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Federal lawsuit accuses Hammond police of excessive force on traffic stop

TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ

tauch@post-trib.com

A lawsuit against the city of Hammond and four of its police officers claims a traffic stop for a seat-belt violation turned violent when the officers broke a car window and Tasered one of the passengers.

According to the lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond, Jamal Jones and Lisa Mahone were driving with Mahone’s two children to see her mother in the hospital on Sept. 24 when they were pulled over at 169th and Cline avenues.

The lawsuit claims that the four people in the car immediately became scared because the officers pulled them over in a “highly aggressive” manner, including putting spike strips under the wheels of the car.

The officers, Patrick Vicari and Charles Turner, asked Mahone, who was driving, for her driver’s license and told her she was being stopped for a seat-belt violation. Mahone complied, but the lawsuit says the officers then asked for Jones’ identification. When he said he didn’t have any on him, they told him to leave the vehicle.

A release from the Hammond Police Department disputes this part, however, saying that when officers were told Jones didn’t have any identification, they asked him to write it down on a piece of paper. He refused, the release says, and instead told them he “was not going to do his (the officer’s job.”

The officers then called for backup and at some point saw Jones’ hands drop to the center console. That’s when police ordered Jones to show his hands and exit the vehicle because of fear for officer safety, according to the release.

However, the lawsuit says Jones and the other car passengers were scared, and the officers at some point pulled their weapons.

The police release said that another officer car with video equipment was called for and “considerable time” had passed. It added that Mahone at one point put the vehicle into drive, which is when they were told about the spike strips.

A video provided by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and that was recorded by one of the children in the back seat shows Mahone on the phone with what appears to be police dispatch as Jones continues to talk with police officers. A police officer eventually breaks the window by Jones and then Tasers him before pulling him out of the vehicle.

The police report says 13 minutes had gone by when that happened and that police Tasered him because they were concerned when they kept seeing Jones and Mahone reach to the back seat.

The lawsuit says that shards of glass hit everyone in the vehicle and that Jones was again Tasered after he was taken to the ground, even though he was not resisting, before being arrested for resisting law enforcement.

The suit adds that police never told anyone in the car that they were under arrest or to ever put their hands on their heads.

The Hammond Police Department release says that Jones requested medical help after he was arrested and that the Hammond Fire Department EMT took him to a medical facility from the scene.

“In general, police officers who make legal traffic stops are allowed to ask passengers inside of a stopped vehicle for identification and to request that they exit a stopped vehicle for the officer’s safety without a requirement of reasonable suspicion,” the release says. “When the passenger displayed movements inside of the stopped vehicle that included placing his hand in places where the officer could not see, officers’ concerns for their safety were heightened.”

The plaintiffs claim the officers violated their constitutional rights against excessive force and false arrest and also committed battery and inflicted emotional distress. They are suing for unspecified damages.