LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – When Marlo Brown got pulled over for failing to signal while changing lanes last December, the Louisville police officer who made the stop assumed Brown was up to much more than a traffic violation.
Louisville Metro Police Officer Stephen Roederer told the officer he was riding with that Brown was “probably fu**ing driving around buying dope,” according to body camera video of the stop obtained by WDRB News.
Noting that Brown had his children in the car, Roederer called Brown a “fu**ing piece of shit.”
“This is probably going to be a really good stop,” Officer Jessica Dickey added.
The officers frisked Brown, threatened to bring in a drug-sniffing dog, searched his vehicle and questioned his children. But they found nothing illegal, so they let him go with no ticket.
The Dec. 19, 2018, stop and search is the focus of the latest in a series of recent lawsuits against LMPD alleging "racially biased policing" and other civil rights violations during traffic stops of black people.
Warning: The video below contains graphic language:
Video in some of the stops has gone viral, prompting complaints of racial bias and community outrage that led to a drastic change to the department’s traffic stop policy this summer.
When Brown asked why he was ordered to get out of his vehicle and frisked after being stopped for a traffic violation on Seventh Street in the Algonquin neighborhood, Roederer told him he had a “history” and police were looking for drugs.
After obtaining Brown’s license, Roederer ran a search of court records in his vehicle, according to the body camera video. Brown has past drug convictions.
But Brown’s history in no way constitutes the probable cause that officers needed to search him and his vehicle, Brown’s attorneys argue in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court, attorneys Ashlea Hellmann and Maria Fernandez claim police violated Brown’s constitutional rights by detaining and searching him and his vehicle without evidence of any wrongdoing, saying the officers’ actions “shock the conscience.”
“The only ‘conduct’ Mr. Brown was alleged to have engaged in was a simple traffic violation,” according to the lawsuit. Police were “consciously aware that their actions resulted in an unlawful and unreasonable detention and search.”
The lawsuit names both the officers involved, Louisville Metro government and LMPD Chief Steve Conrad as defendants.
Police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said the department does not comment on pending litigation and "we do not confirm or deny any (internal) investigation into this matter."
The suit claims the stop was part of a common practice by police to target specific areas with a mostly black population and use deceptive tactics to search vehicles without probable cause.
Much of the discussion between Roederer and Dickey is not audible because police intentionally obscured it in a copy of the body camera video turned over to Brown’s attorneys.
After Brown was frisked, Roederer asked if he had any drugs and whether he would allow police to search the vehicle.
“I’d rather not,” Brown replied, telling the officer he didn’t have any drugs.
Roederer told Brown if he didn’t comply, police would bring in a drug-sniffing dog.
“For what?” Brown asked.
“Just in case,” Roederer said. “I got a job to do, man.”
Brown asked why police had to search his car if he was stopped for a traffic violation.
“Based on your history,” Roederer told him, adding however, that Brown hadn’t “been in trouble in a long time.”
“I haven’t done anything,” Brown said, before eventually agreeing to allow the search.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said to the officers.
Roederer told the children their father had done nothing wrong but that he was “checking to make sure he don’t have nothing he’s not supposed to have.”
The officer asked one of the children what was in a bag. The juvenile said it was his father’s diabetes medicine.
After police finished looking inside the vehicle, Brown again asked Roederer why the search had been necessary.
“You all didn’t even have probable cause to search my car,” he told Roederer. “I was stopped on a traffic violation.”
The officer said it was “part of our job” and he wouldn’t give him a traffic ticket, according to body camera video. “That’s how we find stuff.”
The officer also told Brown that he was driving in an area known for drug trafficking. Brown said he had family that lived nearby.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Roederer said. “Next time I see you, I probably won’t even give you a hard time. Now I know you. If I ever see you and pull you over by chance, I’ll remember you, and I’ll send you on your way.”
Earlier this summer, under heavy scrutiny, Conrad implemented new traffic stop guidelines, raising the threshold for stopping drivers and tightening 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.
Brown is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.
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