Vermont resident Gregory Zullo, 21, is suing after a Vermont State Police trooper impounded his car and forced him to walk home without sufficient reason.
Zullo, who was never charged with any offense from the incident, was forced to walk eight miles home in sub-freezing temperatures.
According to reports, Zullo was pulled over by Trooper Lewis Hatch because a small amount of snow was covering his license plate. That’s the first problem -- a snow-covered plate is not a motor vehicle offense in Vermont.
When Hatch approached Zullo inside of his car, he said he smelled marijuana and wanted to search the vehicle. Zullo refused to consent to a search, as is his right since Hatch didn’t have a search warrant. He consented to a body pat down outside of his car, which turned up no contraband.
When Zullo again refused to let Hatch search his car, the Trooper said he was going to impound it.
“I can smell weed and he won’t allow me to search, so I’m just going to take it,” Hatch is heard saying on video. “(It’s) stupid, but whatever – that’s what (Zullo) wants to do.”
Hatch called a truck to tow Zullo’s car and allegedly refused to let him grab his cell phone or wallet. Hatch also refused to give Zullo a ride to his house after his car was towed, saying it’s “not [his] problem.”
Zullo was forced to walk eight miles home -- through the snow, no less -- on a day when the high temperature was 21 degrees.
Zullo’s car was searched after being impounded. The search turned up a marijuana pipe and a grinder used to break up cannabis. Neither of these items are illegal in Vermont, where it’s legal to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
In order to reclaim his car, Zullo was ordered to pay a $150 fee.
His lawsuit, which is being filed by the ACLU, says that “When Mr. Zullo asked (Hatch) why he had to pay for the tow, (Hatch) told him that the tow cost was Mr. Zullo’s fault for exercising his rights.”
Zullo’s lawsuit seeks an unknown amount in damages and an admission that Hatch’s actions were illegal.