Couple sues state police over traffic stop on I-95 Racial discrimination alleged in search of van

January 05, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

An elderly African-American couple sued the Maryland State Police yesterday, alleging that a search of their vehicle and possessions along Interstate 95 by troopers was an unlawful act of racial discrimination and false imprisonment.

The suit, stemming from a July 12, 1994, traffic stop in Cecil County, was filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Charles Carter, 66, and Etta Carter, 65.

The Carters of Mount Airy, Pa., allege that they were traveling home on their 40th anniversary after visiting a daughter in Florida when they were stopped and detained for several hours while police "methodically examined the contents of virtually every item" in their rented minivan, scattering items on the roadside.

"We feel that in this instance, race was a factor in the Carters' being stopped," said Deborah A. Jeon, the couple's American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.

Betty Stemley Sconion, an assistant attorney general representing the state police, said an internal investigation of a complaint lodged earlier by the Carters found the search was justified.

According to police, the couple's behavior and contradictory statements "led troopers to the reasonable conclusion that a [police dog] scan should be conducted." Police also noted that the couple, asked if they had drugs or weapons, said they had two handguns in the van.

"The investigation showed that there was nothing to indicate that they were stopped because of race," Mrs. Sconion said. "The trooper asked if there were any drugs or weapons in the car and he was told yes."

Police said the guns were loaded -- a violation of Maryland law -- but that in acknowledgment of the couple's age, the law was explained, the guns were unloaded and packed separately from the ammunition, and the Carters allowed to go on their way with the weapons and only a warning for an improper lane change.

The suit names as defendants the state police superintendent and two corporals. The couple could not be reached.

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