Profiling accusation fuss quieting for Lynx star Augustus

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 11, 2012 - 8:27 AM

Seimone Augustus' traffic stop caused furor for player and police in Roseville, but now it's resolved.

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Seimone Augustus.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Lynx star Seimone Augustus -- normally easygoing and mild- mannered -- finds herself at the center of a lingering controversy over allegations of racial profiling after a traffic stop in Roseville.

Coach Cheryl Reeve said she supports her team's leading scorer. Reeve said Wednesday that Augustus was justified in publicly complaining on Twitter about the incident Monday, the first of the team's two off days this week.

Augustus was with teammate Monica Wright, also a black woman, when her 1996 Chevrolet Impala was followed and then stopped shortly after they left Rosedale Center. The police officer told Augustus that he stopped her for having an air freshener hanging from her rear-view mirror, which is illegal by Minnesota law. Then, Augustus said, the officer mentioned some thefts at the mall and asked about her Louisiana license plates. Augustus is from Baton Rouge.

"I didn't know you can only drive minnesota cars to a minnesota mall," read one of Augustus' tweets, "and if not you must be stealing or doing something illegal."

The Lynx returned to practice Wednesday, preparing to face either Connecticut or Indiana in the best-of-five WNBA Finals, which start Sunday.

"It is not a distraction at all," said Reeve, asked about Augustus' angry tweets shortly after her encounter with Roseville police. "Twitter gives people a voice. [Augustus has 25,000 followers.] And, in this particular instance, I am 100 percent behind Seimone tweeting her experience because it shines light on a bigger problem. Which is racial profiling."

Lt. Lorne Rosand, the Roseville Police Department's public information officer, said it was a "legal traffic stop." When media reports on the situation came out, the department started hearing from upset callers. For the first time he can recall, Rosand said, he issued a news release on a traffic stop for a suspended object. Police chief Rick Mathwig also called Augustus.

"We had a great conversation on the phone," Augustus said. "We went over the incident. Both parties were angry about what happened. ... We've settled and we are moving on from here."

Later in the day Reeve issued a statement that said, in part, "My intention is to support my player. ... I'm pleased that Seimone had the opportunity to address her concerns with the chief."

The Roseville police want to move on, too. Rosand said the department's 32 officers make 20,000 traffic contacts a year and most end with drivers getting warnings like Augustus did, not tickets.

"We don't have a racist police department," Rosand said.

He said Won Chau, the officer who stopped Augustus, is Cambodian. He has been a member of the department since 1996 and has an exemplary record.

"[Augustus] was in violation of state law," Rosand said. "The media ratcheted [this story] up. If Seimone was the woman down the street, this would not have gotten any traction at all."

Augustus, of course, is a two-time Olympian and the MVP of the WNBA Finals a year ago. And she learned a little about state law. The air freshener in her car now dangles from the turn signal.

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