown Police Department," Huff said.
Reichert asked Huff whether there were drugs in his car.
"To the best of my knowledge, there are no drugs in my car," Huff responds.
Reichert then confronted Huff with his criminal record.
"I have an arrest, not a conviction." Huff replied.
Huff actually pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge, according to Shelly Orio, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office, but in exchange for that guilty plea and completing some conditions, the charges were dismissed.
During an interview, Huff said he didn't know that he had to plead guilty to get the deal.
"If I would have known that I was pleading guilty, I would have never done it," Huff said.
Reichert has had his own conviction, for selling knock-off Oakley sunglasses in a Collinsville convenience store. An Oakley executive was driving through Collinsville, spotted the sunglasses and was told by the clerk that a Collinsville cop put them in the store. The executive then called in federal investigators. Reichert was convicted of the federal misdemeanor in 2005.
The Collinsville cop had a federal judge call his testimony into question after another drug stop 10 years ago on the same stretch of Interstate 55-70. Reichert stopped a white Toyota driven by Amad Shoejaei Zambrana in April 2002. Zambrana and his passenger, Babar Shah, were charged with trafficking after a police dog found cocaine and heroin in their car.
U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan found Reichert had probable cause to stop Zambrana, but did not have cause to search his vehicle. The charges were tossed, but prosecutors appealed. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Reagan, who once again threw out the charges.
After the misdemeanor conviction and Reagan's statements that he found Reichert's testimony was "rehearsed, coached and robotic," St. Clair and Madison County prosecutors said they would no longer call Reichert as a witness in drug cases.
But there has been a change of heart by prosecutors, Williams said. "He's testified in cases since then," the chief said.
So Reichert returned to the road and drug interdiction duty on Interstate 55-70, where he met Huff, the Star Trek fan, filmmaker and actor, on that December morning.
Reichert asked again to search the car, saying that Seaton seemed nervous when he approached the car.
"I am not going to give you consent to search my car," Huff said.
Reichert took his dog, Macho, out of the police cruiser, on a lead, telling him to "find it." Macho sniffed the car. He sniffed the grass. He jumped up on Reichert.
"That dog wasn't working worth a (expletive)," said Mike Bullock, who has trained more than 600 canine dogs in his career, after viewing the video. "He isn't staying with the scent. There's no pattern."
Brian Dowdy, the Belleville police officer who trained Macho and Reichert, had a different comment. "He can say what he wants. I have no doubt about this dog's abilities."
It isn't uncommon for a dog to come off the car to follow the scent, Dowdy said.
At the front of the PT Cruiser, outside the view of the in-dash camera, Macho barks twice, then Reichert began to praise the dog. Reichert said the dog alerted to a drug scent by sitting and scratching.
Dogs are usually trained to scratch or sit, not both, Bullock said. Dowdy said he trains his dogs to do both.
Reichert puts Macho back in the police car, then returned to Huff, asking whether anyone smoked marijuana in the car.
Huff told Reichert that this business partner smoked a lot of marijuana, but not in the car.
Reichert searched the car. Zippers are unzipped and zipped. The glove compartment is opened and closed.
After a few minutes, Reichert returned to Huff again, telling him there's marijuana "shake" or loose leaves, seeds and stems, in the car under the seats, but Reichert told him he was going to let him go.
As Huff and Seaton drive away, Reichert sat in his police car and said, "There was marijuana shake all over that car, but I couldn't find anything else."
Huff went back to Ohio. After obtaining a copy of the video taken from Reichert's in-dash camera, he edited it, added commentary, graphics and a soundtrack from "Star Trek." He titled it "Breakfast in Collinsville (with Mike Reichert)."
The video has wracked up nearly half a million hits. It was featured on the Internet news service The Huffington Post. Earlier this month, Huff filed his federal lawsuit, claiming his civil rights were violated and that he was illegally detained.
Williams, the Collinsville police chief, said he found it interesting what Huff did as opposed to what he didn't do.
"He was so concerned about police violating his civil rights, yet he never called the FBI, the Illinois State Police the Department of Justice or the U.S. attorney. If that were true, Reichert could have been charged with misconduct. None of them have any problem prosecuting bad cops." Williams said. "He didn't call anyone. He went home and he made a video."
Williams said he asked Maj. David Roth to look at the videos of all of Reichert's and Macho's stops. Roth's audit of 63 traffic stops found 20 consent searches, five canine searches, two canine searches with no alert and no search, five arrests and no false alerts.
The dog trainers all agreed that dogs can be trained to false alert, but Williams said that, based on the audit, there was no evidence that the dog has been trained to falsely alert.
In the video, "We have been called the most corrupt Police Department in the country. If that were true, we must be the dumbest corrupt Police Department in the country because not only did we tape the whole thing, we released it to the guy who's rights we supposedly violated so he could use it to sue us," Williams said.
Huff contended he made the video to let people know what was going on in Collinsville.
"It's a racket on the side of the highway. I just wanted to shine some sunlight to disinfect this situation," Huff said. "We are a country that lives under the Bill of Rights. If we all have to follow the letter of the law, why shouldn't he?"
The most interesting moments aren't on the video, Huff and Williams both agree.
The video doesn't show the traffic violation that led to the stop, and it doesn't show the dog's behavior when Reichert contends it alerted.
It will be up to a judge to decide who is telling the truth, or in the words of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."
May the winner of the suit "live long and prosper."
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2570.