A North Texas police department is investigating something an officer was reportedly not wearing during a recent traffic stop.
That encounter left a woman worried about her health.
Shelia Dangerfield said she has rarely left her house during the pandemic.
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She doesn’t go grocery shopping or to crowded spaces.
“Because I live in fear, constantly,” she said.
But she did venture out two Friday nights ago to visit a friend in DeSoto.
Dangerfield said she was on her way back home when she was stopped for speeding in Cedar Hill just at around 9:15 p.m.
“I put my mask on right away,” she said. “When I saw the officer approach the car, he didn’t have a mask on, so I really got nervous.”
The military veteran said she showed the officer her driver’s license and military identification car on her window that was rolled up, but the officer stood there waiting for her to roll her window down.
“I let the window down and I moved to the side,” she said. “My posture was leaned to the side and I was visibly trembling.”
“I saw his mask hanging from his trousers,” said Dangerfield. “He told me, asked me what was wrong and why was I so nervous and panicking. I explained to him: ‘I am afraid of contracting COVID.’”
Dangerfield said she only told the officer she was worried because she has underlying health conditions.
Dangerfield did not wish to publicly reveal her conditions but said they compromise her immune system.
“I mentioned something about him not wearing a mask,” she said.
Dangerfield claims the officer, though polite, still did not cover up while talking to her.
“I was angry too because he did not consider my safety even after I told him my concerns and that I have underlying health conditions,” she said.
Dangerfield said she was too afraid to ask the officer to mask up, thinking about sometimes violent interactions between Black people and police around the country.
“I was afraid to ask him, to demand for him to put the mask on because I didn’t know what kind of attitude he would display,” she said.
Dangerfield said she later reported the encounter to a supervisor at the Cedar Hill Police Department who reportedly told her: “We can’t smell marijuana or alcohol in vehicles while wearing our masks.”
Days later, Dangerfield filed a formal complaint at CHPD.
We asked Chief of Police Ely Reyes to speak with NBC 5 about the encounter that is currently under investigation by the department’s internal affairs.
“Hopefully this is a one-time incident and we can learn from it,” said Reyes.
Reyes said he cannot comment one way or the other at this time given the ongoing investigation, but said he sent COVID-19 safety protocols in the spring requiring his officers ‘wear masks and gloves on each stop and maintain a safe distance when possible.’
Reyes said it is understandable that an officer ‘remove’ his mask to try and detect alcohol or drugs on a person during a traffic stop.
“It is my expectation that when they’re [officers] are interacting with community members that they do have a mask on,” he said.
Reyes said community members and employees can sometimes get ‘lackadaisical’ about certain safety measures.
Asked if that is what he expects of his officers, Reyes responded “It is not my expectation. They know what the protocols are. They know what the expectation is.”
He said this is the first such complaint the department has received but one that is being taken seriously.
“Based on this one incident it’s important to me as a chief to make sure that I send something department-wide to just remind everybody,” said Reyes.
Dangerfield said that would be enough “if it helps the next person.”
She said she has been tested twice for COVID-19 since the interaction. Both tests were negative. Dangerfield also said she does not feel ill.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the officer involved in the encounter could receive more training or be suspended, said Reyes.
The officer was wearing his body camera and that video is being reviewed, he added.
Dallas and Fort Worth Police Departments tell NBC 5 they require officers to wear face-covering when interacting with the public.
This includes traffic stops, said a spokesman for FWPD.