Indiana State Police trooper Brian Hamilton pulled over Wendy Pyle in January, according to a lawsuit filed this week. He told Pyle that she had been speeding, went back to his patrol car and returned with a warning ticket.
Then, the lawsuit alleges, Hamilton asked Pyle where she attended church — and whether she had been “saved.”
“Ms. Pyle was extremely uncomfortable with these questions,” the complaint for damages states. “In order to hopefully end these inquiries Ms. Pyle indicated that she did attend a church and that she was saved.”
But Hamilton kept going. He invited Pyle to his church and gave her directions, the lawsuit alleges. Later, it states, “Ms. Pyle was approached by someone who attended church with Trooper Hamilton who informed her that Trooper Hamilton had placed her on a prayer list.”
“Ms. Pyle believes that everyone has a First Amendment right to believe and worship as they wish,” the suit states. “However, she found it very intimidating to be blocked in by Trooper Hamilton while he asked her extremely personal and inappropriate questions.”
Pyle, who filed a formal complaint after the alleged incident, is claiming Hamilton’s actions violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights. She has requested a jury trial and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, court documents indicate.
On Thursday, Hamilton — a 14-year veteran — was fired for neglect of duty and insubordination, state police announced.
“While all of us — citizen and police officer — enjoy the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, there are appropriate and proper restrictions placed on agents of the State related to their actions while engaged in their official duties,” Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said in a statement. “While I respect Mr. Hamilton’s religious views I am also charged to respect every citizen’s rights and the best way forward for the citizens of Indiana, and for Mr. Hamilton, was to end his employment as a state police officer.”
The decision came after an internal investigation, which was a completely separate matter from the lawsuit, the agency said in a news release. The police agency said it received a second complaint about Hamilton earlier this year, accusing him of proselytizing during traffic stops. It did not name the complainant in the release, but said the citizen’s allegations against Hamilton were filed in January.
As the state police indicated, this isn’t the first time Hamilton has been sued for on-the-job displays of faith. In 2014, another driver, Ellen Bogan, filed suit after Hamilton gave her a warning ticket during a traffic stop — and a pamphlet for a church.
The material from the First Baptist Church in Cambridge City, Ind., referred to a radio broadcast, called “Policing for Jesus Ministries,” among other items.
“The pamphlet also outlines ‘God’s Plan of Salvation’ that requires the reader to acknowledge that she is a sinner and to realize that ‘Salvation is a gift and is received by faith in Jesus Christ’ and that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins,'” the 2014 complaint stated. “Ms. Bogan said thank you to the Trooper and the Trooper said ‘God Bless You,’ and returned to his car.”
State police said Thursday that the most recent complaint that Hamilton was proselytizing during a traffic stop was “in direct violation” of a written counseling statement from 2014, when the trooper had been told not to “question others regarding their religious beliefs nor provide religious pamphlets or similar advertisements.”
On the plaintiffs’ side, both lawsuits were handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. A settlement was eventually reached in the Bogan case, court records indicate.
“I’m not affiliated with any church. I don’t go to church,” Bogan told the Indianapolis Star in 2014. “I felt compelled to say I did, just because I had a state trooper standing at the passenger-side window. It was just weird.”
Pyle’s suit mentions the previous litigation, and notes that as part of the settlement, Hamilton underwent employee counseling about not proselytizing during traffic stops.
You can read the complaint for damages below:
This post has been updated.