9/17/2013Vermont: Federal Lawsuit Challenges Bogus Traffic Stop
ACLU files federal lawsuit against Vermont police officer for writing a bogus traffic ticket and lying about it in court.
A man slapped with a bogus traffic ticket in Shelburne, Vermont is fighting back against the police officer who issued it. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, Rod MacIver filed a suit in the US District Court for the District of Vermont on Thursday over the December 9, 2012 traffic stop. Officer Jason P. Lawton pulled over MacIver's truck and accused him of running a red light, even though a dashcam video of the incident confirms that did not happen (view video). When MacIver began arguing with Officer Lawton, he was slapped with a $214 ticket and two points against his driver's license.
"What Rod encountered is everyone's nightmare," said Vermont ACLU executive director Allen Gilbert said in a statement. "He was out at night, alone, and was stopped by a cop who accused him of doing something he hadn't done. And when he told the cop that he hadn't broken the law, he got a ticket for arguing."
Lawton then filed a complaint about the rookie officer with the Shelburne Police Department, and Sergeant Allen Fortin emailed Lawton back claiming that he had reviewed the video and it showed a violation.
"I reviewed this tape you were in violation and when you were stopped you asked (screamed at) the officer to issue you the ticket so please feel free to contest the ticket," Fortin wrote in the email. "I would like the judge to see your actions at the time of the stop and see what we have to deal with."
Weeks later, after being a charged a $45 fee, Lawton obtained the video which clearly showed he legally entered the intersection of Allen Road and Route 7 while the light was yellow. Officer Lawton testified in court that Lawton broke the law. At the March 6 hearing on the case, MacIver showed the video and the judge was angry that the officer had seen the video before entering the courtroom but continued to say MacIver ran a red light.
"Please explain to me why you testified under oath that the light had turned red before he entered the intersection?" Superior Court Judge Howard A. Kalfus asked Officer Lawton.
Officer Lawton said he testified to what he thought happened, which was different from what actually happened. MacIver was found not guilty, but he was not willing to let the police department get away with this bad conduct.
"He lied to me," MacIver explained in court. "He didn't see me go through a red light. He didn't like my attitude, so he gave me a ticket for that, and I'm extremely unhappy about it. I'm particularly unhappy because Sergeant Fortin tried to cover it up, and it makes me think that there's a pattern of abuse in the Shelburne Police Department that's totally inappropriate."
The lawsuit alleges Officer Lawton illegally seized MacIver in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and then violated his First Amendment rights by ticketing him for arguing over the bogus stop. He seeks a jury trial on the matter.