Bridgeport police have settled a lawsuit brought by a man who was stopped, searched, and ticketed as he drove his boys home from little league and pizza two years ago.
Woodrow Vereen alleges the incident violated his constitutional rights.
Vereen was initially stopped for a traffic violation. But then, he alleged, officers Keith Ruffin and Carlos Vasquez removed him from his car, frisked him, and then searched the car itself as his boys looked on.
Vereen, who is black, argued police had no probable cause. At the time, the city of Bridgeport declined to comment, other than to say that it stood by its officers.
Now, the city is settling the case out of court for an undisclosed sum, according to Vereen’s attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. As part of the deal, the city “denies any and all of the material allegations of the claims made by Mr. Vereen” in the lawsuit.
Vereen also agreed to withdraw his claim. The traffic tickets he received for coasting through a yellow light and not having proof of insurance had already been dismissed in state court, according to his lawyer.
ACLU legal director Dan Barrett said he was pleased with the result, as it provides a reminder to police departments that they can’t willfully violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections from unreasonable search and seizure.
“The problem in Mr. Vereen’s case,” Barrett said, “is that what began as a traffic stop turned into him being taken out of his car, in front of his children, him being pat frisked, and then the car being searched.”
Barrett also said it’s a reminder that race can play a role in policing.
“Racial profiling is a problem across the state, and so it’s important that people stand up, like Woody did, and say this shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Vereen, a music minister and juvenile detention officer, thanked his lawyers in the statement.
“One of the reasons I filed this lawsuit was to show people who feel they don’t have a voice, or the means to get help, that it’s possible to get justice,” Vereen said.
The city of Bridgeport has not yet responded to a request for comment.