Even though he drives an ice cream truck for a living, Jesse Talton is hot.
Talton, 33, spent the night in jail last week after he says undercover officers with York County’s drug unit pulled over his ice cream truck. That was when, he says, he learned that his driver’s license was under suspension.
“I’m just an honest guy trying to make a living selling ice cream,” Talton said.
Officers who arrested him July 15 were driving an unmarked SUV, Talton said, and they were not wearing police uniforms. The police vehicle pulled in front of the ice cream truck, not behind it, at the stop in Fort Mill near the Waterstone development off S.C. 160. Their identification badges read “narcotics,” Talton said.
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Talton did not get out of the vehicle initially, he said, because he was not detained or under arrest and told the officers he was “perfectly happy” in his vehicle. Police told him he had no license plate. Talton claimed his proof of insurance and ownership of the truck should have been sufficient.
State officials say any vehicle operated on public streets must have a license plate. The commander of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, who supervises the two officers involved, said the traffic stop was handled properly.
Talton’s initial refusal to cooperate with the officers and get out of the vehicle led to his arrest on a charge of driving under suspension, instead of simply receiving a ticket and being allowed to leave.
Officers have the authority to decide whether to arrest a person and take him to jail when driving under suspension is the offense, said Marvin Brown, the drug unit commander. Talton did not cooperate with officers, he said, and it is not uncommon for drug agents to pull over in front of vehicles to prevent them from trying to flee.
“These officers did exactly what they are trained to do,” Brown said. “They acted exactly as I would have done, and have done, many times.”
DMV spokeswoman Jean Smolen confirmed that a vehicle being operated on a public road must have a temporary or permanent license tag. Officers did not cite Talton for not having a license on his vehicle.
Talton said officers violated his constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure and probable cause, a charge police deny. Talton said officers told him he was driving under a suspended license even before he gave them his license to identify himself. How could the police know his license was suspended, he asks, before he gave them identification?
The drug unit officers had received a complaint about the truck, Brown said, and they knew who was driving the truck, so they were able to check his record before pulling him over.
“That also is a legitimate reason to pull him over,” Brown said. “The officers knew that the driver did not have a license.”
Talton said he had forgotten about the 2013 speeding ticket that led to the suspension of his license.
Court records show Talton was tried in absence last year and found guilty of speeding, for which he has a pending fine of $133. The July 15 driving under suspension arrest is the only South Carolina criminal charge against Talton, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
After spending almost 12 hours in jail, Talton appeared before a magistrate and was released on a personal recognizance bond of $652.50. His trial date is set for Sept. 18 in Fort Mill magistrate court.
“All I had to do was sign my name, my good name, and that was enough to get out,” Talton said.
He has contacted a lawyer, he said, but so far has not hired one.
Talton has “no beef” with police officers, he said, and he knows “they have a job to do.” But he is concerned about his reputation as an ice cream vendor driving into neighborhoods filled with parents and children. More, if the stop had been done by a regular patrol car, clearly marked, with officers in uniform, Talton said he would have been more comfortable.
“I make my living off customer service,” he said, “and this looks bad.”
Without a driver’s license, Talton cannot drive the truck until he clears up both the unpaid speeding ticket and the driving under suspension ticket. The cost of both could reach more than $1,000, he said.
Since his arrest, Talton said, he has lost sales for three weekdays and the weekend, when sales usually are more than $300 a day or more.
None of that changes the fact, Brown said, that Talton was illegally driving the ice cream truck with no license tag on a suspended license.
“Bottom line,” Brown said, “you can’t drive an ice cream truck without a license.”