ACLU files racial discrimination suit against South Charleston, police department

By Audrey Holsclaw | May 8, 2008

CHARLESTON -- A Charleston man is seeking a declaratory judgment against the City of South Charleston and its police officers following an illegal traffic stop and search.

Ivan Lee of Charleston has filed a lawsuit against the City of South Charleston, Mayor Frank Mullens Jr., Police Chief Brad Rinehart, Officer Bobby Yeager, Officer D.J. Pauley and other unknown officers citing racially biased traffic stops, detention, and roadside strip searches, and seizures.

According to the suit, on May 5, 2006, Lee, an black man, was driving in South Charleston with two friends. He was pulled over at the corner of 2nd Avenue and C Street and accosted by Officer Yeager and others about a recent shooting of another individual. After the encounter with Yeager and the other officers, Lee returned to his vehicle and continued driving.

As he drove away, he noticed he was being followed by Officer Pauley in a marked police car. Pauley apparently followed Lee for two miles before stopping him a second time. After being stopped, Lee provided Pauley with his driver's license and vehicle registration. After a few minutes, Pauley asked if he could search Lee's car, and he refused.

Filed on May 2, the suit states that after Lee's refusal, Pauley asked Lee to exit the vehicle. When Lee questioned why he had been stopped, he was informed that he had committed several traffic violations including not using his turn signals, which he said were untrue. Pauley frisked and handcuffed Lee and searched his friends.

When he returned to Lee, Pauley searched him a second time, this time unzipping his pants and feeling all over his entire body, including inside Lee's underwear -- all in full view of passing traffic. Pauley and other officers also searched the vehicle, but found no contraband or illegal materials. Lee was un-handcuffed and allowed to leave.

Filed by Kevin Burgess and Terri Baur of the Charleston firm Hamilton, Burgess, Young & Pollard and of the ACLU of West Virginia Foundation, the suit claims that Lee suffered severe emotional distress, physical pain and discomfort, annoyance, aggravation, embarrassment, and inconvenience because of the roadside strip search. Lee also claims the City of South Charleston maintains an unlawful and discriminatory racial profiling policy and therefore, believes he will be unlawfully detained again.

Mullens and Rinehart have been named in the suit because Lee alleges they have knowledge of these policies and have exhibited a deliberate indifference. He also believes they have failed to train, supervise, control, and discipline the officers regarding the circumstances that constitute probable cause for suspicion.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Lee is seeking a jury trial to award declaratory judgments that the official policy of racial profiling is unconstitutional, that the officers engaged in racial discrimination when they stopped, detained, and searched him without probable cause, that these are violations of the fourth and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a permanent injunction to prevent the defendants from continuing racial discrimination, compensatory and punitive damages, court costs, and attorney's fees.

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