Laurel police officer to pay $125,000 in civil rights lawsuit

A Laurel police officer has agreed to pay $125,000 to a Hyattsville man, who claims he was strip-searched in public by the officer based on racial profiling during a 2015 traffic stop, according to a settlement reached this week that will close a federal civil case.

The lawsuit was jointly filed in U.S. District Court in July 2015 by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs on behalf of 52-year-old Allan Sergeant. The Laurel police officer named in the civil suit was Alfie Acol.

Senior Staff Attorney Dennis Corkery, of the Washington Lawyers' Committee, said an offer of judgment – similar to a settlement – was entered in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

City officials released a statement in August 2015, which said the city and the Laurel Police Department "adamantly deny that the victim in this incident was strip searched, and his body exposed to public view by our officers."

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs also had filed a claim against the city of Laurel and the Laurel Police Department, alleging they failed to train officers in appropriate search and seizure. Corkery said they dropped the suit early in the lawsuit to focus on Sergeant's case.

"It's a great resolution for Mr. Sergeant," Corkery said.

According to the lawsuit, in March 2014 Acol stopped Sergeant's car in the CVS parking lot at 15100 Baltimore Ave. and ordered him out of the car. After frisking and searching Sergeant twice, the lawsuit states Acol then unbuckled Sergeant's belt, pulled down his pants and underwear and forced him to have a visual strip search in public view.

The lawsuit states that Sergeant's rights were violated without just cause "because he is black and was driving while wearing his hair in dreadlocks." Acol, who is Filipino, was assisted by another Laurel police officer, who did not intervene to stop the strip search, Corkery said.

Spokesman Gregg Kelley, of the Washington Lawyers' Committee, said as part of Sergeant's acceptance of the offer of judgment, the case against the second police officer will be dismissed once payment is received.

Acol's attorney, Daniel Karp, of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp, said the case was settled after a thorough investigation.

"The officer had made some errors," Karp said, but "the plaintiff's damage claim was wildly exaggerated for reasons which are not part of the public record."

After the lawsuit was filed, Laurel police conducted an internal investigation and retrained officers department-wide in search and seizure procedures, according to city spokeswoman Audrey Barnes.

Barnes declined to comment on the investigation's findings, but said Acol violated several department policies and guidelines, and was disciplined. Acol remains an officer with the police department, she said.

Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said Wednesday that the incident was "fully investigated."

"A number of issues were discovered. Disciplinary action and retraining was ordered as a result," McLaughlin said.

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