Jermaine Muhammad remembers vividly the day three years ago when he was pulled over by a city police officer.
“He pulled me over for a cracked windshield and then immediately began asking me if I had weapons and drugs,” said Muhammad, the owner of Dunwoody Barber Salon on Winters Chapel Road.
Officer Dale Laskowski told Muhammad that several local officers had been shot in the area and that was why he was asking, Muhammad said. A drug-sniffing dog was called in from Doraville, but a lengthy stop resulted in police finding only a cashew can and citing Muhammad for broken light bulbs.
Muhammad is one of three men who filed separate lawsuits alleging Laskowski conducted unconstitutional searches during traffic stops in 2013. On March 16 of this year, the city settled all three lawsuits for $45,000 each, while not acknowledging any liability or wrongdoing.
“This guy [Laskowski] had a pattern of doing this. You can’t stop someone based on a gut feeling and ignore the law,” said Dunwoody attorney and former cop Mark Bullman, who represented the men.
“When there’s a longstanding pattern, lots of people’s rights are being violated,” he said.
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said that the department has changed its policy and now requires officers to get a supervisor’s approval of any request for a K-9 unit.
“Based on a number of factors, the city of Dunwoody elected to enter into a settlement agreement with each party in all three cases. Settlement agreements such as these are not unusual in government operations,” Grogan said. The city’s insurance provider covered the $135,000 in total settlement, he said.
The department also now follows a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states, “absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures,” Grogan said.
“Our current policy reflects all of the changes mentioned, which were put in place long before the settlement of these cases. All of our sworn staff has been trained in our new policy,” Grogan said in a statement.
Laskowski, one of the Dunwoody Police force’s original officers, received the training with other staff and remains on the force. He has received no additional training, Grogan said.
Grogan said Laskowski is not available for comment.
The police department cleared Laskowski of any wrongdoing in Muhammad’s case, according to an internal police document provided by Bullman. Muhammad was the only one of the three lawsuit plaintiffs who filed a police complaint, Bullman said.
The city of Doraville settled for $15,000 with each man before a lawsuit was filed, Bullman said.
The police searches of Muhammad, Joseph Anderson and Daniel Green had similarities, according to their lawsuits. They were detained for at least 30 minutes and subjected to the Doraville drug dog sniffing after refusing to allow vehicle searches.
“He asked me why did I mind having my car searched if I didn’t have anything … and I said because [he] pulled me over for a cracked windshield,” Muhammad said of his June 17, 2013 stop.
On a police dashboard video of the traffic stop provided by Bullman, Laskowski is heard saying, “Something just ain’t sitting right with me about this guy. Maybe it’s just that I’m amped up about complaints with people that I’ve dealt with today, but he just looks like the kind of guy who would, when K-9 arrives, he would try to run or something or gambling that the dog won’t hit on anything.”
The police dog “alerted” on something in the trunk and Muhammad sat on a curb for nearly an hour while the officers searched his entire car, emptying all his possessions onto a sidewalk. They eventually found an empty can of cashews in the trunk that they told Muhammad smelled like marijuana.
“They had seven police cars respond to a cracked windshield … and they found nothing,” Muhammad said. “There was no apology, no trying to reconcile, to explain why they took such extreme measures.”
Muhammad was eventually cited for broken bulbs in his taillights. Those charges were dropped, he said, but he did pay a fine for not changing his address on his driver’s license.
Days after the traffic stop, Muhammad filed a handwritten complaint with the DPD and alleged Laskowski stopped him with no probable cause; he also stated “racial profiling is nothing new to me.”
Joseph Anderson was returning from lunch on July 2, 2013, to his shift at Walmart on Ashford-Dunwoody Road when Laskowski stopped him for having no or broken covers on his reverse light, according to the lawsuit.
Laskowski called the Doraville K-9 unit and the dog alerted on the car, resulting in a search. Anderson was kept from returning to work for more than 30 minutes.
Daniel Green was a minor when he was stopped by Laskowski on July 25, 2013. Green had a BB gun in the back seat of his car and told Laskowski about it when asked if he had any weapons. When Laskowski asked to search his car, Green said no. Laskowski called Doraville for K-9 backup.
“He’s got his gun all set up in the back of his seat like he’s pulling armed robberies. . . . I’m gonna go up and talk to him a little bit more here, because I don’t know if he’s got anything,” Laskowski can be heard saying on police dashcam video of the stop.
Laskowski also said he needed to check Green out because his front tire was “kind of bald,” according to the lawsuit. Green was detained for nearly 45 minutes.