ACLU Sues West Virginia Police For Conducting Illegal Drug Stop

December 19, 2002 12:00 am

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CHARLESTON, WV – Saying that participants at a political rally were unfairly harassed by law enforcement, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia today filed a lawsuit against two West Virginia law enforcement agencies for operating a roadblock near a drug law reform rally last year.

“The authorities established this roadblock without cause and in clear violation of the fundamental Fourth Amendment right of all Americans to be free from arbitrary government intrusion,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.

“The state officials who authorized this roadblock apparently chose to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down a few months prior to this incident that found such roadblocks unconstitutional,” Schneider added.

At issue is a drug roadblock set up near the “”Freedom Festival,”” a rally organized last year by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The ACLU complaint targets both the West Virginia State Police and the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department.

The ACLU lawsuit, Thacker v. Hill, was filed on behalf of Thomas Thacker and Brett Gasper, both of whom were subject to a random roadside search on their way to the festival on July 28, 2001. The lawsuit asserts that, in addition to violating Thacker and Gaspar’s Fourth Amendment rights, state law enforcement also violated their First Amendment rights “by establishing the checkpoint to disrupt the lawful associational, ideological, and political activities of NORML.”

On the weekend of July 28, 2001 two state police canine units specially trained to detect drugs were employed on the only road leading to the festival grounds. The festival was both a musical and a political event with more than two-dozen bands and speakers that included representatives from NORML and a former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate.

In two separate incidents, law enforcement officials detained Thacker and Gasper at the roadblock without individualized suspicion that either of them had engaged or were engaging in any criminal activity.

“I was asked if my car could be searched, and when I said no, the drug dogs were brought on the scene to pressure me to waive my constitutional rights,”” said Gasper, a former United States Marine. “I don’t like drugs and I especially don’t like big German Shepherds in my face or dirty looks from policemen and insinuating remarks from the same.”

Unlike sobriety checkpoints — which are designed to ensure traffic Safety — drug roadblocks serve the primary purpose of investigating criminal activity, and thus require individualized suspicion.

In the U.S. Supreme Court case Edmonds v. Indianapolis, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority: “Without drawing the line at roadblocks designed primarily to serve the general interest in crime control, the Fourth Amendment would do little to prevent such intrusions from becoming a routine part of American life.”

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia by Allan Karlin and Jason Huber who are serving as ACLU of West Virginia cooperating attorneys.

To read the complaint filed in this case please go to: /node/35131

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