A federal judge heard Albemarle County’s motion to dismiss three lawsuits that allege Albemarle police officer Andrew Holmes targeted African-American males for unreasonable searches.
At the June 20 hearing, Judge Glen Conrad focused on the suit brought by Bianca Johnson and Delmar Canada for a midnight search of their home in 2014 after Holmes ticketed Canada for driving with a suspended license. Holmes obtained a search warrant with an affidavit that claimed, “based on my training and experience I am aware that individuals keep, store and maintain motor vehicle documentation and suspension notification forms in their possessions, residence, surrounding curtilage and inside of vehicles.”
“That’s preposterous,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Fogel, who said Holmes already had enough to convict Canada without the notification from the Department of Motor Vehicles and that there’s no training for finding where people keep documents. “He knew the license was suspended. He had the information he needed. He didn’t need to go there.”
Albemarle’s attorney Bret Marfut argued that Holmes had qualified immunity as well as probable cause for the search, which was backed up by the magistrate issuing a search warrant.
What if the search was “outrageous,” asked Judge Conrad, particularly because it happened at night and the plaintiffs’ home was searched for a “meaningless document”?
Conrad also suggested that if the search was motivated by racial bias, that would make Holmes’ claim of qualified immunity “suspect.”
Marfut said Holmes’ actions were supported by a warrant that a magistrate issued independently.
“The magistrate didn’t tell the officer to make the search at night,” said Conrad. “The plaintiff says that was done to harass.”
While Marfut argued that the search warrant, which was executed nearly a week after the stop, authorized a night search, Fogel contended that the language on the warrant that said a search could take place day or night was “boilerplate,” and that Holmes’ search of Canada and Johnson’s home was “over the line.”
Fogel also said the county had numerous complaints about Holmes. “He has targeted black males,” he said. “That’s a fact.”
Rodney Hubbard was driving his mother, Savannah Hubbard, on U.S. 29 September 11, 2015, when Holmes pulled him over. According to the suit, Holmes claimed he smelled marijuana, searched Rodney Hubbard, including in his groin, handcuffed him, searched Savannah Hubbard and held them for two hours without finding any drugs.
Leon Polk and UVA football player Malcolm Cook allege a similar encounter in their suit, in which Holmes claimed he smelled pot, ordered them out of the car at gunpoint and held them for two hours while he searched the car without turning up any drugs.
Conrad said he would rule on whether all three suits go forward.
Fogel said after he filed the lawsuits he got phone calls from 15 people, 13 of whom were African-Americans, who complained they were targeted by Holmes.
“I’m happy everyone is becoming aware,” said Johnson, who is retail advertising manager with C-VILLE Weekly. “This is a big issue in the African-American community. People in this community need to be aware laws are not being enforced in a fair manner.”