Victory: $125,000 Judgment Entered Against Laurel Police Officer in Public Strip Search Case

WASHINGTON, DC - On March 21, 2017, Judgment in the amount of $125,001 was entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of Allen Sergeant, a 52 year old resident of the District of Columbia and against Laurel, Maryland Police Officer Alfie G. Acol. The judgment is a result of Mr. Sergeant’s civil rights lawsuit filed after he was subjected to a public strip search incident to a baseless traffic stop, which the lawsuit alleged occurred because of racial profiling.

The civil rights lawsuit filed in United States District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland on July 30, 2015 was litigated by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

On March 9, 2014, Officer Acol 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 Mr. Sergeant’s pants and underwear and forced him to undergo a visual strip search of his genitals and buttocks in public view. Mr. Sergeant was never under arrest and was never charged with any crime.

There was no justification for the illegal strip search which was not only blatantly unconstitutional but abusive, dehumanizing, humiliating and terrorizing. The officer conducting the strip search was assisted by a fellow Laurel Police Officer, Thomas Houck, who failed and refused to intervene to stop the strip search. When Mr. Sergeant protested to the officers that his rights had been violated and said he wanted to file a complaint, he was further threatened with arrest.

Mr. Sergeant subsequently complained to the Laurel Police Department which found that there had been a violation of policy, yet shortly after the incident gave Officers Acol and Houck meritorious service awards. Notably, when this case was filed, the Laurel Police Department and the City of Laurel publicly denied the facts of the lawsuit and announced to the press that no strip search had occurred, calling the claims “outrageous.” This was so despite being in possession of information confirming that an illegal strip search had taken place.

“This judgment is a vindication for the unnecessary humiliation that Mr. Sergeant suffered at the hands of the very people who are sworn to protect him,” said Washington Lawyers’ Committee Senior Staff Attorney Dennis A. Corkery. “This judgment should be a cautionary tale for officers who overstep their authority and terrorize the public and an inspiration for those who, like Mr. Sergeant, was courageous in speaking out about his civil rights.”

“This is a major victory upholding fundamental civil rights and Mr. Sergeant represents all those whose voices are too often dismissed and silenced when they speak out against abuse of power,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “A public roadside strip search is a terrifying and illegal tactic of subjugation and humiliation by armed officers against civilians. Its use is often calculated to go unchallenged by victims who may be in a vulnerable position, are not believed, and are without capacity to take on the police and their institutional defenders.”


ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP FOR CIVIL JUSTICE FUND: The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is a public interest legal organization dedicated to the defense of human and civil rights secured by law, the protection of free speech and dissent, and the elimination of prejudice and discrimination. Among the PCJF’s cases are constitutional law, civil rights, women's rights, police misconduct, economic justice matters and Freedom of Information Act cases. - See more at: http://www.justiceonline.org

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS' COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of equal employment opportunity, fair housing, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, see: www.washlaw.org.

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