New York: Judge Rules Against Use Of X-Rays During Traffic Stops
Federal judge says motorist whose car was x-rayed after being pulled over for window tint can sue sheriff deputies.
A motorist cannot have his car taken to a border station to be x-rayed based on a window tint violation, a federal judge ruled on Friday. US District Judge Richard J. Arcara allowed a lawsuit to proceed against the Niagara County, New York Sheriff's Department in the wake of an April 28, 2009 traffic stop where motorists who had done nothing wrong were detained by police for more than three hours.
Thaddeus Rougier was traveling to Canada with Beverly Henry in a 1995 Lexus carrying luggage and a ham. Deputy Ray Tracy stopped the Lexus, which was legally registered in Tennessee, within a half mile of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. New York state has a more restrictive 70 percent limit for window tinting, but Rougier's tint fell within Tennessee's 35 percent legal maximum.
Deputy C.S. Page began running a drug dog around the Lexus, so Rougier got out of the car and began using a camera to document what was going on. A deputy ripped the camera out of his hands. Deputies then ordered the passenger, Beverly Henry, to get out of the vehicle. Because it was cold, she asked for her jacket, which the officers searched before giving to her. Rougier was handcuffed and tossed in the back of a patrol car. Their luggage was removed from the trunk and searched on the side of the road, with the dog sniffing every item of clothing. No contraband was found.
"Look what your officer doing to us for nothing," Henry said.
Frustrated, the deputies took the vehicle to the US-Canadian border station where an x-ray truck was used to scan the vehicle looking for secret compartments. A second drug dog sniff failed to turn up anything. Deputies gave Rougier and Henry's passports to an immigration agent who found nothing out of the ordinary. The two were eventually released, but not before being issued three traffic tickets -- all of which a judge threw out a year later.
Rougier and Henry sued, arguing they were stopped for driving while black. Henry was born in Jamaica and Rougier in Grenada. Both have been naturalized US citizens for nearly twenty years.
"Defendant had a policy and practice of racially and ethnically profiling drivers and passengers traveling on highways leading to and from Canada and selectively enforcing their traffic laws," the pair alleged in their lawsuit against Niagara County.
The pair also complained that every time they cross the border now, they are subjected to a search because their passports are flagged.
"Plaintiffs, who were humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed, and burdened with much angst, anxiety and trepidation, gathered their clothing off the pavement, which was stained and soiled with dog paws, drool and dirt, retrieved the camera, cell phones and other items of personal property from... deputy sheriffs on the scene," the lawsuit explained.
The couple are suing for $4 million in compensation and punitive damages. Ordinarily, law enforcement officers are immune from lawsuit while performing their duties. That immunity disappears if they are found to have violated constitutional rights. Here, Judge Arcara decided it worth examining that question in greater detail.
"Given that material issues of fact exist as to whether the continued detention of plaintiffs was constitutionally permissible, a reasonable fact-finder could find that it was objectively unreasonable for the officers to conclude that removal of plaintiffs to a border facility, a further search and x-ray of their car without their consent, and their continued detention for an unspecified amount of time, did not violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights," Judge Arcara ruled.
Judge Arcara ordered Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott to continue with proceedings on the lawsuit.
A copy of the decision is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Henry v. County of Niagara (US District Court, Western District New York, 3/29/2013)
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