The city of Louisville has agreed to pay $75,000 to a Louisville couple who say police removed them from their car and frisked them because they were Black and driving a nice vehicle.
But in an unusual condition of the payment, the couple and their lawyers are forbidden from criticizing the Louisville Metro Government or the police offices involved.
The prohibition includes criticisms in statements to the media or on social media, according to a copy of the settlement The Courier Journal obtained under the open-records act.
Michael Abate, a lawyer for The Courier Journal and the Kentucky Press Association, said the stipulations are “totally improper.”
“The city is paying to silence its critics,” he said. “It is paying them off. And it seems designed to impede reform. It is bad policy and really troubling.”
In a statement, First Assistant County Attorney Ingrid Geiser said the couple “are not prohibited from talking truthfully about what happened during their traffic stop,” though she added the language “should have more accurately reflected the agreement of the parties.”
In their federal lawsuit, Anthony Parker Sr. and Demetria Firman, who are now married, say they were pulled over in 2018 for failing to use a turn signal, but body camera footage from one of the officers showed their turn signal was on.
The couple filed the suit in 2019, saying they were coming home from church with their 9-year-old son when they were stopped and frisked without reasonable suspicion in a “desperate attempt by the officers to find guns and drugs.”
Police found neither.
Firman was allowed to leave the scene only when it became apparent to the officers that Demetria and her fiancé were personal acquaintances with a colleague of the officers, according to the lawsuit.
More: US Justice Department to investigate Louisville Metro Police force, stops, discrimination
The city agreed to the settlement Sept. 9, with the stipulation the Metro Government acknowledged no wrongdoing.
The suit was filed by attorney Sam Aguiar, Lonita Baker and Josephine Buckner, who did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear whether that was because of the prohibitions in the settlement.
Aguiar and Baker also represented the family of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency room technician who police fatally shot in her apartment while attempting to serve a search warrant. The city settled with Taylor’s family for $12 million.
The attorneys wrote in traffic-stop lawsuit that the couple was pulled over “because they are Black, were in a nice car and were in a designated target neighborhood of LMPD.”
The lawsuit is one of several filed against the city stemming from the tactics of the 9th Mobile Division, which pulled over Black drivers in the West End in an attempt to find firearms as part of an anti-violence campaign.
LMPD revised the strategy soon after The Courier Journal documented how it detained teenage Tae-Ahn Lea for nearly 25 minutes after he was stopped for reportedly making a wide turn.
His suit against the city is still pending.
Two of the officers involved in stopping Parker and Firman — Kevin Crawford and Gabriel Hellard — also were involved in pulling over Lea.
In their suits, Parker and Firman said when Firman asked what the couple had done wrong, Officer Josh Doerr replied: “This is how we conduct all our stops. We’re a different kind of unit that works a little different than traditional.”
Doerr was suspended one day for violating pat-down procedures, but none of the other officers were sanctioned. The family was eventually released without a ticket being issued.
The suit said Parker he had worked full time since 2007 and had no history of violence or felony convictions, while Firman has no criminal history whatsoever. It said Parker is a proud father to his now 10-year-old son and plays bass for his church, where his father is the pastor.
In a stipulation in the settlement, the plaintiffs had to agree “not to make or direct anyone to make any statements, written or verbal with the intention to defame, disparage or in any way criticize the personal or business reputation, practices or conduct of Metro Government” and or former Chief Steve Conrad or officers Doerr, Hibbs or former officer Crawford “as it pertains to the underlying facts of this action.”
The settlement also forced the plaintiffs to agree the prohibition applies to any statements made to the news media or on social media.
Additionally, the settlement says any violation would be considered a “material breach” of the settlement and the Metro Government and the individuals cited would be “irreparably harmed.”