Lawsuit: Kansas Highway Patrol targets out-of-state drivers

January 30, 2020 - 12:08 pm
Colorado car tag

(Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)


The Kansas Highway Patrol has a practice of unlawfully targeting motorists based on their out-of-state license plates or Colorado travel plans, due to that state’s legalization of marijuana, according to a federal court filing Thursday.

Among the allegations contained in the new filing are statistics showing that drivers with out-of-state plates made up 93% of all of the agency’s traffic stops in 2017.

The case began as a hand-scrawled complaint filed last December by two irate drivers themselves in federal court. It got some significant legal firepower when the American Civil Liberties Union and a Kansas City, Missouri, law firm filed an amended complaint on their behalf in their case naming Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Herman Jones and two troopers as defendants.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said it cannot comment on pending litigation.

The revised complaint, which also seeks class action status, portrays a laser-like focus on drivers traveling Interstate 70, which the agency has designated a “drug corridor.” Out-of-state motorists driving on that interstate constituted 96% of all of the agency’s reported civil forfeitures from 2018 to 2019, the lawsuit contends. Two-thirds of those motorists were either drivers of color or they had passengers of color in the vehicle.

The complaint also challenges a law enforcement practice known as “the Kansas Two Step,” a maneuver used to detain drivers for canine drug searches. The maneuver, which is included in the agency’s training materials, is a way to break off an initial traffic stop and attempt to reengage the driver in what would then be a consensual encounter.

The way the “Kansas Two Step” works is this: A trooper stops a vehicle with out-of-state plates under the pretense of a minor traffic violation. The trooper issues the driver a ticket or warning for the infraction, then turns around takes a couple of steps away from the vehicle before turning around and asking the driver to agree to answer additional questions. When the driver denies transporting anything illegal, the trooper requests consent to search the car. If the driver declines to consent to a search, the trooper detains the driver for a canine drug search.

The federal lawsuit was filed by Joshua Bosire, a black man who lives in Wichita where he works as an engineer in aviation. He travels on I-70 twice a month to visit his 4-year-old daughter who lives in Littleton, Colorado. On a return trip from visiting his daughter in February 2019, Bisure was driving a rental car that had a Missouri license plate when he was stopped for driving 6 mph over the posted speed limit. Bosire was detained for 36 minutes before a drug dog arrived. No drugs were found.

Other named plaintiffs are Elontah Blaine Shaw and Samuel Shaw, Native American brothers who live in Oklahoma City. Elontah Shaw is employed as an Uber driver and travels I-70 through Kansas several times per year to visit family and friends in Colorado. They were subjected to a drug dog search during traffic stop for speeding in December 2017. They were released from detention after an hour and a half. Troopers did not find any illicit drugs, only medication for one of them had a prescription.

An average of more than 10,000 motorists and their passengers drive through Kansas on I-70 each day, according to the complaint. The state estimates that about 7,820 of them each day are traveling to or coming from Colorado.

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