RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — A University of Arkansas law student is suing an Arkansas State Police Trooper. In the lawsuit, the student says he was handcuffed and detained for over an hour in the back of a state police car last summer while officers searched his U-Haul with no valid legal basis.
The student, Marion Humphrey Jr., 32, has former US Attorney Connor Eldridge representing him. Humphrey Jr. believes racial bias is the reason he was stopped and police searched his moving truck.
On August 20, 2020, Humphrey Jr. was moving his belongings from Fayetteville to his hometown of Little Rock when Arkansas State Trooper Steven Payton stopped him on I-40 near Russellville.
Humphrey Jr. was attending law school at the University of Arkansas when his class schedule was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so he decided to move back to his hometown.
During the traffic stop, dashcam footage shows Trooper Payton explaining why he stopped Humphrey Jr. Trooper Payton said he saw Humphrey Jr. "nearly wreck" the U-Haul going off Exit 70 on I-40. Humphrey Jr. denied he almost wrecked the truck.
Video from the traffic stop shows Trooper Payton saying that Humphrey Jr. looked nervous and asked to search the U-Haul. Humphrey Jr. originally did not consent to the search, which led Trooper Payton to call for a drug-sniffing dog. When the dog arrived, it circled the U-Haul and signaled to the handler. Trooper Payton then handcuffed and detained Humphrey Jr.
Trooper Payton called for help, and eventually, four members of law enforcement thoroughly searched all the U-Haul contents for hours. Humphrey Jr. says his belongings were damaged during the search.
According to the lawsuit, the search found nothing illegal.
Trooper Payton then released Humphrey Jr. and issued him a warning for careless driving.
Now Humphrey Jr. is suing for emotional and punitive damages. He says State Trooper Payton's actions violated his 4th and 14th Amendment Rights. The court date is still pending.
We reached out to Arkansas State Police for a comment:
"State police commanders have not seen a copy of the lawsuit and we will not be making public statements about the case while there is pending litigation," said Bill Sadler, ASP Public Information Officers.
You can read the entire lawsuit below.
“It is obvious that an African American man stopped on I-40 in Arkansas by a clearly aggressive white police officer has cause to be nervous and nervousness is not a basis for this sort of treatment,” Eldridge said. “I think he needs to be fired and I think it needs to be an example of, for other offices to show them what’s going to happen if they treat people unfairly and wrongly because of their race.”
Eldridge says he believes this case is based on the color of his client's skin.
“When the officer pulled Marion over he knew two things. He was an African American man driving a U-Haul," he said. "And that’s not a crime in Arkansas or in the United States, in fact, it’s laughable and so no I do not believe this stop would have happened if the driver would have been of a different race.”