In victory for civil rights, federal judge orders Kansas Highway Patrol to stop the Two-Step and other unconstitutional practices
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 21, 2023
CONTACT: Esmie Tseng, Communications Director, ACLU of Kansas, [email protected]
KANSAS CITY, KAN. – A federal judge has ruled against the Kansas Highway Patrol and in favor of motorists, ordering the KHP to stop its policies and practices of detaining motorists without reasonable suspicion and of the infamous Kansas Two-Step.
“This is a huge win—for our clients and for anyone else who travels on Kansas highways. We are gratified that the Court saw the ongoing harms of KHP’s unconstitutional practices and stepped in to stop the department’s widespread misconduct,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “Today’s decision validates that motorists’ constitutional rights cannot be cast aside under the guise of a 'war on drugs'. It also demonstrates that courts will not tolerate the cowboy mentality of policing that subjects our citizens to conditions of humiliation, degradation, and, in some tragic cases, violence.”
In the decision, the Court ruled KHP’s policies and practices in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Vasquez v. Lewis noting that as other states have legalized marijuana, the KHP has “waged war on motorists,” and, “As wars go, this one is relatively easy; it’s simple and cheap, and for motorists, it’s not a fair fight. The war is basically a question of numbers: stop enough cars and you’re bound to discover drugs.”
“The Fourth Amendment promises all of us protection against unreasonable search and seizure,” said Brett. “This case was about sending a clear message to the Highway Patrol. It was past time to put an end to these practices that trampled on the fundamental rights of people traveling Kansas highways.”
Court’s ruling came after two weeks of trial before Judge Vratil in the Federal District Court for the District of Kansas in May. The bench trial followed two separate jury trials in early 2023 in which plaintiffs Blaine Shaw and Joshua Bosire presented their individual damage claims and in both, the juries each found that the Kansas Highway Patrol troopers had violated each of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Kansas and Spencer Fane LLP, filed Shaw v. Jones in 2020 challenging KHP’s practice of routinely and illegally stopping and detaining motorists with out-of-state license plates and its use of the Two-Step maneuver. Shaw was consolidated with a separate suit brought by Mark Erich and Shawna Maloney, who in 2018 were stopped, detained, and searched by Lieutenant Rohr. The ACLU of Kansas and Spencer Fane took over representation of the Erich-Maloney Plaintiffs in 2021.
At trial, Plaintiffs argued that KHP’s trooper training and instruction remains deficient by failing to integrate a previous court decision in 2016, Vasquez v. Lewis, which found state of origin and other innocuous conduct did not meet the standard for “reasonable suspicion” of drug trafficking activity by a driver. KHP training materials did not appear to integrate any Vasquez considerations for four years following the decision, instead appearing to add in Vasquez in 2020, only after the ACLU of Kansas brought the Shaw lawsuit. KHP training materials also include use of the Kansas Two-Step, an especially egregious technique in which an officer will end an initial traffic stop and turn away from the vehicle, take two steps as though returning to their patrol car, and then return to the driver to reengage a new, consensual encounter to answer more questions. As a result of the Two-Step, motorists do not feel free to leave and instead end up detained by KHP without sufficient cause.
“These practices turn something minor like a traffic violation into a degrading and lengthy roadside detention - or worse,” said Brett. “When we give police the power to conduct these pretextual stops, assume people to be drug traffickers, and use flimsy justifications to get inside their vehicles to prolong traffic stops, we turn what should be a simple ticket-release scenario into something longer, fraught, and complicated. And in this we are also creating the conditions for police violence against community members, especially our minority neighbors.”
The court’s order can be found here.
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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.