A Georgia police department with a trail of settlements for civil rights violations has been slapped with another lawsuit accusing more of the same — drug war intimidation thinly disguised as concerns for public “safety.”
In March 2014, Dunwoody Police Officer Dale Laskowski stopped then-17-year-old high school junior, Colton Laidlaw, as he drove to work at a burger restaurant — but what happened next, as Laidlaw told local Channel 2 reporter Mike Petchenik, constituted police state overreach of a bizarre, Orwellian level.
“[The officer] came up to my car and stated I was speeding, and that was the reason he had pulled me over,” Laidlaw said.
According to police, Laskowski stopped the high schooler for going 15 mph over the speed limit around a curve in the road — a claim disputed in the lawsuit.
Petchenik, who viewed the stop in dash cam video shared by Laidlaw’s attorney, noted the tone of the incident almost immediately turned dark.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?” Laskowski can be heard rhetorically asking the teen. “Can you be honest with me, 100 percent honest with me. Do you use occasional recreational marijuana?”
When the teen said he did not use pot, Laskowski then claimed to see some white powder on a car seat — curiously describing it as marijuana residue, according to Channel 2 — and then ordered Laidlaw to get out of his vehicle.
“I don’t want to take that small leaf of that bud right there hem you up on Friday night and make you miss work and go to jail for a little bit of green,” Laskowski said, seeming to patronize the teenager.
For the next half hour, the officer tore apart Laidlaw’s SUV in a desperate attempt to find evidence of the nonexistent illicit substance.
“You’ve got it everywhere, dude,” Laskowski announced during the search.
However, Laidlaw had been telling the truth, and the overzealous, mendacious officer never did find any cannabis — nor any other substances the state arbitrarily deems illegal.
“He rips my car apart. Doesn’t find any evidence of marijuana in my car,” Laidlaw told the reporter. “It was total police intimidation. I was honestly scared. I didn’t know what to think.”
Mark Bullman, the young man’s attorney, told Petchenik police did not follow proper procedure or policies for drug searches.
“Nothing was collected,” Bullman told Channel 2. “Nothing was tested. Nothing was sent to the lab.
“If he really found marijuana all over this young man’s car, why didn’t he collect it? Why didn’t he save it? Why didn’t he charge him for possessing marijuana if it was all over his car?”
A police report of the incident, cited by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, states a small quantity of cannabis was, indeed, found and collected by Laskowski during the stop — but that, in itself, is an odd detail considering Laidlaw only received a warning for excessive speed and was allowed to continue on his way to work.
“There’s an old saying,” Laskowski lectures Laidlaw on video, “‘Don’t take kindness for weakness.’ We’re not here to jam you up, but we need to make sure you’re safe, and everyone else is safe.”
How pulling someone over for speeding that didn’t occur, searching their car without just cause for nonexistent — or perhaps existent in a small quantity — marijuana, intimidating and berating them, and then letting them go could equate to keeping anyone safe was not immediately evident.
“I felt he thinks he’s above the law and could intimidate anyone,” Laidlaw asserted more accurately, adding he felt humiliated for the duration of the officer’s search. “I honestly felt like he was out there profiling people, teenagers.”
Dunwoody Police — specifically, at least one involving Laskowski — have been the subject of three previous lawsuits citing similar intimidation and failure to follow policy or act according to the Constitution.
Three plaintiffs were awarded a combined $117,000 for their unrelated lawsuits, reported the Journal-Constitution.
Jermaine Muhammad, a Dunwoody businessman, had his car searched by the errant officer in 2013, who brought in a K9 officer to hunt for drugs.
“I feel good we did the right thing and fought for justice,” Muhammad told Petchenik, who previously reported that case.
That incident forced the department to reform its policies concerning when to employ a police canine in drug searches, though Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan told Petchenik at the time none of those settlements were indicative of wrongdoing by his officers.
Not surprisingly, in accordance with that claim, Laskowski remains an active employee of Dunwoody police — still free to intimidate otherwise innocent civilians at his discretion.
Bullman told Channel 2 he hopes perhaps Laidlaw’s lawsuit might facilitate the officer’s termination.
“When it’s a pattern of misconduct and an inability to understand and apply the law fairly to other people, you don’t deserve to be a police officer,” the attorney — himself a former officer — told Petchenik.
Dunwoody Police issued a statement to Channel 2, boasting of confidence the court would find in its favor, writing:
“The City of Dunwoody is familiar with the lawsuit filed by Colton Laidlaw against Officer Laskowski. Due to pending litigation, we cannot comment of the facts of the case. However, we are confident that the evidence in this case will result in a finding in favor of the City of Dunwoody and Officer Laskowski.”
Laskowski’s intimidation and inexplicable marijuana ‘witch hunt’ evidence how the drug war enables police to act as agents of intimidation and harassment for the State. Police around the country would rather badger and persecute innocent people — guilty or not of nonviolent ‘crimes’ concerning illicit substances — while millions of crimes of violence like rape and murder stagnate unsolved.