FISHERS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Friday alleging a Fishers Police Officer conducted a nonconsenual car search.
The lawsuit says Officer Joey Hancock searched a family's car on their way to the Indiana State Fair on August 5 "over the repeated objections of [driver] Mr. [David] Stautihar."
Stautihar was driving from Muncie to Indianapolis on I-69 when an unmarked but "clearly identifiable" police car driven by another officer pulled out and began following behind Stautihar's vehicle. At one point, the officer took an exit ramp, but a passenger in the vehicle observed the officer getting right back on the entrance ramp.
"Shortly after Sgt. Weesner exited from I-69, another police vehicle—operated by Officer Joey Hancock of the Fishers Police Department—began following Mr. Stautihar," the lawsuit says.
Officer Hancock initiated a traffic stop and asked Stautihar if he had any weapons in the vehicle and "may have inquired as to whether any drugs were in the vehicle."
After Stautihar told Hancock he had a legal firearm in the glove compartment and allowed Hancock to remove it, Hancock asked if anything else was in the vehicle that should not be there.
"[Hancock] was informed, truthfully, that no such items were in the vehicle. Officer Hancock then asked to search the vehicle and Mr. Stautihar told him explicitly that he did not consent to a search," according to the lawsuit.
Stautihar and his friend were then directed to get out of the vehicle and searched. The lawsuit says neither pat-down search revealed any evidence of criminal activity and after, Hancock again asked if he could search the vehicle. Stautihar again said he did not have permission.
"At this point, Officer Hancock indicated—for the very first time—that he smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle, and further indicated that he was therefore going to search the vehicle over Mr. Stautihar’s objection," the lawsuit states. "Officer Hancock’s statement that he smelled the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle was not true. There was no odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle, nor was there any odor that could have been confused with the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle."
After the search, where no marijuana was found, police told the two they were free to leave and did not provide Stautihar with a traffic citation or a written warning that he had committed a traffic infraction.
The lawsuit says Hancock's actions violated Stautihar's Fourth Amendment rights and Stautihar suffered emotional and other damages as a result. The lawsuit demands a jury trial.
Chief Ed Gebhart with the Fishers Police Department released the following statement to WRTV:
Fishers Police Department has not received a complaint filed from the individual to date. We were made aware of the pending lawsuit only through media inquiries that we received today. Our department has had a long history of serving our community with the highest level of standards and conduct. We will review this incident with the highest level of service and transparency.