Black Driver Sues Police, Alleging Racism
Thursday, April 6, 2006
An African American restaurateur from Prince George's County filed a civil rights lawsuit yesterday against the Montgomery County police department and two patrol officers alleging that he was unreasonably stopped, searched and arrested because he is black.
Donnell Long, a chef who owns two Largo restaurants -- Stonefish Grill and the Red Star Tavern -- was pulled over in Silver Spring on Feb. 23 as he was driving two employees home in a vehicle that belongs to a relative of one of the passengers.
Long said he was handcuffed for nearly 40 minutes by two white officers who, he said, searched the inside of his vehicle, including his trunk, without permission.
"The question I ask myself is: How many people do they do this to?" Long, 36, said. "I got pulled over for no reason. It bothers me."
Long is seeking $5 million in damages.
The police department referred questions to the county attorney's office. Patricia Via, an attorney with the county, said she could not comment on the allegations because her office has not had a chance to review the suit in detail.
"The county takes allegations of racial discrimination very seriously," Via said. "We will look into it and address it."
In the late 1990s, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated allegations of racial profiling against the Montgomery police. The department agreed to keep better data on whom officers stop and why and to have officers attend diversity training courses.
The traffic stop described in the suit happened about 1:40 a.m. as Long drove two of his managers home. The car was pulled over while heading north on Georgia Avenue toward the Beltway. Long said the stop was not preceded by a traffic infraction.
Patrol officers commonly look up license plate numbers on computers in their cruisers and can pull over drivers if a computer search of the number shows any irregularity, such as a suspended registration.
Long said the officers explained that he was being handcuffed because he was a flight risk; neither passenger was handcuffed. He said the officers didn't use overtly racist language, but he said there were "racial overtones and innuendos" to some of the comments they made.
Long was issued citations for driving a vehicle with a suspended registration, failing to display his driver's license and failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a change of address. He was taken to jail after he refused to sign the citations, he said in the suit. He went to court to fight the charges Tuesday and was found not guilty on all counts, court records show.
The two officers named in the suit, Darren J. Crandell and Daniel O. Godoy, have been with the department since June 2003, according to a personnel roster. They could not be reached yesterday.
Long's attorney, Jimmy A. Bell, said he will try to find out whether the two patrol officers have posted messages on a message board on the police union's Web site, which some officers have used as a forum to disparage colleagues and community members. He said he intends to obtain records of any messages that can be traced to either officer to use at trial.
"What would have happened if it was not a professional person like himself who had the resources to fight back?" Bell asked.