You may recall from our
previous blog that Dummit Fradin represented a Surry County couple against five Kernersville
police officers accused of misconduct. Just weeks before the case was
set to go to trial,
a settlement has been reached in favor of plaintiffs Teresa Blackburn and Adrian Martinez-Perez.
The lawsuit alleged that the police officers illegally seized $20,000 from
the couple and wrongfully arrested and assaulted Martinez-Perez without
probable cause. The officers claimed that they had probable cause because
they suspected the couple of illegal drug activity. These arguments were
rejected by U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, as was their request for
summary judgment in their favor.
Because the details of the settlement are still being negotiated, the amount
of the settlement has not yet been released. However, Attorney Clark Dummit
and the plaintiffs are very happy with the result. Final settlement documents
and a notice of dismissal are due by April 18, 2016.
According to Mr. Dummit, what happened to Blackburn and Martinez-Perez
was part of a growing trend in which local governments used fines and
forfeitures to close budget shortfalls.
To recap the details of the case, Blackburn and Martinez-Perez had visited
Chalarka Tax Office to set up two businesses. They brought along a friend,
Leonardo Lopez Garcia. The day before, the police took a report from Elizabeth
Chalarka about a dispute involving her, her daughter, and Garcia, who
had been her daughter’s boyfriend. On the day the three visited
the tax office, Chalarka called the police to inform them that Garcia
was in her office with a gun.
When the police arrived, they searched Garcia and found him unarmed. They
then turned to Martinez-Perez and asked him if he had any weapons. He
raised his hands and pointed to a pocket knife he had for work. One of
the officers then pointed a gun at him and knocked him to the ground,
placing his foot on his shoulder and kicking him several times before
arresting him and confiscating $4,000 in cash. They then searched his
vehicle and confiscated another $16,000. The officers claimed that they
found a $5 bill nearby that tested positive for cocaine, believing that
the plaintiffs were the owners.
While the search of the plaintiff’s car was legal after finding and
testing the $5 bill, the seizure of Blackburn’s money was not. The
officers never found any drugs, and the judge ruled that just because
the couple had large amounts of money was not enough to prove that they
were involved in illegal drug activity.
Kernersville was originally named in the lawsuit, but was removed as a
defendant after the judge rejected arguments that the town engaged in
the practice of discriminating against Hispanics.