Lawsuit Claims Man, Woman Were Racially Profiled by County Police
Officers handcuffed African-Americans during traffic stop, according to federal court filing
The U.S. District Court in Greenbelt
A black man and woman are suing Montgomery County after they claim they were racially profiled and illegally detained while county police searched their car three years ago during a traffic stop in Wheaton.
Vincent Miller, of Greenbelt, and Sharon Faulk-Foster, of Waldorf, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Greenbelt last week and are asking for a jury trial on their allegations they were stopped because of their race and a police dog search of the car found nothing illegal.
Miller and Faulk-Foster were handcuffed after they were stopped, according to the complaint.
“This was a humiliating and terrifying experience,” Faulk-Foster said in a statement. “I was made to feel like a second-class citizen. I have lost all trust in the Montgomery County Police Department.”
Faulk-Foster was in the process of moving from Olney to Waldorf, as she and Miller were following a rental truck driven by her daughter, Lekeisha Brown. Miller is the father of Brown’s son.
Miller was driving a Ford Crown Victoria sedan on Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road when they were pulled over by county police for a windshield obstruction, according to the complaint.
Miller’s name and car didn’t find any criminal violations after police conducted a database search, but officers asked him to step out and open the trunk.
Officers didn’t find anything illicit in the trunk, and instructed Miller and Faulk-Foster to sit on a nearby curb, meaning they were “constructively arrested,” according to the complaint.
Additional searches were done of the car’s interior, including by a police dog.
No controlled dangerous substances were found in the car, but Miller and Faulk-Foster were handcuffed after being told the dog found something on the front passenger side door handle, according to the complaint.
Both were searched and nothing illegal was found, according to the lawsuit.
After about an hour, police removed the handcuffs and let them leave after issuing a warning about the windshield obstruction and a work order for the window tint and an unspecified issue with exhaust of the car, according to the complaint.
They are being represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and several attorneys working for free.
Miller and Faulk-Foster initially tried to work out the complaint with the county but were unable to reach a conclusion, an ACLU attorney said in an email.
They gave written notice of their claims to the county in September 2016, but didn’t get a response. The county police department issued a written reprimand to one of the officers involved in the incident but no others received punishment, according to the complaint.
Miller and Faulk-Foster “took a stand against police misconduct” by filing the lawsuit on April 30, according to a Washington Lawyers’ Committee news release.
The complaint is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney Dennis Corkery of the Washington Lawyer’s Committee, also said “our clients would like an apology, but I think most importantly they want to see changes to Montgomery County Police practices, especially in how they treat drivers of color.”
In 2000, the county police department resolved a complaint filed by the local NAACP chapter alleging racial discrimination following a civil rights investigation by the United States Department of Justice.
The county and police department implemented nondiscrimination practices, including documenting physical characteristics in all traffic stops and using a new computer system to document complaints as part of the resolution.
In 2012, a photographer filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging civil rights violation when he was arrested while recording an ongoing arrest. The county settled for $45,000 in 2017. The county police department updated its policies to include information that citizens have the right to photograph and record officers after the incident.
The county attorney’s office, which defends the police department, had not received a copy of the lawsuit as of Tuesday morning.
“The county has not been served with the complaint so the Office of the County Attorney has not reviewed the allegations nor has it had an opportunity to interview the police officers involved in this alleged incident,” County Attorney Marc Hansen said in a statement through county spokesman Neil Greenberger.
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