LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A federal lawsuit accuses three Louisville Metro Police officers of improperly searching, restraining, arresting and wrongfully incarcerating a man for having a gun in his vehicle, even though he was legally allowed to own the gun.
The arrest, captured on police body camera, comes on the heels of other controversial stops prompting complaints against police and a change in LMPD policy.
On July 25, 2018, police searched John Albin's vehicle without getting consent and were initially upset when they found that Albin could legally own a gun found in his car, because he had been convicted of a misdemeanor and not a felony, according to the suit.
"You can thank the prosecutors for that bull****," Officer Charles Meek allegedly said during the July 25, 2018 stop. Body camera audio is immediately redacted after that, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court last month against Meek, Officer Michael Pugh, an unidentified officer, Chief Steve Conrad and the city.
A few minutes later, however, the officers believed they found evidence in court records that Albin was convicted of a felony in the drug case and gave each other a fist bump, according to the suit. Much of the audio was redacted from the body camera videos provided, the suit claims.
After being arrested, Albin spent eight days in Metro Corrections before being released on Aug. 1, 2018. The case was dismissed five days later because Albin was not a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, according to court records. He was previously convicted of a misdemeanor, as he told police.
The judge ordered police to return the gun to Albin, according to court records.
This lawsuit claims Meek and Pugh were patrolling through the Hazelwood area when they came across Albin and his girlfriend, Amber Smith, sitting in a vehicle outside of Smith's brother’s home.
Meek, according to the suit, initially asked if the couple had seen someone run through the area but soon asked what they were doing in the area -- and who owned the vehicle.
When Meek asked for Smith's identification, according to the lawsuit, the officer also asked "why are you shaking so bad? Did you just slam that vein?"
Smith denied taking drugs, but acknowledged she had a needle and was in the needle exchange program, showing the officer a card to prove it, according to the suit.
Meek asked the pair to go to the rear of the vehicle and asked if a K-9 would hit on any drugs in the car.
Meek told the officer "No" but much of the audio from the questioning was redacted from body camera video, according to the suit.
Another unnamed officer found the gun in the vehicle.
The attorney for Albin, Kevin Pride, initially said he would turn over the body camera videos to WDRB News but has since not returned multiple phone messages.
After police found a gun in Albin's vehicle, he confirmed he owned the weapon, and then more audio from the body camera is redacted, the suit claims.
When questioned whether he had a criminal history, Albin acknowledged he was convicted of a misdemeanor. The case had started as a felony but was amended to a drug possession misdemeanor. Felons cannot own handguns.
Officer Meek criticized prosecutors for amending the case, the suit claims.
"Jesus Christ," Meek allegedly said. "Freaking prosecutors man. I tell you what."
The lawsuit claims police later "maliciously" and "willfully" arrested Albin, even though they knew he was not a felon in possession of a handgun.
The incident was partially captured on a WAVE 3 story about syringe needle exchanges, where a reporter discussed the driver being arrested for possession of a handgun, adding to Albin's embarrassment, according to the suit.
This is the third such lawsuit about bad traffic stops in recent months.
Last month, Anthony Parker filed a lawsuit against police for pulling him, his fiancee and 9-year-old son over at 28th Street and Broadway after they had left church in August 2018. Officers told him he failed to use his turn signal.
Body cam video showed Parker had used 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 the federal lawsuit filed against 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."
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 both stops. LMPD did not immediately return a message asking about the latest lawsuit by Albin.
His lawsuit is seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.
Conrad recently implemented new stop guidelines, which 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.
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