Black Couple Sues Colorado Police for Illegal Search

A Black couple in Colorado sued an Aurora Police officer and the city of Aurora Police Department on claims that the officer searched them and their vehicle without probable cause during a traffic stop for a broken tail light. Angela Brown and Keith Penny filed suit against Aurora Officer Andrew McDermott on Monday, April 15, exactly two years after the incident occurred. The lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court in Denver, claims McDermott searched the couple’s bodies and vehicle during a stop on the corner of East Colfax Avenue and North Sable Boulevard without legal cause.

“This case concerns the careless and cavalier harassment of a young Black couple when a white veteran police officer stopped a vehicle for a broken tail light and subjected the couple to an unnecessarily long detention that included searches of the couple’s bodies and vehicles, without a legal basis,” the lawsuit stated, according to the Denver Post.

Civil Rights attorney Raymond Bryant told The North Star that it was unbelievable that McDermott was “so candidly captured on body cam footage” explaining to a trainee what he planned to do to the couple. According to the lawsuit, McDermott asked Brown, who was driving, and Penny for their driver’s licenses and then did a criminal background check on both of them at his patrol car. McDermott then got out of the patrol car and spoke to the trainee.

“So [Penny’s] got priors for coke, drug abuser, and gang stuff. I don’t think [Brown] is going to find her insurance so let’s pull em’ out, we’ll pat em’ down, just sit em’. I’ll ask for her consent. If she denies it, either way, we’ll protective sweep the car, make sure there’s no weapons in there and then I’ll finish the summons,” McDermott told the trainee, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit said the officer had the couple step out of the car and submitted them to a pat-down without probable cause. Bryant called McDermott’s pat down of Brown “borderline intrusive.”

Penny reportedly asked the officer whether he did something wrong; McDermott initially did not answer but finally confirmed that Penny had done nothing wrong and that he was being searched due to his criminal past. McDermott told the trainee that there was “dope in here somewhere” while searching the back of the couple’s car, Bryant told The North Star. However, the officer found no drugs or weapons.

The lawsuit claims that the officer then told Penny that “in years of doing this job, I have found that typically speaking, people who have a past that’s similar to yours tend to reoffend more often than not…It’s not rocket science.”

Bryant said that he took the couple’s case because of how blatantly McDermott made the decision to search Brown and Penny before having any contact with them. The couple is seeking compensatory and punitive damages after suffering emotional distress, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering. In a statement to The North Star, Aurora Police said it recently became aware of the lawsuit against McDermott and confirmed that the incident occurred two years ago. However, the department said that due to active civil litigation, it was unable to issue further comment.

Professors Frank Baumgartner, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Derek Andrew Epp, from the University of Texas at Austin, conducted analysis on routine traffic stop statistics in North Carolina and found that Black drivers are about twice as likely to be stopped on highways. Once pulled over, Black drivers are twice as likely to be searched. The fear of being pulled over for “driving while Black” is not a new phenomenon, nor is it relegated to one study. A recent report by the Department of Justice found that Black drivers (9.8 percent) were more likely to be pulled over by police than white people (8.6 percent) or Hispanics (7.6 percent). The same report found that once police contact was made, Black people (5.2 percent) and Hispanics (5.1 percent) were more likely to be threatened or have physical force used on them than whites (2.4 percent).

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.