HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two Connecticut officers are accused of violating a black man’s rights during a traffic stop last year when they frisked him and searched his car as his two frightened sons sat in the back seat, according to a lawsuit announced Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut is suing Bridgeport officers Keith Ruffin and Carlos Vasquez in federal court, seeking undisclosed damages for their actions during the May 2015 traffic stop.
Woodrow Vereen, a juvenile detention officer, father of three and church music minister with no criminal record, was taking his two sons, ages 3 and 7, to get ice cream after a Little League game when he was pulled over for driving through a yellow traffic light, the lawsuit says. Ruffin told Vereen that a new state law required drivers to stop at yellow lights, although there was no such law, the lawsuit says.
Vereen produced his driver’s license and registration, but did not have current proof of insurance although the car was insured, according to the ACLU. When Ruffin asked if he could search the car and Vereen refused, Ruffin ordered Vereen out of the car, frisked him on the sidewalk and searched the car while the boys were in the back seat, the lawsuit says. Nothing illegal was found.
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The officers issued Vereen a citation for running a yellow light, but it was later dismissed in court.
Dan Barrett, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said the officers violated Vereen’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches. He said Vasquez shirked his constitutional responsibility to intervene.
“These officers turned an all-American night of ice cream, family and Little League into a tutorial on trampling the Bill of Rights,” Barrett said.
The two officers and Police Chief Armando Perez didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. The police union president, Charles Paris, said he didn’t know about the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.
City spokesman Av Harris said officials were reviewing the lawsuit and he could not immediately comment.
Vereen, in a statement released by the ACLU, said he had taught his children that police were their allies and were there to protect them.
“They did more than violate my civil rights. They also shattered my children’s trust in law enforcement,” he said.