A Dunwoody Police officer is facing a fourth lawsuit alleging an unlawful search and arrest months after the city settled three similar suits against him.
Officer Dale Laskowski has been sued in federal court and accused of “unlawful seizure, detention and search” of Colton Laidlaw, who was 17 at the time, during a traffic stop in 2014.
The city settled three other search-related lawsuits against Laskowski in March for a total of $135,000, while not acknowledging any liability or wrongdoing. The three men who sued Laskowski claimed in their lawsuits that the officer conducted unconstitutional searches during traffic stops in 2013.
This most recent lawsuit was filed Aug. 29 after Laidlaw’s parent saw media reports of Laskowski’s other lawsuits, according to Laidlaw’s attorney, Mark Bullman. Laidlaw is seeking a jury trial and monetary damages.
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said he had not received notice of the lawsuit.
Laidlaw, now 20, states in his lawsuit that Laskowski stopped him on March 21, 2014, on Old Village Run near the intersection of Village Court while he was driving to work.
According to the lawsuit, Laskowski told Laidlaw he stopped him for driving more than 15 mph on a curve and wanted to make sure he was not on his cellphone or listening to loud music.
“Then, without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that the plaintiff was committing or about to commit any crime, defendant asked plaintiff if he used ‘occasional recreational marijuana,’” according to the lawsuit.
Laidlaw denied he was speeding or used marijuana, but Laskowski said he could see marijuana in his vehicle and said he now had probable cause to search his car, the lawsuit states.
After demanding Laidlaw step out of his car and patting him down, Laskowksi began an approximately 15-minute search of the teen’s car.
“Defendant Laskowski searched the vehicle extensively and, while doing so, jokingly stated, ‘You got it everywhere, dude,’” the lawsuit states.
Laidlaw did not have any marijuana in his vehicle and Laskowski at no time gathered any alleged marijuana as evidence, the lawsuit states.
After eventually checking Laidlaw’s license and registration, Laskowski then lectured the young man for several minutes about the “dangers of having and being caught with marijuana, but then stated that he was going to let [him] go without any charges whatsoever,” according to the lawsuit.
Laskowski also told Laidlaw he was going to put him in the city of Dunwoody’s system as “possibly, might be in possession of marijuana” and that anytime he was stopped in Dunwoody again, he would be “red-flagged” as possibly having marijuana.
Laidlaw’s suit claims Laskowski had “no reasonable, articulable suspicion or probably cause” to initiate the traffic stop, and unlawfully detained and searched him and the vehicle, violating his Constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.
“Defendant Laskowski violated clearly established law. No reasonable officer could have believed that it was lawful to: (1) stop Mr. Laidlaw without probable cause or reasonable, articulable suspicion of a traffic violation; (2) detain Mr. Laidlaw beyond the legal end of the traffic stop without probable cause or reasonable, articulable suspicion; (3) search Mr. Laidlaw without probable cause, reasonable, articulable suspicion, a warrant or consent; or, (4) search Mr. Laidlaw’s car without probable cause, reasonable, articulable suspicion, a warrant or consent,” according to the lawsuit.
“In all the foregoing, Defendant Laskowski acted with reckless and callous indifference to Mr. Laidlaw’s constitutionally protected rights.”
Laidlaw’s lawsuit has some differences from the three lawsuits filed in 2013 and settled earlier this year. In those three cases,
Laskowski called for the Doraville K-9 unit to conduct drug sniffing around the men’s vehicles after they refused to allow the officer to search their cars.
Grogan previously said, regarding the three other lawsuits, that the department changed its policy long before the settlements and now requires an officer to get a supervisor’s approval before requesting a K-9 unit.
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.
Laskowski received the Meritorious Service Medal in 2012 and was recently honored for saving an overdose victim.