In a case filed in U.S. District Court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut argues that two Bridgeport police officers, Keith Ruffin and Carlos Vasquez, violated a man’s civil rights during a traffic stop in 2015. On behalf of Woodrow Vereen, the ACLU-CT argues that the officers defied the Constitution when they searched Vereen’s car and frisked him without his consent or evidence of illegal activity.

Vereen, a Bridgeport resident, is a music minister, juvenile detention officer, and father of three. On May 30, 2015, he was taking his seven and three-year-old sons out for ice cream after a Little League game. On the way, Officers Ruffin and Vasquez stopped him for allegedly running a yellow light. After Vereen produced his license and registration, Officer Ruffin asked for permission to search the car. Vereen declined. Officer Ruffin ordered Vereen out of the car, frisked him on the sidewalk, and searched the vehicle—all without saying a word to Vereen’s frightened sons, who remained inside while the officer inspected around them, and all without evidence of illegal activity.

“These officers turned an all-American night of ice cream, family, and Little League into a tutorial on trampling the Bill of Rights,” said Dan Barrett, Legal Director for the ACLU-CT and the attorney representing Vereen. “The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches. This is a clear-cut case of police violating that right. Officer Ruffin ignored the constitution when he went on a fishing expedition in Mr. Vereen’s car, and Officer Vasquez shirked his constitutional responsibility to intervene.”

Ultimately, the officers did not find anything in Vereen’s car and issued a citation, which the Connecticut Superior Court dismissed, for the alleged yellow light violation.

“As a father who works with detained youth, I want my children to the view police as allies who are there to protect them,” said Vereen. “In one instant, these officers unraveled all of the lessons that I have tried to teach my sons. They did more than violate my civil rights: they also shattered my children’s trust in law enforcement.”

Under the Alvin W. Penn Act, a law for which the ACLU-CT advocated, police in Connecticut must file information regarding who they pull over during traffic stops. According to those filings, statewide, police are more likely to stop and search Black drivers like Vereen, particularly during daylight hours.

A copy of the complaint, filed by ACLU-CT Legal Director Dan Barrett in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, is available below.