A Black man in North Carolina was awarded $50,000 four years after his “unreasonable” strip search inside a gas station bathroom after a deputy accused him of smelling like “crack.”
Last Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger said a jury found Deputy Jeff May had “gone rogue” when he violated Marcus Hyatt’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure during the 2018 traffic stop on Smokey Park Highway in Asheville, Citizen-Times reports.
Hyatt was in the passenger seat of a car driven by Brandon Pickens, who was also strip searched but was not part of the civil suit.
May was found to have made false statements about smelling crack cocaine on Hyatt and falsifying a field drug test to get a search warrant that resulted in May being taken inside of a gas station bathroom and forced to strip naked and “expose his most private areas to the officers,” Reidinger said.
The search lasted nearly four hours, and no drugs were found. Hyatt was ultimately released without facing any charges.
The judge said he based his ruling on “May’s unlawful search and seizure, the humiliation and degradation that Plaintiff Hyatt suffered as a result of the unreasonable strip search and the fear and anxiety caused by Defendant May’s actions in displaying a weapon and in fabricating evidence in order to obtain the search warrant.”
Charges against Quentin Miller, the county’s first Black sheriff, and former Sheriff Van Duncan were dismissed. Deputy Jake “J.D.” Lambert also participated in the strip search but was “cleared of all liability” after the judge determined Lambert was unaware that May falsified claims of smelling crack cocaine and Hyatt’s drug test.
Hyatt’s attorney, Brian Elston, supports the ruling and wasn’t disappointed that the damages were significantly lower than the $500,000 they initially sought.
“What we had asked for was for the court to find that what happened to our client was wrong and to hold someone accountable, and that is exactly what happened. And that is worth more to my client than any amount of money than he could have received,” Elston said.