/  03.22.2021

A Black law student is suing an Arkansas State Police trooper and alleging racial profiling after being pulled over in August. At the time, Marion Humphrey Jr. was driving a U-Haul home from the University of Arkansas when state trooper Steven Payton pulled him over and searched his truck for drugs.

In a memo submitted to his supervisor, Payton claimed he began tailing Humphrey after noticing he was driving with a tight grip on his steering wheel and staring straight ahead at the road, which made Payton “suspicious of some kind of criminal activity.” Payton also said Humphrey “appeared extremely nervous,” although lawyers claim Humphrey was sitting too far back in his seat for Payton to see his face.

The trooper said he finally pulled the U-Haul over because Humphrey abruptly exited the freeway, causing “the weight of the truck to shift.” Humphrey denies this happened.

Payton then detained Humphrey for over an hour and ransacked the U-Haul claiming he was searching for drugs. Dashcam footage from the trooper’s car showed Humphrey was afraid for his life during the encounter. At one point, he says to Payton, “I honestly just don’t want to get shot. It happens, and I know it happens.”

Additional officers and a drug-sniffing dog were brought to the scene to search Humphrey’s car. The K-9 allegedly detected narcotics and he was put in handcuffs. Humphrey had his father on speakerphone with him during the arrest and called out, “He’s arresting me! Daddy, he’s arresting me!”

Payton could be heard belittling Humphrey for being a student and for calling his father.

“I wouldn’t call my daddy at 32,” he said to Humphrey.

After over an hour of searching, the dog and the officers found no drugs in the vehicle and Humphrey was released with a warning for careless driving.

The federal lawsuit claims Payton had no legal justification for pulling Humphrey over in the first place. The trooper did not record Humphrey as doing anything suspicious in an incident report and overexaggerated details of the encounter to justify his actions. Rather, Humphrey and his legal team say he was profiled by the trooper and pulled over simply for “driving while Black.”

“We know police stop African Americans who are driving while Black all the time,” Former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge, who is representing Humphrey, said in the suit. “This case is not one where someone was shot or killed, thankfully. But that’s what makes it newsworthy to me is that it’s representative of what happens to African Americans all the time. And often we don’t get to hear about those things.”

“Because he was driving a U-Haul on I-40, they have reasonable suspicion to think he’s carrying drugs? Well, give me a break,” he added to the Atlanta Black Star. “Once again, we’re back to racist conclusions because you have a Black man driving a U-Haul. What if it was a white woman? Would you make the same assumption? If he would not make the same assumption, that is racist policing. That must stop.”

Per the suit, Humphrey is seeking emotional and punitive damages and claims Payton violated his civil rights with an unlawful search and seizure.

Arkansas State Police have yet to file a response to the lawsuit in court.

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,” Agency spokesman Bill Sadler said in a statement.

Eldridge expects Payton to file a response to the lawsuit within the next few months.


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