Man sues state police over cash Suit charges bias prompted I-95 stop, seizure of $70,000

May 29, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A Washington, D.C., man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Maryland State Police in an attempt to recover $70,000 in cash he says was illegally seized by a trooper during a 1991 traffic stop and search of a car in which he was a passenger.

Tony Murphy, 29, who owns a small recording company and a restaurant in Washington, charges that he and two other men xTC were stopped on northbound Interstate 95 in Elkton in October 1991 only because they were black.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, says that although troopers are supposed to have a reason to believe a crime has been committed before searching vehicles, they conducted the search first and looked for reasons afterward.

It charges that troopers believed the men matched a "drug profile" -- young black men in expensive cars.

"To allow such action by police is tantamount to saying that it is illegal in itself for blacks to carry large sums of money in the state of Maryland," said the lawsuit.

Also named as defendants are the Maryland attorney general's office; Trooper Joel S. Schindler, who stopped the car; and Judge Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Judge Murphy, who was named because of his role as administrator of the Circuit Court system, would not comment yesterday.

Mr. Murphy's lawyer, A. Dwight Pettit, said occupants of the car denied a request by the trooper to search the late-model Buick but that the trooper ordered them out of the vehicle and brought in a drug-sniffing police dog.

The dog went directly to a bag of money containing $70,000, which troopers at the scene said was an indication that an odor of marijuana was on the cash, according to the suit.

No marijuana or evidence of any other illegal activity was found, the suit says, and police did not file criminal charges or issue a speeding ticket.

Troopers detained Mr. Murphy for two hours and seized the $70,000 in his bag and another $732 in his pocket, the suit says. They refused to return the money and gave him a receipt only after he made repeated demands, the suit says.

The Maryland attorney general's office has filed a forfeiture action against Mr. Murphy in Cecil County Circuit Court.

Mr. Murphy charges in the suit that the attorney general's office has harassed him by questioning him extensively about his background during a deposition for the forfeiture case.

The suit says that the Cecil County court allowed the harassment to proceed.

Mr. Murphy said in the deposition that he was charged with possession and distribution of Dilaudid, a pain killer, in February 1986 and later convicted.

U.S. District Judge William N. Nickerson denied yesterday a request for a temporary restraining order to halt the forfeiture proceedings, scheduled to continue Tuesday.

He said the case should be resolved in the state court.

Carmen M. Shepard, an assistant attorney general, agreed.

"The plaintiff has the opportunity to argue his case in state court," Ms. Shepard said, adding that she will ask the federal court to dismiss the suit.

Ms. Shepard said the trooper's seizure of the money was proper.

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