LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Anthony Parker was driving home from church with his fianceé and 9-year-old son last August when police pulled him over at 28th Street and Broadway. Officers told him he failed to use his turn signal.
The three were surrounded by officers from the Ninth Mobile Division – blocked in by unmarked vehicles behind and in front of them – questioned, removed from the car and frisked while police thoroughly searched inside the car and trunk.
When Parker’s girlfriend, Demetria Firman, was frisked, in her church dress, while her purse and vehicle were “torn apart without consent,” she asked Officer Josh Doerr if “something was wrong,” according to a federal lawsuit filed last week against Chief Steve Conrad, the commander of the Ninth Mobile Division and four officers.
“This is how we conduct all our stops,” Doerr responded, according to his body cam video, obtained by WDRB News. “We're a different kind of unit that works a little different than traditional.”
The way the Ninth Mobile has handled such stops has been a controversial issue in the community in recent months, prompting complaints of racial bias, multiple lawsuits and a drastic change to the department’s traffic stop policy.
In fact, two of the officers involved in stopping Parker and Firman – Kevin Crawford and Gabriel Hellard – were also involved in pulling over an African American teen last August for making a wide turn. Tae-Ahn Lea was forcibly removed from his car and handcuffed while a police dog searched his vehicle. His family sued police in June.
Police are investigating that stop. Firman went to LMPD days after she and Parker were pulled over to file a complaint, but she has not been contacted since.
Alicia Smiley, a spokeswoman for LMPD, said the department's Professional Standards Unit is investigating the stop.
She said LMPD does not comment on pending litigation.
The new traffic stop guidelines, which started this month, raise the threshold for pulling over drivers and add rules on when people can be removed from their vehicles or handcuffed as well as limiting the number of police and cruisers that can be involved.
In the recent lawsuit, filed by attorneys in U.S. District Court, Parker and Firman claim police improperly pulled them over on Aug. 12, 2018 because they are black and were driving a nice car “in a designated target neighborhood of LMPD.”
The suit claims Parker properly uses his turn signal at the intersection of 28th and Broadway, as proven on body cam footage, and argues the reason for the stop was “fabricated” by police. And, even if he hadn’t used his turn signal, attorneys Josephine Buckner and Sam Aguiar say police had no reason to suspect there were guns or drugs in the car.
“In reality, Anthony was pulled over because he is black, was in a targeted neighborhood, and was being made a victim to an LMPD custom and internal policy,” according to the suit.
Surrounded by multiple police vehicles, an officer immediately sought justification to search the car and its occupants “without reasonable suspicion in a desperate attempt by the officers to find guns and drugs,” the suit claims.
“Any guns in the car?” Det. Kevin Crawford asked Parker after telling him he was pulled over for failing to use his turn signal. “No narcotics or anything? Man your hands are shaking like a leaf brother. Even your face is. I just like people to be honest and straight up with me.”
Parker has a job working for a glass maker, no criminal history and plays bass guitar for his church, according to the suit. Firman works in Aguiar’s office as a law clerk.
While Parker repeatedly told the officer he was coming from church and there were no guns or weapons in the vehicle, he acknowledged his license had expired.
At that point, Crawford asked Parker to put his hands on the steering wheel and grabbed his cell phone from his lap “without any explanation,” according to the suit.
Meanwhile, Doerr demanded Firman exit the car, the suit claims. She was frisked, without her consent, while wearing her “church dress” and “without any reasonable suspicion that she is in possession of a firearm.”
While Firman owned the vehicle, police asked and received permission to search it from Parker, who was also frisked by police. The child was also removed from the vehicle and stood near his father at the back of the car.
The officer who looked through Firman’s purse, William Keeling, got “excited” when he found prescription bottles, but learned they were properly prescribed after Firman had surgery, the suit says.
Asked by Crawford what he had found, Keeling responded “nothing too good” and the officers laughed, according to the suit.
Meanwhile, Crawford searched the floor boards, pulled everything out of the console, opened a wallet, looked through cushions and even opened a box of chicken and fries.
“Looks like you got a little something here,” Crawford says at one point while going through the console, but doesn’t find anything illegal.
Police also searched the trunk without getting permission, the suit claims.
"When you watch the video, you can really see that they are bound and determined to find something," Buckner, one of the attorneys, said in an interview. "They are just a nice family coming home from church and this happens."
The family was eventually released with no ticket issued. Parker calmly followed orders and shook an officer’s hand before leaving. Both Parker and Firman declined to discuss details of the stop.
Named as defendants along with Conrad, Doerr, Hellard and Crawford and Keeling is Major William Hibbs, who is commander of the Ninth Mobile division.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.
Both the recent lawsuit and the one filed on behalf of Lea criticize the Ninth Mobile Division and police policy at the time, saying officers targeted poor neighborhoods and black residents by using alleged traffic violations as a pretext for stopping vehicles and searching occupants, hoping to find guns or drugs.
"The rhetoric that's used is the same kind as the 9th division uses for everybody that they pull over unconstitutionally," Buckner said.
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