The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) told Snopes it was aware of viral footage supposedly showing a motorist calling a member of its department "a murderer" and telling him "you'll aways be a Mexican, you'll never be white." However, whether the video captured an authentic moment between a civilian and LASD deputy remained under investigation.
On May 3, 2021, Bill Melugin, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for Fox News, tweeted a video that he said showed a woman berating a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) who had pulled her over in the eastern suburb of San Dimas.
"A Latino LASD deputy sent me his bodycam video of a woman claiming to be a teacher launching into a racist tirade against him," Melugin tweeted. "She repeatedly calls him a murderer."
Though it was unknown where or when the traffic stop supposedly occurred, Melugin's portrayal of the footage in his tweet was mostly factual. The video's audio seemingly depicted a woman making claims about a deputy who had pulled her over on suspicion of distracted driving, including comments she made about his ethnicity.
Snopes could not confirm the authenticity of footage — we could not deny, nor substantiate, whether a motorist and LASD deputy indeed had an interaction like the viral video and Melugin's tweet alleged.
Before we lay out evidence for that conclusion, let us detail what the video in the tweet showed.
The clip opened with audio of a woman's voice claiming she was driving under the speed limit and the body-worn camera (presumably positioned on the deputy's uniform) approaching a white four-door vehicle where she was supposedly seated in the driver's seat.
As the deputy reached her window, viewers saw a blurred image of a person holding a cellphone in an upright position like she was video recording the encounter with law enforcement. That was presumably the woman who was discussing her driving speed.
Then, the motorist and the deputy had the following exchange, according to the video, which had garnered more than 4.5 million views as of this report:
Woman: The speed limit is 40 [mph] and I was going 38 so why are you harassing me?
Deputy: You are correct. I pulled you over because —
Woman: because you're a murderer. Yes, I started to record because you're a murderer.
Deputy: You can't be on your cell phone while you're driving.
After that, the footage supposedly showed the deputy requesting the woman's driver's license information, the motorist asking for a LASD supervisor to join the traffic stop, and the two discussing the motivations of their actions. "I'm perfectly legal, and I'm a teacher," the woman said.
Around the video's two-minute mark, the body-worn camera showed another deputy explaining to the motorist that she faced a citation for driving while using her cellphone — an infraction that carries a fine in California — and that she must sign the traffic ticket. That's when she supposedly commented on the ethnicity of the deputy who had pulled her over.
"For him, being a Mexican racist," she said. "You'll always be a Mexican, you'll never be white, you know that, right? You'll never be white, which is what you really want to be."
No biographical details about the deputy, including his race or ethnicity, were available. Also, based on our frame-by-frame analysis of the tweet's video, the clip appeared to edit two frames together — removing segments of visual and audio evidence from the alleged encounter — at multiple points for reasons that were unclear.
LASD: 'We Are Aware Of The Video'
We reached out to LASD with a series of questions about the alleged encounter and a request for a copy of the body-worn footage for us to examine ourselves.
Deputy Trina Schrader, a spokesperson for the department, responded to us via email, saying the sheriff's department did not own the camera or its footage (and, therefore, it could not fulfill our request). Rather, she said the deputy had purchased the recording device on his own to use on the job.
"LASD is currently trying to get body worn cameras out to all of our stations," Schrader wrote. "Unfortunately, San Dimas has not received theirs yet."
As far as the underlying claim, however, Schrader sent us this statement:
We are aware of the video captured by one of our deputies. The person in the video filed a personnel complaint against the deputy for “discourtesy” and an active inquiry is being conducted. Due to the active complaint, we are unable to provide further comment regarding the supervisory inquiry.
In other words, the sheriff's department was aware of the viral video and said the woman in it supposedly alleged in a separate complaint that the deputy had disrespected her at some point. No further details about that complaint were available. It remained under investigation.
But, most importantly to this report, Schrader told us whether the footage indeed depicted an authentic encounter between a deputy and civilian was also under investigation as of this writing.
See below for our questions to the sheriff's department and her responses in red:
Next, we reached out to the FOX correspondent, Melugin, to learn the details of how he obtained the footage and ask whether he would share the source of the video's contact information with us. We have not received a response to that request.
Meanwhile, multiple news outlets, including The Sacramento Bee, published stories about the viral footage. The Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva himself retweeted Melugin's post with the video, praising the deputy's apparent response to the woman during the traffic stop.
In sum, while it was true a video supposedly showing an exchange between a motorist and LASD deputy went viral in May 2021, if, or to what extent, social media users' framing of the footage (that it showed a woman "launching into a racist tirade" against a Latino deputy) remained unsubstantiated as of this writing.