Black driver sues Rockford police over arrest following traffic stop

Kent County

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — A Black driver has filed a lawsuit against the city of Rockford over a March 2019 traffic stop that ended with him in jail for the night.

Dashcam footage shows the altercation between Rockford Police Officer Zachary Abbate and the man he pulled over, Thurman King.

King’s civil rights attorney Stephen Drew said what happened in King’s driveway is the culmination of a false traffic stop. Drew told News 8 Abbate first started trailing King on his way home because he claimed King’s license plate light was out and that he ignored a stop sign at the intersection of Bridge and River streets.

The dashcam footage appears to show King stopping at the stop sign. It does not clearly show if his license plate light was broken.

“Mr. King, knowing he was a half a block from home, and not wanting, being an African American man, not wanting to stop in an isolated area, wanted to go to an area that was safer, which was his driveway,” Drew told News 8 Monday.

King’s lawsuit, filed March 19 of this year, said that once home, he became fearful of Abbate when the officer said why he stopped him. The complaint also alleges Abbate accused King of smelling like marijuana.

“That’s not true,” King can be heard saying on the video. “Why are you lying, man?”

The video shows King tried to go inside but Abbate grabbed his arm. There was a scuffle and Abbate tackled King to the ground.

Court documents show the officers took King to the Kent County jail, here he was detained for 14 hours and submitted a blood test that came back negative for alcohol.
 
“That should have never happened,” Drew said of the arrest.

Police sought charges against King for felony assaulting, resisting and obstructing a police officer, operating while intoxicated and for having an open alcoholic beverage in his car. The Kent County prosecutor declined to pursue any charges.

“That’s why we feel this was, number one, a false stop under false pretenses,” Drew said.

In a statement to News 8 Monday, the city of Rockford said, “While we do not intend to try this case in the court of public opinion, we disagree strongly with the claims as presented here. We intend to present a vigorous defense in this matter.”

Abbate no longer serves as a Rockford police officer, but another officer who arrived for backup, Jason Bradley, is still on the force, according to their attorney Michael Borgen.

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