Civil rights activists are pursuing lawsuits against an Ohio police department after officers staged a fake drug checkpoint as a way to weed out suspicious drivers.
According to the New York Times, actual drug checkpoints are illegal, but because some drivers are not as knowledgeable about the law, the police department decided to stage a fake-out and pull over drivers who reacted suspiciously after reading the signs warning about the fake checkpoint.
Police in an Ohio suburb put up signs one night along Interstate 271 warning drivers about the checkpoint up ahead and that they should be prepared to stop. The signs also warned that there was a drug-sniffing dog on the scene to help with the investigation.
Of course, there was no actual checkpoint, but there were officers watching as drivers passed the sign and four people were pulled over for “suspicious behavior.” The department said that there were some arrests and drugs recovered, but did not provide more specific details.
Though clever, the fake sting-like checkpoint angered civil rights activists that claim the operation could be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful search and seizures.
"I don't think it accomplishes any public safety goals," said Terry Gilbert, a prominent Cleveland civil rights attorney to the New York Times. "I don't think it's good to mislead the population for any reason if you're a government agency."
The Cleveland office for the American Civil Liberties Union might take up a lawsuit against the department, according to Cleveland’s ACLU spokesman Nick Worner.
As noted by ABC News, one of the four pulled over was Bill Peters, who said he was probably pulled over because of his long, scraggly hair. According to Peters, he had missed his exit and so got off the freeway to look up directions. After he got back on the freeway, he pulled over again when his phone was disconnected from his car charger. After getting back on the road, police pulled him over for suspicious behavior.
Police did not find any drugs and let Peters go, but the driver believes the tactic relies too much on speculation.
"I see what they're doing, but I think it's kind of dangerous," Peters said. "It's one thing to do this on a 25 mph road; it's another on a busy interstate. I think it's a violation to just be pulled over and searched."
According to Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor Dominic Vitantonio, the fake checkpoints are definitely legal and an effective tactic for identifying illegal drug users.
"We should be applauded for doing this," Vitantonio said. "It's a good thing."