In 2013, it was the traffic stop seen around the world. Now, nearly a year later, it's the focal point of a federal lawsuit against the City of Evansville. Claiming his civil rights were violated, Evansville firefighter George Madison is seeking an unspecified amount for compensatory and punitive damages following an incident involving two Evansville Police officers last year.
The incident involving Madison and Evansville Police officers Jason Clegg and Darin Clifton sparked a month-long controversy, headlined by one of the most emotionally-charged City Council meeting in recent memory. In Madison's 15-page federal lawsuit against the City, Madison claims his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. In addition to those allegations, Madison claims he was the victim of assault, battery, false imprisonment and excessive force, according to the lawsuit. Shortly after the incident happened, Madison filed a complaint with EPD's Internal Affairs Unit. After reviewing the complaint, investigators determined Madison's claims were unsubstantiated.
In the lawsuit, Madison alleges that he was injured, endured physical pain, mental suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress that will continue in the future. Madison is asking for a jury to award him compensatory damages, emotional distress damages and punitive damages.
The Evansville Police Department cannot comment on pending litigation, said Sgt. Jason Cullum. However, the department did issue the following statement.
"We're aware of the lawsuit that has been filed by George Madison and his attorneys out of Indianapolis. We have forwarded that information to the City Attorney's office. We look forward to the opportunity to have this resolved in the courts."
On August 13th, 2013, the officers stopped Madison for failing to stop at a stop sign while riding his bicycle near at the intersection of South Weinbach Ave. and Kathleen Ave, according to police records. On several occasions, Madison admitted to running to stop sign. Claiming to have previously known the officers, Madison said he waved as he went through the intersection. However, Officer Clegg and Officer Clifton believe Madison had flipped them off, police said.
"The actual reasons for the stop and detention of Madison, a black male, were his race and / or the waving gesture he made toward the [officers]," the lawsuit stated. "Upon the stop and detention of Madison, one of the [officers] angrily inquired why Madison 'threw his hands up at [them],' berated Madison and would not allow Madison to answer this, and other questions."
Officer Clegg and Officer Clifton never cussed at Madison nor did they use derogatory language or any racial epithets, according to the department's internal investigation. Once the officers stopped him, Madison claimed the officers were acting aggressively, prompting him to call Chief Billy Bolin.
"Madison, comprehending the [officers'] reactions were disproportionate and seriously threatening, under the belief that he was wrongfully detained and fearing the deprivation of his liberty, attempted to place a call to [Chief Bolin]," the lawsuit stated.
Fearing for their safety, the officers told Madison to put the phone away while they talked to him but Madison pulled back in an aggressive manner, according to the run card for the incident. This prompted one officer to pull out his taser and order Madison to the ground. Madison was detained and handcuffed, police said.
"I don't know if you're calling your buddies or who you're calling," one officer stated in the body-camera video. "We don't know who you're calling."
A few days after the incident happened, Evansville Police released video from one of the officer's body-worn cameras. The camera had not started recording until after the initial contact had occurred. The officer's body camera was being worn on a trial basis because the department was already considering and exploring the possibility of outfitting officers with body-worn cameras, police said. In the video, there were some heated exchanges but was otherwise civil. Also, Madison had no visible injuries.
Madison was released after the 27-minute encounter. He was never charged nor was he cited for the traffic violation.
In the lawsuit, Madison, who is represented by Mark W. Sniderman out of Indianapolis, makes nine legal claims. Madison alleges the officers used excessive force, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; unreasonable seizure, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; unlawful arrest, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; assault; battery; false imprisonment and excessive force.
No trial date has been set.