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Court upholds holds judgment in Toll Road stop

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a Lake County jury’s decision to award two men a combined $300,000 in their lawsuit claiming state police falsely imprisoned them following a traffic stop.

Michael Mitchell and Leonard Love argued that a state trooper had no legal reason to stop them and repeatedly search Mitchell’s vehicle during a June 2004 stop along the Indiana Toll Road. Court documents state that the trooper pulled them over for a “possible” narcotics violation after Mitchell allegedly failed to signal a lane change.

The Times of Munster reported ( Monday that the appeals court, in its 3-0 decision, found that the jury had a sufficient basis to conclude there was no lane change and therefore no reason for Mitchell and Love to be pulled over. In its decision, the court noted that both Mitchell and Love are African-American.

The court rejected a police request to reweigh the evidence, saying it found sufficient evidence to sustain the jury’s verdict.

Court records state that trooper Nathan Abbott was patrolling when he said he became “interested” in Mitchell’s Durango due to its tinted windows and environmental license plate. The trooper drove past the vehicle, looked into Durango’s window and pulled the vehicle over. The appeals court noted that Abbott told his dispatcher he was pulling the vehicle over for a “possible” narcotics violation.

When Mitchell, who is a plaster and cement mason from Gary, granted the trooper permission to search his vehicle, court records said Abbott repeatedly asked him where the guns and drugs were.

“You don’t know how good it’s going to feel when I find these drugs,” Abbott said, according to court records.

During that search, Mitchell was double-handcuffed and locked in the police car, while Love – a guard at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City – was ordered to stand at the side of the road.

The court said Mitchell and Love both told the trooper they did not have any drugs. Abbott searched the Durango three times, once using police dogs, but found no contraband, records show.

Mitchell was taken to jail after a check of outstanding warrants found he was wanted on a 1994 charge of altering a temporary license plate. When that warrant was recalled the next day, he was released and sought treatment at a hospital for wrist and shoulder pain and swelling.

The men filed a false imprisonment complaint against state police. Under Indiana law, false imprisonment requires only a demonstration that a person’s freedom of movement was restricted against his will.

A jury sided with both men last March and awarded Mitchell $200,000 and Love $100,000.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s spokesman, Bryan Corbin, said Zoeller is reviewing the court’s decision and considering whether to appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Messages left Monday for Bessie Davis, the Gary attorney who represented Mitchell and Love, were not returned.