The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and the City of Jacksonville have been sued by a California man for a civil rights violation in the U.S. Court for the Central District of Illinois.
Attorney Louis J. Meyer of Peoria law firm Meyer & Kiss filed civil action last Monday on behalf of Benjamin Stone of California. Stone accuses Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Suttles of following him on Interstate 72 for more than a mile on May 9th while he was traveling through the area from Washington D.C. back to his home state of California.
Stone says in the suit that he pulled off on the South Jacksonville exit for gas and a hotel room and was still being followed and eventually stopped in a hotel parking lot at approximately 2:35PM. The lawsuit contends that Stone had not committed any traffic violation and there was no reason to stop him.
The lawsuit says that Suttles then asked if there were any illegal drugs in the vehicle and Stone then told Suttles there was not. Suttles then asked Stone if he could search the vehicle and Stone said no. It was as this point that Suttles contacted the Jacksonville Police Department K-9 unit and Officer Jordan Poeschel and his K-9 partner walked the perimeter of the vehicle.
According to the complaint, Poeschel allegedly claimed that his K-9 partner alerted for contraband in the vehicle, which the complaint says was a false claim. Suttles then requested Stone give the police his car keys to search the vehicle. Stone refused and a locksmith was called. The locksmith opened the car and police found nothing and Stone was released.
Meyer says his client’s case is something that he’s seen all over the state as a problem with drug interdiction officers: “There is a very big financial incentive for these officers to do what they have been doing – pushing the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment and in many cases crossing the threshold of Fourth Amendment violations in the pursuit of drugs. In my thought, it’s all about asset forfeiture and civil forfeiture. I think it’s an easy target and I think that discovery [in this case] is going to bare out that there is going to be a much higher percentage of people with California and Oregon license plates that are pulled over for minor or for not even traffic tickets that are initially asked if they would consent to a search, and when the people exercise their Constitutional rights, they are detained. A dog comes and the dog alerts and then they search the vehicle.”
Meyer says there have likely been several other motorists who have had this happen in the area, as he accuses the Sheriff’s Department of an alleged illegal pattern of behavior: “Many times, bearing no fruits of their behavior, the individuals are just given a warning or the officers say ‘We are just trying to fight the war on drugs. Sorry about this.’ and let them go. Most people don’t do anything about it. In some situations, some people do because they know what happened to them is a clear violation of their rights, so I’m proud to have people like Mr. Stone that stand up for his rights and say ‘You guys cannot do this’ and continue to get away with it.”
Meyer says that the lawsuit only allows he and his client to seek an unspecified monetary amount in damages in the case, but he says these cases usually have a secondary effect: “We hope that we get to the point where it’s costing money…taxpayers money or county money where they say they cannot keep paying these lawsuits, we need to change our behavior out on the streets. A big part of it is awareness. It exposes this as this is occurring. We want supervisors, we want county officials, we want the citizens of Morgan County to realize what [these officers] are doing in hopes that public pressure brought by attention to this to create some change – that officers that are out there need to follow the law just as we, as citizens, are required to follow the law.”
An email requesting a comment or interview from Morgan County Sheriff Mike Carmody on the allegations contained in the lawsuit has not been returned. Requests for comment from the Morgan County Commissioners were denied at this time due to the pending litigation.
The Journal Courier reports that allegations in the suit are similar to those made in federal lawsuits filed in 2015 by Douglas Raney, Michael Shackleford and Tim Hagen — who maintained they were improperly searched after being pulled over by Suttles on their way from Kansas to a Notre Dame game in Indiana — and by Calvin Kisselbach, who was stopped while traveling from White Hall to Jacksonville, which were settled in 2016 for a combined $24,000 and attorney fees.