A suburban St. Louis man alleges in a lawsuit that police officers punched, kicked and stomped on him before illegally searching the apartment he shared with his girlfriend after claiming he had committed a minor traffic violation.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court Monday on behalf of Tranell Stewart, 38, and his former girlfriend, Lisa Jones, against five Maryland Heights police officers and the city of Maryland Heights.
It accuses the officers of unlawful seizure, excessive force and unlawful search. It also accuses the city of liability, charging that Maryland Heights has not addressed years of police stopping and searching Black motorists at rates far above their representation in the city.
The city, the police department and the police union did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Stewart pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex on Oct. 26, 2016. Officer David Devouton pulled behind Stewart's car and told him he had failed to use his turn signal, which Stewart denied, according to the lawsuit.
When Stewart tried to get out of his car to get to his infant son from the back seat, Devouton grabbed Stewart’s hair and tried to pull him to the ground, saying, “You’re going to die today,” the lawsuit says.
Another officer, Alex Waldroup, arrived and police threw Stewart to the ground, hit him and kicked him. After he was handcuffed, Waldroup stomped on his head and kicked him in the eye, according to the lawsuit.
Stewart said he initially pushed Devouton's hand off him, then tried to ward off the blows from other officers, while screaming for them to stop. But he said he did not initiate any contact or strike the officers.
Jones and a neighbor witnessed the attack. When Jones went toward the car to retrieve her infant son, Officer Cliff House pointed a gun at her and told her to stop, the lawsuit says.
Officers twice searched the couple's apartment, at one point threatening to arrest Jones for a traffic warrant and to have her children placed in protective custody if she did not sign forms consenting to the searches. They also seized a weapon that Jones legally owned.
Stewart suffered a fractured nose and a black eye and emotional pain and fear, and the illegal searches also caused Stewart and Jones concern for the safety of themselves and their children, the lawsuit said. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages but does not name a specific amount.
Stewart said in a statement released by ArchCity Defenders public interest law firm, which is representing him, that he wants police accountability. Jones is being represented by Kenneth Powell, of the Powell Law Firm.
"I want people to know how Maryland Heights police operate,” Stewart said. “I can’t say anything positive, I can’t say be safe because these are the people who are supposed to be protecting and serving us. It’s like we’re under attack.”
Stewart was convicted of resisting arrest in 2018 and sentenced to probation, according to court records.
The lawsuit accuses the city of not addressing years of unlawful seizures and searches involving Black people. When Stewart was arrested in 2016, Black drivers were pulled over at three times their demographic representation in the city, according to data submitted to the Missouri attorney general's office.