Jan 2019 traffic stop

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A male Louisville Metro Police officer groped a woman and put his hand in her underwear during a traffic stop last year, according to a lawsuit filed against the city and department last week.

Kali Coates was with her boyfriend and family members when she was pulled over by police on Jan. 5, 2019, after turning onto 28th street from Virginia Ave., the suit claims.

After Officer Tyler Gelnett ordered her out of her vehicle, he “inappropriately” placed his hands in her “crotch area” and then into her underwear, according to the suit, filed Friday in Jefferson Circuit Court. 

Then, after the officer moved Coates to the rear of the car, he began a second search. At that point, she accuses Gelnett of "groping her buttocks and her vagina to the point that another officer intervened and admonished him," the suit claims.

Police body camera video obtained by WDRB News shows another officer, a man, telling a visibly upset Coates that Gelnett was in training and apologized for the way she was searched, saying the officer would be punished. 

“We apologize to you,” the unnamed officer told Coates after the traffic stop, according to the video. “I want to personally apologize.”

But while Coates filed a complaint with police a year ago, she has not heard back, said her attorney, Shaun A. Wimberly Sr.

“A young lady was violated,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “This is something that you can’t have happen.”

Body cam footage shows Gelnett asking Coates to get out of the vehicle after the other officer said he smelled marijuana on a passenger.

After initially patting down Coates next to her vehicle, the other officer told Gelnett to bring her to the back of the car to search her.

It is unclear from Gelnett’s body camera where exactly he placed his hands the first time he searched Coates.  

During the second search, Gelnett moved his hands across her lower abdomen, up her legs and appeared to touch her buttocks before the unnamed officer told him to stop and move away from the scene, the video shows.

Coates jumped as Gelnett touched her. “Jesus,” she said, according to body cam video. “So rude.”

“Hey, hey, stop, time,” the unnamed officer told Gelnett. “Time out. Time out. Go back there.”

After Gelnett moved away, the other officer told Coates that Gelnett was in training and had not properly frisked her. For example, the officer said Gelnett was supposed to use the back of his hand.

“He’s a new officer; I’m training him,” the unnamed officer said.

Coates told police Gelnett had “used his fingers” while searching her.

“I’ve never had nobody … it was awkward,” she said to the other officer.

Her boyfriend, who had also been removed from the vehicle, told the officer that Gelnett “looked dead at me in his face when he did that.”

“As soon as I saw him, I stopped him,” the officer told the couple. “It’s all being recorded. I want to reassure you of that.”

And the officer added that Gelnett would be punished for his actions.

“He had no idea what he was doing, I’ll be honest with you,” the officer said, according to body cam video.

While the passenger in the vehicle admitted he had smoked marijuana earlier in the day, nothing was found in the car and they were let go without a ticket.

Police told Coates she had a warrant for not paying restitution in a criminal mischief case but that she was not going to be arrested.

Wimberly praised the actions of the other officers at the scene but said Coates was repeatedly violated and there needed to be consequences.

LMPD spokesman Dwight Mitchell said the department does not comment on pending litigation. He also said "we do not confirm or deny any investigations we may have or not have on anyone."

Gelnett is still employed and assigned to 5th Division, he said. 

The suit is seeking a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages. Coates claims that since the stop, she has had problems sleeping and has suffered "extreme humiliation, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, alienation, and mental anguish," according to the suit. 

The 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.

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.

Earlier this summer, Chief Steve 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.

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.