Murray City settles lawsuit with Black woman over a traffic stop, pays $152,000

Police don’t admit wrongdoing, says they are settling because of a lack of video evidence.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Donna Miller says she was targeted by a Murray police officer for her race after he pulled her over and arrested her on Aug. 21, 2018. She is sued the officer and Murray City, alleging she was unlawfully arrested and prosecuted. She is pictured here on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

Murray City will pay $152,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Black woman who alleged she was pulled over because of her skin color.

Donna Miller filed the federal lawsuit last June, alleging that the 2018 traffic stop was racially motivated and violated her constitutional rights.

Officer Jarom Mohlman Allred had initially said he stopped her because she didn’t have valid insurance, according to the lawsuit. When she showed him proof that she did, Allred told her he suspected she was intoxicated.

The woman says she doesn’t drink alcohol — but Allred conducted multiple sobriety tests on Miller, and eventually searched her car and arrested her.

Miller was detained for three hours, a period where she said she was terrified. Prosecutors eventually filed criminal charges, even though she passed all of the sobriety tests and blood tests found no trace of alcohol or drugs. The charges were eventually dropped after her blood results showed she had no alcohol or drugs in her system.

“No one should have to go through what I had experienced,” Miller told The Tribune last year. “I did nothing wrong. All I did was drive while being Black.”

Miller said in a statement Wednesday: “I want my example to show Murray and other cities and police departments across Utah that racism is real and convince them to train their police officers to see and stop racial bias while doing their jobs.”

Heather White, an attorney for Murray City, said in a Wednesday news release that neither the city nor the officer admit wrongdoing in settling the case, and believe that “the entire encounter was lawful.” The settlement doesn’t require new training.

There was no body camera footage because Allred had been on his way to work and the camera was at the station charging. And dash camera footage was incomplete, White said, and did not record when Allred initially saw Miller and pulled her over.

“Without video footage, the vehicle stop, investigation, and arrest were subject to differing interpretations,” White wrote. “The city is confident that had there been complete video footage, the outcome of the matter would have been different.”

The lack of video “creates questions in the minds of the public,” White said. So the city opted to settle the case.

“The city stands by the officer and affirms its belief that the officer did not violate policy,” she said.

Miller was represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the law firm Holland and Hart.

“It took Donna almost two years to gain the confidence to speak her truth and initiate this lawsuit,” said attorney Kristy Kimball. “While no amount of money will truly compensate Donna for the trauma and distress she endured, she succeeded in shining a light on unconscious bias that she believes underlies racially-motivated police action.”

Jason Groth, the smart justice attorney at the ACLU of Utah, pointed to an ACLU study that shows Black people are 4.7 times more likely to be arrested in Salt Lake County for marijuana possession that white people.

“Sadly, cases like Ms. Miller’s are all too common in Utah,” he said.

In its response to the suit, the city said Allred had pulled Miller over after he allegedly saw her drifting in and out of her lane. He worried she was impaired, city lawyers said, and said she showed “several clues of possible impairment” during field tests.

Miller had recently moved to Utah before the Aug. 21, 2018 traffic stop. She had raised three children as a single mother in Northern Virginia, and once they were grown, the 59-year-old came here to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse midwife. She found a program at LDS Business College after following a promotional campaign from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is a member.

Miller had been driving from the Fashion Place Mall to the college to attend class when she was pulled over.