Filmmaker Terrance Huff has filed a lawsuit against the city of Collinsville, Illinois, and Collinsville police officer Michael Reichert over a traffic stop last December.
The suit was filed Tuesday morning in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The Chicago law firm Meyer & Kiss is representing Huff and Jon Seaton, Huff's passenger at the time of the stop.
The Huffington Post first reported this story in March. In dash cam video Huff later posted to YouTube, Reichert appears to engage in a number of constitutionally suspect interactions with Huff and Seaton along Interstate 70, just across the border from St. Louis.
Louis Meyer, the attorney representing Huff and Seaton, told HuffPost via email that his investigation has turned up more complaints against Reichert.
"We have discovered that Officer Reichert has a pattern and practice of fabricating probable cause to try and justify illegal traffic stops," Meyer wrote. "After making these illegal traffic stops, Officer Reichert conducts illegal searches of the individuals and their vehicles. Once again, he fabricates probable cause by falsely claiming that his K9 'alerted' to the presence of drugs in the vehicle."
Meyer added that "others have come forward and are willing to testify regarding their encounters with this officer and how it affected them."
Collinsville city officials did not return a request for comment.
As HuffPost reported in March, the traffic stop raised a number of questions about law enforcement, the drug war and the Fourth Amendment. It occurred along a stretch of highway know to be a lucrative source of asset forfeiture revenue for state and local police departments. Defense attorneys told HuffPost that stops like the one depicted in Huff's video are common, and that police are known to manufacture traffic infractions to allow for such stops and then manufacture probable cause to conduct drug searches.
If police can establish even a slight connection to drug activity, officers can then seize drivers' cars and cash, with proceeds going back to the police department. Under Illinois law, it can be very difficult and expensive for an innocent person to have their property returned, particularly for motorists who are from out of state, like Huff.
HuffPost spoke with professional dog trainers who said that in the video, Reichert appears to prompt his drug-sniffing dog to "alert" to the presence of narcotics in Huff's car. The dog alert gave Reichert probable cause to search Huff's car, but the search turned up no contraband.
HuffPost was also able to obtain records from one K9 unit with the Illinois State Police which show a high rate of false "alerts" with that unit over an 11-month period.
In 28 percent of cases in which the dog alerted, the subsequent hand search found no drugs at all. Another 36 percent of alerts resulted in the officer claiming to find "shake" or "residue" in quantities to small to measure. Because those searches didn't result in arrests, there were no lab tests to confirm that what the officers found was actually illegal drug residue. Just one in four drug dog "alerts" resulted in police finding a measurable quantity of illegal drugs.
HuffPost also reported that Reichert has a record of questionable conduct. A federal judge reprimanded Reichert for his testimony in another case in which he pulled over a motorist and claimed to have found probable cause to conduct a drug search, and both the local U.S. attorney's office and the county attorney's office expressed a lack of confidence in Reichert's integrity. Defense attorneys in the area told HuffPost that even among a group of police agencies already engaging in questionable stops and searches, Reichert is particularly notorious.
Shortly after the HuffPost report was published, Collinsville Police Chief Scott Williams told St. Louis Today that he stood behind Reichert, his department and the way local police agencies conduct stops and searches.
Williams said his department had received hundreds of emails and phone calls in response to the article, but dismissed most of them as "'anti-law enforcement' people."
Referring to the way Reichert instructed his drug-sniffing dog in the Huff video, Williams told the paper, "While some people may think it's distasteful, it's clearly not illegal."
Williams added, "Everything that we do is vetted through current law or Supreme Court rulings."
Williams didn't address Reichert's history in his interview with St. Louis Today. But since our initial report, HuffPost has received complaints from several other motorists who have been stopped by Reichert as well as other officers in the area. More local defense attorneys have also since said they too have had clients with stories similar to Huff's.
Meyer says he and Huff hope the lawsuit will prompt new training for police officers in the area, including proper discipline for officers who violate motorists' civil rights.
Watch Huff's video about the traffic stop: