Judge grills trooper’s attorney for justification for 2020 traffic stop and search

A Little Rock man appeared in court on Tuesday, suing an Arkansas State Police officer after the 2020 traffic stop, in which he was detained for nearly two hours – often in handcuffs – before being released with a warning penalty. A federal judge questioned the police about the reason for stopping his lawyer.

In August 2020, Marion Andrew Humphrey Jr., then a third-year law student at the University of Arkansas, was driving a U-Haul truck full of furniture and other items when it was stopped by Arkansas at 8 PM on Interstate 40 near Russellville. State Police Officer Steven Payton on suspicion of reckless and prohibited driving. After calling a K-9 dog who reportedly had been alerted to the presence of drugs in the truck, Payton and another officer called the U-Haul, while Humphrey sat handcuffed in the back of Payton’s patrol car for nearly 80 hours, according to the complaint. minute.

After the search, Humphrey was released with a warning for reckless and prohibited driving as he switched to the fog line after giving the exit signal and then changing his mind. The entire stop took an hour and 50 minutes. He filed a lawsuit against Payton in federal court in March 2021, alleging civil rights violations under the 4th and 8th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Humphrey, the son of former Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey, appeared in court on Tuesday, along with his attorneys, Connor Eldridge of Rogers and Greta Wiessner of Minneapolis, for a hearing on Payton’s request for summary judgment submitted last July. Represented by Vincent France of the Arkansas attorney general’s office, Payton did not attend the hearing.

Considering Payton’s request for summary judgment at Tuesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky questioned both sides for nearly four hours on Tuesday as they worked on the constitutional issues presented by Wiessner and the qualified immunity claim disputed by France.

Wiessner’s allegations on behalf of Humphrey were that the traffic stop and search were illegal because there was no probable justification for Humphrey’s unlawful detention. France argued that Payton had the right to qualified immunity, protecting government employees from monetary compensation if they acted within the scope of his duties, and that his actions “did not violate clearly established legal or constitutional rights that a reasonable person would have known”. “

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Rudofsky spent most of the trial focusing on Payton’s claim that Humphrey was dragged to the right of Interstate 40’s right lane and crossed the plain white “fog line” twice before pulling over the side. Recordings also noted that as Payton sped up behind him, Humphrey signaled to take off on the exit ramp just outside Russellville, but canceled the turn signal before entering the exit ramp and continued down the highway. At this point Payton pulled him aside.

Payton can be seen and heard in the dashcam video interrogating Humphrey as he stands on the shoulder of the interstate between Humphrey’s U-Haul rental truck and Payton’s patrol car. After checking Humphrey’s driver’s license and rental paperwork, Payton continues to question him, at which point Humphrey asks what was the likely reason he pulled him over.

“You wrecked your truck there,” Payton said, pointing west. “That’s why I stopped you.”

A review of the video confirmed that Humphrey had signaled to exit, then canceled the signal and continued straight, with no indication that he had nearly “broken down” the truck, and as Rudofsky pointed out in court while reviewing the relevant portion of the video. , it was difficult to determine that the truck had indeed crossed the fog line.

Wiessner told the judge there was no probable reason for pulling Humphrey aside, other than “the defendant wanted to create a reason to pull him over and search his U-Haul for narcotics.”

Wiessner said whether Humphrey actually committed a traffic violation is a contentious question, and a question for the jury to decide.

“There is no such thing as an arguable traffic violation,” he said. “It’s a jury question as to whether he crossed the fog line.”

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France argued that while Humphrey had touched the fog line, the probable reason for the halt required only the belief that Payton had, not proof that Humphrey had actually crossed the fog line.

“It’s very important to know what Soldier Payton thinks he’s seeing,” Rudofsky said.

“He was crossing to get out,” said France. “He decided he wasn’t sure if it was, so he went back to the interstate.”

Rudofsky asked if the state defense depended on Payton to see Humphrey start the exit and then change his mind, what traffic law the state would use to justify the stop.

“Inappropriate lane change,” said France. “One of the careless and forbidden parts…”

“Why is this an inappropriate lane change?” Rudofsky intervened.

“Because he tries to debut and then changes his mind,” France said. “This creates a traffic hazard because… he puts on his flasher, the cars behind him anticipate that this U-Haul will go to the right as the flasher indicates, and he decides not to go after he’s already made a move. take the exit.”

Rudofsky continued to pressure France on the matter, stating that what Payton allegedly saw from his patrol car did not appear in the video on the dash cam. Rudofsky continued to question whether he could actually see Payton touching the fog line from the distance behind Humphrey at the time of the breach. He also questioned whether state law regulating lane changes would apply to “to exit or not to exit.”

France said the statute on non-control would apply, as an exit ramp would be considered a travel lane.

“You don’t have to lose control to breach this,” he said, asking more questions than Rudofsky.

“It didn’t look like it was out of control,” the judge said. “It’s really hard to understand that.”

Rudofsky said he had reviewed the video multiple times and failed to understand “this so-called wobble of the truck we’re talking about”, which France said was based on the perception of the violation from Payton’s own point of view.

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“Yes,” said Rudofsky doubtfully, “but we’ve all seen the video. Is there something that isn’t in the video…?”

France argued that Payton’s view from behind the steering wheel would be different from the dash-mounted camera.

“Pretty close,” Rudofsky said.

Wiessner argued that after checking Humphrey’s driver’s license and rental paperwork, confirming the information he had given at the beginning of the interview, he should be free to continue. After the truck search was complete and it became clear that Humphrey would not be arrested, Payton wrote a warning ticket that Humphrey should not remain handcuffed behind Payton’s patrol car for another nine minutes. He said these actions violated the 4th Amendment — the prohibition of illegal search and seizure — and the 8th Amendment — the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

He argued that Payton’s doubts about Humphrey’s travel plans and his unease about being stopped were real issues for a jury to decide, and Rudofsky said it was his call as to whether Humphrey’s inconsistent answers were enough to raise reasonable suspicion. .

“Assuming you make that decision, rather than the jury,” Wiessner said, “still not enough.”

He cited an 8th Circuit case where the court ruled that one or two factors, “one of which, being nervous, was not enough to raise reasonable suspicion.”

After four hours of interrogation and several reviews of the video of the alleged crime, Rudofsky said he would seek advice from lawyers.

“This is a very serious case,” he said. “I don’t expect a decision for a few months.”

He also said that even when he rules, his decision will be challenged and a number of issues could be settled on appeal long before a hearing date is set before the 8th Circuit.

“I don’t want you all to think we’re going to court right away,” Rudofsky said. “These are very serious and serious matters.”


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