May 9, 2013
DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado today announced a $35,000 settlement with the City of Loveland following the detainment and search of Johnstown resident David Kramer during a minor traffic stop by Loveland police on July 4, 2011.
Kramer was held in handcuffs for more than an hour and was subjected, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, to a search of his body, his wallet, and his vehicle by Loveland police, who gave no justification other than a claim they smelled marijuana, according to a letter that ACLU attorneys sent to the City of Loveland last fall.
“The courts have said that a smell of marijuana is probable cause for a search, and unscrupulous cops know that they can usually get away with falsely claiming to smell pot,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “In this case, however, we were prepared to prove that the officer fabricated his claim of smelling marijuana to justify and to cover up an unreasonable search that violated Mr. Kramer’s rights.”
Loveland police found no marijuana, and a drug dog brought to the scene failed to alert.
Kramer was on his way to the Post Office to collect his mail when he was pulled over by Loveland Police, who removed him from his vehicle and handcuffed him within a few minutes of the initial stop. According to the ACLU, Kramer was then forced to sit on the side of the road for more than an hour while police continued to question him without cause and search his vehicle without consent.
Courts have consistently found that a police officer must have an “objectively reasonable articulable suspicion” that a crime has occurred or is occurring to hold a person beyond an initial traffic stop, and an officer cannot use handcuffs without a reasonable belief of a threat or danger. According to the ACLU, Kramer was unarmed, and he calmly cooperated with all of the officers’ instructions and requests.
“The Fourth amendment exists to protect citizens from this kind of unjustified government invasion of person and property,” added Silverstein. “We are glad that the City of Loveland decided to avoid litigation and settle this matter out of court.”
Silverstein added that he hopes that statewide legalization of personal marijuana possession will reduce these types of traffic-stop searches, saying “Cops turning minor traffic stops into full-blown car searches for marijuana have been a frequent source of police-community friction. After Amendment 64, we hope Colorado police will be focusing their attention elsewhere.”