Arkansas Traffic Stop Illegal, But Not Cause of Death

August 2, 2011

A federal judge has found that a traffic stop by a Bryant police officer was illegal but was not the cause of a passenger’s death when he ran from the officer.

Officer Jeffery Plouch’s decision to stop the car just to make sure its temporary tags were legal violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, U.S. District Judge Price Marshall said in the ruling.

He said Plouch’s “hunch” that the tags could have been altered simply doesn’t satisfy the reasonable-suspicion requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

“This vehicle had done nothing illegal. Arkansas law allows temporary tags on any vehicle, including an old Buick,” Marshal said in Friday’s ruling.

But Marshall said that Plouch can’t be held liable for the death of Raymond Haggans Jr., 20, following the 2:40 a.m. traffic stop on May 16, 2006, and that a wrongful-death lawsuit by Haggans’ parents can continue only on the illegal traffic stop claim.

Even if the case proceeds to a jury to award damages, any monetary award would be limited “to the value of the indignity of being wrongfully stopped for a few moments,” Marshall said.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that Haggans died of a head injury after he ran and jumped from a bridge when Plouch learned that Haggans was wanted.

As Plouch and another officer who arrived tried to grab Haggans to arrest him, Haggans twisted out of his jacket and shirt, and ran. In the darkness, he jumped off the 13-foot-tall bridge, landing in the creek bed below, with Plouch following and landing in the water.

Plouch’s injuries were minimal, but Haggans suffered a severe head injury and other trauma that led to his death a few days later.

The other officer and the city have been dismissed from the lawsuit, which is scheduled for a jury trial starting Aug. 29.

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