CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — An officer drew a gun on a young Black driver whose only infraction was driving with his headlights off, according to a lawsuit filed against a South Carolina town and its police department.
Noah West was headed to a fast-food restaurant where his mother worked when a Summerville police officer pulled him over on March 21. The officer ordered him to step out of the car, kneel and put his hands on his head. The orders came as the officer's gun was pointed at him, according to the lawsuit filed by West's family. West obeyed.
According to a police report, officers were in the area following reports of gunfire. West was leaving the area in a car with its headlights off, prompting officers to stop him, Lt. Chris Hirsch, a police department spokesman, told news outlets.
Fearing the driver was involved in the gunfire, the officer conducted a felony traffic stop, but only issued a written warning for the headlights upon realizing West wasn’t involved in the earlier incident, Hirsch said.
The family filed claims against the town and its police department April 1, alleging negligence, civil assault and false arrest. Their lawsuit argues the police stop also violated the South Carolina Constitution, which promises freedom from unreasonable force. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages, including coverage of legal costs.
“What happened to Mr. West was excessive and the result of the kind of profiling that needs to be eradicated in policing,” said attorney Marvin Pendarvis, who represents the family and is also a Democratic state representative in North Charleston. “A routine traffic stop for an alleged infraction should not end with guns drawn and a 19-year-old kid on his knees, especially when he didn’t pose a threat. It was negligible at best and malicious at worst.”
The department declined to comment on the pending litigation, citing policy.
The lawsuit filed Monday in Dorchester County comes amid a stream of similar cases involving young Black men and police.
When West was interviewed by WCBD-TV about what happened to him, he said, “I feared for my life.”