Allan Sergeant recently filed a federal civil rights suit against the Laurel, Maryland police department and two of its officers. He claims that he was stopped for no just cause and subjected to an illegal search and seizure which included a public strip search.
They say there are always three sides to a story: yours, mine and the truth. This is one of those moments when, if even 10% of the story is true, justice was not only twisted, it was tied up, blindfolded and water boarded before sent on its merry way without so much as a kiss. The allegations include an unjustified traffic stop that ended in a public strip search in front of a busy retail store.
Allan Sergeant, an African American man with dreadlocks, was driving through a parking lot in Laurel, Maryland in March 2014. The stores and parking lot were busy. As he approached the CVS drugstore, Mr. Sergeant was brought to a stop by a police cruiser. After officers examined his license and registration, they ordered Mr. Sergeant out of his vehicle.
Allegedly, there was no traffic violation. Allegedly, there was no probable cause to search Mr. Sergeant’s vehicle. Yet, he was stopped. According to Mr. Sergeant, “He said with or without your permission, he put his hand on his weapon, and said, ‘I have to search this car.’” Interestingly, the car was never searched. Instead, an officer identified as Alfie Acol decided to search Mr. Sergeant.
That’s when things went from bad to unbelievable.
Mr. Sergeant recounts the experience, “I put my hands up and he started to pat me down. When he pat me down, he went to my groin area two times … He opened my pants, pulled my pants, pulled my boxers down, looked at my private, then he told me, ‘Okay, you can go.’”
This all occurred at the entrance to the CVS drugstore. The two officers and Mr. Sergeant were positioned between Mr. Sergeant’s car and the busy store. Mr. Sergeant feels he was publicly humiliated for no reason other than being black.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund agrees. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Fund said, “He was subjected to blatantly unconstitutional conduct. There is no set of circumstances that can legitimize, justify or legalize this officer’s conduct.” The other officer, as yet unnamed, did not participate in the alleged illegal strip search, but he also did not intervene to stop his fellow officer from taking such actions.
The Fund is representing Mr. Sergeant in a federal civil rights suit filed against Acol, the unnamed officer, the police chief, the Laurel PD and the city of Laurel.
A representative for Laurel and the Laurel PD issued this statement:
“The City of Laurel has been notified of a lawsuit that was allegedly filed on July 30, 2015 in Federal Court. This lawsuit is based on a traffic stop that was conducted by a Laurel police officer in March 2014.
As of now, the City has not been served with any paperwork regarding a lawsuit or intent to sue, and we are only aware of the allegations contained in a press release from the attorneys representing the plaintiff in this case.
The City is restrained from further comment because of the due process afforded to the involved officers as well as the City’s personnel policies. However, the City unequivocally denies that the traffic stop, which was initiated by a call about a suspicious vehicle, was the result of any racial profiling, or that racism of any type was involved. The City of Laurel and the Laurel Police Department also adamantly deny that the victim in this incident was strip searched, and his body exposed to public view by our officers. An Internal Investigation was conducted and appropriate action was taken, including additional departmental wide training in the area of Search and Seizure. At no time did the Laurel Police Department attempt to imply that there was no wrong doing by the officers. The City is confident that as the case moves through the legal system the outrageous claims made by the attorneys in the press release will be shown to be just that—outrageous.”
The statement left out the fact that Acol received a commendation and was promoted to be the Laurel PD’s public relations poster child for the use of body cameras on officers.
Mr. Sergeant said, “I don’t think I’ve got justice. He’s still a cop. He can do this to anyone. He can do it to me again because he did and he got away.”
Going back to my opening lines, if only a small portion of Mr. Sergeant’s allegations is true, this is a blatant overstepping of police authority. Before anyone gets his or her panties in a bunch, I’m not a “cop hater.” Police have difficult jobs and some of my friends are good cops. Saying that there are some bad apples in a given industry is not damning the whole industry. Anyone who believes that there aren’t bad police officers has been living under a rock this last decade.
The same can be said for those who insist that all police officers are out to get us all. This type of divisive rhetoric keeps both police and civilians at each other’s throats instead of solving the problem.
The Laurel PD says a suspicious vehicle report precipitated the traffic stop. Even so, a first year law student could tell you that after a pat down, if there is no reason to believe that something is concealed under the clothing, there’s no probable cause for a strip search. Drug smuggling may be another matter, as cavities are often used as transport mechanisms, but no one in this particular case mentions drugs. However, even if that was the issue, there was certainly no call for it to be done in public.
The full truth will only come out at trial.