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Louisville police took $18K from Black driver in unlawful search and arrest, lawsuit says

Billy Kobin   | Louisville Courier Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Kentucky man has sued three Louisville Metro Police officers and former police Chief Steve Conrad, saying he was unlawfully searched and charged with drug offenses during a traffic stop because he is Black.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Karim Codrington, a 32-year-old Army veteran from Radcliff, also accuses police of false arrest, malicious prosecution, failure to train and intervene and unlawfully seizing at least $18,000.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 3 in U.S. District Court by attorney Shaun Wimberly on behalf of Karim Codrington, names Officers Jay Dolak, Tyler Blissett and John Kirk as well as Conrad and Louisville Metro Government as defendants.

Claims made in a lawsuit represent only one side of a case.

LMPD does not comment on pending litigation. Conrad, who was fired last summer after the fatal shooting of David McAtee, could not be reached for comment.

According to his lawsuit, Codrington had parked his Dodge Charger at a Thorntons gas station pump at Seventh Street and Algonquin Parkway a few minutes before 1 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2018.

He was talking on a phone, and Dolak and Blissett then drove up and blocked Codrington’s car, according to the suit.

Dolak “immediately asked if there were any weapons in the car,” and Codrington replied that he did, according to the complaint. Body camera footage shows Codrington telling the officer he has three guns in the car.

Dolak then asked Codrington to exit the vehicle, which the man did before the officers patted him down, per the lawsuit. Blissett put his hands in the pockets of Codrington’s clothing during the search, the suit adds.

Dolak next asked Codrington if he could go inside the vehicle, and Codrington refused to consent, according to the suit.

The officers asked Codrington for his driver’s license and concealed carry permit, which Codrington showed them, the suit says.

A K-9 officer and additional officers showed up to the gas station, and Codrington kept denying the requests from Dolak and Blissett to search his vehicle, according to the lawsuit.

Dolak became “disgruntled” and then asked Codrington for proof of automobile insurance, but when Codrington attempted to pull out his insurance card, Dolak refused to let him show it, according to the complaint.

Dolak then issued “an ultimatum” to Codrington — either let officers search the vehicle or face a charge of failure to produce an insurance card, according to the lawsuit.

Codrington continued to refuse, but Kirk then initiated at least two “false dog sniffs” with his K-9, the lawsuit says. One was prompted by Kirk “throwing an object into Mr. Codrington’s vehicle,” which resulted in the K-9 entering the vehicle and retrieving the object, according to the complaint.

Codrington was then handcuffed, with the officers searching his vehicle and finding a “small amount of marijuana” and cash “totaling at least $50,000,” the suit says.

He was arrested and charged with trafficking in marijuana and meth, buying and possessing drugs, tampering with physical evidence and loitering, with Codrington released from jail about a day later after posting a $2,500 bond, according to the lawsuit and court records.

Wimberly, his attorney, said body camera footage suggests police could have planted the meth after detaining the man.

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But the charges were dismissed in Jefferson Circuit Court in November 2020, according to online records and the lawsuit.

In court, the lawsuit says, Dolak falsely asserted the reason for the traffic stop and search was due to concerns over Codrington’s “wellness” and that he “had already called for a K-9 dog.” 

Body camera footage “does not reveal an audible call for K-9,” Jefferson Circuit Judge Brian Edwards wrote in a court opinion that granted Codrington’s request to suppress evidence the officers collected during the stop.

Dolak had also testified the gas station was in a “high-crime area,” and that gas stations are often used as “drug trafficking,” Edwards wrote in his March 2020 order.

But that alone, along with any “nervousness” exhibited by Codrington, is “not sufficient to create reasonable articulable suspicion” of criminal activity, Edwards wrote.

Codrington was “cooperative, did not appear under the influence of any intoxicants, was in possession of a valid license and had no outstanding warrants,” the judge wrote. “… Mr. Codrington’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated, and the resulting seizure was ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ that must be suppressed.”

Once his case was dismissed, Codrington sought to retrieve the seized money from LMPD but noticed at least $18,000 was missing, according to his suit. His attempt to recover the money has been denied, the lawsuit says.

As for why Codrington — who served overseas in Afghanistan while in the Army — had a larger amount of cash in his vehicle, Wimberly said his client was in the process of using it to secure a new home and had documentation and bank statements to back all of it up.

Wimberly noted at least eight other lawsuits have been filed since January 2019 alleging LMPD and its officers have violated the rights of Black drivers through unconstitutional traffic stops and searches. (The attorney himself claimed he was racially profiled in one of those lawsuits against the department.)

The suit also cites past Courier Journal reports into LMPD’s pattern of stopping and searching Black drivers at a disproportionate rate, and it notes last year’s Hillard Heintze review of LMPD, which found Black drivers made up 34% of traffic stops in 2019 while representing 21.2% of the city’s population.

After the controversial 2018 stop of Tae-Ahn Lea, a Black teen who was pulled from his car one day before Codrington, frisked and handcuffed while a drug-sniffing dog and police searched his vehicle, only to find no contraband, Conrad announced in May 2019 he was curtailing LMPD’s practice of removing motorists from their cars and handcuffing them while their vehicle is searched.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating LMPD and the city’s “patterns and practices,” including whether police discriminate against people based on race.

LMPD Chief Erika Shields, who took over the department this year, said in September her department was working toward implementing a system that will track the race and gender of the subject of traffic stops.

Among other requests, Codrington’s lawsuit seeks $18,000 in damages to recoup his cash as well as punitive damages.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings in the Western District of Kentucky, with future court hearings not yet scheduled.

Reach Billy Kobin at bkobin@courierjournal.com.

This content was originally published here.

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