CHARLES TOWN – A pair of lawsuits filed by two Haitian citizens – one of them a former Loudoun County, Va. Sheriff’s deputy – alleging racial profiling and false arrest by four Charles Town Police officers are set to go to trial early next year.
The lawsuit also argues that the city of Charles Town’s “customs and practices regarding arrest procedures” and its failure to train and supervise its officers in “basic arrest procedures and the laws and procedures governing search and seizure” contributed to the alleged incident.
The police department argues that the charges are baseless and that police officers acted appropriately.
When they were filed a year ago by brothers Drix and Indony Jean Baptiste, the two lawsuits named five unknown Charles Town police officers. An amended complaint filed in March names James Knott, Ronald Kerns, Jonathan Desarno and Jason Newlin.
A scheduling order entered by Northern District Court Judge John Preston Bailey on Aug. 8 sets the trial date for Jan. 22, 2013, if the case is not resolved before that time.
The Baptistes, who are both black, allege that they were handcuffed and transported to the police department by Knott, Desarno and Newlin on March 30, 2011 from the Old Charles Town Library following the arrest of Thomas Jones, also a black man, for check fraud committed at the Bank of Charles Town.
Indony Jean Baptiste was handcuffed to a chair and questioned while Drix Jean Baptise, who does not speak English, was placed in a holding cell, according to the complaint. When Indony Jean Baptiste refused to answer further questions, according to the complaint, Kerns told him that they were not under arrest and that a bank manager said he thought they were “with the guy,” which was why they were being questioned.
The complaint also states that the Baptistes were told they couldn’t leave until they were photographed and fingerprinted, and that their car was searched while they were in custody.
The Baptistes were never charged with a crime. The complaint alleges they were targeted because of their race.
In their response, the Charles Town Police Department either denies or says it has insufficient information to affirm or deny most of the claims made in the lawsuit.
The department denies the allegation that the Baptistes’ vehicle was searched, and that they were required to be fingerprinted and photographed before they were allowed to leave. The department also states it has insufficient information to affirm or deny the allegations that Indony Jean Baptiste was handcuffed to a chair and questioned or that Drix Jean Baptiste was locked in a holding cell.
The response also asserts a number of immunities for the individual officers, saying that they “acted at all times in good faith, lawfully, and in the performance of their official duties.”
Deposition of witnesses in the case has already begun, and will be complete by the end of the month, according to Harry Waddell, the Baptistes’ attorney. He says the depositions so far have “essentially confirmed” the allegations made in their case.
“The defendants are taking the position that they never arrested these two gentlemen, but the legal definition of arrest is when you believe you are not free to leave. It’s not a matter of whether the word ‘arrest’ was used,” Waddell said. “When you handcuff someone and take them in to the police station, that is putting them under arrest. To do that, you have to have probable cause, of course, and there is just no probable cause here to believe that they committed any crime.”