Couple sues two APD officers and City over traffic stop and roadside interrogation
Claims traffic stop was unconstitutional and First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A New Mexico man and a Dry Prong woman are suing two Alexandria police officers, Chief Ronney Howard, and the City of Alexandria for what they claim was an “unconstitutional” traffic stop and roadside interrogation.
The couple filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Louisiana on Tuesday, Nov. 1 with the help of the Institute for Justice for Fourth Amendment violations. The Institute for Justice is a national non-profit that defends property rights and the Fourth Amendment. They provided dash and body camera video from the stop to News Channel 5.
According to the lawsuit, Mario Rosales and Gracie Lasyone were stopped on June 15, 2022, at about 5 p.m., right off of Jackson Street, by two Alexandria police officers - Jim Lewis and Samuel Terrell.
“Two Alexandria police officers stopped and interrogated a motorist, Mario Rosales, and his passenger, Gracie Lasyone, without legal justification after Mario signaled and made a legal left turn at a green light. Neither Mario nor Gracie had demonstrated suspicious behavior. Neither were suspects of a crime. And neither has a criminal history. The officers interrogated Mario and Gracie about drug crimes that the officers had no reason to believe had been committed; they frisked Mario without reason to believe he was armed and dangerous; they searched his pockets; and they flatly prohibited Mario and Gracie from recording the unlawful detention.”
Dashcam video shows the couple’s red Ford Mustang, with New Mexico plates with a valid registration sticker, sitting at a red light with its left turn signal on. When the light turns green, the car makes a left onto Dorchester Drive. That’s when Rosales and Lasyone are pulled over.
Officer Terrell asked Rosales to get out of the car. In the first two minutes of the video, Rosales provided Officer Terrell with his driver’s license, registration and insurance information. While Rosales provided that information, Officer Lewis approached Lasyone, who was still sitting in the passenger seat of the Mustang.
Officer Lewis asked her some questions, like her age, and then told her to place her hands on the dashboard, which she did. At that point, Rosales asked Officer Terrell for the first time, “Why did I get pulled over?” Officer Terrell responded, “I’ll tell you in a second.”
It wouldn’t be until about 10 minutes into the stop that the couple was told why they were pulled over for failing to signal. Rosales was then asked by Officers Lewis and Terrell if he had a gun.
Rosales: “I have one in my bag, yeah.”
Lewis: “Okay, where is it at?”
Rosales: “In the back seat.”
Lewis: “In the back seat? Okay, what is it?”
Rosales: “It’s a Taurus.”
Terrell: “Do you have any on you?”
Rosales: “No, not on me.”
Rosales was asked to put his hands on the bumper and Officer Terrell frisked him. He found no weapon.
Lewis: “Hey, can I have your permission to retrieve that firearm out of your gun, or out of your uh vehicle?”
Rosales: “No, I don’t want anybody searching my vehicle.”
Lewis: “Okay, cool. Yeah, I get it.”
Officer Lewis asked Lasyone to step out of the vehicle and also asked her if she had a gun on her. She said “no sir.”
The video shows Lewis read Rosales his Miranda rights and say that he had a few questions. One of those questions was how long Rosales had been in the State of Louisiana. Rosales said he worked at Atlas Home Service and was trying to buy a home in Louisiana.
Lewis: “You ever been arrested for anything?”
Rosales was then directed to empty his pockets, which he did. At one point, Rosales said he would be more comfortable if Lasyone was allowed to get her phone and record.
Lewis (pointing to body camera): “Yeah, yeah. I’m recording. Body camera.”
Lewis promised he would not lose the body camera video when Rosales mentioned that he had a prior incident with an officer in which he was assaulted by an off-duty officer in Roswell, New Mexico in 2018. According to the law firm that filed this current lawsuit, Mario could not obtain dash or body camera video from the officer or his employer.
The couple was then separated and Officer Lewis began to ask Rosales questions about drugs.
Lewis: “Any marijuana in the vehicle?”
Lewis: “Uh, meth?”
Lewis: “Uh, heroin?”
Lewis: “Prescription pills not prescribed to you?”
Lewis: “Okay. Cocaine?
Lewis: “Crack cocaine?”
Rosales: “No. I don’t do drugs. I don’t mess with any kind of illegal substances or drugs.”
As Rosales was questioned, Terrell read Lasyone her Miranda rights and questioned her as well.
Terrell: “Is there anything illegal in that vehicle?
Lasyone: “Not to my knowledge.”
Terrell: “There was some hesitancy there.”
Lasyone shook her head to disagree.
Terrell: “If there was, what do you think it would be?”
Lasyone (shook her head again): “I don’t think there’s anything in there.”
A few minutes later, Officers Terrell and Lewis switched places, and Officer Lewis asked Lasyone a similar line of questioning that he had with Rosales on suggestions of drugs in the vehicle.
Ultimately, about 20 minutes after the couple was stopped, Rosales was cited by the officers for failure to signal, failure to register a vehicle and another allegation related to registering a vehicle. All three charges were dismissed on Aug. 9, 2022.
The couple said since the incident, they have lost their sense of “security” and “trust” in the police department and believe their First and Fourth Amendment rights were deprived. They’re seeking a jury trial.
News Channel 5 reached out to the City of Alexandria for comment on the lawsuit and were told that they have not yet received it.
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