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Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against Laurel Police for Public Strip Search After Racial Profiling Stop

A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed today charging Laurel Police Department officers with publicly strip searching a man incident to a baseless vehicular stop which, the lawsuit states, occurred solely on the basis of racial profiling.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed the lawsuit jointly with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of Allan Sergeant, 50, of Hyattsville, MD. Mr. Sergeant is Black.

During the incident, which occurred on March 9, 2014, a Laurel police officer illegally stopped Mr. Sergeant’s car in a CVS parking lot. The officer ordered Mr. Sergeant out of the car, subjected him to two frisks and searches, and then unbuckled his belt, pulled down his pants and underwear, and forced him to undergo a visual strip search of his genitals and buttocks in public view. No explanation was given to Mr. Sergeant for the stop and he had committed no offense, not even a traffic infraction. He was never under arrest and he was not charged with any crime. The officer conducting the strip search was assisted by a fellow officer, who watched the manifestly illegal and outrageous conduct, and failed and refused to intervene to stop it.

“There must be zero tolerance for racism in the exercise of police authority,” stated Carl Messineo, Legal Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “The danger that racism in policing poses to people of color in the United States cannot be understated. It is toxic and intolerable. As the Black Lives Matter movement is shining a spotlight on racial injustice at the hands of the police, it is time for governments to act decisively to end this systemic abuse of authority.”

“Public strip searches by the police are blatantly unconstitutional and illegal, and a tactic used by police against civilians as a vicious act of subjugation, degradation, humiliation and terror,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF. “It is a criminal act and should be punished as one. There are no circumstances where this shocking abuse and misconduct should be allowed by any police force.”

“This is another sad example of police officers abusing their authority against an innocent Black man,” said Washington Lawyers’ Committee Senior Staff Attorney Dennis Corkery. “The general public has seen in recent months what too many people have known for too long: For too many Black men and women in this country, the police can be the greatest threat. We hope that this lawsuit will force the Laurel Police, and police forces across the country, to impose the kind of training regimen to end racially motivated police violence.”

The lawsuit seeks redress for the deprivation of fundamental constitutional rights. It states:

“It is a basic right of persons in the United States to travel freely without being seized by armed agents of the state without just cause, a right denied to Mr. Sergeant because he is Black and was driving while wearing his hair in dreadlocks. … This terrifying, intrusive, substantial, and unwarranted invasion of privacy was a repulsive act … of profound humiliation and dehumanization. It was carried out … as a signal and means of subjugation and degradation without any lawful purpose whatsoever.”

Mr. Sergeant complained of the abuse to the Laurel Police Department. The Department, upon notice of the repulsive and outrageous conduct of the officer, did not terminate him. It issued him an award for meritorious service two months after being notified of the misconduct and then elevated the officer to be the public face of a public relations campaign touting the police department’s use of body cameras.