A Washington, D.C., man has reached a $125,000 settlement in his lawsuit claiming a Laurel police officer performed an illegal and public strip search during a March 2014 traffic stop.
Allen Sergeant alleged Officer Alfie G. Acol “demanded” Sergeant’s license and registration after pulling him over in front of a CVS. Sergeant compiled but repeatedly asked what he had done wrong, according to the complaint, filed in July 2015 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
Acol became “angry and aggressive,” ordered Sergeant to exit his vehicle and frisked him several times, the lawsuit said. The officer then moved Sergeant so he was in front of the entrance to CVS and performed a strip search that the lawsuit described as “highly intrusive, humiliating, degrading, abusive, terrifying and traumatizing.”
Acol ultimately gave Sergeant a warning for a traffic violation. Sergeant claimed in the lawsuit that he was pulled over because he was black “and driving while wearing his hair in dreadlocks.”
Sergeant filed a complaint with the Laurel Police Department the day after the incident. Three months later, an investigator found Acol “in violation of department policies,” according to the complaint.
But the lawsuit alleges that instead of Acol being fired, he became the face of the Laurel Police Department’s body cameras program and won an award for meritorious service, the complaint said.
Settlement talks were held in early February, according to online court records, and the offer of judgment was accepted Feb. 23. The judgment was entered Monday, according to court records.
“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 Dennis A. Corkery, a senior staff attorney at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which represented Sergeant, in a statement. “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.”
Sergeant sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and new training protocols to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“A public roadside strip search is a terrifying and illegal tactic of subjugation and humiliation by armed officers against civilians,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which also represented Sergeant. “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.”
The case is Allan R. Sergeant v. Alfie G. Acol, et al., 8:15-cv-02233-PWG.