Video did not clearly contradict officer’s testimony


In November 2020, Officer Reynaldo Contreras pulled over Michael Anderson because his left front headlight was out, a violation of Section 547.302(c) of the Texas Transportation Code. During his discussion with Officer Contreras, Anderson admitted that he was a felon and possessed a firearm. Anderson was later charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). He moved to suppress evidence obtained from the stop because, in Anderson’s view, Officer Contreras’s video of the encounter demonstrates that his headlights functioned properly.

At the hearing, Officer Contreras testified that Anderson’s truck had a non-functioning driver’s side headlight. The magistrate judge found Officer Contreras credible and reviewed the video evidence. The magistrate judge recommended denying Anderson’s motion, and the district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendation. Anderson was later convicted. He appeals the denial of his motion to suppress and his conviction. The 5th affirms.


The Fourth Amendment generally requires officers to obtain a warrant before searching or seizing an individual. See SCOTUS Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). However, police officers may briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if they can point to specific and articulable facts that give rise to the reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. See Hill.

For a traffic stop to be justified, an officer must have reasonable suspicion before stopping the vehicle. See Lopez-Moreno. Where testimony conflicts with video evidence, our court must view the facts in the light depicted by the videotape. See SCOTUS Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007). When video evidence is ambiguous, however, Scott v. Harris has no application. See Aguirre.

Here, Officer Contreras stopped Anderson for violating Section 547.302(c) of the Texas Transportation Code, which requires that at least one lighted lamp shall be displayed on each side of the front of a motor vehicle. Specifically, Officer Contreras testified that Anderson’s truck did not have the headlights – the driver’s side headlights. He later testified that the light emanating from the driver’s side of Anderson’s truck came from a fog lamp. Because Officer Contreras recorded the traffic stop with dash, body, and rearview cameras, we must determine whether video evidence unambiguously contradicts Officer Contreras’s testimony.

Officer Contreras’s dash camera shows Anderson’s truck, followed by another vehicle, driving towards Contreras. This video—the only video in the record of the truck’s lights before the stop—at first appears to reveal that Anderson’s two headlights functioned as required by Texas law. However, as Anderson continues towards Officer Contreras, his driver’s side headlight appears to flicker and dim.

While one could view this video evidence in its totality as supporting Anderson’s contention that both of his headlights were lit, we cannot say that it unambiguously controverts Officer Contreras’s testimony that the driver’s-side headlight was out, and that only Anderson’s fog lamp provided light. Under Texas law, a lit fog lamp, without a headlight, does not fulfill the requirements of Section 547.302(c) of the Texas Transportation Code.

The magistrate judge relied on post-stop evidence like the body and rearview camera videos to determine whether Officer Contreras had reasonable suspicion. For example, he found that the strongest evidence in support of the stop was Anderson’s discussion with Officer Contreras in which Anderson acknowledged that his truck only has one headlight when not on “high beams.” The parties also cite post-stop evidence in support of their respective positions. However, only the facts known to the officer at the time of the stop are relevant to the reasonable-suspicion analysis. In any event, none of this post-stop evidence unambiguously contradicts Officer Contreras’s testimony.

Because of the ambiguous nature of the dash camera video evidence in this case, we cannot say that the district court clearly erred. Accordingly, we AFFIRM.