ACLU sues Starke Co. deputy for alleged 4th Amendment violations during Pokemon festival

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The ACLU of Indiana has filed a complaint on behalf of three men against a Starke County Sheriff’s Department deputy for allegedly searching a vehicle without cause during a recent Pokemon festival.

On the night of July 16, Nicholas Tyo, Steven Stanley and Drew Landes were driving from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago to attend Pokemon Go Fest, an event to celebrate the augmented reality game, when deputy Ethan Biggs initiated a traffic stop near the town of Hamlet.

During the stop, Biggs demanded the driver’s licenses of all three occupants of the vehicle before conducting a nonconsensual search of both the exterior and interior of the Toyota Prius — including with the help of a drug-detecting dog — and patting down the three individuals, according to the complaint.

It wasn’t until the end of the traffic stop that the occupants knew they’d been stopped for speeding, the complaint continues. At the end of the interaction, Biggs allowed the three to depart the scene without a written warning.

“At no point did Dep. Biggs have reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or any other justification to conduct a search of the exterior of the plaintiffs’ vehicle with a K-9 officer, to conduct pat-down searches of the plaintiffs, or to search the interior of the plaintiffs’ vehicle,” the complaint states. “These actions were taken maliciously and with reckless or callous indifference to the plaintiffs’ rights.

“As a result of the actions of Dep. Biggs, each of the plaintiffs suffered emotional and other damages.”

ACLU of Indiana senior staff attorney Gavin M. Rose is representing the plaintiffs in Nicholas Tyo, Steven Stanley and Drew Landes v. Deputy Ethan Biggs, in his individual capacity, 3:21-cv-00821.

“Minor traffic stops should not be pretexts for invasive searches,” Rose said in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “This is police overreach in an effort to discover contraband without any reason to believe that anything unlawful was afoot.”

Online court records did not list an attorney for Biggs as of Thursday.

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