A black grandmother and two black teenagers filed suit Monday accusing a Utah Highway Patrol trooper of conducting an illegal search of their vehicle for drugs based on racial profiling.
Sherida Felders alleges the officer had no reason to believe her Jeep Commander contained illegal substances, but still called in a drug-sniffing dog after stopping her for speeding on Interstate 15 near Cedar City.
Although the canine never signaled a drug find and Felders refused to give permission for a search, Trooper Brian Bairett and his supervisor opened all the luggage and unscrewed various compartments in the vehicles, the lawsuit claims. It says no drugs were found and that the search of Felders' vehicle was "based solely on her racial profile as a black woman along with a racial profile of the two young black men."
The plaintiffs also allege that the UHP has refused to turn over videos of the incident made by dash-cam recorders.
Sgt. Jeff Nigbur, a UHP spokesman, said the agency is reviewing the lawsuit and did not have an immediate comment. He said the Internal Affairs division already was looking into the case and is taking Felders' allegations seriously.
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City and names Bairett and unidentified troopers as defendants, seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The lawsuit says Felders was stopped Nov. 20 while traveling with two young African-Americans -- Elijah Madyun, 17, and Delarryon Hansend, 18 -- from their San Diego homes to Fort Collins, Colo., to visit her grandson.
Bairett, who pulled the Jeep over for going 83 miles per hour in a 75-mph zone, according to the lawsuit, allegedly asked Felders if she had any methamphetamine, cocaine or crack.
The 54-year-old said no, according to the lawsuit. And when Bairett called for a K-9 unit, Felders says she asked what made him think she had any drugs in the vehicle.
The trooper allegedly pointed to the medals on his shoulder and said, "This makes me think it."
Felders who has been disabled with arthritis and torn tendons in her right hip since 2006, was forced to stand outside the car in the cold for almost two hours and has had severe pain in her hip since then, the suit says.
The teens and Felders do not dispute the legality of the initial stop, but say the detention and search were unlawful because the trooper had no reasonable suspicion that they were engaged in criminal activity. The suit says Madyun and Hansend are responsible high school students who do not use drugs.